Saturday, February 20, 2010


The seventh day of the Chinese New Year (20th February for 2010) is called "yan yat" or "riren" which translates to "everybody's birthday". It is the universal birthday of man, everyone is one year older.

On this day it is tradition to toss "yee sang" - a toss for prosperity, good health, happiness, success, great business deals, good husbands and did I miss anything else?

"Yee sang" or raw fish consists of extremely thin slices of raw fish (salmon, tuna or jelly fish, abalone and prawns) mixed with finely shreded raw carrots, white raddish, pickle cucumber, papaya, ginger, garlic, pomelo, dried winter melon and crackers. It is topped with fried peanuts, seame seeds, spices and different sauces (sour plum sauce, Thai chilli plum sauce). The raw fish is mixed well with the other ingredients, you cannot taste the raw texture at all.

For the uninitiated, the dish now does come with cooked fish and has even gone vegetarian. All the ingredients are packed into small separate containers. The dish is colourful and each ingredient symbolises a different value - peanuts and sesame seeds for harvest, pamelo and the carrot for luck, fish for abundance.
The ingredients are then place onto a hugh dish for tossing, I used a baking tray this year.
The peanuts and sesame are placed last on the top of the other raw vegetables.
Every one grabs a pair of chop sticks and lifts up the ingredients and let them drop back into the dish again while saying "lou hei, lou hei" (lift up prosperity and fortune). The believers will of course lift up the ingredients so high. We keep lifting till the ingredients are properly mixed. It is exactly the same as tossing a salad except that in "yee sang," as many as 10 people or more toss the same salad together from one plate while shouting "lou hei!"
My family likes to toss to great heights that defy gravity in the hope for more luck. MartianGirl alway stands on her chair to compete with the adults. Whatever that falls on the table is returned to the dish and whatever that falls on the floor belongs to Demon K9. Although he does escape with some from the table too.

The dish is then distributed to everyone to eat before the main meal is served. Yes, Demon K9 gets his share in his doggie bowl. After all dogs need luck too. As everyone is so busy with family and work, we toss "yee san" during the reunion dinner on the first day when all of us are together instead of on the seventh day. Some of my friends toss to prosperity with all their friends, they actually do the "lou hei" five or more times with different groups. When it comes to luck, everyone wants more and more...
Good Luck and fortune to everyone for the Tiger year.

Monday, February 15, 2010


I am not quite sure why the Chinese place great emphasis on homonyms or even how or when this came about. A word is not just a word to the Chinese cos' it can mean something quite different when its pronuciation "sounds like" another word. This is especially important during the Chinese New Year Reunion dinner.
The Reunion Dinner is like Christmas/Thanksgiving dinners where families meet for the one big annual gathering. Flight, bus and train tickets are booked one year in advance for the exodus from the cities back home. Even schools close for a one week holiday and there is a national two-day holiday for the occassion. The Reunion dinner is at our parents' home. If our parents are no longer living, the honour goes to the eldest son. In my family, we take turns to hold the dinner as it involves a lot of cooking. It is not fair to my eldest sister-in-law to be bestowed with this "honour" every year.

WHAT FOOD must be served to ensure a New Year filled with prosperity and good fortune? PLENTY and they are all dictated by homonyms.
FISH - a silver white pompret. Fish is "yue" which has the same sound as "excess." Serving fish measn to have excess/abundance every year. Never serve a BLACK fish.

Arrowheads - Not the arrow heads for archery but a bulb that is only available during the New Year period. In Chinese it is called "nga ku." They are sliced and added to other dishes or more popularly deep fried into chips. Symbolically, "nga ku" has a tiny shoot at the tip and as all plants grow towards sunlight, it signifies a bright new start. I am not particular fond of "nga ku" in my food so I have planted them in water and in earthern pots for my family's shinny New Year.

Mandarin oranges ("kam" - gold) - treasure boxes of gold Waxed meat - Waxed duck, chicken and sausages bring abundance for the year and they are specially imported from China. The meats are hung and dried by the winter winds, after which they are preserved in wax in hugh drums for export. We steam them to melt the wax and eat the meat which is quite tough but it has lovely salty flavours. Waxed duck was my dad's favourite and he always got the drumstick but, we kids did not mind at all as none of us wanted dried tough and chewy meat.

