Sunday, January 25, 2009

Gong OX-i Fa Cai!!

Dear Friends,

Today is the eve of the Lunar New Year. I have been told that this is the correct way of addressing this festival, as it will be bias calling it the Chinese New Year, as the people in Korea or for the matter Vietnam are also celebrants.

In the 12 year cycle of the Chinese calendar, 2009 signifies the Year of the OX. Is this an OX year of uncertainty and OX-terity? As I have been closely monitoring the dailies, it has been reported that this OXy-moron year is going to be tough, with half the world already in recession and the other half seriously affected by the fallout. The news of the macro environmental front remains mostly negative and continues to affect the real economy with people cautious about prospects ahead.

The OX’s main characters are fortitude and hard work as well as courage, resilience, determination and endurance. Coming to think of it, my daughter Charmaine possesses every part of this as she was born 12 years ago. Oxen often work in pairs or even larger groups for heavier work. This is because there is a need to support each other as a team in these tough times.

This morning alone, I have received numerous text message greetings wishing me well, wishing that I will prosper, wishing that I will have a fortune enveloping me from the heavens, wishing that I will not need to go visit the doctors and that I will have such a peaceful life this coming year. If wishes only came true, then there is no need for me to go slog like a herd of oxen in the fields under the scorching sun. I still believe in the maxim that GOD helps those who help themselves.

The Chinese are one bunch of superstitious folks. It is believed that if I place tonnes of pineapples in the house during this lunar year, heaps of wealth and fortune will be heralded into my habitat because in the Hokkien dialect, pineapples are called 'Ong Lai' which is directly translated as 'Luck Coming'. If that is not enough, I would need to buy crates of Mandarin oranges and sprawl them around because in the Cantonese dialect, it is called 'Kum' which means 'Gold' that represents riches.

Festive food and goodies are served all around, each with a deeper meaning than to tantalise the taste buds and fill the tummy. As I am blogging this, the gentler folks are busy preparing the annual family tradition of a reunion dinner for tonight. My only sibling and his family, my mum and a few relatives will be hogging my enclave for the only reason of me being the elder son. As today is a Sunday, we are blessed of preserving the tradition of doing it at home this year. With the busy rat race of the eve on weekdays the past years, we have been patronising restaurants thus commercialising the festival.

On the gastronomic spread tonight, there will be the traditional must have dishes with names suggesting happiness and prosperity. We must also feature things that are auspicious, good colours and anything that numerically equals '8'. And we must also not forget the premium ingredients like the ugly looking Black Moss or otherwise known as 'fatt choy' which means prospering. There will also be Tiger Prawns served even though my sister in-law is allergic to seafood. Prawns in the Cantonese dialect are 'har'. Descriptively pronounced, it will sound 'har har har har' as laughter and this will ensure happiness throughout this year. All this aside, I have always enjoyed the white steamed chicken with the chilli sauce only the original Hainanese can prepare. I am half a Hainanese thus giving me the privilege of only savouring the delicacy minus the preparation - 'har har har har'. On the palate will also find the famous festival dish, 'Yee Sang'. So famous that you won't even find this dish in the land of my forefathers. I later found out that this dish actually originated from Malaysia. Translated, it simply means a 'will that remains alive'. This dish has several options to choose from; salmon, jelly fish, lobster or even abalone. A mix of radishes, nuts, and sesame seeds with oil and plum sauce is mixed together in a large plate. It is believed that the higher the toss of the 'Yee Sang' around the table will eventually bring many blessings to the people tossing it.

I remember my childhood when I was a kid looking forward to the Lunar New Year. It only meant one thing - 'Ang Pows'. In all that we did; calling the elders, offering tea, visiting relatives - I just wanted my ‘Ang Pows’. Over the years the amount dwindled and eventually evaporated when I got married. Now, it is my turn to give away these money packets. To my children, my mum, other people's children and God forbid to an aunt who is senior to me and unmarried.

Now that I am entering my mid-life years, I have of course realised that this Lunar New Year is not just about money, prosperity and good wishes. I will not be gullible to believe that if I eat fish and prawns I will be laughing myself to the bank. I will not be bound by tradition that the more 'Ang Pows' I give the more my savings balance will be. However, I will believe that this festival will be a reason about spending quality time with the family, loved ones and trusted friends.

I am constantly reminded that life is unpredictable, short and precious. And while sacrifices are to be made, it must never be at the expense of health or for the coming generation.

To family and friends, near or far; here is wishing you a year where the OX will bull its' way through fast enough to get us all out of these doldrums. And also wishes of peace and health to you and your family as prosperity finds her way to you.


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