Singapore (Part 5)
Goodbye Snake and welcome Horse!
On January 31st the Chinese New Year celebrations will start however according to the Chinese Astrology calendar the year of the Horse will begin on February 4th 2014. No doubt you will see a variety of decorations in the shape of a horse. Festive lights in the shape of horses, candy in the shape of a horse, toys in the shape of a horse, horses that look like horses, you name it. Apparently the year of the Horse will bring change and according to Chinese Astrology the Horse will bring good fortune. A year of high energy and where your decisions need to be fast and decisive and things will move very quickly so it says. It is also known as the year for leaders, those who want to make a difference and know how to make it happen. Shops in Singapore will be closed for a number of days during the festivities…(what will one do?) Dragon dances will be performed round each suburb in Singapore including offices and workplaces. If you are visiting Singapore during the Chinese New Year then make sure you go an watch the dragon dances that are happening around the nation. And wherever you frikkin go you will encounter mandarins. Mandarin trees in front of every office, bank, bus-stop, pet shop, hair salon, 7-eleven, you name it. What is the deal with that you ask? I know the Chinese named one of their dialect after the fruit but when I had to order over 200 kilos of the damn things during the Chinese New Year, I wanted to find out more. In “Mandarin” the word mandarin is called “Ju” and in Cantonese it is called “Kam”. The “ju” sounds like “Ji” which means “good luck” and “Kam” sound like the Cantonese word for “Gold”.
It is a time honoured tradition that mandarins or oranges are exchanged amongst friends and relatives during Chinese New Year. This dates back since the time of king “Nasi Goreng” or whatever his name was, around 1100 BC so I am told (the gesture that is…..not the mandarins). And not just any mandarin, oh no. They are pretty picky when it come to choosing which type of mandarin it must be. They use about five types, Kinnow, Ponkan, Tankan, Lukan, I can, (no….. I made that last one up) and Swatow from Pakistan, China and Taiwan. Another tradition during the Chinese New year is the exchange of “Hong Bao” or “Ang Pau” in Hokkien. This is actually done at most special occasions like weddings. During the Lunar New Year these are given by married couples to singles and children. At the work place those in a senior position give this to those ranked below them. The envelope contains a certain denomination….MONEY……. yes money. Now the envelope has to have a red color. Apparently there is a monster called “Nian” that lives under the sea or in te mountains somwhere. Now this fella becomes bored around the time of the Lunar New Year celebrations and comes out of hiding to attack people, mainly young children. I am not making this up by the way. This bloke so it seems is shit scared of loud noises and the color red. So hence the red envelopes and the drumming performances during the dragon dances. You’d think a good old fart would do the trick scaring this guy away but it seems that he or maybe she keeps coming back each year.
Money that is put inside the red envelopes must be new notes and not used ones. If you are in Singapore during this time of the year and wondered about the excessively long queues at the banks or ATM’s this is why. It happens that the banks will run out of new notes and people are told to go home. This can create an interesting scene of angry people that have been waiting for hours to get new notes. If you are learning Chinese than words that flow to and from when this happens are not the words you want to learn. Ahh, I am just glad my life is simple! Also the notes must be in even numbers, not in fours and not bear the number four as the pronunciation of the word “four” resembles that of the word “death” and that just means bad luck. Confused?! Children are staying up really late on the eve of the Lunar New year celebrations because it is believed that the longer they stay up the longer their parents will live. Yup, and no I have not been drinking. Then the character “Fu” meaning “Good fortune” is displayed upside down. The word for upside down is “Dào” which has the same pronounciation as the word for “To arrive”. So displaying this character upside down is like saying “Good luck arrives” as to wishing someone prosperity.
Another tradition during the Lunar New Year celebration is of course the “Yu Sheng” or Lo Bei. Yu Sheng means “raw fish” and the word fish in Chinese also means abundance. A raw fish salad is prepared and all ingredients are tossed about high up in the air with chop stick whilst one shout out loud wishes of prosperity and good fortune like the words I have placed between brackets. Participating in this I felt like a real “tosser” but an impressive ceremony to say the least. The Yu Sheng comprises of the following ready?……
Raw fish – (nian nian you yu) for abundance
Lime – (da ji da li) for good fortune
Five spice powder and pepper – (wu fu lin men) for good fortune
Plum sauce – (tian tian mi mi) for a year full of sweetness
White radish – (wan shi ru ji) for success
Red chilli – (zhao cai jin boa) for prosperity
Lettuce – (he qi sheng cai) for harmony and wealth
Carrot – (bub bu gao sheng) for eminence
Ginger – (hong yun dang tou) for good luck
Oil – ( fu yun nian nian) for good fortune and good luck
Crispy Crackers – (bian di huang jin) for prosperity
When my neighbour at the table shouted out “Sheng ji xi long” I thought at first he was wishing for an enlargement of a certain body part, but that aside the Yu Sheng was absolutely delicious and so were the dim sums that followed.
Needless to say that with the Chinese almost everything in life evolves around….MONEY!
Goong Xi Fa Cai…..lah
to be continued…