Sunday, February 18, 2007

Those Halcyon Days

Gong Xi Fa Cai to all!

As a child I used to enjoy Chinese New Year very much. CNY celebrations started, of course, with big reunion dinners which were typically held at one of the famous seafood restaurants on Upper East Coast/Bedok Road. Thereafter, we would go back (I believe we walked) to the big old family house where my great-grandmother, the matriach of our family, stayed. I recall that there would be some activity going on upstairs of a speculative nature :-) but of course we children were not involved.

The next day was of course the day we would all be waiting for. We would begin the day visiting my father's parents who (as would be expected of grandparents) were extremely generous and thus could be relied on to start off the day extremely well. We would then go on to my great-grandmother's house, and lunch there with other members of our extended extended family. My great-grandmother had many many children, all who congregated at her home on the first day of the New Year. I used to get slightly confused by all the uncles and aunties (my father's cousins), especially given the strong family resemblances, but it did not seem to matter as all I needed to do was to say "Gong Hee Fatt Choy" politely to everyone and of course they would bestow those red packets on me.

Lunch was chicken porridge, made by the old family servant the previous day. It was (and still is) the best chicken porridge that I have ever eaten. Soft-cooked and smooth, the porridge was full of rich flavour. The toppings and condiments were put on the side so we could season it as we wished. The grown-ups would eat, chat and catch up with the family's doings (never mind that they had already had the opportunity to do so at the previous night's reunion dinner). We children would run around the garden or jump around on the furniture downstairs. Sadly, these days are long past. Time and events have loosened the bonds of the extended family. My great grandmother's house was acquired by the government many years ago so that a road could be built to service the residents of a condominium. And our old family servant went back to China and has since passed away. And, alas, I do not have her recipe for chicken porridge.

We still continue having our reunion dinner and New Year's Day lunch with my extended family. Since we now go to a hotel for lunch, the variety of food available ranges far beyond chicken porridge (but I still miss the porridge). And I must admit that I now participate in the "grown-up" conversation. Angpows have diminished considerably in number too.

Of recent years, we have also started visiting my granduncle and his daughter (strictly speaking, my cousin once removed but who I of course call "aunty"), who have "open house" on the second day. My aunt is quite a good baker so we have a selection of delectable cakes - this year, it was rich, creamy tiramisu; sweet pear tart and zesty lemon curd pie; rich chocolate cake with a sinful creamy filling. We eat our fill, listen to my granduncle (he is 89 years, and just retired last year) and play with her huge long-haired cat. We then visit my grandaunt - a remarkable, independent-minded lady who lives on her own instead of with either of her two sons and their families. She tells us about how she spends her days, going to church, meeting and talking to people. She is 85 years old but I would not be surprised if people thought she was a good 15 years younger. She still has the perfect complexion of her youth, and if her hair is less luxuriant than of old, it is still ebony black with only a few silver threads running through. I can only hope that the family genes are still strong two generations down.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading about your childhood CNY celebrations! Reminded me about mine. They were big affairs. My dad has 6 brothers and 2 sisters, and the entire clan would go to Uncle no.1 for breakfast, Uncle no. 2 for lunch and Uncle no. 3 for dinner (and so on and so forth for Day 2 etc.) As for ang-pows, I have so many cousins and even more nephews and nieces. I have lost track of which kid belongs to which cousin, which can be pretty messy when you're trying to figure out if you've already given so-and-so's children their ang-pows...



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