20 February 2007

5 CNY Traditions

(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 cooks family matriachs (as Chris so elegantly puts it) are getting older, that is if they are still around. It is certainly tough work whipping up an elaborate dinner for dozens of people from extended families, even though it is only a 'simple' steamboat dinner. And then there is the cleaning up afterwards - not just the dishes but also the mopping of the floor. We are wealthier but not all of us will lend a helping hand can afford a maid or even want one.

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 unless the lion happened to be colour-blind).

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 where expenses for lion dances are probably tax-deductible.

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, a symbol of the reason for my maleness and virility. I don't know how true this claim is as I dare not try it.

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.



Chris Sim said...

Victor, you're right about more people eating out for reunion dinner. And you're right about the hassle in having to clean up the house after the dinner. But still, in my household, we choose to have the reunion dinner at home. We've eaten out a couple of times in the past, and seriously, the steamboat can't hold a candle next to my mum's! What's more, you paid it with an arm and a leg. There's nothing like a warm home cooked meal, eaten in the company of close kith and kin, ya?

River Hong Boa has been here annually since I was a "kid". To me, it's a big "yawn". Rather spend time at home, chilling out with close friends and family.

The NAMOS sounds kinda interesting. But if I want to bring my ah pa and ah bu there, how they gonna use the little Companion gadget ha? Some more no hokkien translation one. Not even Mandarin? Oh... I got it, meant for tourist one izzit? Told you you look like one carrying the camera around your neck already... heheheh.... Go get a camera phone lah...

Oh, I love dances, lion or dragon. As a child, I was always fascinated by it, especially the dragon dance. But these days, more often than not, I do my own dances, . LOL.

I also put put up some CNY decor, actually only at the entrance of my house. But I tot oranges symolise Good Luck. The sound "ju zi" sounds like "ji li"?

Victor said...

Chris, you commented on everything but the pineapples? Why so scared? You really got no coconuts one... er... I mean coconuts two. Tsk, tsk, tsk.

Exactly. NAMOS is not a place for the elderly like your parents. Not only is the narration in a language they do not understand, getting it is also very difficult for them. Moreover, as I mentioned, the place is too dimly lit. There are also mirrors (for them to knock into and break).

I saw a counter with a sign "Drop off your companion here". At that time, I was looking for my wife who went to another exhibit area. I asked them where my companion was and they replied, "It's round your neck." Wahahaha.

me said...

GD u took the angbao river pics urself? they are nicely taken! which cam are you using?

Btw, outside reunion dinners got timing one, dont like.

Victor said...

GNE - Thank you for the compliment. It's not the camera; it's the photographer, hahaha.

Joking only, of course. All the photos were taken by me. If not, how can I so shamelessly put watermarks of my name on them? All the photos (except the 3 photos of the spring couplets, the flowers and the oranges) were taken with a Samsung Digimax L50 (5 MP) digicam. Bought it new for only $270 from a fellow Renault Car Club forum member more than a year ago. At that time, market price was about $420. Now it is a discontinued model and is not available anymore. But there are newer replacement models available.

The other 3 photos were taken with a Panasonic Lumix FZ-20 5MP digicam, also a discontinued model. Although much more bulky than the Digimax, this is a better camera that takes better pictures. For example, the lanterns at the River Hong Bao should be dark red in colour but the Digimax captured them as more orange than red - not very faithful colour reproduction. The Lumix can beat the Digimax hands down in this area. But Chris says I look like a tourist when I hang the bulky Lumix around my neck. :(

Lam Chun See said...

Wah you night fotos quite good eh.

Would you believe I never been to the River Hong Bao thing? Hate crowded places and queuing.

Now I will comment on your pineapples. Don't know what on earth you talking about? Claim to be 'shameless' yet dare not go into details. Might as well keep the topic out completely. Chey!

Victor said...

Oh I forgot to mention that a very important piece of equipment for night photography is a camera stand. In fact, it is a must. A cheap one will do because nowadays, digicams are very light (even the Lumix) and they don't need an expensive and sturdy stand. Most of the night photos here were taken with the camera on a stand. If not, camera shake may become apparent, i.e. photos appear blurry because of the slow shutter speed.

Besides using the stand, remember to always use the timer for releasing the shutter for night photography. The timer is usually available either as a 2-sec or a 10-sec delay in most digicams. Either one will do. The time-delay will eliminate any camera shake caused by the depressing of the shutter-release button manually. (Nowadays, nobody uses a cable-release anymore. This is an archaic photo accessory and operates like a remote shutter-release button which is connected to the camera by a physical cable.)

I use auto settings for most of my photos.

Victor said...

Chun See - There is actually no secret to taking good photos at night. (Please see my explanation above.) One thing for sure - no matter what Chris says, a phone camera can never achieve this type of effect.

The pineapple part of the story is meant to be cryptic so it is understandable why you don't understand it. In fact, I've already explained why I cannot go into details in the article. Only Walter, Chris and I are privy to the details. And both Walter and Chris are keeping mum so far.

Unknown said...

Looks like you had a pretty interesting and varied Chinese New Year. Mine was almost entirely based on visits to relatives and friends homes.

Don't have to apologise to me about your experience at National Museum lah. They are looking into some of these issues, including coming up with a multi-lingual version - especially Chinese - for their audio guide. I am glad that your experience at the Philatelic Museum was more pleasant, and the lion dance certainly is a key component in generating festivity for this season.

