1. Wearing red
Word has it that the colour red frightened the Nian, which is a creature that appears during spring time to attack the villagers. Red also symbolises good fortune. People will wear red underwear as well to bring good luck, especially at the gambling table. While black represents death, it is good to note to avoid wearing dark or gloomy colours when visiting during CNY.
2. Sweeping the floor
People believe that sweeping the floor during CNY is akin to sweeping good fortune away.
3. Keeping the door open
At an auspicious time, the God of Fortune visits. The auspicious time is usually checked against the Chinese almanac. Keeping the door open welcomes him in. (But please remember to close it when you go to bed. :p)
4. Making sure the rice bucket is full
The Chinese believe that filling up the rice bucket at home ensures that there is abundance in food/provision for the family in the new year. In Singapore, people queue up at the cash deposit machines to deposit money into their bank accounts for the same belief a day before the first day of the lunar new year. Car owners would also head to the petrol kiosks to get a full tank of gas.
5. Saying only positive things
It is inauspicious to say negative things during the lunar new year. When people meet, they great each other with positive phrases, usually 4-character idioms. These cover areas including happiness, health, finances, career and studies - basically everything that you need to go well in life. :)
6. Spring cleaning
The Chinese in Singapore take time to pack the house and throw out items to welcome the new year (and also, for a clean home to welcome guests to. . :p) Some would purchase new furniture or appliances as well.
7. CNY home decor
Usually paper cutouts with auspicious sayings would be hung up on the walls or doors at home. Some would have couplets with Chinese writings on them pasted at the doorposts. Many decorative items carrying the zodiac sign for the new year would be on sale too - 2017's the year of the rooster, hence cockadoodle doo everywhere. These items are red in colour as well - as in #1, to chase away the evil Nian.
8. Reunion dinner
Reunion dinner is typically held on Chinese New Year's eve, but in Singapore, families usually gather some time before the eve as and when it is convenient for everyone to gather. Most Singaporeans living abroad would take time off to return to Singapore as well to celebrate CNY with their friends and family - hence a reunion! Click here to watch what a reunion meal in Singapore is like.
9. Lo Hei (Yu Sheng)
Tossing of the Yu Sheng (Lo Hei) is a Singapore tradition. A mix of raw shredded vegetables and fruit in different colours, crackers and a serving of raw salmon is neatly arranged on a humongous plate, and then drizzled with honey and pepper. A group of people gather round the plate with a pair of chopsticks and stretch out their arms to toss the Yu Sheng in the air. Auspicious sayings are yelled out as this is done.
Click here to watch what Lo Hei is all about.
As Chinese New Year approaches, some people feel like it is a the start of a repeated cycle - the food (the weight gain), the ang pows (red packets) the people, the conversations, the words. Amidst the festivity, here's unveiling the softer side of CNY visiting.
1. Standard questions
One thing that’s a turn off for some people– questions from concerned and well-meaning (or nosey) relatives. Not just any questions, but these questions come about every year in a particular order depending on which stage of life you are at.
The standard list of (dreaded) questions:
A. If you are single
Question: Why don’t you have a boyfriend/girlfriend? Still no boyfriend/girlfriend?
When your answer is ‘no’, relatives would act in disbelief seeing that you are very eligible. Most singles would think of an excuse, like ‘I’ve been busy.’ Relatives would then tell you how you need to set aside time to date, and how important it is etc. Oh well.
Suggested reply: Yes you would be the first person I would tell when I get a boyfriend/girlfriend.
B. If you are visiting with your boyfriend/girlfriend.
Question: You’re not married yet? When are you getting married?
Relatives would comment that they can’t wait to attend your wedding, and tell you that you should tie the knot because you are not getting any younger. Thanks for the pressure.
Suggested answer: Yes wait for our wedding invitation!
C. You are married and have no kids.
Question: When are you having children? Why no children?
Aunties and uncles would tell you that starting a family at a younger age is easier. They would point to their own lives and say how they are enjoying life now (in their 50s/60s) as their kids are all grown up.
Suggested reply: Yes we are planning.
D. You are married and have 1 or 2 kids
Question: Are you going to have more kids?
The reason to have more kids, as the older folks explain, is that it’s better to conceive at a younger age, and that kids need siblings to learn from and play with.
Suggested reply: Why not you give birth? Lol~
2. “Eat more, eat more.”
CNY visiting takes you from house to house. Everyone spends a good amount of time whipping up some dishes at home so you can be sure that you will be offered some food. It is very common to hear people telling you to ‘Eat more, eat more!’ everywhere you go. That’s great, except that you will feel stuffed most part of the day. Since it’s not too nice to turn people down, especially your elders, when they offer you something, it’s good to just have a little to accommodate them. Pace yourself with the eating throughout the day.
