The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

Gung Hey Fat Choi!

on February 1, 2014

Gung Hey Fat Choi! May this new Chinese New Year of the Horse bring you good health, happiness and prosperity. May your table be abundant, your hearts be light and your dreams fulfilled.

One of the things I appreciate most about living in Singapore is the celebration of the Chinese festivals. Once Christmas is over, the lunar New Year decorations are put up in earnest. A beautiful array of pink blossoms and auspicious red and gold festoon Chinatown, shopping malls and people’s homes. Previously, I had never really experienced just what a big celebratory event it was until these past six years.

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It’s a festival embraced by huge crowds flocking to Chinatown in cities all over the world. It fills me with pride that other cultures and nationalities enjoy themselves just as much on this happy occasion.

As a child, Chinese New Year meant wishing my family Gung Hey Fat Choi in exchange for lucky red packets and eating my Mum’s homemade New Year pudding and a special family dinner with roast duck, slow cooked marinated pork belly with sliced yam, steamed sea bass, sweet and sour pork (Cantonese style not your pork balls in batter), king prawns in their shells with tomato sauce and sometimes lobster with ginger and spring onion. A sumptuous feast indeed.

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In the centre of Newcastle Upon Tyne on the outskirts of Chinatown, there was once a nightclub called The Mayfair which hosted the Chinese New Year celebrations every year from when I was around 9 or so. The Newcastle Upon Tyne Chinese Association would organise a Sunday afternoon programme of lion dancing, traditional Chinese dance and operatic singing (an acquired taste) where we would gather to meet up with family and friends to exchange Chinese New Year good will and greetings. It brought together a real sense of community that also gave me a sense of my cultural background. Plus the opportunity to collect a lot of lucky red packets! My Dad Mr Li would ask me how did I do each year and I would show him my good fortune.

Sometimes I feel that living between two cultures it can be difficult to submerge yourself fully in either one or have true knowledge of why we celebrate traditions the way we do or even understand why such traditions are so important. As the generations pass by, we find that tradition can lose it’s meaning and what is practised now is just a loose version of what once was.

More than fifteen years ago now the Mayfair nightclub and it’s surrounding buildings were torn down in a major urban redevelopment scheme. It’s now the location of The Gate, a thriving entertainment hub. Initially there was concern over where would Chinese New Year celebrations be held but what has come out of it is a much bigger, buzzing, inclusive Chinese New Year street event that the whole north east community can engage with. Every year my Dad Mr Li takes a wander up the road to Chinatown to watch the lion dancing and I know he feels great pride in seeing the crowds of people of all nationalities gathering together for the festivities. He tells me just how busy it has been and how enthusiastically the lions were dancing.

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As Chinese New Year celebrations are underway in Singapore, I have a newfound appreciation for the culture I am from. I think it’s because of having children now who are of mixed race heritage that I feel it is important that neither culture has sole domination in their upbringing. They should be proud and celebrate both sides of their heritage but not just pick and choose the good stuff.

Quite often there’s the misconception that just because you’re Chinese then you automatically ‘know’ the Chinese stuff. I will openly admit to having a very poor knowledge of all things Chinese. But living in Singapore has afforded me an education in many things Chinese that I’ve enjoyed embracing. I feel better equipped to honour the beliefs of my parents and more importantly, I have a deeper understanding of what they sacrificed when they left Hong Kong for a new life in England. I know my Dad Mr Li is glad I’ve had this opportunity to be part of something he could never fully describe.

Chinese New Year is a celebration of family togetherness. For all the hardships of the year gone by, this is a time to rejuvenate in a little luxury, enjoyment and happiness. From the family reunion dinner on Chinese New Year’s Eve to visiting family on Chinese New Year’s Day to wishing family and friends good blessings for the year ahead. In the days of my Dad Mr Li’s youth, this time would be one of the few occasions in the year where you would get new clothes, new shoes and special food. Even Big Brother Li will remember the importance of Chinese New Year in this respect from his early days of living in the Li clan village. Also steeped in tradition is remembering our ancestors with the offerings of food, new clothing and luxuries to make the Afterlife a better place. For who will look after the future generations if not the past ones.

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I have come to realise that Chinese New Year is a lot more than collecting lucky red packets and eating delicious food. It’s a time to reflect and be thankful for family and friends to share the festivities with. So we have enjoyed a family reunion dinner, we’ve watched dragon and lion dance performances with friends, we’ve had a celebratory dim sum lunch and now it’s my turn to hand out lucky red packets to all the children I know.

The lion dance performances have been truly spectacular. A real show of strength, skill and acrobatics. It’s not just a load of banging of drums and having two men shaking their bum and waving a lion head around. It’s a symbol of protection, a story of warding off evil spirits, of bringing prosperity.

It is not to be confused with line dancing. I invited Mrs Cake Pops to come and join in our condo’s Chinese New Year celebrations next weekend. There’ll be lion dancing I said. Line dancing she replied. LION dancing I said. Line dancing? That age old auspicious Chinese tradition of dancing in a line in our cowboy boots, Stetson and chaps to ward of evil spirits? I suppose it could work. If only we hadn’t cleared up the misunderstanding though. Mrs Cake Pops does things properly and I so would have loved seeing her and the family rock up ready for a Houston rodeo show.

Even when we no longer live in Asia, I’m quite sure there will be customs that I will enjoy observing no matter where we are. For that, I have another good reason to be thankful for our time in Singapore, it’s taught me to remember and be proud of my Chinese heritage. It’s reaffirmed my belief in doing certain things because I feel they are important and meaningful and not just because my family have done it before me.

Happy Chinese New Year and may you enjoy the festivities wherever you are.

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2 responses to “Gung Hey Fat Choi!

  1. Mel says:

    Gung hey fat choi Ms Li, I wish we were still in town to enjoy the festivities with you!
    Miss Ruby would love it…. Melxxx

    Like

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