Happy Chinese New Year! Yes, I know, the picture has Urbanrehab's signage on it (I'll confess, I was too lazy to build another Chinese New Year picture to put here so I just swiped the one from Urbanrehab FaceBook profile) but since most of my readers already know that I run a physiotherapy clinic in Singapore by the name of Urbanrehab, I thought no harm anyway.
That being said, I'm a little nostalgic. My role and experience as a chinese celebrating this event has evolved much over the years, especially since I got married to my wonderful wife in 2009 and our joint business venture in Urbanrehab since 2008.
What's the difference?
The memories that comes to mind are those of my childhood. I was pretty much a tub of lard then, and every Chinese New Year, during the long school holidays, my parents would plan a trip back to our hometown in Seremban.
We would go to sleep the night before, all excited. Often, I'll talk with my great brother, Nick, till late of the things we would do and eat there, until late at night. And struggle to wake up at 5, 6 am to get into the car for the 4 hours drive from JB to Seremban. Of course, the late night and early rise makes us sleep throughout the journey and by the time we wake up, we'd be in Seremban – without the wait! =D
I'll share with you the story and memories of Seremban in a separate post, this one will be purely for Chinese New Year memories ok.
In the past, I used to think that Chinese New Year is all about the ang paos (these are red envelops, filled with money) given by the older and/or married ones, and I'll look forward to meeting people and receiving them and counting them in glee at night to compare how much we all get. This. on top of the unlimited supply of cold, canned drinks, bak kwa, pineapple tarts and whole-day eating made me feel bliss all the time.
As I grew older, I find that all those that I used to enjoy, be it the food, the gambling with cho dai dee and the ang paos – these all fade away in comparison to the joy I get when I meet and catch up with people and loved ones. I mean, I do enjoy them still, but not to such a degree anymore. They're not as important as the people I look forward to meeting and seeing.
Today, I think I really look forward to the reunion nights, where everyone who could make it get together to share a meal, maybe reminisce, maybe talk about the future, compare notes about life, share about their hopes and dreams in their next generation, if not themselves.
I quite enjoy that.
And I still look forward to it. As I grow older, it just gets more and more difficult to meet up with family members who are in KL, about 6 hours drive from Singapore. The best I can do is to travel to JB where I spend a night of reunion dinner with my immediate family, have fun, and then come back to Singapore to have a reunion breakfast with Louise's immediate and extended family. They have some "bai nian" where they go visiting too.
In Seremban, as both our parents families lived rather close by, we would eat the reunion dinner in my father's house first, looking forward to the sumptous meal. My father's family is Hokkien, so their dishes are mainly Hokkien. I couldn't find much pictures, but here were some of the dishes we ate in my father-side grandmother's house
#1 Ngoh Hiang – introduce during the last few years of the reunion by one of our aunties, she made these ngoh hiang by hand and they were ALWAYS YUMMMY. Heh.
#2 Deep fried malt chicken – my late grandmother fiercely guarded her secret dishes, but I found out that it was so simple when she finally revealed to me. Let me experiment first then I'll get back to you ok. These chicken were deep fried without batter, but mildly sweetened, giving it a slightly crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside with a hint of malt. Super nice.
#3 Zhai Choy – a lovely blend of vegetables sauteed with some lum yee (fermented tofu in red sauce) – nice.
And…I can't remember anymore other than a soup dish, noodles…and…? Honestly, can't remember unfortunately. As my grandmother from my father side cooks alone, it was a fantastically managed and cooked meal, come to think about it. A single person cooking for 20 persons, that was awesome…and mighty tiring, I may say. Thank you ah ma, I miss you so much. I'll see you and catch up with you later when we meet again in heaven ok.
Mom's side grandparents place
Given that my mom's side both grandparents were still around, both cooked and both cooked very different dishes.
My grandfather has a few dishes that he "owns"
#1 Deep fried pork with black fungus – to die for. The pork is deep fried first then stewed into the black fungus stew, resulting in a deep braised flavor. Yum.
#2 Chicken Curry – the chicken curry that he makes is by scratch, and is always perfect how the spices are fully balanced in the dish. No taste of curry powder or overbearing santan, just rich, creamy spiced curry with chicken. Always the first to go.
My grandmother's dishes
#1 Steamed chicken – truth to be told, I don't enjoy this much as it was often plain and bland compared to the other richer tasting dishes…then. Now, it's pretty much a meal I enjoy that is relatively healthy. =)
#2 Steamed fist – often pomfret, also one of the first to go. Seasoned simply with oyster sauce and some seasonal vegetables, this is a very lovely dish.
That's all I can remember…there's a lot more, but they don't come to mind at this point in time. I'll add them later ok.
We would stay over in our father side grandmother's place, and upon waking up, we'll wish everyone "Gong Xi Fa Cai" or "Kong Hey Fatt Choy" which translates to "wishing you a happy and prosperous new year", and in some instances, mandarin oranges are given in pairs or multiples of twos (avoiding the number 4) to the older folks to wish them good luck and health. In return, they will give us red packets.
We would quickly shower and eat and go to church for our Chinese New Year Service. Then, I was just a kid and didn't care much, so I'll walk around, go exploring around the church by slipping away quietly, go for extended toilet breaks…until the service was over. Of course, it didn't help that the services was in Hokkien and Cantonese, so I didn't understand.
After the service, we would head home to our father side grandmother's house to have the overnight dishes (it was superstition to not cook or do housework on the first few days of the new year) plus a sweet dessert soup for good luck, wait till our uncle from KL reaches to have lunch together (of course, his ang pao too heh heh) before we head off to our mom's side grandparents place where we would start eating again and having fun in general.
Repeat this for 6 – 8 days, and you'd get a tub of lard who systematically gains 6-10 kilograms of body weight every Chinese New Year we go back *face palm*. Gosh, no more fat days please…My, those were the days…regardless, Louise and myself and my team would like to wish all of you, the readers at NigelChua.com a wonderful and happy Chinese New Year 2013!
Let this year be your best year yet! =)