(Caution: This is a very long post. Read only when you have the time and when the boss is not looking.)
Everybody I know in blogosphere seems to be blogging about Chinese New Year (CNY). First Chun See and then Chris. Looks like I must also keep up with this tradition and blog about 5 CNY traditions (not including the one on blogging about CNY). I have blogged about Chinese New Year visits last year. So this year, I shall just cover 2 places our family visited. I am writing about the following 5 things: the re-union dinner (nian ye fan 年夜饭 or tuan yuan fan 团员饭), a visit to River Hong Bao, a visit to NAMOS, the lion dance (wu shi 舞狮) and home decorations.
1. The Re-union Dinner (nian ye fan 年夜饭 or tuan yuan fan 团员饭)
The re-union dinner is a must-have CNY tradition. But increasingly, more and more families are not having home-cooked re-union dinners. (Not everyone is as fortunate as Chris even though a steamboat is more like a self-cooked meal rather than a home-cooked one.) The reason for this trend is due to several reasons. Firstly, Singaporeans are generally getting wealthier and most could afford a re-union dinner at a restaurant. Anyway, the dinner comes but once a year and there's really no need to stinge. Secondly, most
This year (and last), we had our re-union dinner at the Soup Restaurant at Terminal 2 of Changi Airport. Many other people had the same idea as us too - the restaurant was already fully booked for CNY eve when we enquired one week earlier. So we had to settle for dinner on the eve of CNY eve, i.e. Friday, 16 Feb 2007. A simple dinner for 7 adults and 5 children came up to $184, a very reasonable amount by any standard. Okay, we didn't have sharks fins, abalone or yu sheng but still, we had great company which is the real point of having a re-union dinner, isn't it?
2. A Visit To River Hong Bao
It has been a tradition for Singapore to hold a River Hong Bao carnival in conjunction with the CNY for many years already now. (However, this was the first time that my family visited the carnival on CNY eve, immediately after having our very own informal 're-union' dinner at Hong Kong Cafe in East Coast Road.) This year, the carnival is held at the Esplanade Park just next to the Padang, a popular place for courting couples in the middle of the last century. I took some photos of the carnival and of the scenery in the vicinity. Do bring your family there if you can spare the time as it is worth a visit. I think the carnival ends on the 15th day of CNY.
3. A Visit To NAMOS
Admission to the NAMOS (National Museum Of Singapore) was free on 19 Feb 2007. (Normal admission charges are $10 for adult and $5 for children.) As Singaporeans love to queue, and my family is Singaporean, we were there that day. The NAMOS was re-opened to the public only a few months ago.
I must say that the new NAMOS is very high-tech and impressive, especially the History Gallery. You see, every visitor is given an electronic gadget called a Companion. As you walk within the gallery, there is a large number printed on the floor within each exhibit area. Key in the number on your Companion, hit the 'Go' button and the companion will narrate (through clip-on headphones) related stories about the exhibit area.
Next to some exhibits there are numbers which you could key into the Companion to retrieve text about the exhibit. Cool. However, although there is a choice of text in various languages, including Japanese, narration is only in available in English.
It is dimly lit within the History Gallery. I nearly tripped over a dark-colour bench while spending quality time with my Companion and almost sprained my ankle again.
If you visit the History Gallery during CNY and are superstitious, be prepared to come face to face to a traditional Chinese funeral complete with a real coffin exhibit:
Because of the above reasons, I would recommend that illiterate and superstitious IT idiots, especially the elderly should give NAMOS a miss. (My sincere apologies to Walter. This is just my sincere personal opinion.)
4. The Lion Dance (wu shi 舞狮)
The lion dance performance during CNY is known as cai qing (采青). During the performance, a big red packet (hong bao 红包) is suspended high at the end of a bamboo stick. By 'big', I don't mean the physical size of the red packet but the money enclosed within it, of course. The red packet is usually camouflaged by some green vegetables (although I still can't figure out how green vegetables can effectively camouflage a red packet
Unlike the re-union dinner, the lion dance is not a must-have. Although I have seen lion troupes perform at HDB flats before, most families do not summon a lion dance troupe to perform at their homes. For one thing, lion dances obviously do not come cheap. I do not know the market price for a performance but I guess it must in the region of hundreds of dollars. Hence, most lion dances are performed at business premises
However on 19 Feb 2007 (2nd day of CNY or 大年初二), I witnessed a lion dance performance at an unusual location - the Singapore Philatelic Museum. It must be hoping that the lion dance will somehow boost the visitor numbers to the museum in the Year Of The Golden Pig. (Walter, can confirm this?)
5. Home Decorations
There are certain things that we decorate our homes with during CNY and they each has a symbolic meaning.
Spring Couplets (chun lian 春联) herald good luck for CNY:
Flowers welcome the arrival of spring and symbolises renewal:
Lanterns symbolise a bright future:
Oranges symbolise gold or wealth:
Pineapples (huang li 黄梨) sounds like (wang lai 旺来), especially in dialects and literally means 'prosperity comes':
I learnt from the show 'I Not Stupid 2' that some Chinese believe that if a pregnant woman eats a lot of pineapple, the baby might be aborted. Of course, this is not true otherwise we don't need any obstetricians and gynaecologists.
However, I only learnt recently that a certain part of the pineapple can be used to pleasure a woman. Not the thorny crown or the rough skin, mind you, otherwise you would really need an obstetrician and gynaecologist. I shall not go into further details here as I treasure my coconuts,
Some Chinese even display two pineapples in their homes during CNY as they believe that everything should come in a pair:
Chris and Walter, no prizes for guessing where the second pineapple should fit into.