3. “Which auntie and which uncle?”
Especially for the younger generation, addressing relatives correctly is a challenge. Normally, people would just attach the word 'auntie' or 'uncle' in front of their relatives' first name, but rightfully in mandarin, there's a distinction. For instance, your dad’s sister and your mum’s sister are your aunties in general. However, for the Chinese, they are addressed differently. What makes it more confusing, is that the terms used to address your uncles’ spouses (generally categorised as your aunties as well) are different as well. Same goes for the uncles. For relatives that you meet only once or twice a year, this is tough.
4. “$ XX!” (Click here to watch how else “Har” is used.)
Singles gain the most monetarily since ang pows are given out to them by married couples. You might overhear the teenagers comparing, and complaining, about how much they've received over CNY.
5. “Wah, (you have grown) so big already!"
Because many extended families gather only once a year during CNY, it always seems to be a wonder how fast the kids grow over the year. To a kid or teen, the adults always comment on how surprised they are to see that they have grown so much, and without fail, ask how old they are.
Oh, and by the way, you might be hearing some people exclaim "ho seh" over CNY. This is because 2016 is the lunar new year of the monkey. In mandarin, the word monkey is pronounced as "ho". "Ho seh" is a Hokkien dialect term, which literally means, a good thing/occurrence.
Here's wishing everyone a healthy and successful year, full of ho seh! :)
Check out local festival markets:
Since we lived near this shopping centre, we had the good fortune to be able to experience live lion dance performances over Chinese New Year here performed by different troupes. The performances were really awesome because the lions had to do tricks and stunts on poles two metres off the ground.
So typically, the lions dance alongside heavy drum beats and clashing cymbals which coincide with the lion's moves. Lion dance troupes normally are helmed by Chinese martial arts schools. A 'lion' is performed by two men where the person in front controls the lion head and it's 'expressions' and the person at the back supports his partner to perform stunts.
Throughout the first fifteen celebratory days of the Lunar New Year, shops, offices and some homes invite a lion dance troupe to as an auspicious ritual to bring in good fortune for the new year. Normally the hosts will prepare and hang a bunch of green vegetables (the word 'vegetables' in Mandarin sounds like the word 'wealth' as well) tied to an ang pow (red packet containing money) from higher ground, about 5 metres high. The lion will perform and then attempt to grab the vegetables, 'chew' and 'spew' out the shreds from its mouth. The red packet would be dues to the lion dance troupe. At other times of the year, a lion dance troupe might be invited at business or office launches.
Chinese New Year is around the corner once again! If you get invited to a friend's house for a CNY gathering, here's what you can expect!
Everyone sits around a table with 2 pots of soup sitting on a portable electric stove. Plates of raw food surround the pots and you basically throw in whatever you feel like having. There are ladles to scoop food in and out of the pot, but usually people just use their own pair of chopsticks to do it as well. Might be yucky for some but we guess it kind of makes everyone feel more like family. Lol~ (Any bacteria dies in the hot soup anyway right?)
When the food runs out, the host normally refills the raw food and you feel like you're having a buffet because the food never seems to run out.
Click here to watch how a home-cooked reunion meal is prepared!
2. Watching movies together on TV
Somehow it seems like the same movies are screened on free-to-air TV every year, but people still enjoy them - especially the evergreen slapstick Stephen Chow or kick-ass Jackie Chan movies. People bond over munching CNY snacks and watching a movie together. Other than movies, the typical programmes aired are CNY countdown events from Taiwan or China and music award ceremonies.
4. Catching up (aka questioning)
For most, visiting friends and relatives is a yearly affair - during CNY, so it's a time to catch up. The older relatives tend to ask the same set of questions:
- If you are single: Do you have a boyfriend yet? (Reply: No.) Why not? You are so handsome/pretty. Don't have too high expectations.
- If you are attached: So when are you getting married? (Reply: We are just taking things slow.) Quickly get married I can't wait to attend your wedding.
- If you are married: No children yet? (Reply: Maybe in the next few years.) Why wait so long you have been married for some time already.
- If you have kids: Are you planning to have another one? (Reply: We're still thinking about it.) It's always good to have more kids.
Be prepared with the right answers! The best response when you don't know how to respond? Just nod, smile and agree.
Watch us answer typical questions asked during CNY!
