CNY Food Shutdown

So I made a short video

[click through to the blog if you can’t see the video]

In Singapore, during the first 2 days of Chinese New Year (which are also public holidays), there’s practically no food to be bought. Let me explain.

The majority of the Singapore population is Chinese. No sane and rational Chinese food stall owner will sell food on those first 2 days. In fact, most venues (food or otherwise) will close up shop. In recent years, businesses have started to be open on the second day (they used to only start on the 3rd day) or even the first day, due to the poor economy. This leaves enterprising Malays and Indians who will provide food for the hungry Chinese, and charge exorbitant fees (I think it can go up to 50% higher than their normal price).

You know what’s available? McDonald’s. The fast food restaurant is open every day, public holiday or otherwise. They just get the Malays and Indians (and sometimes even enterprising *cough desperate cough* Chinese) to work. One of the perks of a multi-racial society, I guess.

What’s interesting is that, during those first 2 days of CNY, the entire island of Singapore goes quiet. Except for occasional lion dance troupes with their drums banging along the road, travelling to their next destination. It’s a public holiday, so even the Malays and Indians might just go “What the hashbrown” and just sleep in. I don’t see this even for our National Day.

What did you say? Me, cook? Who do you think I am, Jamie Oliver? I can barely avoid hurting myself just boiling water. [I actually intended to say that in the video, but forgot. I was very nervous. You can’t script too much, and you can’t improvise too much. Another thing learned…]

So, I’m curious. Do you have holidays where your entire country basically shuts down? Let me know in a comment.

Epic rabbit cuteness contest

This is just a fun contest I’m holding. A couple of days ago marked the start of the Year of the Rabbit for Chinese New Year. So I want you to vote on which rabbit is the cutest. Here are the contestants:

Contestant #1

Rabbit contestant 1
[original image]

Contestant #2

Rabbit contestant 2
[original image]

Contestant #3

Rabbit contestant 3
[original image]

Contestant #4

Rabbit contestant 4
[original image]

How to vote

You can:

  • Email me
  • Vote on Twitter using the hashtag #epiccuterabbits
  • Comment below

Results will be tabulated and released in the March 2011 issue of Singularity. I’ll also write a short post here to announce the results. No personally identifiable data will be released. If you’re really shy, you can comment anonymously (for this post, I’ll accept non-obviously-spammy-looking comments that are legitimate “vote” comments)

I don’t have any cool prizes to give away (do I hear future sponsorship?), but aren’t those rabbits cute? Do it for the rabbits.

How red packets came about

Nian beast
[image by Heather Bickle]

It started with a legend where villagers frightened off a terrible beast called Nian with wearing red clothes, banging pots and pans to make loud noises, and holding out their red packets. It turned out that Nian was scared of the colour red, and red packets were easier to carry. So that’s the 2 sentence summary of how red packets came about.

But red packets could get “misplaced”, and then Nian would eat those poor children and elderly who lost their red packets. Thus money was placed into the red packets so that people were less likely to “misplace” their red packets. That’s why red packets contain money. So that’s the 3 sentence summary (based off the 2 sentence summary above) of why red packets contain money.

Red packets

That’s not very satisfying, is it? So I suggest you read the full legendary story in the February 2011 issue of Singularity, along with some fun facts of the Chinese New Year.

To all Chinese in the world, have a happy Chinese New Year! And to everyone, have a successful and prosperous year ahead!

Chinese Lunar New Year office decoration

In a couple of weeks, the Chinese Lunar New Year will arrive. The exact date is on the 7 February (Thursday), and the 7th and 8th are public holidays in Singapore.

It’s a ritual. Once past their due, our unofficial office decorator will take down the Christmas decorations, and replace them with the Chinese New Year decorations. She even has a system for rotating decorations…

So along our partition walls, we have
Welcome spring
The four Chinese characters are (from the left), “welcome spring receive blessing” literally. Feel free to replace “blessing” with “fortune”. The last character is a bit ambiguous in meaning. In this context, it just means something good.

Then we have
Fortune god
It’s a traditional thing to have the typical picture of a boy and girl around somewhere in decorations. I’ll have to go look it up why… The two sets of 7 characters, one on each side, is a bit harder to translate. The rough translation for the left set is “lots of good fortune, happy every year”. It can also be “great fortune, prosperous every year”. Chinese characters pack a lot of meaning into one word… The right set translates to “God of fortune descend (arrive), meet (have) good fortune”.

The ceiling wasn’t a problem for hanging Christmas decorations, so this is a cinch.
Hanging fish decor
Those 3 characters literally translates to “year year have”, or “every year have”. Have what? That fish under the three characters? In Chinese, “fish” sounds identical to “abundance” (or “extra” to be exact). So that decoration signifies abundance in every year. In the past, when people were poor, this used to mean abundance in food, particularly rice, the main staple. Now it just means anything you consider to be good, like money or fortune.

And where the Christmas tree used to stand, the brightly and auspiciously coloured vase took its place.
Auspicious flower vase
The two orangey things are Mandarin orange displays. During the New Year period, we Chinese exchange Mandarin oranges (real ones) with each other. Why? Well, in Cantonese, Mandarin oranges sound exactly like “gold”. So we exchange “gold” with each other. More to the point, we give “gold” to another, and receive “gold” from another.

I know the phonetic similarities stretches meanings a bit, but Chinese are like that… *smile*