January 20, 2012

Happy Chinese New Year from Sibu and Foochow Bloggers

It is time of the year again to reflect on our Foochow roots and customs.

While I started off writing about Chun Lian this morning.... (Chun Lian has the same purpose as the Christmas wreath)which is a special Chinese New Year couplet used to decorate the doors of a Chinese home during Chinese New Year....I suddenly realised that there are many points to touch on.

Firstly Chun Lian is a temporary decoration to be placed on the entrance of the house - just for the lunar new year.

Secondly I remember that my grandmother (Tiong Lian Tie) would paste them the two pieces of decoration on the wooden door frames of our Nang Chong house in Sibu.

Thirdly in the olden days whenever some artists or calligraphers came  around  we all got very excited because that was the only decoration we had for the Chinese New Year. In those days we could not buy any red lanterns to ring in the new year like nowadays.

In retrospect during those long ago days in Sibu our Chinese Lunar New Year was welcomed very simply and in frugal ways. No open houses. Friends and relatvies visited each other and the best the host or hostess could give would be sunflower seeds (qua chi) both white and black. We would spend hours cracking those lovely seeds. 

I remember with great love the Foochow housewives who would be busy making  Tong Kui or nian gow..this steaming took  many hours and a few families actually burnt down their kitchen while preparing for this cake. Luckily the traditional Foochow kitchen was separated from the main house by a small verandah or  landor where in the evenings we would sit and chat with the lovely breezes cooling us down...and when the sun set the aroma of kerosene for the lamps and the fragrance of cooking sugar and rice flour warmed our hearts. As kids we could not wait for the sweet cakes to cook which would usually be very late at night or very early in the morning. We kids did not know that our rubber tapper aunts or mothers would have to work on these cakes after they had finished their chores to bring us these goodies..and they had to tend the stoves carefully to regulate the low heat.

We must see a double feature/film show (two movies for the price of one) on first day of Chinese New Year...
I remember we loved and savoured this type of aerated water came in wooden boxes like these - 72 in a box.

Chinese New Year is not exactly a time for collecting of Ang Pows but a time when our parents give us some token of money to help us grow a year older..it is a time for us to renew our sense of filial piety and to re-establish kinship and neighbourliness. It is a time for us to say good words to others so that the new year would be blessed by the goodness of the earth and the skies. It is a time for elders to feel that they have a place in the society and they play a significant in bringing up a new generation.... It is a time for us to reflect upon the blessings we receive from God. And most important of all ..it is a time for us to realise how meaningful it is to be alive and live life as best as we can!!

nowadays shops are just so full of new clothes for the Chinese New Year. The wearing of new clothes epitomises the significance of renewing our lives...and start afresh again..Throw out the old bad ways and make room for new and better ways!! Get rid of evil and welcome goodness!! Nor did we have kam quats or other new year decorations.
Although we wore western frocks for Chinese New Year my grandmother/aunts wore a more modern version of these sam foos...these ladies were photographed in the 1900's (Yi Soh and Yi Mui) in Fuzhou City. (Old photo)

the passing of the year and the welcoming of the new year  was most obviously heralded by new calendars hanging on the wall. Grandparents would have the honour of tearing the days piece by piece.By the middle of the year the kids had forgotten the novelty of the lunar calender until the next new year.
I also remember how we kids would pester our parents to take us to see the New Year Parade in Sibu...men and women walking on stilts and Foochow Opera near the Chinese Temple..a few lion dances too. But these and the Dragon Dance became a thing of the past when political instability came  to Sarawak and night events were not encouraged due to curfews. 
Oranges symbolising gold and wealth remain a must in most homes. A sign of Spring!!
Writing of couplets can be seen in the town with business men being the targets of the calligraphers

In Sibu calligraphers and artists have become quite a permanent fixture nowadays because they can pen the Chinese New Year Couplets for their friends and acquaintances. This makes the couplets very personal and endearing..