5. Giving/Receiving ang pows (red packets)
If you are single, bring a couple of mandarin oranges. You will need to give two (good things come in pairs!) mandarin oranges to those married and older than you and say a word of blessing, such as good health, prosperity or success to them in the new year. If you are married, prepare some cash with you spouse in ang pows and distribute them to both the married and unmarried. If you are giving an ang pow to someone older and important (like your mother-in-law :D), then give two oranges as well and wish them well for the new year. If you are not Chinese, you don't have feel obligated to give ang pows especially when people give you one. :) There is no rule as to how much to give, except that the amount should be an even number. The closer you are to certain relatives and friends, the more people tend to give. The winners: Kids.
6. Playing with sparkles
Firecrackers are banned in Singapore, so sparkle sticks are the best you can get in this land. You can buy sparkles from stores selling miscellaneous items in the housing estates or from night markets (a huge night market is open in Chinatown 3 weeks before CNY). The kids play outdoors in the playgrounds or in the yard.
Click here to watch our visit to Chinatown during CNY!
This is why people never hungry and always put on weight over CNY. *Yikes*
Happy new year everyone! HUAT ah~!
YU SHENG | LO HEI
Yu Sheng is a colourful dish comprising of raw fish (Yu Sheng 鱼生) (salmon more often than not), grated carrots, radish, red pepper, jellyfish, sesame seeds, crushed peanuts, pomelo, dried orange peel, crackers and a handful of condiments including five spice powder, plum sauce and vinegar.
The words "abundance" (Yu 余) and "increase" (Sheng 升) sound the same as the name of the dish, thereby showing its significance. It is also known as Lo Hei (Cantonese for 捞起) which means to lift
Yu Sheng was formally created and made popular in Singapore in the 1960s, and is a variation of several Chinese dialect dishes involving raw fish and vegetables. It is a Chinese New Year dish unique to Singapore and Malaysia.
Just before the tossing of the Yu Sheng, the condiments are scattered over the dish and the person doing it would pronounce blessings of prosperity, increase and abundance for the new year. Everyone then gathers around the huge plate with a pair of chopsticks in hand (at some restaurants, a long pair of approximately 15-inch chopsticks is provided) and the tossing begins!
It is a noisy affair as people speak out blessings for the new year as they toss the Yu Sheng. The belief is that the higher you toss, the better it is. The resultant taste of the Yu Sheng is mainly sweet with a tinge of sour and a crunchy texture.
The tossing of the Yu Sheng can be done anytime over the the 15 days of the Lunar New Year celebrations. People normally order this in restaurants while having a meal with family, friends or business associates. Some families prepare this at home, or purchase a ready made set from the supermarket, so if you get a chance to visit a Singaporean home during this festive time, do Lo Hei with them!
*Chinatown is a must-visit during CNY. Take a glimpse with us!
The way a toast is proposed in a Chinese banquet setting (company dinners, family reunion means and especially during wedding dinners when 3 toasts are proposed to the newly weds) in Singapore is a noisy but fun affair. "Yum seng" is a phrase in Cantonese and literally means to drink to victory. It is the equivalent to "Bottoms up!" or "Cheers!".
How to participate in a "Yum Seng":
1. Stand up.
2. Have a beverage in hand, preferably wine or beer.
3. Take a deep breath.
4. Go "Yuuuuuuuuuuuuu....." and hold it for as long and loud as you can.
5. Take the cue from the emcee or from someone at the same table who would usually give some indication to end the toast, and go "....uum seng!".
This can be fun because people at some tables try to do their "Yum sengs" louder than the rest and this can get a little competitive.
Chinatown is a must-visit when you are in Singapore during the CNY period. Some of the roads will be closed and makeshift stalls are set up to create a night market for vendors to sell CNY wares such as snacks and decorative items. The roads in the area are also decorated and lit up with festive lights for the celebrations. Not all stalls are open for business in the daytime so it is advisable to visit at night.
*Tip: The eve of CNY is the last day of business for most shops at Chinatown, before they take a break of 2 (public vacations) to 7 days. So don't visit during CNY itself! To get here, simply take the MRT and alight at Chinatown MRT station.
Things to buy
The atmosphere is bustling with crowds shopping to prepare for the new year celebrations. The commonly sold items at the night market are CNY goodies like pineapple tarts and kueh bangkit, decorative items like couplets, plants such as willows and mini orange potted plans and in recent years, and stalls selling Taiwanese jelly seem to have replaced stalls selling pick and mix candy/chocolate we used to see.
Business at the regular shops along the shop houses in Chinatown picks up during this period as well with many shops selling dried foods (mushrooms, fish maw etc.) and Bak Kwa (barbecued pork). The dried foods are ingredients used to prepare for reunion dinner (takes place on the eve of the first day of the lunar new year).
