Friday, October 20, 2017

Move House

For some reasons, I was given a new blogspot and I am still figuring how to put them together.

Until then, for new posts, please go to this site.

http://bullockcartwater50.blogspot.sg/2017/08/7th-month.html

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Chinese New Year & food

One of the family memories of past Chinese New Years must be the Reunion Dinners. For many of us, greeting the Chinese New Year (CNY) is incomplete without enjoying the delicious traditional family dishes with all in the extended family. There must be many 3G or 4G (4th generation) in each extended family. With the world getting smaller, sometimes, it is tough to get all together. Some members of the family must be somewhere in the other parts of the world.

For many, especially the mothers, working towards the CNY could have started from Winter Solstice. Although one is based on the solar calendar and the other, the lunar calendar, the difference of the number of days between the two events are in matter of days.

Spring cleaning is a ritual in the old days, especially in the old pre-war houses, when the entire community (tenants and landlord) within the house would clean. The date could be set by the landlord, as in our case (and in our case, it was the landlady). Then, mothers started worrying on the thousands of things to do, from ingredients for the grand CNY Eve Reunion to the new clothings for the kids, and yes, new bedding, window and door curtains. And yes, an appropriate to clean the altar for the family Gods. For some tradition, the small shrines for Tian Guan - Heaven Official in the Taoism (most people think as Tian Gong - Jade Emperor) would be changed.


Each family has its own favourite traditional dishes. I was lucky to enjoy the Hokkien dishes from Mum and Cantonese dishes from my (late) mother-in-law. There are possibly some dishes that are common to most families and definitely some unique to each family.


For my Hokkien tradition, our favourites (and these days, the grandchildren would hint and ask Grandma to prepare them) are Kiam Chye Ark (Duck with Pickled Mustard Green Soup), Peppery Pig Stomach with Gingko soup, Deep fried prawns in batter (akin to Tempura), Trotters with Sea Cucumber and a curry dish! There is the ubiquitous Hokkien Noodles (using flat noodles). And yes, there could be steam boat where more ingredients need to be bought before hand, especially the dried ones. Ah, once a year (then and maybe now too), there should be the "Chia Loon" (as the folks would describe it) Abalone from Mexico.


In the old days, it would mean waking up early to slaughter the duck and chicken in preparing for the dishes. These days, one buy freshly slaughtered ducks and chickens from the wet market. In the early days, it also meant going to the wet market to buy chicken and ducks live to bring home and fattened up before the big day. This could be a week or two before. I remember everyone was feeling up the chicken (wondering if they were trying to find how fat or think it is) before buying. I remember that in those days, we have to negotiate with the ducks (which were more noisy) and chicken when going to the toilet, as it was the most convenient place to put them. For little boys, they were always warned to be careful of the ducks (probably worst if it is the goose). How to fatten up the chickens, we kids then believed cockroaches were great meals for them and so we went catching them.


From one, I have to help in the slaughtering of the chicken and duck. It mean either Mum or I will hold the chicken by the head and body, leaving the exposed neck for the kill. Nothing is to be wasted, and so the blood was drained to a bowl to be part of another dish. Alas, these days, we have to travel aboard to enjoy the chicken or duck blood. Defeathering the chicken, and especially the duck, is a tedious process. Hot water was used to enable easier defeathering and as kids, we were tasked to pluck all the fine feathers.

Duck is often for the sea cumber dish but because we were to make offerings to the Gods and Ancestors, like the chicken, it is boiled or steamed. With other dishes, all these have to be completed by late morning so that offering could start, before noon. It is believed that offerings must be made before noon.

In almost every major event, the ancestors are always part of the celebration or commemoration. In this way, we also expressed our thanks to our departed loved ones and ancestors, for without them, we won't be here. In current times, many of the ancestral tablets have been moved to temples and so, there would be the additional time to bring the food to the temple.

Lunch would be simple and most work remained to be done, and in Grandma's home, she will wait for all her children, grand-children, and in many cases, great-grand-children to come for dinner. Dinner becomes a noisy affair as family members catch up with updates. For some, it could be "introduction" or re-introductions of the newly added family members. It is always a challenge for the newly weds to see how they could now join two Reunion Dinners. By tradition and custom, the daughter-in-law is expected to be at the reunion dinner on CNY eve. And so some compromises have to be in place, early dinner in one? These days, one can hear one having reunion dinners as early as one week before CNY! Some families opt for reunion dinners in the restaurants, especially those who are working. Save one from the tedious task of preparing and, worst, cleaning up.


