Friday, January 30, 2009

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year came and went like the breeze. We are effectively still celebrating Chinese New Year. We still have all the goodies stocked at home in case visitors come by any time, and this will continue through out the 15 days even though we're all back at work now. Well, at least for some of us. A couple of my friends, have this whole week off since Monday.

The day typically starts off pretty early for my family. The reason is simple. My mum has a HUGE family and if we want to see everyone, then we need about 3 to 4 days dedicated to just visiting. That's what we used to do at least when we were still younger. Now that we've all grown up, and since some of the relatives are not around anymore, there's less people to visit. So about 2 days would do it. What I love about this day.... is the food. Eat Eat Eat Eat Eat! I love it! Allow me to take you through our Chinese New Year, traditions, and show you my family.

We arrived at my parent's place at 10am. And to Julien's pleasant surprise, he got his first 2 ang baos (red packet filled with money) of the day, from my grandmother, and my aunt. Just to elaborate briefly on ang bao giving. During Chinese New Year, there's a lot of transfering of wealth from the eldest generation to the youngest. Also, once you're married, you're obliged to give out ang baos as well. That means if I have a cousin who is older but isn't married, I am obliged to give her an ang bao too as long as I am married. So it's my last year to collect my wonderful red packets this 2009. Next year, I'll be contributing like the rest of the other "mature" adults. The colour red is a symbol of good luck. So when you give out an ang bao, you're actually wishing the person good luck and wealth. Even the well wishes ie GONG XI FA CAI mean "Congratulations you're rich". These little red packets are usually given during a celebration ie, festive seasons, baby showers, wedding celebrations, birthdays, house warmings, etc.

Julien's first 2 ang baos of the day

It's common that we would dress up in our new clothes during this day, and like I mentioned we do house cleaning, throw out old things, buy new things, to symbolise forgetting the past or old and welcoming the new. Also for the house to be in good clean condition when people come visit. Because, you're all dolled up on that day, it's also the day that you take the most pictures of yourself with everyone else.

My sisters Min, Rachel and I

Julien with my sisters

My parents

The Family

I can't remember who it was, but someone said, "let's do crazy", and we kind of got a little carried away after with the photo taking....

It started out funny

Then it just got weird

So we decided to be a little more serious and start our ang bao collection process! In my family, we wish the older generation by age. Hence we go to the oldest person in my family, my grandmother, then my aunt, then my parents. And we wish them in order of our age too - I go first, then Julien, then Min, then Rachel. When wishing someone, we offer them oranges which is a symbol of gold and fortune. They in turn will return the wish with two other different oranges and an ang bao! This is a first for Julien.

Julien paying respect to my parents with oranges

My parents returning the well wish with different oranges and an ang bao

In this household, we pay our respects to the elders in the following order: my aunt to my granny, my parents to my granny, my parents to my aunt (she's my dad's older sister), Us (Julien, Min, Rachel and I) to my granny, Us to my aunt, Us to my parents. After all that was done, our next stop as every other year would be my mum's side of the family.

The day's just starting and we're already rich

I had previously sent Julien some pictures of my Uncle's (Mum's brother) house in previous years, but when he actually saw it for himself, he couldn't help but blurt out "My God it's a museum!". My uncle's got all sorts of furniture put together in a very eclectic sort of style.

Like a scene out of a movie

So in the same manner, we wish everyone in order of generation and age. Only it takes longer in this family because my mum is the 2nd youngest child of 8 children. In this household, we have my maternal grandmother's generation, my mother's generation, my generation, Rachel's (my sister) generation, then the generation of my nieces and nephews. 5 generations in one location! Imagine that. Because the family is so huge, we tend to forget who's who sometimes.

Julien wishing my maternal grandmother

My maternal grandmother

What I really look forward to apart from meeting my other cousins whom I see once a year, is to sit with my family and have steamboat together. Steamboat is a style of eating something.. almost like fondue for the French. Only it's a big bowl of clear broth, and we cook raw meat and seafood in this broth, which is great because I love seafood. Julien loves it!


