I don't know when or how it happened. As I mellow and grow in age, I realise that I actually like Chinese New Year (CNY). When I was just a kid, I detested much of CNY, other than the "angpow" it brought me. There was only one word in my vocabulary when it came to CNY - "cheena". I remember preferring Christmas with all its magical lighting and the many presents I received. I guess the influence of the western culture has a lot to do with it. The young me just wanted to be hip and fashionable and to be associated with anything that was western. Then I accepted Christ into my life. And Christmas took a new meaning.
But let's come back to CNY. Quietly and slowly, my love for the CNY evolved through the years, and catching me by surprise. I'd never imagine the things that I do for CNY. I made lanterns out of 红包, bought CNY couplets and 春联, all these just to decorate my home into one that looks really "cheena", much to Senior Junior's consternation. He was just like me when I was his age. I could almost hear him say, "The decor is so "obiang" Dad, please take it down!"
I look forward to the reunion dinner with my extended family each year. The renewal of family ties over steamboat dinner always brings lot of warmth. A foodie, I'm always attracted to the spread of goodies on the dinner tables and coffee tables alike. And I'm quite intrigued with the significance that each food represents. Yes, you can say some of the traditions of the CNY border on superstition, but what's so wrong with superstitions that bring about good health, wealth, happiness and good fortune to mankind so long as one doesn't go overboard? The abundance of food for instance, what's the significance in eating sweet stuff like the "Pineapple Tart" or the 年糕 during CNY? And what does eating 瓜子(Melon Seeds)symbolise? And the exchange of oranges?
Along with the love for CNY, I'm also more aware of the richness in the Chinese culture. The Chinese Language by itself is a beauty. Just look at some of the CNY greetings and I'm sure you'd agree how catchy and melodious they sound. They almost make me want to pick up my Chinese books to master the Chinese Language.
However, there are aspects of CNY that bore me and visiting relatives is one. These are relatives I'd hardly recognise if I were to run into them in the middle of Orchard Road. Each year, our conversation during CNY is just limited to three or four words depending if it's in English or Chinese - "Happy New Year" or "恭喜发财".
Then there are relatives like my cousins whom I was close with while growing up in Club Street, but nevertheless have grown apart when our respective families shifted to different parts of the island. Usually, the topic in our conversation is the same year in year out, and sounds pretty much like a broken record:
Cousin: Chris, you still working in the same office ah?
Me: Ya, same as last year, and the last last year (mumbling in my heart: I told you last year, and last last year wat)
Cousin: Oh, still on shift?
Me: No, working five-day week leh (working shift? that was so many moons ago and I've told you so many moons ago each CNY I visited)
Cousin: You should visit more often, and not just CNY, you know.
Me: Sure, sure (hesitated to add: and this broken record will be broken no more hor?)
My elder sis, who is unmarried, dreads CNY and it's not difficult to understand why.
Aunt: So got boyfriend or not?
Sis: No leh. No time.
Aunt: Aiyoh, don't be so choosy lah. Your biological clock is ticking away, you know.
Sis: Er... 没缘份leh.. not say I don't want (mumbling inside: why so kaypoh? None of your business wat)
Aunt: I recommend you one lah. How?
Sis: (getting quite pissed and wanna shut her off) Er... rich or not? Also don't want someone your age one hor.
I also cannot understand some of these visits. For instance, on the first day of the Lunar New Year, all of us gathered at my mum-in-law place, and all of us wished one another Happy New Year. The next day, my Goddaughter (actually more of Slim Lady's for the daughter we never had), would come visit us again with her parents. Why the double wishes? Is it because she's our Goddaughter and she's expected to pay us a visit even though we've met the day before? Some of these visit just do not make sense.
There is one CNY tradition that I miss most - Firecrackers. When I was growing up in the 70s, I remember having played with firecrackers. With a joss stick on one hand and the firecrackers on the other, we simply lighted it up and just hurled the firecrackers on a distance with a loud bang. Sometimes, we would mischievously throw the firecrackers near one of the neigbhour kids who would jump up in fright when the firecracker went off. Some of these kids even burst into tears. That was lot of fun! But alas, firecrackers were eventually banned by the gahmen for safety reasons. I was too young to understand then. Perhaps people got badly injured or houses were gutted down because of firecrackers.
The several CNY that followed the firecrackers ban were really quiet. Most people felt that without firecrackers, the essence of the CNY was gone. But I guess we got used to it, like most other things banned (such as the chewing gum). Many of our kids today have never experienced playing with firecrackers. While not advocating lifting the ban totally, perhaps the gahmen can consider setting designated places to allow firecrackers. Perhaps the compound at the Community Centre can be such area to allow such activities during CNY. And of course, the CC should be the only authorized places to sell the firecrackers.