In the old days, Grandma not only think about the reunion dinner dishes. She probably tried to make some traditional cakes as well. And yes, the tidbits for the New Year Day for the visitors. For the Hokkiens, the traditional cakes, made by steaming after much hard beating of the dough, are the Kuey Nern Ko (Egg cakes), Huat Kueh (cake with yeast) and Ti Kueh (sweet cake, more commonly known these days as Nian Gao). In preparing the Huat Kueh, grandma was very pantang (in Malay meaning superstitious in the most liberal translation but not actually so) that no one make remarks such as whether the cakes would form properly. Kids love to ask all kinds of questions, especially challenging ones such as "what if .. "


Come New Year day, usually, there is almost no cooking. For most, the food left over would be eaten, and to many, they taste even better. I love my overnight Kiam Chye Ark. It has become a tradition in our extended family to have Mee-Sua with chicken.



Friday, June 03, 2016

Cloth or clothes


In the old days, months before the Chinese New Year, the then Chin Choo Pa Sat (the original People's Park before the current People's Park Complex) would be abuzz with the ladies going to pick up their favourite cloth to make clothes for the new year. After the fire, the stalls selling the cloth shifted to the new Chin Choo Pa Sat (as it is still known today). It is now known in English as People's Park.

I was only introduced to this trade when I met my wife, then, my girl friend. By that time, my mother-in-law to be was having her shop at the new HDB built Chin Choo Pat Sat (People's Park, which I call the Old People's Park to differentiate from the People's Park Complete and the People's Park Centre. How confusing can it be. On the second storey, it was literally rows of shops selling cloth. Must have been a delight to the ladies. In those days, the customers as well as the stallholders would have to sharpen their skills to get into battle of bargaining.

The medium of communication must have been mainly Cantonese as I remember, although I have met Teochews who could literally switch from one language to the other, adding in the flowery words in between without any pause. And indeed, one has to be careful when shopping. Don't get into serious bargain when you don't have the intention to buy, especially when the shop is just open. The first sale must be successful or the whole day would be ruined. Superstition? Perhaps. But certainly it would drain the mood away. For the skilful customers, it would be the best time to extract the best deal as the shopowner would want to succeed in that deal, even if it mean less profit.


The opening price and the agreed price can be at big extremes as the veteran shoppers will tell you. It is still happening in Nanyang! And if you were to reduce the asking price by 50%, and after a few lukewarm attempt, the shopowner agreed to sell you, you could have come away feeling that you have had it! :)

Looking from behind the front of the shop, I could understand why the asking price would be high. When these retailer bought the cloth from the wholesaler, they usually come in 5 colours of the same pattern. Out of these 5 colours, they would be lucky if two colours could sell, and not the other three. So, the shopowner had to balance to see how to recover costs, not to talk about profit.


In the much earlier days, there would be the black cloth (satin? silk? or what one in Hokkien called Kong Tuan) which would be favourite of the ladies to make pants. We were talking about ladies reaching 40 considering such less than colourful wear. In a way, maybe, when one moved towards being a granny, that's the shade of colours one would start trending towards. And there were the Majie who would be wearing such colours too.

For the younger ones, there would be the bright and colourful ones. More popular cloth would probably have come from Japan, mainly the synthetic ones.

Those were also the days when guys would buy cloth to make shirts. I was lucky to get cloth at no cost to make shirts. No thoughts of advertisements in those days.


Dating days also meant helping to man the shop. I was no good in doing sales. First, it is mainly in Cantonese. I am not good enough to chat, not to mention doing the to-ing and fro-ing in a match of patience and art of war. One has to convince the other, giving some technical knowledge on why this particular cloth was more costly, the made, and latest technologies. And so, I offered to do more of the closing of the shop at the end of the day. This is a man's shop, putting plank and plank that together covered up the shop front, leaving one space for the door. But hey, my mother-in-law did it on her own too, when we were not around, most of the time. Young people could be held down sitting in front of the shop and "king-gai" (chit chat).


