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…
When I am out with my camera I love to take shots of flowers. I find there is someting extraordinary about flowers that I don’t know how to describe in a few words. The Singapore Botanic Gardens is a fantastic place to photograph flowers. Especially orchids, you can find many varieties at the National Orchid Garden within the Botanic Gardens which is the main attraction there. The Botanic Gardens is a perfect place to escape away from the city streets, the traffic and all the hustle and bustle When you are in Singapore make sure you put the Botanic Gardens on your list to visit.
You know……Singapore is a melting pot of different Asian races and cultures. And that really is the “face” of Singapore. The largest group are the Chinese-Singaporeans followed by the Malay-Singaporeans, Indian-Singaporeans and the Eurasian-Singaporeans. A population of over five million, however 40 % of the population (as of 2009) are foreigners, students and permanent residents not included the 11 million or so transient visitors who visit Singapore annually. So a Singaporean can look Chinese, Malay, Indian or Eurasian. I had to really remember that when I first arrived in Singapore. At my workplace at the time, whenever I was chatting with a colleague I would for example ask, “So where in India are you from?” Then they would look at me with a frown and say, “I am Singaporean, Chef!”. The things we learn.
If you go walk a bouts in Singapore then remember to always bring two things with you. You may bring other things of course as you wish, but these two things you should always carry with you. 1. An umbrella. 2. A light jacket or vest. Rain it can at any moment in Singapore without warning. And when going in an out of shopping centres or food courts you will be experiencing temperature fluctuations that can give you a nasty cold.
Although a nation with very little history there are some interesting things that you will come across whilst exploring the streets of Singapore. Shophouses and unusual architecture, plenty of shops and hawker centres and other places to consume a meal. It is what Singaporeans love doing most. Retail therapy and feeding themselves. And while feeding themselves talking about where the next meal should be consumed.
to be continued…
I remember my first day at work in Singapore back in 2007. It was at a morning briefing, a meeting that was held every morning before the start of the working day to review the daily operation, and every one that was present had their turn to inform others on whatever they felt was necessary information. And I am sitting there looking at my General Manager with a confused look on my face, he is looking at me with a peculiar smile as if he was saying to me ” I know, I know”. There were some “expats” in the room but the majority were Singaporeans. Going around the table I listened to what the others had to bring to this briefing. Then it was my turn to say something. I paused for a very brief moment, all eyes were on me, and this is what I said. “Good morning all, I am very sorry but I did not understand one word most of you were saying just now”. Then the whole room bursted out in a loud laughter. Although English is the common language in Singapore, I was going to have to really get used to the way it was spoken by the locals.
Statistics says that twenty percent of Singaporeans, or one out of every five cannot read or write in English. I tend to disagree and think that number should be higher. Not only read and write but speak as well. But there is a reason why the Singapore government decided to use English as the common language. More on that later. One thing you will very quickly adopt, and without you probably realising it at first, when you live and work in Singapore is that in no time you will be saying the word “Lah” after every sentence you speak. Wether you like it or not, it’s that catching. Trust me lah…you will lah. And if you visit Singapore after being away for a while, and it does not matter how long that might have been, you instantly will pick that up again. Will……lah!
to be continued…