Chinese New Year 2013, Singapore

In Singapore, we only have 2 days off for the Chinese New Year (CNY) even though the festival lasts 15 days. Because of that, it always feels that the preparation work leading up to CNY is a lot longer than the actual festival itself. The Singaporean Chinese always do a lot of shopping the month before CNY – everyone has to buy new bright-coloured clothes, new shoes and get a haircut and the wealthier ones buy new jewellery (symbolizing a fresh start to the year); families buy a lot of food, which includes ingredients for the reunion dinner, our favourite CNY goodies, chocolate and soft drinks (symbolizing abundance and wealth); the married people will have to queue at the banks to get new dollar notes (apparently the Monetary Authority of Singapore prints 50 million $2 notes every CNY to meet this insane demand) to give to the younger members in the family in hongbaos (symbolizing fresh start to the year as well). Some people will buy flowers and new decorations to do up their houses while others simply recycle their decorations every year but decorations are a must. People also have to spring-clean their houses (symbolizing getting rid of the bad luck last year and a fresh start to the year). We also buy many oranges and aggressively acquire free hongbaos from the banks and wherever in preparation of the new year. The hongbaos nowadays are so fancy, gone were the days when people simply give and receive red packets with just a Chinese character on them. We even compare and rank in the local newspaper which organization designs the best hongbao.

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I am quite glad that my CNY this year was somewhat different from the previous ones, it’s pretty boring to go through the same routine every year. CNY is basically about the same group of people moving from one house to another day after day so I see the same faces all the time. I run out of conversations pretty quickly with them as well, people seem to want a ‘quick summary’ of everyone’s lives (I don’t know what’s the rush when we are together for so many hours) and I am not so good at these conversations. How do I sum up my life in hongkong quickly? Or who should I choose to talk about in my snippets of hongkong? In the end, I keep narrating the same short stories – the monkey hill/ birthday, our struggle to order food, initial roommates’ communication woes.

1. New Year Eve.

That was certainly a day I was looking forward to for a while, we have reunion dinner on New Year Eve when everyone get together to eat. For my family, we have two rounds of reunion dinner (paternal and maternal) on that night, it’s insane amount of good food, it’s the time of the year for women at home to show off their culinary skills.:) In particular, I was looking forward to yusheng (meaning an increase in abundance) – a salad dish. It’s a little tradition that we have here (as well as in Malaysia) for CNY – as each ingredient is added to the big plate, the person doing that has to utter an auspicious phrase. Nowadays, we attach a particular phrase to each ingredient (e.g. crackers = 片地黄金). Then people crowd around and toss and mix the vegetables as high as possible with their chopsticks while saying their new year wishes. I love this dish and it’s such fun, this is perhaps one of the very few dishes in Singapore that is not available all year round.

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2. Day one.

Usually, my family would spend half the day at one of the grandma’s place and the other half at the other. This year was the same, what differed was I invited Yukito, a Japanese exchange student in NUS, to my grandma’s house. It was a lot of fun because my relatives and many distant relatives tested their Japanese on him and it was funny when he eventually asked my brother if he knew Japanese as well. It was also nice to introduce the different CNY goodies to him, he was caught by surprise that there were so many different types of pineapple tarts and people seemed to have different preferences. I also learned about the Japanese new year custom from him and it’s quite different from the noisy and loud atmosphere that we have here, it’s always so nice to feel how different cultures are in the world and yet people from different cultures could become good friends. 🙂 He was also in love with my grandma’s and aunt’s cooking, he kept saying that was the best lunch he had in Singapore. It was a high compliment considering all the food that we offer here but I must agree that their cooking is really good.:)

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This is the very popular Kwan Im Thong Cho Temple in Singapore as devotees queued on a rainy morning to pray for a good year ahead.

3. Day three.

Chrissy and her boyfriend, who have been travelling all these while after the exchange semester in hongkong, were in Singapore last week. I couldn’t bring them around like what I did for the others because of CNY and school but I managed to meet them one evening at the Old Airport Road Food Center for dinner. It was a nice time to visit the relatively emptier tourist places and city because the Chinese people would be probably visiting people’s houses but it was not a nice time to taste our food because those stall owners tend to take extended breaks after the CNY. Anyhow, they still managed to try some of our famous dishes – popiah, fried kway teow etc. I haven’t seen her (in fact, anyone from the exchange program) for close to two months so it was just very nice to sit around and talk about shared experiences and hongkong again. The whole experience just seems so unreal sometimes especially when I get back on my old routine and old way of thinking.