The more tedious part must be the annual cleaning. This would happen like one or two weeks before the Chinese New Year. By then, no one would be buying any cloth as it would be too late to have it made in time for the new year. This would be the time when all the shops started closing down, cleaning the place and throwing away many things, most of the which could be the empty cloth paper roll. Cobwebs, dust and soot .. it would take a whole day to clean. And then, it would be closed for a good week or two, waiting for the auspicious day to start the new year's business.

My adventure with the cloth business ended when my Mother-in-Law passed on.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Reminisce: Growing up in Chinatown


To be exact, growing up in Tng Tiam Hung, the Hokkien name for Craig Road. And for us youngters, so long we could "pa pa chao" - running around in Hokkien, we were gone, only to be back during meal times. And so, our playground grew bigger and wider as we grew older, and bolder. Oblivious to the dangers of traffic and gangsters (read also as secret society members), we went everywhere, well, almost. Certain streets are not meant to be entered and so, we didn't.

Now, as memories grew dimmer in the mind, I thought I should enlist former residents (and even current residents) of greater Chinatown, known as Tua Po, to share more of your experiences. Each of us has our own and we treasure them. I guess some would be private and others public.

Like, when we were young, sitting on the steps from the main doorway of where we lived, we would tease the girls as they passed by, on the way to school. One day, many years later, I was to be introduced to one girl in a colleague's house! Aha, so that was you?? Well, vaguely, as we have grown out of our cocoons, and could not really recognise each other.

Come 29Apr16 at 7pm, I hope to share more, and well, gather more from anyone keen to come along to Grassroots Book Room to talk about the old times (our young times). A number of the old places are gone and so, we will need other triggers to get that segment of our memory back.

Check out more about the Heritagefest. There are also many interesting tales of the old.

http://heritagefest.sg/events/growing-up-in-chinatown


Saturday, February 27, 2016

Farewell to yet another kopi tiam ...


It takes us a while to discover a place where we would feel comfortable enough to decide that that would be our "watering hole". A place to sit, have a cuppa, and watch the world goes by. And yes, the occasional (or even often) chance meeting of friends, neighbours or "comrades in crime", people of all kinds whom we would meet.

Identifying such a place takes take, adopting it takes even a longer time. More often than not, it is always an introduction and recommendation. A little far away from the maddening crowd would be ideal. And then, how about the boss and his/her staff. Would they be flexible enough to accept the idiosyncrasies of people like us? 


If we were to take time to find, adapt and adopt, imagine the challenges of anyone who wants to start a small kopi tiam from scratch. A franchise only helps that much to kick start. The rest is up to the owner. And so, it took Good Morning Nanyang Cafe at Pagoda St some 4 years to build up the business, where other than tourists or the occasional visitor from out of town, every face was a familiar face. The boss becomes the conduit to share messages and telling friends of friends if they had been to the cafe lately or only minutes ago. The traditional and certainly better way than the facebook alerting you of a friend nearby.

We thought we have found our ideal place where we could go and have a cuppa kopi (great kopi he makes), relax and enjoy the crowd. Observing how the tourists looked at the pictures hung from the project "Picturing Chinatown" which became a topic of discussion. Locals too. I loved to share with the out of state friends about project Chinatown. Here was a good start. 


That 4 years quickly came to an end on 26 Feb 2016. Regulars who knew came to have their last cuppa and wished the boss the best of luck in his search for the next space. A space that would be challenging to find where a watering hole could be established. A place where relationships are built and grown, a common sharing of the bigger space around it. No, the money spinners are going to make more money, oblivious to the more lofty hopes and ambitions. A sad moment as a staff bade the boss farewell, thanking him for taking care of her in the past 4 hours. How many grateful and loyal staff can you find? How many great bosses can you find. Working in a kopi tiam needs long hours and the ability to interact with different customers, old and new, flexible and demanding, and in this case, from different cultures which need gentle introduction and education. To enjoy the wonderful Nanyang kopi, uniquely in Nanyang, and yes, the half boiled eggs that you thought the Chinese would know? Nanyang ones again? :)


Come Monday, many more regulars might came in for a shock if they have had not heard about it. Many young and old Thai tourists would be disappointed as this seemingly hard to find kopi tiam was featured in their guide books.


Accepting the rush of the tides, rising or ebbing, we could only sat there till the official closing time, and still reluctant to leave. But the time had come, and with heavy hearts and great memories of the past, we bade the good folks of Good Morning Nanyang Cafe at Pagoda St goodbye and hoping to see them again. Would there be a re-incarnation? Only time will tell.