I'm getting hungry

My Uncle being the merry host

Having a meal together

Of course I had finished my meal already since I came early
so no need vie for seats at the steamboat

Every year, the spotlight falls on someone. Either someone's getting married, or someone brought a new boyfriend, or someone got pregnant, or someone did well in school, etc. This year, the spotlight was on my nephew, Marcus. You might have already read about him in our previous post. He's grown so much in just 4 months (October 2008 - Jan 2009)!

October 2008 - January 2009

At least we all know where he got his good looks from

Everyone, and I mean everyone couldn't keep their hands off him. Funny, watching my relatives going gaga over him, made me wonder if I was pinched, smothered, squeezed, poked, passed around like a piece of meat when I was a baby too. Even Julien caved in and had to hold Marcus for a bit too. He was just too chubby to go unnoticed. Marcus wasn't all too happy though.

We stayed a long time at my uncle's house chatting and catching up with cousins that we only get to see or meet once a year. We can arrange to meet up more often, but somehow we just never got to it. I'm still happy to be able to see them at least once a year though.

My cousins: Min, Justine, Me, Jasmine (Marcus's mother)

I'm glad Julien enjoyed himself (He's wearing Marcus's bib)

Next stop was another relative's house (I can't remember how we're related) which we visit every year. This year some of my relatives in this household went away to China during the Chinese New Year for a holiday (I think) so there were not that many people around. So we didn't stay very long. Julien seemed to be impressed with the houses we've visited so far.

Our last stop for the day, was to my mum's aunty's house. This old grandaunt of mine simply adores my mother. The story is that mum was almost given away to this aunt when she was a baby to be adopted as her daughter (don't ask me why, I can't understand this system myself either), but because my mum could not stop crying, she gave her back to my grandmother. And she regretted it so much, having seen my mum grow up to be the beautiful and successful woman that she is today. She will tell us the same story every other year. My granduncle (her husband) says he's lost count of the number of times she's repeated this story each time my mother comes to visit.

It is at this grand aunty's house that the second highlight of the day commences. Steamboat round 2!!! Good steamboat takes many factors: The stock (has to be flavourful. That's why it's usually precooked days before), the seafood and meat (has to be fresh so we don't get a tummy ache), the chilli sauce (very very important). Home cooked food is always the best. After that last stop, Julien officially declared he needed to go on a diet (that he never started).

We had so much fun we didn't want the day to stop. So we met up with some more friends after at Zouk and partied some more. Chinese New Year was great fun!

To more happy moments like this through out the year of the ox.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Oriental Classical

What I'm listening to now: Ashitaka Sekki by Joe Hisaishi.

He's my favourite composer/performer/conductor/muse. A musical genius in my opinion. He is best known for his work with animator Hayao Miyazaki, having composed many scores for many of his films including Spirited Away (2001), Howl's Moving Castle (2004), Princess Mononoke (1997), My Neighbour Totoro (1988), and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984). He is also recognized for the soundtracks he has provided for filmmaker 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano, including Dolls (2002), Kikujiro (1999), Hana-Bi (1997), Kids Return (1996), and Sonatine (1993).

In all my 27 years of my life, I've always considered myself an eclectic. I like almost all genres of music. There's none that I really dislike or can't listen to. But recently, I realised that I really really really really really love Classical music. I've studied music when I was younger, and I always had taken an interest with the piano. European classical is very good. But somehow, Oriental Classical is able to move something deeper than just my heart. Mainly because the instruments used are different. They make the notes come alive. I hope it moved you as much as it did me. Enjoy!

Ashitaka Sekki

Princess Mononoke Symphonic Suite

One Summer's Day (Spirited Away)

Joe Hisaishi's also composed the score for a foreign film, Le Petit Poucet in 2001.

