Home > Everything Else, Family > It only happens during Chinese New Year!

It only happens during Chinese New Year!

Without fail, several things will happen during and in the days leading up to Chinese New Year (CNY).

Annual food debate

All my relatives on my dad’s side of the family will meet at our family home in the morning of the first day of CNY. Every year, with the exception of 2009 & 2010*, we would serve up fried bee hoon (vermicelli), chicken curry, my mom’s fried turnip cake (on special request), and mixed soup**.

Every year, one of us would suggest that we try something new. So once Christmas of the prior year is over, we will begin discussions on what to cook for all the guests on the first day. We will toss out menu ideas, only to be shot down for various reasons.

Popiah – too messy for guests to make and it’s a dish best eaten DIY. Also, food preparation takes a lot of time.

Fried Hokkien Mee (instead of fried bee hoon) – doesn’t keep well as it gets soggy too fast. This means one of us (probably mom) would be in the kitchen throughout cooking batches.

Roast chicken/chicken wings – too western; we should have something Asian. Anyway, there’s already chicken curry.

Fried rice – too simple.

Various Chinese/Peranakan meat dishes with rice – too complicated.

… and so on. Invariably, we’d fall back on the fried bee hoon, curry chicken, turnip cake & soup, telling ourselves that we’ll do something different the NEXT year.

*In 2009, my maternal grandmother passed away shortly after X’mas, and according to Chinese customs we were not supposed to celebrate CNY that year. In 2010, my sister was too busy with her then-one-year-old, and so I made dry mee siam (Malay-style fried vermicelli) in place of the fried bee hoon which my sister traditionally makes. The mee siam was a hit but it was a lot of work too, hence only that one time.

** Mixed soup is a melting pot of all the leftover steamboat ingredients from the previous night’s reunion dinner.

Same old questions

I see many of my relatives only once a year – during CNY. Unless there’s a huge wedding or death, we rarely meet otherwise. (This is actually quite sad as we live in a small country. It doesn’t take anyone more than half-an-hour in decent traffic to drive from one corner to the other of the country.)

So, we would try and at least spend a few minutes with everyone. A typical conversation goes like this:

Them: How are you?

Me: Great, and you?

Them: Very good. Lucas is such a big boy now.

Me: Yes he is. Shot up a lot in the past year. How’s <name of child/parent/spouse>?

Them: <Name> is doing well. Are you still with Gosh?

Me: (Inwardly rolling my eyes) Oh no, I left the agency 5 years ago. (Which I’d told you every one of the last 5 times you asked me in the last 5 years.)

Them: Oh, what are you doing now?

Me: The same thing I was doing last year …

I swear I could have recorded and played back such conversations multiple times each CNY.

Ang Pow collection

No, I’m not referring to stuffing ang pows, deciding the amounts to give, nor calculating how much Lucas receives (which usually ends up almost equivalent to what I’ve doled out, so it’s almost as though the money is transfered from my bank account to his!)

I mean collecting ang pows – literally. My mom has a huge collection of different ang pow designs, amassed over decades. To help her collection, we would put aside all the unique designs we get and hand them over to add to her already impressive collection. We’d hustled with business partners, clients, suppliers and friends for those that their company produces as giveaways.

One year, I was at a mall which had a really pretty design and I’d asked the customer service person if I could have one. Unfortunately, because I didn’t spend enough money at the mall, I couldn’t get one! Damn! Very fortunately, a kind security officer overheard my conversation and took one of the ang pows which was used as a hanging decoration and gave it to me! Thank you Mr Security Officer, you had stopped me from ‘stealing’.

Playing “In Between

Funny how even though we get together as a family and with friends rather often, there’s no other better season like CNY for gambling fever to spike. We love this game as you can have as many players joining in as you’d like, bet as much or as little as you like, and get ready for a ‘heart attack’.

Without fail, everyone would throw caution to the winds when the pot gets higher. Somehow the odds between a Queen & 8 appears better than a 3 & 7 then.

I also love being seated as the next player after my dad. Amazingly, 90% of each time he gets dealt a good pair of cards, he would bet the entire pot and lose! Which means I get to possibly win the next hand BIG!

A really fun time filled with laughter, teasing, and good-natured taunts.

There are many other traditions that come with CNY, but none like these to make me look forward to the occasion. Do you have a favourite festive tradition? I’d love to hear of them!

Categories: Everything Else, Family
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