February 13, 2013

Hua Hong Stories : Chinese New Year New Clothes

My parents were fairly into having annual studio family photography and Lunar New Year visiting of our Grandparents.

Lots of stories could be told from just this photo but I am going to write about our new clothes.

My sister Sing and I in this photo are wearing dresses made by our Grandmother Siew, an excellent seamstress.

Every year mum would buy nice cotton materials from Ngui Kee (the top shop on the High Street in those days),send the materials to Grandma Siew  who would make our New Year Clothes in no time. Mum can only make home wear, not those chothes for going out for social occasions.

My younger sister, Yin, in this photo is wearing a dressed with smocking patterns made by Aunt Pick Sieng.

My brother's suit is  Singapore  bought. That is one swanky suit for the lunar new year. Later as there were more of us, our aunts in Singapore sent us lots of nice hand-me-downs, which we really enjoyed wearing. This saved a lot of money according to my frugal parents and relatives.

Early on the first day of the Lunar New Year we would pay respects to our grandparents who lived

Studio Photo taken during  Chinese New Year 1957

in a huge house on top of a hill in Sungei Merah. All our uncles, aunties and cousins who lived in Sibu in those days would be paying their respects too. We would have a wonderful First Day Soh Mien with chicken and eggs cooked by Aunty Ah Hiong and Grandma.

We loved wearing the annual Lunar new clothes made by GRandma. Mum used to say that we did not want to take them  off and furthermore we tried our best to keep the clothes clean. You know what kids were like in those days. We would not even sit to get our dresses creased!! And we would make sure that we put our head above the soup bowls so that we did not have a single drip on our chest.

 This brings to mind that my mum never had to feed us because we kids were able to eat fairly well at the table together with our grandparents very properly with Grandma supervising us from a very young age. Grandma was really a good carer of young children. One of my aunts used to say that she was  impressed that I could hold a pair of chopsticks from a very young age because of Grandma's and mum's coaching. I think that's another thing I appreciate. My siblings and I truly enjoyed visiting our grandparents.

Interestingly, we did not really care much about what we received in our ang pow from Grandfather. Was it only one dollar? Was it three dollars? That is probably the  reasons why I cannot remember how much I received. But I do remember that he used the special Chinese red paper. Grandma would have folded every one using very neat angles and foldings.
Urn Chei or Foochow Red Paper

The red paper (urn chei)  was the regular Chinese red packet paper of those days, bought from shops like Tai Sing, Tai Lung , made in China.  This paper was a must have in Foochow homes. Small pieces would be cut to be pasted on gifts like biscuits to make the gift very auspcious (Yi Lik)  and smaller pieces would be cut to wrap gifts of money for weddings and birthdays.

My father would always tell us not to touch the red packet with wet hands. I later realised that the red paper was coloured by cinnabar or red vermillion which contains mercuric oxide. My father was a well read man who kept a very low profile and was very taciturn (quiet), a man of few words. But he only had to tell us kids once and we sort of respected him so much we really LISTENED to him.

By early afternoon because Grandpa must have his nap, we would leave the house until Grandpa "summoned" us to his house again!! While Grandpa was alive, Grandma would always drive him to visit his married children around Sibu. I loved grandma visiting us because we would get a life chicken as a gift or sometimes a tin of biscuit with a small dainty piece of red paper pasted on it.

I made my own , one and only ,skirt when I took Home Science in Form One, and wore it almost every day too. The other two skirts I had were my schoool uniform skirts. That saved a lot of money too.

Aunt Pick, Grand Aunt Yuk Ging and Grandma were my mother's best mates who made clothes for us every new year. They were the designers like Yves Saint Laurent of their day, using their skills on scissors and the sewing machine. We will never be able to repay them for their kindness.


Ann said...

It like Yin's smocking dress. 2 of my sis know how to make them, the traditional type, not the sewing machine elastic type.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Yes, we all wore the hand made ones. The best of our aunts is Aunt Pick...I should have learned it....from her.

Sibu Tales : Making Bah Gui from Scratch

The pioneering families of Sibu Foochows continued to practise the  adoption of girls from poor families who become their maids (slaves). ...