La Lune Brille Pour Toi

On a seperate note, I love Yann Tiersen's compositions too! Vive la France!

Fri Nite Drag Cabaret @ The 3 Monkeys Cafe

It's Wednesday, the day after the two day holiday in Singapore, there's lots to share about our long weekend of which I will dedicate today to accomplish.

Before I start my list of posts, HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR everyone! In Chinese we would say GONG XI FA CAI! Which literally means, when directly translated, "Congratulations, you're rich!".

So, Friday 23 Jan 2009. The evening before the start of the long weekend, and everyone's getting restless at work. We had a tiny celebration in my office with wine and a lucky draw before we called it a day. Julien's colleagues were very chatty in the office as well, so I heard. Everyone's in a good mood. At least I was.

Since we weren't coming back to work for a few days, we had decided to take our friends, Jimme, Yihmay and Gen to the 3 monkey's cafe for the drag cabaret. It would be a good night of fun, entertainment, and a real eye opener. The night proved to be a success! Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take pictures during the show, so I can only do my best to relate what happened in words.

As you all probably already know, Julien and I had been to this show before, so this is Julien's 2nd time, and my 3rd or 4th. I was a little apprehensive since I've seen this show a couple of times at different locations before already. I had quietly hoped that the jokes would not be recycled. That it would be a new experience for it. And it was. What didn't change, though, and I'm glad it didn't, was the cabaret show at the start. It opens with some singing and dancing to build up the atmosphere and lighten up the crowd before the stand up comedy.


Kumar in da house!

I'm not sure if Julien mentioned what happened to him the first time we went. See that "girl" in the first picture on the left? There was a solo performance and she would go round and make merry during the dance. At some point, she stopped where Julien was sitting, and smiled. Julien smiled back of course, being the good sport that he is. Noticing that he's an easy target, she started to stroke his hair. Julien, the award winning drama king, cocked his head back and closed his eyes as if taking in the moment (did I mention with a smile?). Then, without warning, she grabbed Julien's head and suffocated him in her bossom. I laughed so hard I almost fell off my chair. Did I mention "she" was wearing lingerie? Hahahahaha!!!

That was Julien's first time at the show.

Second time we went, "she" had recognised Julien straight away because he was the first person she went to. This time, no teasing. She just grabbed his head and shoved it down her bossom. I like her no frills attitude. Jimme our Dutch friend got it twice too only because he had given her the thumbs up sign the first time round. Us girls just started cracking up round the table like a bunch of hyenas.

What A Nite!

We were happy

That was Friday nite. =)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Chinatown on a Sunday

Chinese New Year is just round the corner and boy am I excited! This festive season is big, I mean BIG in Asia. In China, they celebrate Chinese New Year and take holidays off work for 3 whole weeks! Imagine that! I guess most companies in Singapore, especially the local run Chinese ones would not be in operation for about a week.

So being the excited Chinese that I am about this time of the year, Julien and I decided to head on down to Chinatown! So to the MRT we went. I dare say, the public transport system here in Singapore is extremely efficient and what's great on top of this is that it is also air conditioned! Why do we need a car (or motorcycle - although Julien would never agree with me on this point) when we've got the Mass Rapid Transit.

We arrived around 5pm in the evening and it was already packed with people! I was really thirsty, so first thing that caught my attention was this stall. Not only because it was selling coconut juice. But they dress up their coconuts as well.

The Chinese Swordsman, The Tinkerbell and The Ninja

Chinatown is a great place to visit if you want to have a "feel" of how the Chinese immigrants from China then lived. The buildings have all been preserved in this area. Only difference is the streets are a lot cleaner and the shophouses have all been painted over. I love these shophouses. It's always been my dream to own one some day. There were more of such shophouses before the government tore them down district by district to make space for the the posh looking buildings you see today.

For the first time, Julien actually likes flowers on something.

What I really like about this place is that it has a good mix of both new and old.