Chris Sim said...

Victor - can u pse stop HARPING on the pineapple? It's juz a fruit, for goodness sake. You didn't know over-consumption of the fruit can cause miscarriage ah? Too late lor, you have to live with the sin of your groin lor ... wahahahaha....

You meant you lug TWO cameras along ah? Now you not only look like a tourist, you look like a damn "suaku" tourist, taking in all the sights. The things pple do to get "famous"... tsk..tsk..tsk... Need a stand from shaky hands? Sure you're not suffering from Alzheimer's disease? Sign of old age lor.

Oh plz... speed reading again ah? Dun put word into my mouth. I said there are high-end camera-phone capable of taking shots as good as a normal digicam. I NEBER said the camera-phone can produce shots of better quality then a digicam. Hng!

Victor said...

Hi Walter, just my personal thoughts from my NAMOS visit:

I think using the Companion, while high-tech and impressive, is not such a good idea after all. Not all visitors, especially the older folks, bother or know how to use it. Although it does allow for a personal experience of the museum visit, especially for foreigners who don't know English or Chinese, the same objective can be achieved the good old fashion way - using explanatory signboards and push-button narration, as is still being done at other local museums. I think people are still more used to the conventional way of displaying the artifacts, just like how it is being done in the Food section of NAMOS.

Victor said...

Chris - You win lor.

Chris Sim said...

Ooi, that used to be my line, ok? copymonkey, I mean copycat.

Anonymous said...

What other parts have a pinapple got...only the flesh, right? What has the coconut got to do with virility?

Since you had your reunion dinner a day earlier, was it slightly cheaper and there was no time limit?

Victor said...

Haha. Frannxis, your are really smart about the pineapple but not so smart when it comes to the coconut. In particular, note the part where Kenny said, "Never have I seen so many coconuts gathered into one place before, apart from the men's changing room at the gym.

Still don't know? Email me and I will tell you. And if you are interested in learning how to use the pineapple creatively, let me know too. But don't ask me who my source is... I am saying it again - I treasure my coconuts, haha.

Prices at the Soup Restaurant were normal during CNY because they served the usual dishes which we ordered. Of course, they have the Yu Sheng too which we did not order because most of us didn't really fancy this dish. I think you need to book a table during CNY which means that they have alloted time slots although it is not explicitly stated that you must finish your meal by a certain time.

tigerfish said...

Wah...what signifies CNY in your post is the "ang kong kong" pix! Red, red, red, orange, and red!

How come choose Soup Restaurant at airport ? Better food or supposedly less pple ?

I hv a love-hate relationship with CNY. Hate the visiting (no matter what age, always get a plethora of questions from relatives). Love the long holidays that comes with CNY. This year, that's no hate part for me cos I'm out of S'pore but I miss those long holidays.

Anonymous said...

Vic, I was thinking of other reasons also..

Maybe its (coconut) chinese name has somthing to do with virility..

It looks like a bald head. Bald men are more virile...


Anonymous said...

OH! after reading the comments then i know what happened - about the pineapples. GD, never advertise my PINEAPPLE TARTS for me, hmph.

Anyways, thanks for the detailed explaination on the pics you've taken GD, because Victor (my boyfriend) is thinking of buying a DSLR, so I thought you took the pics with one! Any good cams to recc? :D

Victor said...

Hi tigerfish - my post not only "ang kong kong" but has something not-so-auspicious too. Did you miss that? Haha.

Soup Restaurant in the airport has less people and the food is cheaper, not better (when compared to other Chinese restaurants during CNY).

Hope you've had a fun CNY too. You don't visit other friends (in California?) during CNY?

Frannxis said:

It looks like a bald head.

Which one? The coconut or the real thing? Haha.

GNE - I hope you didn't use recycled pineapple parts for your pineapple tarts, haha.

For a good DSLR, take a look at the recent 10.1 MP Canon EOS 400D.

Read the very good review here.

It's very good value for money. I think locally, you can get it at around $1200 - $1300 (body with 18-55mm lens). Actually what you should get depends very much on your budget. I would go for either Canon or Nikon. Another tip - buy your camera from outside shops like AP Photo or Cathay Photo and not megastores because the former usually gives you a better price.

Victor said...

My dear GNE - Oh I forgot for a moment. I thought your dad sells digicams? Then you should be able to get a good recommendation as well as a good price on the EOS 400D from him mah. Aiyah.

Anonymous said...

Oh, that really escaped my eyes man!:O

Anonymous said...

GD, I'll ask him to come read your blog for the tips lol

My papa quit his job liao.......... sigh. catch you online and tell you abt it.

btw, GD can turn off the moderation or not, irritating ley lol

Victor said...

Tigerfish - Hahaha, you also pantang hor?

GNE - I did a search for you in Yahoo auctions (sg) and saw a seller called digitalsquare_sg selling a brand new Canon 400D for only $1099. But be very careful when you buy things in e-auctions. Never pay first before you get hold of the goods and checking it. The other camera you can consider is the Nikon D80. It is about $200+ more than the 400D. You can read more reviews of digital cameras in asia.cnet.com.

Okay since you requested for it, I have switched off comment moderation.