4. Day six, seven, eight.

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The Huayi Festival is the Chinese Arts Festival that goes on for some number of days in Singapore at the Esplanade – our famous durian building. This is my first time attending the festival because I wanted to watch the play “Awakening 贾宝玉” again. It’s quite rare for HOCC to come to Singapore so I was actually motivated to watch it to show her some support. Nonetheless, I really enjoy the show, I love the script, the music and the dances. I actually met a friend Edwyna who was happening to do a theater analysis based on this play on my way home on Day Six. She didn’t know anything about the dream of the red mansion or about the play so I explained it to her. So on the next day when I was watching it, I was trying to be more critical. But the way it goes, the more ‘whys’ you ask, the more you understand what they are trying to depict and the more you like it. The cast also attempted to speak some Singlish to appeal to Singaporeans, Rosa’s “Come here, look-see ah” sounded so authentic.

The play aside, I was actually not too happy with the audience. There were people who laughed at the most tragic moments of the play and some even cleared their throat at the most inappropriate junctions. My friend, Angel, and I just couldn’t help but to compare this experience with the one in hong kong. I also didn’t really like how people made comments about the play in Singlish, it just feels like it’s basic respect to discuss about a Chinese play in Chinese instead of a blunt and efficient lingo.

On the last day of the play, we met some other fans before the play and some of the more die-hard fans wanted to play her song 光明会 on their speakers when the show was over and they wanted us to dance to it. So we quickly youtubed the song and attempted to memorize the moves.  It didn’t happen in the end but we got to shout, “菇,我们爱你!” We also ran across the Esplanade after the play and went to wait for the cast at one of the carpark exits. Apparently people waited at the wrong door the night before. One of the girls walked out and told us that they wouldn’t come out so soon so we left pretty soon. I have never tried something like this before so it was a nice adventure.:)

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5. Day seven.

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I also went with some USP people and professors for a walk from UTown through the Kent Ridge Park to the Reflections at Bukit Chandu museum. It was a nice concept to combine a biodiversity walk with a history class on the National Defence weekend. It was a nice getaway from the city and it brings back nice memories of the hiking days in hongkong. I kept talking to the professor whom I really adore and she pointed out the former rich people’s area in Singapore and random facts about our equatorial trees.

The Reflections at Bukit Chandu, our war memorial for the Malay soldiers who fought valiantly during the Japanese war, was pretty disappointing actually. They seem to have muted the horrors and cruelty of the war to cater to the young audience. There was an audio-visual show which was removed because the parents complained that it was too intense and inappropriate for the children’s eyes. But we insisted on watching it so they screened it specially for us. I was bracing for something as intense as S21 prison in Cambodia but it was nowhere close in terms of intensity actually. It was also there that I learnt that the Japanese soldiers actually hung the bodies of the Malay soldiers on a tree back then. But the tree was apparently chopped off when this area was developed later on. That is quite an irony actually, considering the fact that it is surrounded by so many trees in the park. I thought that just having the tree there would have made the whole experience so much more impactful.

6. Day 12

I helped out at the GO AWAY! fair, an information session for people to learn more about the student exchange programme, as a speaker in NUS. It took me quite a bit of time to finally decide on what to talk about but it was quite odd became the number of people helping out (returning exchange students and current exchange students) exceeded the number of people who were there to learn. The people at the back also had to speak very fast because some people in front overran too much. Overall, it was a nice event, I got to see the hongkong exchange students again and make friends with Taiwanese people. It was a strange and amazing feeling when 3 of us from hongkong, taiwan and singapore compared the sizes and functions of the 7-11s in these countries, it’s interesting what each country asks from a convenience store.

7. Day 13

It was a fantastic day, one of my happiest days since I got back to Singapore. I had a long breakfast with the Japanese guys and Stacey from Shanghai, a long lunch with Valerie and a very nice evening with Veronica and her boyfriend. I was excited to meet him, he played the piano and sang many Chinese songs, such as 背叛. We talked a lot, recalled those days when we were staying together as roommates and laughed a lot. I feel so comfortable talking to her, I could say anything from a thought half-formed to an argument that I feel strongly about. Would be nice if this kind of day can happen more frequently.:)

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