Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Chinese New Year: Traditions

Gong Xi Fa Cai, everyone!
It feels great to be back, especially this time of the year. The last time I was in Malaysia for Chinese New Year proper (I arrived back once, on the 15th day) was 2002. You realize how you miss the simple traditions, the things your family does for the new year. Even things you used to loathe, but did anyway, because it would mean you'd get a nice angpow (I suppose this is the Chinese version of "You'd better be good if you want your present from Santa"). Traditions like:
Having out family dinner on New Year's eve. It's been a while since we last sat down for dinner. This time with my brothers' 3 kids. Having mom's usual specialties like ginger chicken soup. Or that sweet roasted pork in black sauce (hun, I promise I took my Lipitor!).
Going out to visit the aunts and uncles in Seremban after dinner. Usually the first stash of angpows for the year. We'd then get home, and break out the fireworks. In the past, mom and dad spent hundreds of RM on us the 3 boys. And boys, being monsters, don't always do what you're supposed to. Several years we've had 'Moon Traveller' wars with the neighbours. Rather than pointing the bottle rockets up, we'd aim them at each others' houses. Until that one year we set some grass on fire at the neighbours! Never saw dad run that fast before (he and uncle Kenny were running buckets of water over!). This year, with only 1 nephew not afraid of fireworks, and that these have been banned, it was a smaller stash of some bottle rockets, fountains and sparklers (if anyone from Polis Diraja Malaysia is reading this, this part is entirely fictional!). I have to say though, the acrid smell of burnt gunpowder still gets me excited!
Mom would get us to do the midnight prayers to welcome the God of Prosperity. As kids, we'd be objecting, having been forced to stay awake so late.
The following morning, on the first day of Chinese New Year, we'd get up early and head to the temple for prayers. To this day, the smell of burning prayer sticks has a special place is in psyche; it makes me think of home, and the festivals. I realized this the last time we were in San Francisco and caught a whiff of this in Chinatown, and I immediately thought of this. After the prayers, we'd head home and get things ready for the open house; hordes of people (many I swear coming for just the Angpow, the red packets of money- I recall people bringing their troops of kids just to collect the money, and leave in 5 mins for the next house to hit). I'd get to do my own visiting and seeing my friends only from the 2nd day of CNY onwards. Oh, the things we did: as kids we'd go around on our bikes and a stash of firecrackers. We'd pop them into things we'd see while cycling from one place to another. One year we came up to some freshly made cow dung, you know, the one that is still soft and green. Well, suffice to say, after that firecracker went off, we had to cut our visiting short, and all went home for a shower. When we were older, and able to drive around, we always had mini casinos going in the houses we went to (ah, gambling- another Chinese New Year tradition).
Yes, it's great to be back, to again be soaking up all these familiar sights, sounds, smells, and taste. I only wish that Kristin didn't have to work and was here; my hope though is that when little baby Shim is old enough that we all get to spend Chinese New Year here. As it is with us calling the US our home now, it's really important for me to let our kids experience these little traditions in life.


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