Sunday, 25 January 2009

Farewell Rattus Rattus

We are on the cusp of the Year of the Ox and are farewelling a hairy friend who has been the harbinger of bad business tidings in the latter part of the year.

Being New Years Eve, Chinatown in Singapore will be packed with people looking for last minute bargains. The smell of bak kwa (grilled pork meat) will be in the air and the streets should be packed. Accordingly to a colleague of mine, if I am prepared to wait until 1:30 am tomorrow morning as the hawkers are preparing to close down I will get even better deals. I don't think I shall be doing so.

Normally we leave Singapore at this time and go to a country that does not have Chinese New Year as a feature of its calendar year. I hasten to add that we do the same at Christmas time and for similar reasons - the ability to shop, eat and relax away from crowds of festive shoppers.

Like its western Yuletide equivalent, Chinese New Year is all about families - a time for reunions and celebrations. It is the one time of the year when for at least two days all of the Chinese shops and eateries take a well deserved break. Thankfully we do not starve as the Malay and Indian vendors seize the opportunity and do roaring business without the competition of the industrious Chinese.

It is also a time for children to learn about their customs and receive their hong bao (red packets) which contain money. A lot of the local banks and large businesses in Singapore give out packets of the hong bao envelopes emblazoned with the character of the celebratory year.

Another custom is to give out oranges at this time of year as a symbol of good fortune for the year ahead. I received mine at work and naturally was hesitant as to whether to showcase it on my desk until mould morphed it into something unimaginable, or to eat it? I chose the latter and have no doubt devoured my year's worth of luck in the space of a couple of mouthfuls.

Most of the fashion floors of Robinsons department store were a sea of red this past fortnight as this is an auspicious colour to wear for New Year. The same applied to other department stores while the supermarkets have all of the traditional goodies displayed - miniature prawn rolls, pineapple tarts, confectionery carp and the like.

The filling for the prawn rolls is called Hae Bee Hiam, a pungent concoction of dried prawns, shallots and chillies

The Strait Times ran a very good story yesterday about the celebration's cultural & dialect variations and various journalists have been recounting what the celebration means to them.

The government too is getting into the spirit and has spent $1.4 million on River Hong Bao decorations in the Marina Bay area. Seven thousand firecrackers will be let of every night for nine nights to increase the chances of returning prosperity.

This year we are staying put in Singapore as my employment sees me travelling through Asia on a regular basis. As I write, my camera battery is charging and for the first time since we arrived almost three years ago we shall brave the crowds of Chinatown this evening and immerse ourselves in the festivities.

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