RED is in!
It is believed that a mythical creature known as the Nian would appear on the first day of the new year to devour and destroy. Overtime, the villagers realise that anything red in colour could ward off the Nian, thus the significance of the colour red during CNY.
People today hang couplets and decorative items all in red on their doors and in the house to celebrate.
The zodiac cycle comprises 12 animals - rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. The story goes that the Jade Emperor held a race for the animal kingdom and the calendar years would then be allocated based on the order of the race results. With 2013 being the year of the snake, it means simply, that those who are 12, 24, 36 (and so on) of age this year were born in the year of the snake. This explains the many snake related images on decorative items you see this year.
This is tied also to Feng Shui and those who practice it believe there are certain character or personality traits that distinguish people according to their zodiac sign, along with dos and don'ts for the year.
1. Red is IN, black is OUT
Bright and cheery colours are welcome for the festive season, especially the colour red. As the story goes, there was a creature named Nian which went around terrorising the people. However, the people discovered that Nian was afraid of the colour red and ran away upon seeing red, literally. Therefore decorative items and festive clothes are red in colour during CNY to keep Nian out. No matter how cool wearing black is, it's a no-no when you go visiting. Black is associated with bad luck or death.
2. Mandarin oranges
Mandarin oranges are exchanged together with blessings spoken over the recipient for good fortune. They are always given in pairs. The younger generation would normally offer these to their elders. Married couples also exchange mandarin oranges together with an ang pow. It is also good to note to give and to receive with both hands.
3. Red packets aka Ang pows
Married couples give out ang pows containing money (people exchange for new dollar notes at the bank for CNY too) to those who are single and other married couples. This is why kids love CNY - $ to buy cool stuff! In exchange, the singles would give mandarin oranges with a word of blessing. There is no minimum or maximum amount to give in the ang pow, but normally an even numbered amount is given. Just a note - opening up an ang pow in front of the giver is considered rude.
4. Speak blessings
Chinese phrases of blessings are exchanged between each other during CNY. Since it's the year of the horse according according to the Chinese zodiac calendar, many phrases are spoken containing the word 'horse'. Even if something bad happens (such as vomiting on the floor in the video), people will still find something positive to say.
Here are some blessing phrases in the video and commonly used during CNY that you can pick up:
身体健康 (shen ti jian kang): To wish good health
万事如意 (wan shi ru yi): To wish that everything will go as the person desires
步步高升 (bu bu gao sheng): To wish progress
新年快乐 (xin nian kuai le): To wish happy new year
财源广进 (cai yuan guang jin): To wish wealth
5. Bak kwa (aka beef jerky in the video)
Bak kwa stands for meat slices. Originally, bak kwa was just available in pork, but more recently chicken bak kwa has been added. The barbecued meat is sweet and fragrant and the slightly burnt portions portions give it an extra oomph. It's available all year round, but people here normally eat it during CNY. To get to know other CNY snacks, click here.
6. Greeting the elders
Normally, 'auntie' and 'uncle' are used to address people a generation older than you. But this should only be used if they are a friend's parents, or if they are the people working in the service line, such as the taxi drivers or staff at a hawker centre. In a business setting, address your associates by name.
Bright lights, huge decorative displays of toy soldiers and reindeers outside malls, imagining the almost-daily raindrops to be snow, giving, spending shopping, cool weather, the random appearance of Santa in malls, shopping crowds, hearing Christmas songs EVERYWHERE, gatherings, eating and more eating - that's the feel of Christmas in Singapore. There's a lot happening this time of the year so here's a list of things to do to soak in the atmosphere and feel all Christmas-y!
1. Have a Christmas buffet
It's that time of the year when not only turkeys get stuffed, but humans too. Almost all hotel buffets will offer turkey, hams and roasts as additions to the Christmas menu. Just a tip - make a booking in advance because families gather, company team dinners are held and people just want to enjoy a good buffet to mark the year-end. Many bank credit cards also offer great dining offers like 1-for-1 deals so it's good to find out by calling the hotels/restaurants first.
2. Visit Gardens by the Bay for Christmas Wonderland
Gardens by the Bay has prepared luminaries in its precinct and organised a festive market and an array of performances under Christmas Wonderland. Since the tropics is deprived of snow, there will also be foam blizzard to enjoy! (We visited Christmas Wonderland in 2015!)
