Popping of firecrackers.
And the giving out of red packets.
For the vast majority of Asian Chinese, those two preceding lines immediately tell of celebrating Chinese New Year (Guo Nian which means, loosely translated, welcoming a brand new year and ridding oneself of yesteryear evil spirits). I know, it’s quite mouthful contained within two seemingly succinct, monosyllabic words. And the phrase “Asian Chinese” was intentional, friend, by way of explaining that all who hail from the continent are indeed Asian but not all are Chinese in ethnicity.
For instance, in Singapore, you have Singaporean Chinese and Singaporean Malay as well as Singaporean Indian. As is the same in Malaysia (where I ‘m from) wherein we have Malaysian Malay, Malaysian Chinese, Malaysian Indian and Malaysian Native (indigenous tribes such as Iban, Bidayuh, Penan, Kelabit, Murut, and loads more). Out of all the different races, only the Chinese community celebrates Chinese New Year, whilst every other ethnicity celebrates its own interpretation of a new year.
BRIEF CULTURAL LESSON OVER
To soak up some fun trivia surrounding the origins of Chinese New Year, this is a quick read, and so too here, although do take them with a pinch of salt? Many pertain specifically to legends from the mainland. For the purpose of today’s post, I’m going to share some memories of how my family celebrates what’s also known as the Spring Festival.
It typically begins the evening before.
And the merry-making goes on for a full 15 days.
go bust fly out the window.
Which you already knew.
So the evening before is always reserved for what’s affectionately termed as the “reunion dinner”. As the name implies, the meal is meant to bring together all immediate members of one’s family which, in many instances, happens just that one time each year. As a child, the importance of this left no mark upon me because, hello, we lived together under one roof. My father, my mother, my brother and I. However, as I grew up, I began to understand the significance of this dinner for it was then that I lived in one country, my brother in another, and my parents, yes, in yet another.
Chinese New Year as well as Christmas were the times we made it home to our parents. Come hell or waters high. Plane tickets were booked well in advance, oftentimes a full year ahead of time to ensure (a) availability; and (b) lower fares (you know how it is, prices tend to be on the upswing when in demand).
My mother would also cook the entire meal. And it was (almost) always the same dishes (as we weren’t well off, this was the one time we could indulge on a culinary level, Christmas was more about presents, we had our priorities). I can still remember them vividly. Braised 5-Spice Cinnamon Duck, Lemongrass Chicken, Mixed Vegetables (Chive Buds, Shiitake Mushrooms, Prawns, Egg Tofu, Snow Peas, Bell Peppers), Steamed Sultan Fish (Fresh Water Carp), and Soup (Corn, Fish Maw, Pork Ribs).
Cynthia Rowley Red Lace Dress (Rent The Runway) | Jewellery (gifted) | Gold Mesh Ankle Booties (Urbanog.com) | Lipstick (c/o of Palladio Beauty)
DESSERT, YOU ASK?
Why, red packets but of course.
Or, to be politically accurate, Ang Baos. They were the highlight of my life during Chinese New Year as a child (ang baos are given to children of all ages up, including unwed adults, and are also presented by working grown-up children to their elderly parents). The amount would vary but generally, close relatives received the most (anywhere from $50 to $500), distant relatives second (usually between $10 to $50), and others the least (us grandchildren would help my grandmother prepare hundreds of ang baos containing $1.80 for this purpose, she was an elementary school principal, you see). It used to be that all ang baos would contain some value of 8, i.e., $8 or $88 or $0.80 but over time, this doesn’t appear to matter as much as the actual amount received.
The tradition of family-visiting
was is vital, with the first day of Chinese New Year reserved for one’s parents. In my family’s case, for my paternal Grandmother followed by my maternal grandparents. Note the hierarchy system? It downstreams to the children meaning after visiting Pho-Pho (how one calls the paternal grandmother), Amah (maternal grandmother) and Kung-Kung (we called both grandfathers this), we’d go home because my father’s siblings (he’s the eldest) and my mother’s (she was the oldest still living in Malaysia) would come a-calling.