Walking through Chinatown during this festive period is a nightmare. We had to literally barge through throngs and throngs of crowd. Just trying to get from one shop to the next in this crowd is a challenge.

At least Julien's happy.

Despite the humidity and the crowd, there were still MANY things worth exploring that would tingle the five senses i.e. sight, smell, taste, touch, listen.

I wonder what went through their minds as they were constructing this.

Lanterns for decorating the house and plants

It's tradition during Chinese New Year to do spring cleaning in the house. It's not just to clean up the house, but more with the idea to start the New Year with everything new. So, new furniture, new bedsheets, new clothes, and Julien's new joke - New wife. (I wasn't laughing as usual...). Some others really go way out. They paint their houses in a new colour every year, shift furniture around and all that. We Chinese can be a little over the top at times. So these shops sell everything! Decorations outside and then furniture to linen bedsheets, curtains, etc inside.

I really liked the middle painting on the first row. Julien preferred the middle picture on the second row. I reckon these paintings would brighten up any plain wall. They're paintings taken from old pictures as you can see. The women in the paintings are usually in a cheongsam or with pigtails. Yet, they're painted in a very modern style. I like!

We also came across a painter who was painting calligraphy characters in the form of drawings. It was simply mind blowing. What was great was that he was doing it live too! Simply awesome. Things like these make me very proud of my heritage. You don't get this anywhere else in the world.

There were lots of these very cute oriental clothes for kids. Somehow, when it's kid's size, I think they're nice. They seem nice only on kids. Not adults. Well, then again, maybe because it usually looks way too oversized on adults. Julien was starting to worry, each time I pointed out a mini dress or a mini oriental pigtail hat.

This street performer caught our eye immediately. For one he really stood out because of the way he was dressed. That instrument that he's holding is called the er-hu. It's an instrument invented many decades ago. Not many people know how to play this instrument anymore. I'm glad though that schools here are very culturally inclined and provide curriculars that teach students music, dance, or traditions from the time of our ancestors.

This old man was very friendly and actually welcomed us to take a picture with him. Apparently he's taken many pictures with famous celebrities from Asia when they come visit.

What's funny are these street vendors. There are many of them selling the same thing. Like new year produce and sweets, some canned abalone, etc. And because it is really competitive, what's important is that they stand out in the crowd right? Here's one whom we thought was very innovative. He's got on a green wig, speaking into a microphone.

There were also others who were giving out sweets for you to try for free. Of course this worked very well on Singaporeans. They were swarming to the stalls like bees to honey. Haha... we were guilty of it too. We both took one jelly sweet each! We had good reason to though.. it was really warm and humid, and that ice cold jelly really helped soothe our parched throats. Grin.

Of course, you can't just take a walk through Chinatown without stopping by the food vendors! (Typically Singaporean).

Up till now, I still am not really sure what this is. Do you consider it a fruit or a vegetable? What I remember of this is from the movies during my childhood days. Of dieties and Celestial beings in their ancient Chinese robes drinking Chinese wine from these containers called a gourd. Only these gourds in the movies are brown, like they have been dried and hollowed out. So I'm still wondering.

The Japanese Pizza

This is called the Japanese Pizza. It's funny how the Japanese take something that was already invented yonks ago, change it a little and then rename it "The Japanese" something. I mean, we've got the Japanese curry, Japanese Pizza, Japanese pasta, Japanese beef, etc etc. What's next? This pizza is mainly a base of cabbage, with cheese, ham and a full egg on top of it. Asian people love it. I'm not exactly a big fan. Pizza should be bursting with meat and cheese.


All these sights, sounds, taste and smells were great to take in. But the highlight for me was when we came to this beautiful oriental building which we later found out was a temple. It was so beautiful in itself it helped us make many photos good enough to be on postcards. Here's some. The rest are on Picasa.

Part of the temple from outside

The first main level

5 Levels in total

This was hand painted too.

May Wealth and Health be with all of you this New Year!