Photo source: http://gardensbythebay.christmaswonderland.sg/
3. Take a stroll down Marina Bay Promenade
Support ChariTrees which is a fund raising project by the Community Chest. A row of Christmas trees are lit and lined up along the Promenade for you to enjoy along with the beautiful night skyline of the central business district. Support them by donating at comchest.sg. O yes the Salvation Army is also pretty prominent during Christmas in Singapore - you will hear ice-cream bells ringing in public spaces and you'll find red tins to drop your donations in.
4. Get frozen
How is Christmas without some ice or snow? Ice skate at The Rink (at Jurong) or Kallang Ice World. The Rink will be holding some events and activities like Disco on Ice! For snow, visit Snow City. (If you've never seen snow this is great. If you are from a country with 4 seasons, maybe you could give Snow City a miss. :D)
Photo source: http://www.therink.sg/
5. Go mall hopping
Seriously, Christmas draws more shoppers than the Great Singapore Sale in June. The shopping crowds are amazing and the atmosphere in malls just makes you want to buy a present for everyone. Nearing 25th December, the malls will experience a surge or shoppers, and the queues at the gift wrapping counters are just, long. Get your spouse or friend to stand in line for the gift wrapping service while you pay, or you can just grab the wrapping paper and DIY at home. Every shopping centre will be spruced up with lightings, blings and humongous giant sized Santas and Rudolfs.
7. Universal Studios Singapore
USS has lined up some Christmas-y performances and mini events. Click here for programme additions around the theme park.
8. Pre-order a leg of ham, turkey or log cake
Expect to be invited for parties and gatherings. Because cooking a 4kg turkey at home requires a huge oven, skill and a lot of patience, most hosts/guests pre-order from supermarkets (Cold Storage, NTUC, Market Place, Giant) or hotels (try Goodwood Park Hotel, Marina Mandarin Hotel - if you are on a budget, Cold Storage turkeys and hams are great too). Hotels and supermarkets also offer traditional fruit and log cakes, and Christmas platters so it makes things easier for those who can't cook/bake for nuts are busy. Look out for counters at supermarkets to place your order at or call the hotels to order - usually you can't buy cooked Christmas roasts off the shelf. Most of the places you order from require you to pick up your items on the set date.
Photo source: http://www.goodwoodparkhotel.com/
9. Visit a church
Churches normally hold plays or musicals for the public to enjoy and celebrate Christmas with them!
@Little India Singapore (nearest MRT: Little India station)
Deepavali is a major celebration for the Hindu community and it normally falls within October or November. This year it falls on 22nd October according to the Hindu calendar.
We had always thought that Deepavali was like a New Year celebration for Indians. Lol~ Apart from knowing that Deepavali was also known as the Festival of Lights and that there would be a street lightup along Little India, we knew nothing much about it. So we paid a visit to Little India and asked Hindu friends shopping there what Deepavali was all about.
We stopped by Tekka Centre first and the entire 2nd floor above the wet market and hawker centre was occupied by clothing stalls - we’re talking about 40 stalls mostly selling Indian traditional clothing (that’s real competition right there), and the random one or 2 selling Chinese clothing. It’s nearing Deepavali so we saw the typical shopping scene of women picking out some saris and the men standing around (waiting to pay :D).
We hopped over to Campbell Lane just across Tekka Centre. The road was closed for a street bazaar. You can find lots of stuff for the festival like items for prayer, decoration and Indian snacks. We managed to speak to Vikna and Janehi his mum (Hari Om Tailors at 56 Serangoon Road) selling decorative and prayer items, and provide tailoring services. They told us the story behind Deepavali where good triumphed over evil. Some friends we spoke to said they wake up as early as 3am on the festive day. They start off with prayers, rituals, bathing with coconut oil, and then cooking and visiting family and friends. Celebrations can continue on for a month! And something interesting we discovered, was that married couples also distribute envelopes with money to single family members! They call it "ang pow" here too, just like what the Chinese give out during Chinese New Year.
Indians are known to have really sweet taste buds. We got a taste of some the colourful traditional snacks from Ajmir Store and we spoke to the boss himself. It gets more crowded in the evenings as people start to stream in for festive shopping and to enjoy the street lightup. Be prepared to sweat it out in the crowd!
Soak in Singapore wishes all Hindu friends a very happy Deepavali! Our special thanks to Vikna and Janehi, and also to the friendly boss of Ajmir Store for his wonderful snacks!
@ Marina Bay Floating Platform
Thank God for NDP tickets at the last minute! It was good fun joining 27,000 Singaporeans at the Marina Bay Floating Platform on 9 August to watch the National Day Parade. Happy 48th birthday Singapore!