Friday, February 05, 2016

The Monkey has arrived on 4 Feb 2016 at 1756H

And so it is said. When it comes to the Chinese New Year, there is always the confusion when the new Chinese zodiac takes over. Mostly, the old folks will take the first day of the Chinese New Year as the beginning of the new Chinese zodiac.


An interesting situation appears when one declares that he or she, his or her child is born in the year of a particular zodiac. In some years, the Chinese Lunar New Year comes ahead of Li Chun 立春, one of the 24 solar terms (following the solar calendar, akin to the Gregorian calendar, plus or minus one day I was told), it could be a Lunar New Year of the same old zodiac, until 4 (or 5) February. Imagine if one wants to avoid a Tiger baby :). On other years, Li Chun could be ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year, as it is like this year. And so, what if a baby is born today? Goat or Monkey? But does it matter? :) These days, there are many baby born through caesarian.


And so, as we learn more about our Chinese culture and heritage, we get more confused. There will be confusion before clarify.

Anyway, the Monkey has arrived. Other than the pig, probably the Monkey stands tall (don't talk about the Dragon) in the Chinese story based on the Journey to the West. What better way to welcome the new year than revisiting the Journey to the West. And so, the Chinatown Chinese New Year lightup came with the theme of Journey to the West. A story that probably almost every Chinese would know, in one way of the other. In the old days, it was the Chinese comics. And there was the classic, not to mention the countless movies on different parts of the Journey to the West. And there are animations, which have lasting memories on the kids. Leave to the adults to debate on the stories behind the story.


And with the traditional local Chinese folk belief, they will celebrate the birthday of the Monkey God, respectfully known as the Great Sage or Da Sheng 大圣, on the 15th or 16th day of the First Lunar Month. From big temples dedicated to the Great Sage to small shrines, there will be celebrations. One of the oldest, if not the oldest Monkey God temple, must be the Qi Tian Gong 齐天宮 in Eng Hoon Street, Tiong Bahru. It has an interesting history with delightful stories shared by the son of the first spirit medium of this temple, See Qi Tian Gong story.


The other old temple dedicated to the Great Sage must be the Bao An Gong 保安宮 (Poh Ann Keng), originally from a shophouse along Peck Seah Street. It was one of the few important temples in that there was also a spirit medium, and the temple serves as a one-stop place of consultation for the folks who lived in and around Tanjong Pagar as well as anywhere else in Singapore. The early devotees of the Great Sage consisted of a big population of Peranakans. You can see house altars dedicated to the Monkey God with a unique inverted bulb-shape tube. I am wondering if this tube was specially built for the Monkey God.


For the traditional businesses, what better ways to generate new products come each Chinese New Year. These days, when toys are at affordable prices, or most people can afford them, stuff toys of monkeys of various shapes and sizes appear. Some of them defy identification of any living species. Probably like the Monkey God, would anyone know of his association with any species? Maybe. :)


Each year, we welcome a new year with hope and enthusiasm. The new grandparents hope to see grandchildren. Their children might not be enthusiastic but might be changing their minds. But for sure, they might not hit the replacement rate. Where there's hopes, there's possibilities.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

What is a bowl of Yong Tow Foo?


Indeed, what is a bowl of Yong Tow Foo? One might like it, others might not. So what is it that one so likes it whereas the other might not?

I was in this long queue for this, what I call the 1pm Yong Tow Foo as they only open for business at 1pm or thereafter, sometimes, 5 to 10 minutes late, when an lady rushed up to queue behind me. More out of curiosity as this was her first time! She said that her hairdresser told her about it. Being curious, she decided to see it is was really that good. Being something like 60 people behind (and chances are each person is not going to order just one bowl), there must be something to it. She asked how was it. I said, "very good", almost in unison with another lady who was sitting by the table near by who said, "not so good." She quickly added, to each his/her taste, in Mandarin.


I asked the lady some 60 people later how was it. She said, "OK lah, the soup is less oily,"probably indicating the positive part. :)

A couple of weeks ago, a friend called to say that she was in Chinatown and if I would like to go for lunch. She mentioned one Yong Tow Foo stall that she has been trying to eat from, but each time she was too late. "OK, I queue first," I volunteered while she went to do her errand. Being away from Singapore for the past 30 years, she has become a stranger in Singapore, or Singapore has become a strange place to her. She couldn't find me! Ah, there's the handphone to guide her.

