Soon after Christmas, came New Year-2012 and now, Chinese Lunar New Year is just round the corners in two days time. Wow!, with three major celebrations in a month, it's being a hectic month of activities for both revellers and cabbies alike. Jobs were plentiful, with thousands of shoppers thronging the ubiquitous shopping malls and city streets in Singapore. It could have been better for me if not for the recent taxi fare hike that coincide with this festive month. With the fare hike, taxi rider-ship had dropped a bit but I was not short of customers and taxi commuters were also able to get a cab faster. It's a win, win situation. But for how long? It's too early to predict. I hope the status quo would not change too drastically but stabilises at an optimum level with supply of cabs meeting demand.
Now, how do I celebrate Chinese New Year?. Like most Chinese Singaporean of my age, CNY to me is just like any other ordinary day. The youthful days of excitement, joy, fun and frolic in celebrating CNY had long dissipated. It's now more a financial burden on me than anything else. Giving "any pow" (red envelopes filled with money) to unmarried juniors, buying goodies, decorative materials, new clothings and food for feasting, drills a big hole in my pocket. But I still pour my money generously to prepare a lavish re-union dinner for my family on New Year Eve. I think it's the most important event of the year, comparable with the western Christmas dinner. Usually, my family will have a seafood steam-boat dinner with the more expensive items like abalone, lobster meat, oyster, scallops, crab meat and pomfret fish. If leftover of wine from last feasting is available, I'll have a few glass of it with my grown up children and wife.
Before the big day, I cleaned my flat, sweeping away all ill fortune and decorated it with red couplets in popular theme of prosperity and happiness. On the first day of CNY, I would visit my mother-in-law and close friends, followed by rounds of mahjong games with my taxi buddies till daybreak.
With both parents gone and being the eldest of 8 siblings, my siblings would visit me on the second day of CNY to honour me in lieu of my parents. Though we hardly see each other on the other 365 days, they would surely pay me a visit on this day without fail each year. Like the reunion dinner, I spare no money in preparing a sumptuous lunch and dinner for them. The 60+ of them would spent the whole day in my apartment, often creating a ruckus, eating, singing, watching movies and gambling in small amount. The satisfaction and joy I experience on seeing the extended family tightly knit together and growing, is worth more than the money I splurged for this occasion. This visiting ritual is part of the Chinese culture. Its important to pass this tradition along to each generation and not to put it on the burner. I think another Chinese tradition that should be promoted is the "Ching Ming" festival, (Remembrance of Ancestor Day), a day when the living pay their respect to the dead ancestors at their resting place. It's an extension of the CNY visiting, albeit visiting the dead.
I usually start driving on the third day of CNY and my life would be like the ant again, searching for food everyday.
I thought I should write a bit about a few unforgettable recollection of CNY in my teenage days and things that I missed nowadays about CNY.
First, I remember having my first long pant when I was around 12 year old. I can't remember how I got it but I think it must be a CNY present from my wonderful grandmother, who pampered me the most as her eldest grandson. It was a ready-made, ill fitting, buggy and longer than my legs piece of cheap fabric. The pant was light green in colour, with a sling made of the same fabric as a belt and a small metal ring as a buckle. I remember clearly that I didn't sleep well that night and woke up a few times before sunrise on CNY day to try on the pant and felt how handsome and grown-up I look. Looking back, the childish excitement of wearing a new long pant was unforgettable and I was then anxious to grow up to be an adult. Now, it seem that my wish had come too soon.
Another recollection that's indelibly impressed in my memory, is the playing with firecrackers. As a poor kampong boy, I play the cheaper type of firecrackers that are bonded in a long roll with 2 or more extending out at each level. I remember dislodging a single piece from the string and placing it under an open condensed milk tin. With one hand pressing hard on one ear and the other hand igniting the firecracker with a lighted joss stick timidly, the thrill and trepidation of an sudden explosion was beyond description. Upon exploding, the tin would fly high into the sky like a space capsule and falls back, crushing like a fallen.......tin. As a naughty kid, I would indiscriminately throw a lighted firecrackers at unsuspecting siblings or friends and ran away laughing at their fright. Nowadays, I hear only fake noises of firecrackers from recordings and see dummy crackers serving as doorway decorations. These come nothing close to the real ones. Firecrackers was banned in Singapore in 1967, due to many fire and fatal accidents. The joy that comes from playing with it was then gone forever and I felt privileged to have enjoyed the cheap thrills of good old days.
I promised myself to visit the eighty year old lady of McCallum Street in one of Dr. Cai's episode. Last night, with some Mandarin oranges in a plastic bag and an ang pow, I went there to look for her beside the 7-Eleven store. She was not there. Disappointed, I left but return shall return to look for her during this festive month.