30 January 2011

New Year, Old Customs 新年、舊俗

To the 1.3 billion ethnic Chinese living around the globe – roughly a fifth of the world’s population – the Lunar New Year is the mother of all celebrations. Cantonese people take things up a few notches and, over the centuries, have developed a suite of regimented festivities that render the Twelve Days of Christmas dull by comparison.




In Hong Kong, the sanctuary where Cantonese customs are preserved and refined, our new year tradition is a combination of Christmas (the customs of exchanging gifts and putting up a decorated tree in the living room), Thanksgiving (the all-important family dinner no matter how busy or far away we are), Halloween (the get-out-of-jail-free-card for children to gorge on unlimited candy) and, of course, the Gregorian calendar New Year (the sense of renewal that compels us to draw up a list of resolutions)...


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Read the rest of this article in No City for Slow Men, published by Blacksmith Books, available at major bookstores in in Hong Kong and at Blacksmith Books.




19 comments:

  1. Thank you... Happy Chinese New Year... I wish You health, wealth, good luck, full of joy, and happiness. May God bless you, Jason.

    LLS

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  2. Jason: think you dont mind I will forward your link to my other foreigner friends who want to know more about HK tradition :)

    Happy New Year to you ! :)

    FC

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  3. Not at all! BTW, the article is of interest to BOTH foreigners AND Chinese.

    Jason

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  4. Ah I miss the hectic pace of HK on Chinese New Year! A few days when Hkers are not so snarling. Where do the Filipino and Indonesian female slaves to go if they are not welcome at Victoria? This article brought me back to the wonderful memories of being a human sandwich in Victoria park. I hope the pro-Democracy peeps represent like last year.

    thankyou,
    JB

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  5. Hi Jason,

    Kung Hei Fat Choy! Happy Lunar New Year of the Rabbit. What's better to start the New Year with reading your great article reminiscing some of the old Chinese traditions and customs. Indeed, with time change and a more affluent society, there are now many twists and tweats to simplify old customs with convenience while retaining core values of passed down traditions.

    Relax and enjoy the extended holiday and start the New Year at work afresh with dynamic enthusiasm and new energy.

    Keep writing!

    Martie

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  6. Thanks, Martie and Jenny. Happy Year of the Rabbit to you!

    Jason

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  7. I recall Ada used to be the most frequent offender, accidentally blurting out words she shouldn’t have said, dropping chopsticks during the big dinner on NYE.

    Miss Mum’s cooking most in CNY, too bad the great traditions didn’t get passed on.

    Sweet reminiscence!
    Margaret

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  8. To me, it likes watching the TVB program, Sunday File. It shows how the city + culture changing. I believe you spent a lot of time in research before writing. It is good to those foreigners who like to know more Chinese culture, especially to those working in HK. Thanks for yr articles. Keep on and bring more different topics to us :)

    AW

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  9. Hi Jason, as an Australian born HK permanent resident who has adopted a Hong Kong daughter & has a biological son born in HK, Thank you for your down to earth explanation of the customs, as we love the HK culture and like to keep it vivid in our home, especially for our children to appreciate where they have been born & raised. I do have one clarifying question, do you mean spitting, or splitting on the ground when a taboo word is said? Thank you!

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  10. Ha ha, yes, I meant "spitting." Thanks for catching the typo -- I already corrected it.

    Your family sounds lovely. I don't know how old your daughter was when you adopted her but she will soon realize how lucky she is to be welcomed to a happy family. Hong Kong is an interesting place to raise kids. If nothing else, your children will have lots of quirky stories to tell *their* children one day!

    I hope you check back often.

    Cheers,

    Jason

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  11. Hi Jason
    I follow your interesting blog, so I will be back.
    You are spot on about our daughter. She was 3 years & 10 months when she joined our family. She has been with us for 19 months now and is 5.5 years of age. Her brother is 2.5 years older than her. As soon as she could speak English she began to express her appreciation of having a family. She melted my heart when I put her to bed on Christmas night and she said "Mum, you know what my best gift of all is?" I said, "No, what is it?" I was expecting it to be her new, much requested, toy guitar. She said "I love all my gifts, but my best gift is my family." At nearly 8
    years of age my biological son takes his family completely for granted, and so he
    should, he has known no other reality than doting family. In contrast, my
    daughter knows what it is like to wish for a mummy and daddy to love her, and
    she constantly expresses how happy she is to have a family, a (in her words, not mine) beautiful house and nice food. My daughter's grateful consciousness is a refreshing perspective.

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  12. Your comment brought tears to my eyes, no joke. Precisely the kind of stories I wanted to hear during Chinese New Year!!

    With warm regards to your family,

    Jason

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  13. Dear Jason,

    I am still wishing people good health blah blah blah as I picked up the phone up to this day, but I am afraid I have uttered my fair share of abominables during the sanctified period (I don't think anyone can blame me if I am working practically for the 3 days out of the 4-days holiday weekend). Spitting on the floor to redeem a wrong word uttered without broom or mop etc, can you imagine how hygienic HK or our and our friends' homes would become ?