And why this Yong Tow Foo? Well, when she was 9 years old, her late mother brought her here to have the Yong Tow Foo. Since then, it has remained in her mind, and each time when she came back, she would try to come to eat again. But she was not to be until this day. The queue was long, but it was good for us because we could chat about old times. That was how I learnt why she wanted to have this Yong Tow Foo. It brought back many memories of the times when she was with her Mum. Ah, the taste, the smell and even the chilli made a difference. Does it taste as good? It depends on your first time, I suppose. And subsequent times.


This stall would start early in the morning to prepare the pieces of Yong Tow Foo, putting the minced fish meat as fillings into the respective items such as tofu or the beancurd skins. It is laborious work. And then, there was the soup to be prepared. So, unless, all the various aspects of this somewhat simple looking dish are in place, they will not start selling. Queues would form before 1pm. By the time they open for business, there would be a swell of easily 50-60 people. Some passer-bys would look in disbelief, probably wondering if it was worth the queue in this humid and warm place. Ah, there are probably two areas where Singaporeans would queue patiently - FOOD and 4D. :)

Once the operation starts, it is very efficient. There are like 4-5 persons taking orders and serving them. If you are going to tabao (take away), the person serving you will ask you to stand in another queue for takeaway. But if you want to eat and tabao, well, they will take your orders and serve you first. In some cases, like you are going to tabao for 2, they have it pre-packed! If you are going to eat, they will ask you to give your table number, pay them, and they will serve you. If you are alone, you will have to try to find a spot nearby. Unless, you have a tissue pack or umbrella to "chope" (reserve) a place. Usually, there is always a place for singles. At S$4 per bowl (standard for 10 pieces), it is just nice for afternoon meal.


My friend who has missed this so many times became kiasu. She ordered 3 bowls to be shared by us, meaning each of us would have something like 15 pieces, and tabao another 2 bowls to bring back! I am certainly, it was a fulfilling meal. I must ask her what memories came flooding back.

For those who came to tabao, some not within Chinatown (I found an ex-colleague who came all the way her to buy), they would also bring their pots (the typical enamel pots) for the soup. This Yong Tow Foo must be eaten with the super hot soup! :)

So, a bowl of Yong Tow Foo, or for that matter, any simple dish or bowl of food, is more than what it looks or tastes. It contains a reflection of one's past - especially the spider-web of experiences of joy and pain. Ah well, it could be just a bowl of wonderful food to fill the tummy. :)

Saturday, December 05, 2015

From old schools to a hostel to a Senior Citizen Centre




I could still vividly remember the wake-up calls from the ringing of the school bell as the Park Road and Pearl Bank Primary Schools called their student to their assemblies to start the school day. The chattering of the kids as they ran and played with their friends came to a silence and the serious singing of Majulah Singapura began.

I was in and out of Singapore because of work then. And soon, there was silence. No sounds of young voices. Empty shells stood. The buildings of the two schools, which later became one and then none, had reached a milestone of their lives.

And then, I saw strangers, foreigners from all over the world, congregating into the buildings. The former Park Rd Primary School became the hostel for men and the Pearl Bank Primary School became the hostel for women. Standing from the multi-storey carpark facing the school, one could see the interesting daily activities in these two buildings.

The neighbouring shops flourished with the new neighbours meeting their daily needs. Prepaid SIM cards and supermarket. And a fruit shop too.The coffeeshops must have been too. After years of integrating into the neighbourhood, plans have changed. The hostel was no more to be.


The buildings fell silent again. This time, the renovation was intensive and extensive. The neighbours were told of what was to come. Elevators were being built for these two former schools. This is to be a centre for senior citizens. There will be no young legs to pound the stairs. The rooms have to be renovated to make movement easy and convenient. After months of dust flying into the neighbouring flats, things have settled. The road into the buildings was re-tarred.


As I looked at it this evening, the buildings are ready to receive their new occupants. I spied some double-deck beds already in one room. For the people who are going to man the place?


The neighbourhood is going to adjust to a new neighbour. Perhaps, for the better, for the ageing residents in the community?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Fung Bo Bo returns to Ngau Che Shui (Chinatown) 冯宝宝回到牛车水


If there is one little girl who captured the hearts of the residents of Ngau Che Shui (Chinatown), it must be Fung Bo Bo. And we are talking about some 50+ years ago, when Fung Bo Bo, at the age of 3 made her appearance in Singapore with her movies. It is said that between the age of 6 and 9, she starred in some 120 movies!