Reddish pork sausages and dark brown liver sausages

Leeks - I hate leeks as much as President Bush hates brocholli. I believe it must be an acquired taste. But leeks in Chinese is " shuen" and this sounds like "counting." "Counting what?" Money, of course, thus leeks are associated with wealth. I absolutely never eat this and maybe that's why I am just "cukup" (enough, not rich or poor).

Lotus root - Haa... I love this. "Lin ngau" rhymes with "every year got" in Chinese and this means the year will bring everything that is needed. I reckon it is true as I am not counting money but I got everything in life - happiness and good health.
And it is a noisy affair right from the start. Respect and filial piety like all other cultures is practised. No seating at the table until the elders have sat down, no picking any food until the eldest has taken and the most fun is calling every elder to eat. We have to call the elders (all grand parents, uncles, aunties and parents) to eat before us.

So it goes like this, "Yeye, seet fun (paternal grand father, eat rice); "mama, seet" fan (paternal grandma eat rice), pak-pak (paternal uncle); ah ku (paternal aunty); mummy and papa, "seet fan." Just think the table is filled with children and grand children all wishing the same words at the same time. The elders reply "seet, seet..." which means "eat, eat...'

Thursday, February 11, 2010


We may be modern in our ways and thoughts, but come Chinese New Year, we stop being anybody else but Chinese. PERISH if you do not follow the traditions and UNFORGIVEN especially in the presence of the elders.
RED and GOLD is the acceptable wear. Turn up visiting the relatives in BLACK 0r WHITE and you will create shock waves larger than a tsunami. Black and white are morning colours as in many other cultures We never SWEEP or MOP the house or its surroundings on the FIRST DAY of Chinese New Year, not even if some little rascal has left a mess like hurricane Katrina. We just bear with the mess and the sticky floors till the second day. Sweeping means "sweeping away the good luck/fortune and prosperty that comes with the New Year Make sure that the rice bins are filled to the brim with rice and there is sugar and salt. These are the essentials in any Asian house hold and the New Year must begin with an excess/abundance of these."BERAS" - RICE
We have as many rice varieties as you have different types of bread

Settle all your debts before the New Year or you will always be in debt during the in coming year. My mum was quite strict on this one and when we were kids, the four of us will be asking each other, "How much I own you?" "Ten cents," says the sibling. "OK, here is your money." Every debt to be settled, however big or small!

No swearing, cursing or mention of words like death, poverty, sickness - you know what I mean. To prevent getting into trouble, we kids really watched ourselves cos kids like squeeling on each other, and one wrong word will be promptly brought up to the elders, "Popoh (grandma), koko (big brother) called me stupid." Even though kids never got punished on this day, but one glare from grandma was enough to kill the New Year mood.

In the days when fire crackers were legal in Malaysia, the floors in front of our gates and entrances to our homes had a carpet of red from fire crackers. At the stroke of midnight, we lit our first fire crackers and continued doing so till the red papers covered the ground. But I am glad fire crackers have now been banned as they caused a lot of injuries to kids, burnt down houses and the sounds were deafening during the 15 days of the New Year.

We hang RED lanterns and a piece of red cloth at the entrance of our homes to bring in luck and fortune

And to top the list - have the lion dance. The lion is accompanied with thundering Chinese drums and cymbals and brings much prosperity. The lion dance is a very important event for businessmen, hotels and restaurants during the 14 days of the Chinese New Year.
A lion dance in school


FEBRUARY 14 2010 - FEBRUARY 13 2011

Monday, February 8, 2010


The Chinese zodiac is based on a 12 year cycle with one animal honoured for each year. The 12 animals rotate in a specific sequence and 2 different legends tell how the 12 animals were chosen from all the animals in the kingdom. As one goes... a race was held across a river by the Jade Emperor to detemine which animals will represent the Chinese zodiac. All animals were invited to participate and who ever arrives first will take the first year of the zodiac followed by the second till the twelfth and last. The rat and the cat were good friends at the time and both hitched a ride on the strong ox across the strong currents in the river. However, the rat wanted to win the race and pushed the gentle cat into the river. When the ox almost reached the end, the crafy rat hopped off and ran across the finishing line first. Thus, the zodiac starts with the crafty RAT followed by the strong OX, TIGER, Tiger decorations to paste on our front doors to welcome the New Year RABBIT, DRAGON

The pig got hungry during the race and stopped for a meal and rest. The cat did made it to the finishing point at number 13 and thus, was not included into the zodiac. This is why rats and cats do not get along today and cats hate water!!

