Chinese New Year is only one week away. The excitement is building up, something that I have not felt in a while. This feeling is also partly due to the fact that the wheelchair has arrived but I am not able to use it yet. Some assembling and adjustments are needed first. I am really looking forward to getting on the new chair as the one I am using now creaks every time I shift my weight.
Nevertheless, the sight of new ang pau packets and the cookies that Wuan brought back, and the thought of being able to savour hou si fatt choy and yee sang has certainly put me in a festive mood. In the midst of all these, I reminisce about the times when I was barely a teenager, excitedly anticipating the arrival of the annual celebration. The was always an unmistakeable crispness in the air as I counted down the days, one that put spring in my steps and happiness in my face.
A few weeks before the day, the larder would already be bursting with groceries for the big cookout for the reunion dinner and new year lunch. My favourites were the puffed cream-coloured pieces of fish maw, dried shiitake mushrooms and waxed goose liver sausages; rare commodities reserved for auspicious occasions during those times. Cans of button mushrooms, lychees and longans together with a crate or two of Anchor beer would line the larder top.
Welcoming the new year could also never be complete without the hustle and bustle of spring cleaning. That was then followed by curtains and cushion covers being replaced with fresh and brightly coloured ones. Greeting cards from relatives and friends and my father’s business associates and clients decorated the metal grille in the living room. The garden was spruced up. Unkempt hedges were trimmed. The final task after all that was putting up the “cai”, the red cloth hung above the main entrance, to signify the auspicious celebration.
Those were the best times of the entire year for me as a kid – new clothes, delicious food, lots and lots of ang paus, and not forgetting the hordes of relatives that came visiting, many I only got to meet during that time. Those excitement and anxiety that I felt then is what I am feeling now. I just cannot wait for the first day of the Chinese New Year to arrive.
Tags: ang pau, childhood memories, Chinese New Year, Chinese New Year reunion dinner, Chinese Spring Festival, Chun Jie, fish maw, Hou Si Fatt Choi, oyster black hair moss recipe, red envelope, red packet, shiitake mushrooms, yee sang
Citibank ang pao – red envelope for the Year of the Tiger 2010.
In the olden days, ang pao were actually coins wrapped in red paper – the kind that leaves red stain on the finger tips when touched. I did receive a few of such ang pao when I was a kid. Those were given by the amah chehs – unmarried servants – who usually wore white top and black bottom sam foos. I still do not know the reasons why they gave out ang pao as unmarried adults are not obliged to do that.
HSBC ang pao – red envelope for the Year of the Tiger 2010.
With the easy availability of pre-made red envelopes, there is no need to get the fingers stained nowadays on the eve of Chinese New Year. That is usually the time when married adults prepare the ang pao by putting money into the red envelopes. The amount put in must be even. Odd amounts are considered inauspicious.
If one has an account with a bank, there is hardly a need to buy empty ang pau anymore nowadays as banks will distribute them just before the festive season. Other businesses that give out empty ang pau to their customers are departmental stores, insurance companies and jewellery shops. It is also included in the cartons of soft drinks that are usually served to guests during the fifteen days of celebration.
I remember receiving ang pau with motifs of cute children carrying a big fish or some other traditional auspicious Chinese imageries as a teenager. Ang pau with these designs are hard to come by nowadays. Luckily Mum was a hoarder. There is stash a of unused ang pau with these traditional motifs that she kept in a chocolate box. I would open up the box whenever I am in Penang just to reminisce the good old times when Chinese New Year was the happiest occasion of the year.