On the 20 Jun 15 night, when I attended the last day of the the 2-day musical featuring Fung Bo Bo - Memories and Chinatown (probably sounds better in Cantonese, Fung Bo Bo Hui Da Niu Che Shui 冯宝宝回到牛车水) - I could see the sparkles in the eyes of the old folks as they queued to get into the theatre. Thanks to this Fei Zhai (肥仔) who initiated a "Join Fung Bo Bo Fansi Club" with a poster outside the theatre, many stopped by to take photos with the young pictures of Fung Bo Bo as well as writing down their names and email address or handphone number to join the club. The Chinatown Fung Bo Bo Fans Club seems ready to take off.



Many were trying to find someone to talk about their admiration for Fung Bo Bo. What better way than sharing with the lady (my wife) who manned the Fan Club stall on this evening. There was this lady who said that when she was young at 6, her picture looked like that of young Fung Bo Bo. And now, probably some 50+ years later, she stood by Fung Bo Bo's picture to take a photo.

Many brought along their ageing mothers to attend. One was seen on wheelchair (going to this rather ageing Kreta Ayer Theatre was a feat) and a few bent ladies being guided by their daughters. A few old couples came on their own, one holding the other, each actually requiring support. A few asked to sit down on the spare chair, panting from the walk up the slope.

A number were heard chatting in Hokkien or Teochew, but that did not prevent them from being fans of Fung Bo Bo. It was a time when Singaporean Chinese (and even non Chinese included) were multilingual, and appreciated the arts of the different groups. Cantonese movies, perhaps, thanks to Fung Bo Bo, were in abundance, compared to Hokkien and Teochew movies.

While Fung Bo Bo sang in English (she spent 6 years in school in UK), Mandarin and Cantonese, her conversation with the audience was in Cantonese. From the warm response, all must have understood Cantonese. In typical Chinese theatre scenes where the audience talked as much as the movie, this one was a silent audience, drinking in every word of Fung Bo Bo. She brought them through her almost 60 years of journey of her life, leading them through her highs and lows, and indeed, she must have gotten the audience reflecting on their times as they followed her along. There weas deep silence as Fung Bo Bo sounded teary and laughters with applause when she brightened up on great memories.

In between, Bo Bo shared her outlook in life and urged her audience to think likewise. "Talk and share your thoughts with your loved ones before they are gone," she urged. She was talking about her godmother, the late Lin Dai, probably better known to the older folks, with whom she lost the opportunity to express her love. Lin Dai had influenced and guided Bo Bo very much.


The return of Fung Bo Bo in this musical show as well as her just released movie on the Wonder Mama (Ma Mi Hak 妈咪侠) has brought back warm memories to the residents of Chinatown, and indeed, the diaspora of Ngau Che Shui. To the many in their autumn years, this must have been something that they did not expect, to see Bo Bo in person again. Some waited to meet her in person and to get her autograph. One man who missed the chance the night before was waiting patiently since before the show to try to meet her. I hope he made it on this evening.

For many of the senior citizens living in Chinatown, and elsewhere, thanks to Fei Zhai with the support of the Singapore Film Society, got to watch Wonder Mama at a special showing in Cantonese at FilmGarde at Bugis+. Thanks to the many friends who paid for the tickets for these senior citizens and their transport to the show.


For these people this must have been, in a way, a very memorable SG50 year for them! Thanks Fei Zhai and his kakis, who also included members of the Cantonese Clan Associations in Chinatown.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Goat has arrived, ahead of schedule


Or so one could say. Many believe that the Chinese zodiac starts on the first day of the Chinese New Year. But it is said that the change of the zodiac starts with Li Chun, the arrival of Spring, which is based on the solar calendar. This year, it is on 4 February 2015. Ah, for the many mothers to be, which animal were they betting for? Horse or Goat?

With the arrival of a new year with a new animal, it keeps the local Chinese economy humming and running. Go to People's Park Complex, and you will see a constant crowd, peering over the shoulders to look at what brings to them in this new year. These days, one does not have to remember. Up came the handphone and each took a picture of the animal that he or she belongs too. And then, it would be the family members as well. Temples are also having such posters for their devotees.


