A Day in the Life: Chinese New Year 2014, Day 1

My blog was a mere baby during last year’s Lunar New Year festivities.  Still, I wrote a few in-depth posts about some of the traditions, the food, and the visiting that goes on during the holiday.  Read the first one at Chinese New Year, Days 1 and 2 (obviously titled before I realized the importance of using years – did I think my blog would only last one year?).  If you weren’t a regular reader then (I think there were only about two of you – Hi Mom & Dad!), I’d urge you to click back and read that one first.

I didn’t want to repeat all that info again this year – that would be boring for all of us – but I still want to give you a glimpse into what it’s like to celebrate the Lunar New Year in Singapore.  So this year, I decided to make a photo diary of our activities on the first day of the new year, thus combining two very popular post types: cultural posts and “Day in the Life of” posts.  This is guaranteed to be a winner – so read on!!

Before we get started, I should note: I have only celebrated three Lunar New Years in Singapore, but this one was quite similar to the last two (and, KMN assures me, is representative of *every* one).

6:30 AM: I wake up to an eerily quiet street.  All the shops, restaurants, and corner kopis (coffee shops) are closed.  There are few cars and zero pedestrians out and about.  This was just as I’d remembered from last year – almost spooky!  Singapore bustles through basically every other holiday (our first year here, I was shocked at how few establishments stopped/closed business for Christmas!) – but from the afternoon of the Lunar New Year’s Eve through the second day of the Lunar New Year, this bustling, commercial city slows, stops, and turns its attention to family.  Now, let’s turn our attention to the photos:

[For those of you reading on phones that don’t format captions, the relevant text for each photo is posted as a caption, and thus will appear under the photo.]

7AM: I sneak in an hour of work before the madness begins.  I start with a call to a client in the US, then do some scheduling and planning.

7AM: I sneak in an hour of work before the madness begins. I start with a call to a client in the US, then do some scheduling and planning.

8 AM: Stealing some 'alone time', sharing the trails at McRitchie with a surprising number of other runners/hikers.  7.5 miles of trails isn't a bad way to start a holiday!

8 AM: KMN and I steal some ‘alone time’, sharing the trails at McRitchie with a surprising number of other runners/hikers. 7.5 miles of trails isn’t a bad way to start a holiday!

10 AM (we were still running at 9 AM): Rehydrating, breakfast, quick social media check-in.

10 AM (we were still running at 9 AM): I rehydrate, grab a quick breakfast, and schedule a few social media posts.

11 AM: In the subway station, heading out to our first family visit.

11 AM: We head out for our first visit of the new year!  [It’s rather ridiculous how often my selfies are taken on subway escalators.  Because, you know, what ELSE would I do for those 15 seconds?]

12 PM: We are at the first (of 4) of KMN's great-aunt's houses.  Her children and grandchildren are also there.  We enjoy a traditional Peranakan dish of chicken and potatoes in a savory gravy.  This is officially lunch - but there is much more eating to be done, so we pace ourselves!  The table can't accomodate everyone at once, so we eat in shifts, and people filter in and out, as everyone has visiting to do today.  [If you're interested, you can read more about Peranakan culture in this post: I Married Into a Matriarchy.]

12 PM: We are at the first (of five) of KMN’s great-aunt’s houses. Some of her children and grandchildren are also there, and people flow in and out constantly. We don’t know them all, but greet them anyway, and wish everyone a Happy New Year. We enjoy a traditional Peranakan dish of chicken and potatoes in a savory gravy, served with spicy red peppers for zing and crusty bread for dipping in the gravy. This is officially lunch – but there is much more eating to be done today, so we pace ourselves!
[If you’re curious, you can read more about Peranakan culture in this post: I Married Into a Matriarchy.]

1 PM: Our second stop is literally next door to our first (another of KMN's great-aunts); but after some more snacks - this time, kuey pie tee - we pile into the car for Visit #3.  Normally, KMN and I travel easily by public transport. But on this particular day, we do save quite a lot of time and energy by hopping a ride with his parents.

1 PM: Our second visit is literally just next door (another of KMN’s great-aunts); and after some more Peranakan food and chit-chat, we pile into the car for Visit #3. Normally, KMN and I travel easily around Singapore by public transport. But on this particular day, we do save quite a lot of time and energy by hopping a ride with my in-laws.

2 PM: Pretty much all households in Singapore are no-shoes-indoors.  As you can see, there were lots of other visitors at our Visit #3 stop (yes, another great-aunt).

2 PM: Pretty much all households in Singapore are no-shoes-indoors. As you can see, we are not the only folks at Visit #3 (yes, another great-aunt).

