Friday, January 13, 2006

Sweet smell of wealth

Well, gold and silver are not the only things Chinese hanker for during these festivities. There are others, such as peanuts, melon seeds, sweets and sweetened pickle fruits, amongst others. This shop sold a variety of melon seeds and peanuts, which are displayed by the sacks. People just helped themselves to them, sampling them, but I suspect, not intendng to buy any. Out of curiosity myself, I sampled the (Red) Soiled Baked Peanut (bottom left), which is going for S$5.00 per 500 grammes. It was really tough, and I decided that it wasn't a nut I wanted on the table when I served guests for the New Year. Its a good opportunity to sample some of the other unusual peanuts, as well as Melon Seeds, like the Hong Kong Roasted Red Melon Seeds (bottom right) going for $3.00 per 500 grammes and the Dragon (Eyed) Melon Seeds at S$8.00 per 500 grammes(?) (bottom right). They look georgeous, don't they? Nothing like garish red to bring out the atmosphere of celebration and fortune during the Lunar New Year.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Fool's gold, sellers' tea

The Lunar New Year is always full of colour, gaiety and shopping for that new dress, bag or other brightly colour clothes, as well as sweet goodies. Retailers often fall over themselves to meet this seasonal demand, and where better to come to sell or buy them than Chinatown? I remember that my parents used to make their annual 'pilgrimage' to Chinatown this time of the year to pick up some things for the Lunar New Year. Oriental Emporium was still around then. We lived in the far north of the island in the British Naval Base in the 1960s and 70s (and Chinatown is in the deep south). There weren't any subway train at all then. The bus journey easily took at hour one way, if not more, and these buses weren't air-conditioned either. I rarely, if ever travelled with them 'down town' for these shopping trips, not even after we moved to middle-of-the-island Ang Mo Kio, which cut the travelling time and provided greater comfort through air-con buses and trains.

The price of gold has gone up recently, but there's plenty here, silver even. All fake of course, but symbolically essential nevertheless. Money begets more money, and that's what the Chinese look forward to in the New Year. So if you decorate your homes with these money, or 'eat' them, then you will indeed have a good beginning to the New Year (if you believe in these omens, that is). These 'money' are typically chocolate shaped in the form of ancient China's money and today's coins wrapped in faux gold and silver foil. Actually, the people who make the real money are the people who sell these 'money'!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Ushering Spring to Singapore

Well, there is no Winter in Singapore, nor Spring, since its situated in the Tropics not too far away from the Equator, but the country still celebrates Christmas, which has just passed (too quickly for many, I am sure) but Spring is upon us, i.e. the Lunar New Year, which falls on 29 January this year (2006) - the first day of the Lunar New Year (sometimes also called the Chinese New Year). Celebrations are already beginning. Yesterday evening, in Chinatown, there was a fireworks display graced by non other than SM Lee Kuan Yew and his wife. That's also where you can perhaps see and hear real firecrackers going off 'live'. Firecrackers were banned in Singapore a long time ago, making the New Year much quieter. Anyway, this photo shows a quiet Chinatown street just hours before the 'party' which commenced at 7pm. The road has already been closed to traffic. I was there with my wife doing some shopping. While she shopped, I went around the place smelling the atmosphere and snapping some pictures. We decided not to stay for the evening because there was a hungry boy waiting at home for dinner.