Chinese New Year: You Are A Tourist

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Photo credit: ft.com

Tanya takes you through the eyes of a tourist Chinese New Year season in Singapore.

You are a tourist, a tourist to the season of Chinese New Year. Close your eyes and I’ll take you for a spin, with the Chinese dancers’ silk ribbons leading the way.

Welcome to Chinatown! Now, no peeking. Stop and bask in the sounds of festive music – cymbals crashing, drums beating and the voices of families singing. The oriental melodies are playing from every corner of the street and you hear laughter as you approach the busy lanes. Open your eyes and feast on the spectacular red and orange lanterns hanging above, each embracing the well wishes painted on their skin. The golden dragon is also painted with a symbolic meaning of imperial wealth and strength, a mythical creature considered auspicious. Various stalls have been set up on the cemented road, selling all sorts of knick-knacks for Chinese New Year. The auntie standing behind the table beckons you to come and see her table donned with beautiful red paper cuttings of children playing in the field an animal of that year. Another calls out to the pedestrians and asks if they are interested in purchasing a personalized calligraphy door couplet. Dui lian, or door couplets express the good wishes an individual would want to see for the coming year, often painted with black ink on red paper.

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Photo credit: shopabout.sg

Move along and you’ll notice the old shop houses retailing cheongsams, a traditional Chinese dress for women, often in bright colours with floral prints or butterflies. The traditional dress sewn in silk or satin falls perfectly to the knees, with a slit up the thighs. Those who wear it have a sort of air around them, the elegance of walking around in a dress with the stride of a Shanghainese woman.

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Photo credit: poachedmagazine.com

The smell of barbequed pork wharfs through the air and you can vaguely hear the crinkle of wrapping paper in the distance. Bak Kwa, a salty-sweet version of beef jerky, is the all-time favourite of any Chinese during the festive season. It is succulent and has a smoky flavour to its meat, leaving one very addicted to its unique taste. Other sweeter or more common delicacies, such as pineapple tarts or shrimp rolls, are sold in round containers with a red twist lid in almost every shop. Pineapple tarts, for instance, often presents itself as a round ball or more traditionally, a tart with pineapple filling on top of it. They are stacked on top of each other, sometimes with a layer of translucent paper distinctly distinguishing each level. One bite and the tart crumble, mixing with the tartness of the pineapple. Spicy dried shrimp rolls are small but packs a lot of flavour, wrapped with a crispy fried skin.

Come on, it’s getting late but wait- I hear the familiar drum beats of a Lion dance troupe. Lion dances are common, especially so because the lions are believed to bring good luck and prosperity. The stature of the lion is tall and mighty, often dressed in a coat of fur with the colours of red or yellow, sometimes even white. The lions move, with the help of at least 2 persons who would be trained in kungfu, to the drumming beat and music. Red packets are often given to the lions, as a gesture of appreciation for the performance.

We finally arrive home, where reunion dinner would commence. Seated at a round table would be family members of all generations, and laid in the middle would be a round plate of yusheng, a Teochew style fish salad. Different ingredients represent different well wishes, for example, the fish symbolises abundance through the year and the green radish symbolises eternal youth. Everyone grabs a pair of chopsticks and starts to lohei, otherwise known as the ‘Toss of prosperity’. With each toss in the air of the ingredients, people would speak out whatever wishes they had for the New Year. “Xue Ye Jin Bu” – “May your studies excel!” Someone pipes up. “Da Ji Da Li” – “Good luck and smooth sailing!” Another says. After the toss, tuan yuan fan or reunion dinner, starts with the eldest eating first. May the feast begin and Happy Lunar New Year!

Tanya Tan

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