    I still look forward to receiving the red packets every year, and my mom was still harping on how come I care so much about how many red packets I received and complaining about the stinginess of my elder brother in the amount he stuffed inside. Though I am not married, but I found that the amount I am pouring out in red packets money far exceeds what I get in recent years, what I give to the secretaries, caretakers, waiters etc and obviously I am not very enterprising at all! And I used to joke that if you go for a yum cha lunch during the trio of days during CNY, you'll be chatting more with all the waiters who come "kung hey fat choi"ing you (with the ulterior motive of fishing a lai see off you) at the table than with one's lunch / dinner pals !

    I love nin go and tong yuen! There is no way I can make them myself though I can make water chestnut pudding before. And turnip cakes always remind me of another story: I gave a coffee grinder to my best friend once, we are all coffee fanatics. And she told me afterwards that her mom was even happier than she on seeing my gift, her mom's comment was, oh, this is so nice (hopefully I made a good impression then), we can use this to shred the turnips for making turnip cakes !!! And I could die of shock right there, when her boyfriend echoed, yup, mine suggested using the grinder to grind/ blend ginger for the chicken 白切鸡 ! You should be counting your blessings that I am still here typing away to you and haven't suffered a cardiac arrest right there and then...

    As for the flower market, I always avoid it coz I don't like the suffocating, jostling crowds, though the pictures of your CNY are giving me second thoughts as to whether I should go there and get the plants for myself next year. You working for any advertising agency? Toys: one of the first big gifts to my brother (not from the flower market though) was a big remote control Hornet, which was so dear to him. Mine was a pink and white music box I begged and begged and begged my dad for once when I was very very small (at around $28, which was an exorbitant price for a child's thing if not toy at that time). And another was a small white dog in a plastic basket that would crawl up and flop down which was so cute. I still have the music box with me today, but the Hornet and the white dog were thrown away when our place was renovated back in 2006, amidst buckets of tears shed inwardly as that was so dear a childhood gift / memory to me.

    Totally agree with your last paragraph: CNY, rather than a family gathering festival now, has degenerated into a holiday for sleeping in or going on trips for the rest-deprived nation ! And to many youngers (myself including) almost everyday now is a CNY day, right? We get so many goodies all year round.

    Christine

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  14. Hi Christine,

    Thanks for your valuable comment as always. Very funny story about the coffee grinder -- a bad idea on so many levels!

    See you at the book launch!

    Jason

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  15. Dear Jason,

    Quite a well summarized piece on Chinese New Year in a nutshell.

    Although I am ethnically Taiwanese, I have spent all of my life growing up in non-chinese countries (Japan/US) where they do not celebrate CNY. I have to say some of the things you mentioned here are strictly true for Cantonese, and doesn't seem to apply to other chinese countries like Taiwan.

    For example, people in Taiwan hardly passes out lai sees stuffed with very small denominated bills. It seems like Cantonese tends to give it to almost anybody that they know even if the envelope is stuffed with very small amount. Unlike in Taiwan, where lai sees are mostly stuffed with higher amount and given to family members or close family friends only.

    I was also surprised to find out from a friend of mine recently that his apartment building janitor lady came up to him and openly asked him for lai see money, even though he did not offer. This is a concept I do not understand and frankly do not approve. I think some people thinks somehow they are entitled and deserves these "free handouts", but the fact of the matter is that these lai sees are merely a form of appreciative gestures at the lai see giver's discretion.

    Anyways, just wanted to share my thoughts with you. Keep up the good writing!!!

    AB

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  16. Thanks, AB, for sharing with us how people in Taiwan celebrate CNY! I wonder what your customs are in terms of holiday food, flower markets and superstitions?

    Jason

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  17. Just another quick comment, Jason, as I re-read your CNY piece and others' and my own comment (a nice diversion from reading prospectuses, sure you understand). I nearly wept too on reading the comment of the lady who adopts the girl, much as I love my parents I have never uttered something like that, shame on me. The thought of not having them or losing them is just unconceivable! dunno...

    And as I penned in the last paragraph, we get so many goodies all year round, my thought flipped (at the velocity of light) to one recent goody I've got, as an "ordinary" purchase, another would say, but by all means invaluable and by no means common to me. You know what it is, right ? Scroll down....






    YOUR BOOK: HONG KONG STATE OF MIND.



    It just reminds me how many blessings we are all getting each day (i.e. insinuating you should start thinking about your 2nd book) which has enriched our lives, simple it may be, but it is extraordinary all the same. I mean it.

    BTW, I wrote a short comment to the book review you posted yesterday, hope that didn't drive your potential customers away.

    Christine

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  18. Thanks, Christine. It thrills me to hear that people like my book -- it's flattering and humbling at the same time.

    Cheers,

    Jason

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  19. Jason,

    I understand fully what you mean, I can empathise with that totally. Just keep it up and do another one (book or other project) when you are ready and prepared for it. Give your heart to it and that is all that really matters in the end (I guess I've got a bit of an artist's temperament in me too) Know ye that you've got lots of supporters in your endeavours in both HK and overseas (one penning on fbk right now when she should be working...) !

    And I am being honest with you: of all my pals whom I've given a copy of your book and who has read it, they have all come back in delight with only positive comments, either your writing style or your angle on different topics. To me, it's an "intellectual" stimulant and nourishment, and a worthwhile investment (you i-bankers) that I have invested in such a good gift for my friends.

    Take in the thrill, you deserve it. I can see a lot ahs gone into mesmerizing those articles into reality for all to enjoy !

    Christine

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