Chinese New Year, Day -1

Gong Xi Fa Cai!!!

[Pronounced approximately*: gong see fah tseye]
[Disclaimer: Phonics was my very worst subject in school, folks.]

As promised, it’s time for some Chinese New Year posts! Chinese New Year started on Sunday, Feb. 10, but let’s start by going back to Saturday, Feb. 9, to talk about Reunion Dinner.

Reunion Dinner is the traditional New Year’s Eve dinner, when close family gather to celebrate the start of the holiday season, before all the visiting begins in earnest.  Obviously, Singapore locals don’t have very far to travel on such a tiny island – but Chinese/Taiwanese/Singaporeans living overseas may make an effort to return home to visit their family for the holiday.  [Unfortunately, the timing of Chinese New Year in relation to the Christmas holidays and start of school semesters often makes this impossible.  Blog readers outside of Asia, be sure to wish your celebrating friends/co-workers a Happy New Year, and be extra nice to them, as they’re probably homesick.]

Although all of KMN’s immediate family lives in Singapore, we still gather for Reunion Dinner – or, in our case, Reunion Lunch.  So after our run on Saturday morning, we got cleaned up and headed over for lunch with his parents, sister, and Mom’s siblings.

My mother-in-law spent the previous week preparing the feast we enjoyed, which included macaroni soup (American chicken noodle soup), satay (skewered, grilled meat), and popiah.  Popiah is a local signature dish that requires lots of love (and time!) to prepare, and can be best described as a Singaporean burrito.  I actually wrote a whole post about popiah last year, for our travel blog, so I suggest you pop over here to ready about all the delicious details.  Don’t worry, I’ll wait.  🙂

The last dish that we enjoyed is called Yusheng (pronounce this one just like it looks), also called Lo Hei (pronouced low hay).  This is also a local (Singaporean/Malaysian) dish that is very specific to Chinese New Year celebrations.  Yusheng is basically a salad made of shredded carrot and jicama with lots of toppings.  The vegetables are shredded on the long axis, because there is a Chinese belief that eating such long things will bring you long life (for the same reason, they eat noodles on birthdays).

The salad is topped with candied orange peel, pickled ginger, cilantro, sesame seeds, crushed peanuts, honey, sesame oil, vinegar, raw fish, and little crispy fried crackers (and probably a few more things that I missed).    Each ingredient is symbolic.

Traditional Yusheng, before mixing.

Traditional Yusheng, before mixing.

The Chinese language is full of homophones, and the word play that results from so many similar-sounding words is an integral part of Chinese culture.  This is probably best explained with an example: The word “yusheng” actually means raw fish – but sounds very similar to the Mandarin word for “abundance”.  Thus, Yusheng is prepared and eaten at gatherings over the Chinese New Year period, to help ensure a year of good fortune and abundance for all.

The other ingredients are symbolic in the same way.  Part of the word “carrot” sounds like the phrase “good luck” in Mandarin.  Similarly, the jicama is to bring prosperity and promotion in business, the oil is to encourage money to flow in all directions, and the peanuts represent a house full of gold and silver.  Yes, indeed – there is a slight fixation on wishes for material wealth around the New Year.  When all of the ingredients have been added, it’s time to mix.  Everyone gets a set of chopsticks, and off we go:

Everyone participates by tossing or lifting the ingredients high in the air while saying wishes for good fortune and prosperity in the new year.  Allegedly, the higher you toss, the more good will come your way!

Everyone participates by tossing or lifting the ingredients high in the air while saying wishes for good fortune and prosperity in the new year. Allegedly, the higher you toss, the more good will come your way!

Finally, the Yusheng is portioned out – and everyone must eat until it’s gone, or risk having bad luck in the new year.  This was our first ‘Lo Hei’ of the Year of the Snake – but it certainly won’t be our last!!

After a filling meal and and some family time, and knowing Sunday would be a very full day, we hopped on a bus and headed home.  We rode the strangest bus ever.  I thought it was just a normal 167, but nooooo….I’m pretty sure that someone mounted the seats in this bus too high:

But I was also too tall!!!  I was sitting in a seat, but this strap knocked me in the noggin for the whole ride home.

But I was also too tall!!! I was sitting in a seat, but this strap knocked me in the noggin for the whole ride home.

 

Even I was too short - my feet didn't touch the ground!!!!

Even I was too short – my feet didn’t touch the ground!!!!

And that pretty much brought our Reunion Afternoon to an end. KMN and I did a little work, chatted with my family in the US, relaxed, and headed to bed to rest up for the first day of the New Year!  More on that to come…

Did you have to go look up the word “homophone”??  😉
[“homo” = same, “phone” = sound]

Do you “pre-workout” in anticipation of a big eating event/holiday?

And just in case you skipped the link about popiah, here it is again. You’re welcome!!

11 thoughts on “Chinese New Year, Day -1

  1. misszippy1

    Love the idea of all the ingredients having a symbol. A bunch of my running friends went to a Chinese restaurant in town Sat. night for a new year’s dinner. I was bummed not to be able to go!

    Reply
  2. Jean

    You caught me – I had to look it up! But ONLY because I thought it was called a homonym. I’m assuming it’s a “phone” and not a “nym” because the pronunciation is the same but not the spelling.

    On a related note, someone once told me a phrase in Chinese that’s made up of, like, four homophones but means something like “the snake slithered through the grass.” Do you know what I’m talking about? It blew my mind the first time I heard it.

    Reply
    1. Holly KN Post author

      Hahaha! Hi there, Toronto. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂 Just don’t quote me on any of the subtle differences between Singaporean, Chinese, & Taiwanese celebrations, OK? 🙂 I do know that yusheng and popiah are pretty specific to Singapore/Malaysia, though.

      Do you do any kind of Chinese New Year celebrations?

      Reply
  3. gracechua (@gracechua)

    Finally got round to clicking on your popiah/ Flat Stanley post – it looks like your family does it exactly the way mine does, though we add generous dollops of chilli and garlic (and then are a hazard to anyone near us afterwards), dried fish, and crab meat. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Holly KN Post author

      We also use both items liberally, so I’m not sure why they didn’t make it into assembly here. I don’t mind the chili, and even take a smear myself. But the raw garlic? That’s something I could do without. 🙂 As I remember, following this particular party, I nearly vanquished KMN to the cot…

      Reply
  4. Pingback: Chinese New Year, Days 1 and 2 | Run With Holly

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