With less than a week before Chinese New Year, Chinatown Singapore is filled with the joyous mood ever. Arguably the biggest and most widely celebrated holiday in Singapore, everyday, thousands of locals would flocked to Chinatown to sweep for Chinese goodies, cookies, garments and decorations.
In Singapore , no holiday is as big as this. With a population of 5 million people, and about 70% are Chinese, one can imagine how big this celebration is going to be. It is the only holiday that affects the life of all people.
Chinese New Year, or CNY as it is commonly known as, used to be a nightmare for all people some 10 years ago. In the 2 days of CNY, all government and private offices and businesses are closed. The shopping malls, shops and eateries has their door shut too. People are forced to store at least 2 days of food in the refrigerator. It does sounds as if we are preparing for war.
However, in recent years, many businesses realized that it is a good time to make money when competitor closed theirs, this again forces many to stay open for business, though most still stays closed for the first day of CNY.
Walk into Chinatown to see a sea of red coating the heritage town. To the Chinese, red is a symbolism of luck, prosperity, good health and fortune. During this festive season, the Chinese has the habit of decorating the house with red ornaments, changing into red or bright coloured sofa and curtains and wearing red coloured clothing. Red is said to attract good luck and fortune. Usually , all things in white and black are avoided, it is a bad omen, as it means misfortune and death. Though the new generations do not care so much about traditional belief and values as their seniors did.
This year, Chinese New Year falls on Thursday, 19 February 2015. In the Chinese calendar, or the 12-year cycle of the animal zodiac, this year is the year of the Goat. Which is why every corner you turn to, there are products and decorations symbolising The Goat.
During CNY, almost all things are associated with sweetness, and all things ‘sweet’ sells. People from all walks of life come Chinatown to shop for their Chinese goodies. For those who ‘has nothing to buy’ would also be here to soak in the festive atmosphere.
The sweet and cute-looking candy is another must-have in the house for visiting relatives and friends. It is considered as a ‘lucky food’. Start the new year with sweet things and all things would be sweetened throughout the year. True or not, it doesn’t matter, people just feel good with it.
Another must-have for CNY, probably the most important of all is the mandarin oranges. Made famous probably because of its golden colour and round shape, it is considered as auspicious and thus symbolizes wealth and fortune.The Chinese uses mandarins as a gift to visit their parents, seniors and friends. It is considered rude to visit someone’s house during CNY without holding a pair of mandarins as a form of greetings. Mandarins are usually sold by boxes which could contain 20-50 mandarins, depending on the size of the box, most family would have a least a box in their house.
Many of CNY beliefs are actually associated with the Chinese’s love of playing with words, numbers and symbols. The most common one is the number ‘8’, pronounce as ‘pa’ in Chinese, but has the homonyms of ‘fa’ also. ‘Fa’ means ‘make good fortune’, the very word all love to hear in CNY.
Peanuts in Chinese means ‘rebirth’, which symbolizes long life, prosperity and fortune. Shoppers just went crazy with it, getting bags of it home.
This stall is making roaring business with throngs of patrons picking up bags of it.
Peanuts and seeds, these are the goodies the Chinese prefers to eat during CNY for ‘luck’ and ‘fortune’. Sarcastically, prior to CNY these are unwanted products which not many would take notice of.
Have the house pasted with good luck poetry is another way to brighten the house and inject hopes and joy into the family. Visiting relatives and friends would love it when they see the house is decorated with auspicious poems and words.
Most of the poem reads prosperity, good health, good fortune and longevity, the very word all Chinese likes.
A typical dried meat stall. It only appears once during CNY. The old folks love to shop for these, they are probably the only one who knows how to deal with the meat, while the younger generations only knows how to enjoy it.
Dried Chinese Sausages ( above picture) and dried waxed duck ( picture below).
No Chinese New Year’s buy should exclude the delicious Bak Kwa, a barberque dried meat made of pork or chicken, very similar to jerky – a western delight. It is a must-have for every household, guest who comes to visit will be disappointed if they are not serve with this traditional BBQ meat.
Bak Kwa is a Chinese delicacy made with marinated pork ,chicken, beef or mutton meat. It is grilled for hours before being served. It is not uncommon for the price to shoot up by as much as 30% during the CNY, when the Chinese got frenzy with the meat by queuing hours for it.
To eat the meat, simply have a small bite, chew the meat and suck the greasy juice before swallowing the meat. The meat is sold by weighing, it is usually bought by per 500 gram. Don’t worry if you have bought too much of Bak Kwa, for the meat can be kept for a week under household refrigeration
Bak Kwa is the first in the list of every household shopping list in the festive shopping. No queue is too long to wait, as can be seen from the following picture. It is a common sight to see a snake-queue of 100 patrons waiting for 3-5 hours just to grab a few bags of the delicacies. As Chinese loves to eat the BBQ meat fresh, and the meat also could not be kept for a prolong period, the queue got worst 1 week before CNY.
The above picture and following picture probably features Singapore 2 most famous brands of Bak Kwa, Lim Chee Guan and Bee Cheng Hiang.
Chinatown celebrates Chinese New Year a month before CNY, it opens till 4-5 am on the eve of Chinese New Year. For those who are street-wise, they would only start shopping on the 2 days before CNY, that’s the time when stall owners start discounting their price to do stock clearance for fear of dumping them away. The goodies everyone craving for turns into rubbish with the start of CNY, nobody wants it, for those who want it had already bought theirs.
Above picture, The Fortune Cat , with its hand waving to visitor, is said to attract good fortune. People loves to have it in their house, shops and officers. But none is as great and influential than The God Of Fortune, with nearly all Chinese having it in their house and business office.
With more than 400 stalls spreading across Chinatown, it’s not difficult for the local and tourist to be entertained for a full day. Above picture was taken on the eve of CNY, here thousands of people were enjoying the Countdown to CNY and the fabulous fireworks that followed hereafter.
If you are coming to Chinatown during CNY, shopping is not the only thing you can do. There are many street performances such as martial arts, acrobatics, dance and songs. Wherever you go, everyone is waiting for the arrival of a New Year!
Enjoy the food and drinks in the busy street… if you are able to get a seat.