In another legend, Lord Buddha asked all the animals to visit him before he departed from Earth. Only 12 animals turned up and in return, he honoured each animal with a year. Both the cat and the rat agreed to wake each other up to go together in the morning, but the rat went alone, while the cat over slept.

Characterisitics of people born in each animal sign:

RAT: 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996 - charming, hard working perfectionists, easily angered, generally successful; compatible with Dragon, Monkey and Ox; incompatible with horse and rabbit

OX: 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997 - patient, inspire confidence in others, easy going but stubborn, compatible with snake, rooster and rat; incompatible with tiger and horse

TIGER: 1962, 1974, 2010 - Brave, competitive, born to lead, tendency to be selfish; compatible with dog and horse; incompatible with goat and ox

RABBIT: 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999 - Creative, compassionate, avoids confrontation, classy, stylish; compatible with pig and dog; incompatible with rooster and rat.

DRAGON: 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000 - mightiest of the animals, driven, ambitious, loner, quick tempered; compatible with monkey and rat; incompatible with ox and goat

SNAKE: 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001 - intelligence, graceful, analytical, materialistic; compatible with rooster and ox; incompatible with pig and monkey

HORSE: 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002 - strength, wit, energy, multi taskers, self centred and tantrum throwers; compatible with dog and tiger; incompatible with rat and monkey

GOAT: 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003 - dependable, calm, creative, excellent care givers, simple; compatible with rabbit and pig; incompatible with rat and ox

MONKEY: 1968, 1980, 1992 2004 - curiosity, mischievous, city people, adaptable; compatible with rat and dragon; incompatible with horse and snake

ROOSTER: 1969, 1981, 1993 2005 - confident, pompous, loyal, blunt; compatible with ox and snake; incompatible with goat and rabbit

DOG : 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006 - deep loyalty, honest, stubborn, care little for wealth but always have money; compatible with horse, incompatible with rabbit, tiger

PIG: 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007 - dilligent, generous, entertaining, brand consious and not exactly thrifty; compatible with rabbit and goat, incompatible with monkey and snake


Friday, February 5, 2010


My mum was a great giver of advice. She had a saying for everything in life and being bilingual, she dished out earfull of proverbs in English and Chinese. Her most frequently used one "When God shuts a door, he opens a window," was always used when we kids got stuck in really sticky situations where there appeared to be no light at the end of the tunnel.
But for the following sticky situations, is there a window?

"Honey, I've lost the kids..."
Someone's entire home furniture may be all wet
This cannot be true, it must be computer generated
Forget about Tiger Woods, it's Bear from the Woods
"Boss, I need to ask your advice regarding insurance claims
"Where is the emergency exit!"
"Did you bring a pair of goggles?"
"Darling, I had a small accident with our truck"

Transformers in real life
"He's going to get a ticket for illegal parking""MayDay, MayDay, send me a boat.."
These pictures were taken from the internet so acknowledgements go to the photographers. I am not sure if they are all real situations, I have a feeling some were "doctored" for fun.

Monday, February 1, 2010


Westerners celebrate their New Year on 1st of January. The Chinese celebrates theirs on the first day of the first lunar month in the Chinese calender. This year, it will be on 14 February and coincides with Valentine's Day. Red and gold is the colour for luck and good fortune.


YEAR OF THE TIGER: 14 February 2010 - 2 February 2011
The Chinese zodiac works on a 12 year cycle with one animal being honoured each year. The 12 animals rotate in a specific sequence and as legend goes... a race was held across a river to determine which animals will represent the zodiac. Whoever arrived first was honoured with the 1st year and so on until 12 animals crossed the finish line. Thus, the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog and pig were the winners and chosed ones.
The Year of the Tiger symbolises vibrancy but some Chinese do not feel it will be a good 2010 as the first day of the New Year falls after the start of Spring when seeds are sown. TIGERS ARE THE FEATURE IN MANY OF THE DECORATIONS THE CHINESE WORD "福" (Fu) means good fortune and luck

THE CHINESE WORD FOR PINEAPPLES IS "WONG-LAI" WHICH SOUNDS LIKE "GOOD FORTUNE-COME." Thus, pineapple lanterns are hung at the entrance of our homes to invite in luck, prosperity and wealth anytime of the year.