3 PM: We make a quick stop at one of the Chinese temples, where the ashes of several of my Mum's (Mum = my mother-in-law) relatives are kept.  Cremation is common in Singapore, as land is very scarce - but relatives would never take a family member's ashes back to their own home (bad luck!).  Instead, ashes are usually kept in an urn at a temple, where relatives can visit and leave offerings.  Visiting deceased family members and leaving them some small offerings is very commonly done on the first two days of the new year, and the temple was, as usual, quite crowded.

3 PM: We make a quick stop at one of the Chinese temples, where the ashes of several of my Mum’s (Mum = my mother-in-law) relatives are kept. Cremation is common in Singapore, as land is very scarce – but relatives would never take a family member’s ashes back to their own home (bad luck!). Instead, ashes are usually kept in an urn at a temple, where relatives can visit and leave offerings – something that is often done during on the first two days of the new year. The temple is, as usual, quite crowded.

4 PM: At yet another great-aunt's house - this makes Visit #5 for the day.  If you can ignore the highway and cargo ships, she really does have a lovely ocean view out her front window!

4 PM: At yet another great-aunt’s house – this makes Visit #5 for the day. If you can ignore the highway and cargo ships, she really does have a lovely ocean view out her front window!

5 PM: Leaving Visit #6, laden with clothespins and clean, folded plastic bags - a very practice gift from one of KMN's uncles.  [Seriously - we need the plastic bags for garbage bags, as we use cloth bags for our groceries!]

5 PM: We leave Visit #6, laden with clothespins and clean, folded plastic bags – a very practical gift from one of KMN’s uncles. He ‘patrols’ his HDB (apartment) estate for orphaned clothespins that fall from the upper stories (people hang clothes out the windows), disbelieving that they don’t run downstairs to fetch a single fallen pin. [Truly, though, the gift is useful – Mum uses the pins, and we all need the plastic bags for garbage bags, because we use cloth bags for our groceries!]

6 PM: What would Chinese New Year be without a stop at McDonald's?  Kidding.  It was one of the very few places that was open, where we could sit and wait for the fifth great-aunt to return home.  [That's one problem with so much visiting by so many people - sometimes the person you want to visit is...still out visiting!]

6 PM: What would Chinese New Year be without a stop at McDonald’s? Kidding. It was one of the very few places that was open, where we could sit and wait for the fifth great-aunt to return home. [That’s one problem with so much visiting by so many people – sometimes the person you want to visit is…still out visiting!]

7 PM: Visit #7.  One of KMN's great-aunts keeps a gorgeous garden around her home - completely with lots of orchids.  Her property feels like an oasis in the middle of a bustling city.  Also, she gave me red worms for vermicomposting.  More on this in another post.  SOON.

7 PM: Visit #7. One of KMN’s great-aunts keeps a gorgeous garden around her home – completely with lots of orchids. Here, KMN and his Dad admire part of this oasis in the middle of a bustling city. Also, she gave me red worms for vermicomposting (!!!!). More on this in another post. SOON.

8 PM: Our eighth, and final, visit of the day - dinner with some of Pa's (my father-in-law) family.  Here we are in parking garage #Idon'tevenknow for the day. I am SO THANKFUL that Pa chauffeured us around all day!

8 PM: We head in to our eighth, and final, visit of the day – dinner with some of Pa’s (my father-in-law) family. Here we are in parking garage #Idon’tevenknow for the day. I am SO THANKFUL that Pa chauffeured us around!

9 PM: I conned a few family members into a group photo.  Cue mad group selfie skill on my part, and good-natured compliance on theirs.

9 PM: I conned a few family members into a group photo. Cue mad group selfie skill on my part, and good-natured compliance on theirs.

10 PM: Empty glasses, mostly-eaten dessert, and a dirty napkin...the night is drawing to a close, folks.

10 PM: Empty glasses, mostly-eaten dessert, and some Mandarin orange seeds – See? We don’t just gift them – we eat them, too!

11+ PM: KMN's parents drop us off at our place.  Exhausted, but happy, we head upstairs for showers, a nightcap, and bed!

11+ PM: KMN’s parents drop us off at our place. I feel so grateful for how easy it is to visit extended family, when everyone lives on the same small island. However, our introvert selves are utterly exhausted, so we head inside for showers, half a glass of wine, and BED.

The second day of the new year is also a popular day for visiting – but we only do a very small bit of visiting that day, so our Day #2 was considerably less hectic. But, that’s another story for another post.  For now, I hope you enjoyed traveling with us through our Day 1 visits!  Please do come back for Day 2. 🙂

Any questions?

Does this match or conflict with anything you’ve seen or read about Lunar New Year celebrations?

Is there anything here you’d like to read more about, that I can elaborate on in a future post?