In the past older ladies and men would bring a basketful of these couplets and sell them from shop to shop and house to house to raise some pocket money for their new year. This practice seems to have gone out of our cultural system as more shops are selling Chinese new year goodies including home decorations imported from China!!

This year is different from previous years...and next year...there will be more changes....People change and culture is a dynamic element in our world!!

In Sibu many of my friends keep a special meaningful T and B time - Monday evenings happy hours to a group of friends in Sibu mean having tea and baos in Wong Meng Lei's office. Last week he invited Mr. Ting Huat Hu to write couplets in his office. These couplets were given as gifts to readers of the Methodist Message. What a nice new tradition to welcome the Chinese New Year!!

Below my friends Wong Meng Lei and Steve Ling with Mr. Ting Huat Hu who personalised couplets for his friends.This is just so meaningful in Sibu and it really makes me want to go back to my roots...but now after so many years away...can one find one's way HOME? and what is Hometown in the real sense?

Tony Hii (GM of Premier Hotel) waiting for his couplet!!
This is a photo by my friend Steve Ling (Blog = Going Places  http://stevelinglt.blogspot.com/2012/01/couplets-for-chinese-new-year.html?showComment=1326750350076#c4671859963833990732  ) of another friend Wong Meng Lei (Blog= Rajang Basin).

For Meng Lei...the calligrapher poemed " New Year New Age New Foochow /Sibu; Love God Love People Love Sibu"
This couplet summerizes Meng Lei's outlook also.

I hope all these pictures will help you remember what it was like to celebrate Chinese New Year  and what is happening in Sibu. Today people have changed and perhaps many celebrate in their privacy...others who are politicians and public figures would use the occasion to widen their contacts and establish business relationships or even garner more popularity. For many it is also a good time to prosper...make as much money as possible for the New Year!! Children only know that it is time to enjoy good food and merriment.

And I hope my fellow women would not be too stretched out making all sorts of goodies...have some relaxing time in a spa..perm your hair and wear a new dress...and like John Travolta...let's strut and have a nice Saturday Night Fever!!

And to those who welcome the new year and new season...my best wishes to you and all your loved ones....

 Happy and Wealthy Chinese New Year of the Dragon.

May all of you prosper in your endeavours
May all of you gain health and wisdom this coming year
May all your children achieve joy in whatever they do.
May your family grow in the love of God and spread Love all around
May you bring peace and harmony to your community and nation!!


Uncle Lee said...

Hi Sarawakania, love this posting, as usual very enlightening.
And I am always fascinated with your part of the world too. As well the Fu Chow peoples.
I am from the Fu Kien gang, few generations....
Great photography too. You sure very creative with your camera.
And I enjoyed looking thru all the pics.
Here's wishing you and family Kong Hei Fatt Choy, and the very best of the incoming Dragon year.
Best regards.
sorry have not dropped long time, but my Apple had a heart attack, ha ha.

sarawaklens said...

Happy Chinese New Year!

Anonymous said...

the 72 in a box soft drink still around - pui kee piao or Plane Brand . hope this year a good year - Happy New Year ! ! yeehaa

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Uncle Lee ...I too have not been reading too many blogs..It is nice to know your Apple is now out of ICU...
Wishing you and your lovely wife a Prosperous Chinese New Year...and you can still have a great time watching people while waiting for your wife to finish shopping in the mall!!
Sarawak will welcome you!!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Sarawaklens...Wishing you a healthy and wealthy CNY of the Dragon.....

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Anonymous...thanks..isn't it amazing that this kind of wooden crate can still be around after more than 50 years? Thanks for the info...

Ann said...

My Wai Kung didn't go to school, but his calligraphy was very good. People asked him to write invitation and couplets.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ann...I think next year there will be more people writing couplets!!

Your Wai Kung must have been so well loved...quite useful to be able to write with Chinese brush. Very admired indeed.

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