Lex Petros: February 2010

Monday, February 22, 2010

8th Day...

I was rudely awoken by the almost simultaneous detonation of firecrackers around the neighborhood at midnight.
Abruptly jolted (bearing in mind I sleep in an intermediate room in a condominium!) by the thunderous volume, anxiety took over. I quickly went to the balcony with my mum just a skip behind and saw strings of firecrackers being set of in a thunderous chorus.

On the horizon, giant formations of fireworks started to blaze the dark skies. First on of the west , followed by another discharge on the east side. From afar, I can make out 'airbombs" detonating, characterized by a brilliant flash in the sky with a huge 'bang' ensuing shortly thereafter. I've been up close to one years ago and I could almost still hear the ringing in my ears! After a while, the wind blew the acrid scent of gunpowder to our direction. I can't help stop thinking about my youth, donning nothing more than a simple T-shirt and shorts running around setting off my stash of fireworks at this hour...

Ahh... the 8th day of CNY... when offerings and prayers are dedicated to Tian Gong, the God of Heaven. I remember this, for as a child, I was witness to numerous prayer rituals at Uncle Eugene's old house, which ironically is just a few streets from where I live now. My dad would be trying his luck at the mahjong table with my mum chatting with the men's' wives. My friends and I would be running wild in the neighborhood with our stock of gunpowder-propelled rockets and Roman candles!

Reminiscing old days and yet feeling irritated from interrupted sleep, I can't help but wonder why we banned firecrackers in the first place just to observe multitudes ignoring it. Being trained to observe the law doesn't quell the temptation of doing it all over again.

I slept well when I returned to bed, with memories of CNY past!

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Red Envelopes

Certainly another indispensable tradition is the giving of ang pao or red envelopes or packets containing a small monetary gifts. The giving of a red packets are considered very auspicious and for warding off evil spirits and ushering good luck into one's home. I use to keep a list of all my collections in a small little book kept alongside a envelope serving as my makeshift "safe" hidden away in a drawer.

The story of ang pow" dates back to the Sung Dynasty in China. A village called Chang-Chieu was at the time terrorised by a huge demon. No one was capable of defeating it, not even their greatest warriors or statesmen. However, a young orphan, armed with a magical sword inherited from his ancestors, fought the evil demon and eventually killed it. The villagers were triumphant and the elders presented the brave young man with a red envelope (more like a red pouch I would imagine) filled with money for his courage in saving them. Since then, the ang pow has become a part of traditional Chinese customs.
Practically every Chinese family practices giving out thee red packets during the Chinese New Year period, weddings, birthdays or important events like one's child's graduation. Kids or the unmarried stands to gain more from this exercise.

The obligors are normally married couples and older folks. Newly weds are "encourage" to make their "contribution" more sizable in order that their marriage will be a fruitful and lasting one. I've always been taught by my mother to have notes in pairs, depending on the denomination of currency available, e.g. RM11- comprising of one RM10 note and one RM1 note.

The handing out of red packets are reciprocated by kids' parents respectively when families visit one another.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Yee Sang & Low Hei

A timeless ritual chinese practices during the Lunar New Year celebrations aka Chinese New Year celebrations. The common dish known as "Yee Sang" or raw fish, transliterated. In Malaysia, there is almost no option for every Chinese family to indulge in this exercise at the dinner table on the eve of the new year, commonly called the "Reunion dinner" or at any place where a table of guests are preparing to dine.

The Singapore-originated (as I found out) dish had fish served with white radish, carrots, red capsicum, turnips, red pickled ginger, sun-dried oranges, lime tree leaves, Chinese parsley, chilli, jellyfish, chopped peanuts, toasted sesame seeds, Chinese shrimp crackers (or fried dried shrimp), five-spice powder and other ingredients, laced with a sauce using plum sauce, rice vinegar kumquat paste and sesame. Originally, the dish used raw mackerel, although in deference to the popular wishes of customers, salmon was later offered as an alternative due to the growing its popularity. These days, there are variations with raw jellyfish stripes, which serves as a cheaper alternative.

The act of communal mixing or "low hei", involving tossing the shredded ingredients into the air with chopsticks (much like you would with Caesar salad) while exclaiming various "auspicious wishes" out loud. It is believed that the height of the toss reflects the height of the dinner's growth in fortunes, thus dinners are expected to toss enthusiastically; the level of enthusiasm commonly depicted by the "height" of the the toss.

There is no real specific technique in the toss, but I've come to realize the "toss experts" could manage to mix the ingredients up in midair with skillful chopstick-play!

The tangy taste of Yee Sang sets out your palate for the tantelizing dishes which comes after that.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Hope everyone has bought their new clothes, mandarin oranges and charged-up their "ang-pows" for the Tiger year!
Gong Xi Fa Cai
to all my family, loved one and friends!
Happy Chinese New Year!!

I look forward to renewing friendships, culling old habits and reinventing myself this year!

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