One is expected to have goodies and treats ready for visitors. The F&B line-up at my house then was comprised of both traditional Chinese New Year cookies and pastries as well as savoury dishes which my mother would prepare the days before. I have some serious respect for my mother. I mean, the woman had a full-time job as Editor of the Borneo Literature Bureau, she took care of us and cooked all our meals, worked out three times a week (fond recollection of Jane Fonda here), and wrote several books each year #goals #slay #originalgirlboss
Ahh. Such memories. Pigging out.
Collecting receiving ang baos. Drinking Fanta Orange (I was only allowed this once a year so you can imagine how much I had). Staying up late. Listening to the grown-ups talking about things that made absolutely no sense. Not having to go to school since it was closed for three days. Good times. Good times.
As you can imagine, this year, when we realised we had the opportunity to invite some friends over to join us for Chinese New Year first day dinner, I took full advantage of my memories and replicated the menu handed down by my mother. Well, as closely as I could given that certain ingredients are unavailable here.
We had the duck and the chicken and the fish. No soup. And I made two versions of mixed greens. Added egg noodles (playing the longevity card here). Baked pineapple tarts (Sarawak is famous for those). And we ate and talked and had fun until the wee hours of the morning. Quite literally. Beautiful evening in fabulously wonderful company. A beautiful memory of our own. That would’ve been perfect if only my parents and brother were there. It is what it is.
Now, before you (completely) tire of my prose, welcome!! To the first of a tri-part project between Jodie and her ladies, Eve, and myself. Regular readers will be no strangers to these beautiful, strong women, with whom I’ve had the pleasure and honour of collaborating with on numerous occasions. For this particular joint venture, I (clearly) came up with the chinoiserie-inspired theme. We’re upping the ante with red and gold, my friends, not the easiest pairing in the colour world. A duo that can oh so easily go wrong, oh so quickly. That said, I do feel that we’ve all been able to achieve appear easy, effortless, relatable looks. Tell me what you think.
Eve, Teens (the world according to eve)
Stunning. Just stunning. The playful contrast of evening dress against bomber jacket is pure genius. Anyone else loving how the sunlight is playing footsie with the liquid gold satin of her jacket? And catching fire on that magnificent dress?
Sheela, 40s (sheela writes)
A departure from my usual style. I’m not sure I like the dress or how it’s giving me a baby bump. What I do know is I should’ve checked my wardrobe before proposing this theme GRIN as it turns out, I have red lipsticks and shoes in abundance but red clothes? And gold pieces? Not so much. By the by, the cuff was a gift from my stepson. Boy got taste.
Jodie, 50s (jodie’s touch of style)
Two words. Adorable. Peppy. Jodie looks amazing here. There’s an air of joy and fun that’s palpable. Tangible. I love the addition of the fur cape especially, introduces a wonderfully plush element to the overall mix. And hello, those boots. I’m thinking you’re definitely Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader material, my friend.
Nancy, 60s (jodie’s touch of style)
Hey hey. What sass. What spirit. Nancy is really working it in this beautiful dress with the delicate scallop details on bodice as well as hemline, with a nifty bolero to boot. I like that Nancy’s interpretation of the theme is subtle. Playing up the glam gold bit with jewellery as versus items of clothing, and we all know how I feel about animal print anything.
Charlotte, 70s (jodie’s touch of style)
It never ceases to amaze me how strikingly composed and poised Charlotte looks. Nary a dull nor stuffy vibe to every outfit she composes. And how masterful she is with accessories. Note the speckled scarf. And the print element on her bag (floral?). And the delicate touch of gold on the front of her jacket.
Come back and see us on Wednesday (we’re doing red and gold with print, you knew we had to) as well as Friday (it’ll be red and gold with another colour). I do hope you’ll also join the discussion and leave me a comment too, because many of my posts are inspired by what you say, how you feel, your thoughts.
Do you do red with gold too?
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p/s my photos are by Sofia Touassa
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