Wednesday, January 27, 2010

CNY then and now

In two weeks' time, Chinese people all over the world will usher in the Chinese New Year of the Tiger. My excitement for the Chinese New Year has somewhat fizzled since I 'grew up' (is it because I now have to give instead of receive angpows? Ha ha..). Compared to my childhood days, CNY was such a big, big thing then.

The CNYs I had as a child was filled with merriment, lots of cookies and junk food at every house we visited, and those tasty fizzy drinks that came in wooden crates, bottled in glass bottles. You need to use the old-fashioned bottle opener to pry open the bottle cap which was made of metal with crimpy edges around it.

Nowadays, all these drinks come in plastic bottles and you only need to twist open the caps to pour out the drinks. The bottles if bought in bulk are now in cardboard boxes sealed in a plastic film. You can buy cartons of them from the supermarkets or hypermarkets while those days, these wooden crates of glass bottle drinks have to be ordered from your neighbourhood 'kedai runcit'. They will deliver them to you using their bicycle, or tricycle (the bike with the sidecar) or if the grocer is better off, he will own a small lorry.

One week before the big day, my grandmother will get our daily 'washer woman', a lady from the nearby kampung who comes over daily to wash our clothes and does ironing, together with some of her women relatives to come and wash (yes, literally) the whole house. Fans, lights, ceilings, interior floors all get a realy good washing (mopping the floor was not enough, it had to be splashed with buckets of water and scrubbed with a soapy brush). Cushion covers and curtains are changed. In some years, the entire house or parts of them like the exterior or window grilles or gate gets a new coat of paint.

Home-made decorations using red paper and angpow wrappers were put up. Now you seldom see people doing that. All the decor are store-bought and very elaborate with lights, sequins, tinsels, glitter. The same goes for cookies and other delights. They were all homemade back then but now, you can easily buy them from stores or enterprising people who make them for sale.

The children will get new clothes and shoes and my mother will let me wear some real (gold, mainly) jewellery. My angpow collection from all the relatives and friends who visited us and whom we visited was sizeable. Of course, back then the euphoric feeling of our increasing stash masked the fact that in order for us to have amassed that much, our parents had to also fork out similar sums to other children and unmarried people in return!

My grandfather would buy lots of fireworks for us to play with every night. They came in all sorts of shapes and sizes and it was such fun to arm ourselves with a lighted joss stick to ignite the fuse of these fireworks. These days, such fireworks are not readily available or sold openly. We probably can only get sparklers while the real noisy exploding fire crackers are reserved only for lion dance performances.

On the reunion dinner night, the entire dining table will be filled with a huge spread of CNY delicacies. And all these dishes will continue to be served for the next two days at least before they all get mixed up in a pot to become "choy keok" (a dish concocted combining all the leftovers).

Those days, families were larger. There were more people to make gatherings larger and noisier. Everyone lived nearby and those who lived further away made it a point to return to their parents' home as a mark of respect, as well as to meet siblings and relatives. Despite having met up at the family home, the younger siblings or relatives would still make it a point to visit the older ones at their individual homes. Return visits will also be paid. I remember meeting the relatives once at our home and then we went to their homes again later in the day or the following days. Unfortunately, we collected angpows only once from them!

Now, families have shrunk in size. And with 'globalisation' and overseas study opportunities, many families have members living in other countries, making it inconvenient to return home for the CNY. And if we had already met at the family home or somewhere else, it is considered enough and we don't visit them at their individual homes anymore.

Those with smaller families have smaller-scale reunion dinners. Many even eat out at restaurants to save the hassle of cooking. When I was a kid, I remember our kitchen and backyard as a bustling cooking place, with a few grandaunts, and aunts working together with my grandmother and mother, each doing their part to come up with the many dishes to be served.

While some of us may still travel back to our hometown to celebrate with our families, there are some families who take the opportunity to go on holiday during CNY. Back then, going on a holiday overseas during CNY was hardly heard of.

Indeed, times have changed. I wonder what the CNY will be like for the next generation, C's generation, when she's all grown up as an adult....

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