YEAR OF THE HORSE: Spring cleaning and being together are part of festive rites
WITHIN just a day after bells go jingle all the way, the thundering sound of Chinese drums and crashing of cymbals filled the air in most parts of Kuching.
In some parts of town, they have totally ignored Christmas tunes, but displayed Christmas decorations for sale alongside Chinese New Year decorations in their shops last month.
The city is painted red with Chinese New Year decorations, and the most obvious ones are in Padungan and Kenyalang Park, as many would throng these two places to get their celebration goodies -- smoked meat or locally known as bak poh or bak kwa in the peninsula, Mandarin oranges, glutinous rice cakes or nian gao and also Sarawak's famous kek lapis.
But closer to home, Chinese New Year is the time for my family to be reunited, cleaning the house and watching mum bake our favourite kuih makmur, or kuih momo, as my family calls it. It is the perfect time to let our guard down and share these precious moments.
Although we live in the same house, we hardly spend time together. My eldest sister is always busy with her business, my second sister is often caught up with work and yoga classes, while my younger sister seems to have endless college assignments and catching up with her friends most of the time.
For me, having a few days off together with my sisters and helping mum with spring cleaning is quality time spent as we are bound to dig out some old toys, albums and small notes in the store, and fond memories and laugher would surely ensue.
While our satellite television would continue to screen Chinese New Year programmes and songs, it tends to get stale as the shows would have singers dressed up in cheongsams, holding Mandarin oranges, lion dancers hopping around, fire crackers in the background and the annoyingly loud drum and cymbals. But I have to admit, this staleness is what makes Chinese New Year merry.
On the eve of the celebration, everyone will be home before 5pm to help mum prepare dinner and this happens only once a year in my family. On normal days, we have our meals at different times, at different places with different people.
Though we do have our family dinner once in a while, someone would surely go missing due to appointments. and so on.
That is what makes the reunion dinner an important occasion where most Chinese believe food brings the family together.
On our dinner table, the must-have dishes would be steamed chicken, pak lou duck, steamed fish, vinegar pork leg, stir fried garlic mixed vegetables and sea cucumber soup.
Over this side of the country, yee sang or yu shang is not really our thing and it is considered something fancy. Traditionally, it is a Cantonese thing and not all Chinese have the dish.
When I was young, I got excited over the unlimited supply of cakes, sweets, chocolates, soft drinks and ang pow as those were the days I could eat "peacefully" without mum yelling and stopping me.
The celebrations have changed over the years thanks to development and better living standards.
My 60-year-old mum used to tell me that the Lunar New Year meant so much to them as they finally could have a whole chicken, a whole duck and a big fish on the table on the eve. Besides, soft drinks (in a glass bottle) were available at home only during the celebration.
On normal days, they could afford only certain parts of the chicken or duck and there was no way they could afford extra money for soft drinks.
My grandfather was a factory worker with six children to feed, so to buy new clothes, dresses and shoes for all the children was beyond his means.
My grandmother would sew new dresses and a pair of pyjamas for the girls while the boys would have their long pants and a shirt.
Mum said her parents always reminded her that no matter how poor a Chinese family was, the Lunar New Year must still be celebrated with joy and happiness to ensure a good year ahead.
In this modern era, many do's and don'ts, such as one must wear red on the first day, do not sweep the floor or do not break any glasses, have been slowly neglected and forgotten.
But this depends on family tradition, practice and culture, as some do not mind or feel it is merely superstitious to follow all unwritten rules. For myself, the most important thing is to be with loved ones.
In recent years, the Chinese New Year season also reminds me of my late grandma who passed away two years ago, as there is that little emptiness on our dinner table.
The Chinese Lunar New Year is a time for festive cheer among family and friends. Pic by Mas Adib Saie
Goh Pei Pei NST Opinion Columnist29/01/2014