If there is anything that links Singapore Chinatown of today to the past, it must be the street bazaars, offering all kinds of goodies. Gone are the stalls that used to sell the Chinese New Year cards. Most clothing stalls were also gone, not to mention the shoes. I remember when I was young, we hardly buy new clothings or shoes. But for the Chinese New Year, it was a must and hence we kids looked forward to the shopping trip to Chinatown. Even it meant suffocating in the crowd.

What could well be the continuing products could be the melon seeds, groundnuts, Chinese sausages, waxed duck, Yunnan ham. Yes, the Bak Kwa (sweet meat) is like a must and there would be queues for the favourite old signature stalls. Today, you can still see queues. Some things are a must for they are symbolic of one's hopes. Ground Nuts known as Hua Sheng (which could sound like flower growing) could well be one of these.

In the past few years, even wedding glamour photo and dress companies began to appear in the street bazaars. Certainly a great way to catch some out of the crowd.


Dui Lian (Couplets) is not like what it used to be, where the folks would wait patiently to ask the Letter Writer to write some nice phrases for them. There are many ready printed ones available but nothing beats the original writings. This year, I spotted one calligrapher, supposedly from China doing a roaring business. His calligraphy is indeed very nice. With our HDB flats, there's hardly space on the doorway to paste the couplets. Interestingly, I spied and saw our new mainland Chinese neighbour pasting them inside the hall. Putting up the red banner (Ang Chai in Hokkien) over the doorway is also fast diminishing because of the small doorway into the HDB flat. But there are still some who faithfully put them up, very much what they used to do in the old pre-war houses or even attap houses of the old.


Apart from the din and roaring business to encourage folks to buy new things for the home and family members, from curtains to tidbits for the New Year Day guests, each family would also go about preparing for the new year in a quiet way. One of them must be in the wet market where Mum and Grandma would be busy with, stocking up fresh food to cook for Reunion Dinner. But of course, these days, many families opt for Reunion Dinner in the Restaurants. Where once the restaurants would be closed for the Chinese New Year, these days great business opportunities await from CNY eve to the days that follow. Loh Hei (Chinese Raw Fish with a selections of ingredients, each symbolising one great wish and hope) is certainly one of the great attractions. From within the family, it has become a big corporate event where vendors would treat their customers to such a Loh Hei gathering. Within the company, the boss might buy his staff lunch or dinner with Loh Hei. All for a better business!

Ah, but the traditional Grandma prefers to cook at home, cooking the traditional and delicious dishes that Grandpa loves and certainly the grandchildren. More work yes, but the efforts and love put into each dish certainly brings out the glee and smiles of the extended family. What better satisfaction can Grandma get.

In the old days, most families would have the tablets of their departed loved ones and the ancestors at home. On CNY eve, it is one of the moments when the family also remember their departed loved ones.They would cook all the favourite dishes of their departed loved ones and offer to them the way Chinese had done for millennium. In a way, it was good because after the offering, the living ones got to eat the food. These days, many tablets have been placed in temples. While many families still make it a point to go to the temple together to offer their respects to their departed loved ones, it would require immense efforts to cook and to bring the food there. Many still do, carrying the food in tingkat (multi-layer containers).


In many old Chinese clan associations, there is always a small space where members could put the tablets of their departed loved ones. In the days when clan associations were active and supporting many members who came to Singapore alone, this was a favourite space for one to reserve a tablet for the time to come. A number of the tablets are still found to be covered, as is a practice when one is still alive, with now already faded red paper. Probably when the person passed away, no one knew that he or she has already reserved such a tablet in the clan association. Until someone peek into the covered tablet, the story remains untold.

With each new year, the elders in the family would try to keep on to the traditions, dismayed at times with the changing world. A constant struggle as they win some and lose some. While the Chinese New Year might mean more in the old days when the ancestors were living in the country with four seasons and were likely to be farmers, it is still an important tradition that binds the extended families together. And it will repeat itself as each generation begets yet another generation.

To the ageing folks, each new year brings forth memories of the old. Many look back at the difficult times and smile at their more fortunate descendants, quietly noting the outcome of their hard work. Some would subtly remind their descendants to remember the source of the water when they drink. If it makes sense to them.

To borrow the coined wish, Goat Xi Fa Cai. Or my own one, Have a Huat New Year!