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.
After Mum passed away a few years ago, I thought I would never find excitement in the Chinese New Year festivities again. I was depressed. I felt lonesome. Somehow, it was different without the ritual of waking up early in the morning, putting on new clothes and wishing longevity and prosperity to the elders in the family, In the subsequent years, I made a conscious effort to not herald in the new spring.
It is going to be different this year. I can feel it. I am actually looking forward to February. All the credit goes to Wuan for turning this around for me. She made me buy new clothes for the occasion. Soon, the house is going to be awashed with new year décor. She has also been buying traditional cookies like kuih bangkit and kuih kapit. It is difficult not to be infected with the mood with all these happening around me.
The march of commercialism is slowly changing the traditions that are passed down from generation to generation. Food that used to be served only during festivals are now readily available long before the occasion or even throughout the year. When I was a kid, Mum would make kuih bahulu just before Chinese New Year together with kuih kapit and kuih bangkit. Walk into any major shopping complex on any given day now and one would be greeted by stalls selling kuih bahulu freshly baked from the oven with the unmistakeable saliva-inducing aroma.
Festivals have lost some of their glamour not only because delicacies associated with them are no longer exclusive. It is the lack of busyness, anticipation and preparations leading up to the festival. The air of festivity was already felt weeks prior to the day proper but not as much anymore now. The once-a-year rite of changing the curtains to the ones used exclusively for the Chinese New Year; the making of paper cuttings to paste on gifts to friends and relatives, mostly on cookie containers and mandarin oranges; the spring cleaning on a day selected to be auspicious for this activity with bamboo stalks fastened to a long bamboo pole; the overflowing of groceries in the larder, especially items like dried shiitake mushrooms, fish maw, canned mushrooms and baby corns; some of these have disappeared completely from my life.
On one part, I lament at the loss of anticipation and excitement for the impending festive season I had experienced as a kid. On the other, I am glad to be still able to experience some of these traditions with Wuan and her side of the family. It is a good thing that Wuan still maintains some of these practices like sprucing up the house with auspicious decorative items, making sure that we shop for clothes to wear on Chinese New Year and generally trying to infect me with the excitement as the day draws nearer. For the past couple of years since we got married, I have been celebrating the the Chinese New Year, especially the “tuen nin fun” (reunion dinner) and “hoi nin fun” (new year lunch), in her hometown with her family. I am glad for these little blessings that still exist in my life. They are all I have left and I am going to savour these moments for as long as I can.