25 thoughts on “A Day in the Life: Chinese New Year 2014, Day 1

  1. Grace

    So, question. Because in Singapore/ Chinese culture your in-laws are also mum and dad (or mom and dad, or ma and pa, etc) – what do you call your in-laws vs your own parents? We’ve figured that my parents are Mum and Dad (or Daddy in my case – always a daddy’s girl) and his parents are Mom and Dad. Not confusing at all…

    Reply
    1. Holly @ Run With Holly Post author

      We basically do the same thing you do. I’ve always called my parents Mom and Dad (and I don’t think KMN calls them anything?), and KMN calls his parents Mum and Pa (so I follow suit).

      But the ‘names’ are so distinct, and so consistently used, that we never seem to have any confusion issues. Somehow, it just works…

      Reply
    1. Holly @ Run With Holly Post author

      Sophie, it’s been BEAUTIFUL here: 25-27*C and breezy, pretty much no rain for all of January. We’ve been SO spoiled! But the heat is slowly starting to creep back in, so we’ll see what February brings! 🙂

      Reply
    1. Holly @ Run With Holly Post author

      You know, this is exactly what I told my indoor cycling classes last week. I try to start every class with a goal or intention. Sometimes it’s directly related to cycling – technique, one particular position, etc. Sometimes it’s related to training in general. And sometimes, it’s related to life. Last week, our goal was to ride “for life” – so that we can be stronger, have more endurance, and be more effective in our daily activities. Stamina was one point I emphasized in particular – especially for holidays! 🙂 [Are you sure you weren’t hiding in the back corner, Char?]

      Reply
  2. Sarrilly

    Super busy day!!! You guys are amazing 🙂 I love these posts, btw …it’s so interesting to take a peek into how other cultures celebrate big holidays!

    Also – love your dainty gold necklace (haha leave it to me to notice the jewelry on a running blog!) and that pic from the back of your Pa’s car is *stunning* 🙂 MWAH!

    Reply
    1. Holly @ Run With Holly Post author

      I love ANY kind of “Day In The Life Of” post – I suppose that’s pretty nosy of me, but hey – it’s the truth! Will we be seeing one on gbm anytime soon?? =-)

      Necklace was a gift from my grandmother…one of the few pieces of gold I own – and gold is good luck, so – out it came! =)

      Reply
  3. Stephanie@nowirun.com

    Wow. What a day! While each photo made me think it would have been wonderful the slew of photos made me feel, as you put it, a little exhausted! I may be a little introverted, too, so that could explain why the thought of doing so much visiting would make me tired.

    That said, your day sounds like it was filled with tradition, love, family, and fun. That’s awesome!

    Reply
  4. Pingback: Today! (and a little bit of controversy) | Now I Run

  5. Debbie @ Deb Runs

    Bill and I agree, heading out for a run isn’t a bad way to start a holiday. I just learned so much about the Chinese New Year; thanks for letting me tag along! Just curious, do you get to see the great-aunts much during the rest of the year or just during the holidays.

    Reply
    1. Holly @ Run With Holly Post author

      Truth is, despite the small size of Singapore, it’s like with any family in the US – there are members that our family is closer to and we see more often, and some that we only see once a year – just depends!

      Reply
    1. Holly @ Run With Holly Post author

      Hahaha! The honest truth is that I have been totally blessed in the in-laws department. I did nothing to deserve them, but they are fantastic to me, and have been amazing from my very first visit to Singapore right up until today.

      Reply
  6. Crystal@TheFastFitRunner

    Happy Chinese New Year. As a kid, I was so jealous that one of my best friends got $2000+ every New Year because he had something like 12 Uncles and Aunties!

    And don’t ignore the cargo vessels, I think that is one of the coolest things about looking out into the Ocean in Singapore…it is one of the busiest ports and when you see it from the Flyer, it looks like you could simply hop from one or another! Pretty cool for sure.

    Reply
    1. Holly @ Run With Holly Post author

      Hahahah! So true…I think the kids are conditioned to like CNY because of the ang baos. It’s all fun and games until you get married…Then you have to start giving the money away, AND everyone starts pestering you about when you’re going to have a baby (complete with occasional abdominal pat-downs, just for fun)!

      Reply
  7. Jessica

    Wow sounds insane. It is interesting that rather than meeting in one house altogether it is tradition to visit from house to house. This may be a strange question, I know Singapore is somewhat multicultural. I had a good Indian friend who lived there. Is it only the Chinese Singaporeans who celebrate or does everyone get into the festivities?

    Reply
    1. Holly @ Run With Holly Post author

      Jess, that’s a great question! I sometimes get a bit carried away by the Chinese aspects of Singapore – >70% of the population is Chinese, and I’m married into a Chinese family, so I do present a bit of a biased perspective. I’d say that the Indians and Malays participate on a surface level – wish folks a Happy New Year, eat some Chinese New Year snacks when out with friends, and maybe even receive some ang bao – but they don’t do all of the visiting, etc. that the Chinese folks do. This is especially true since the visiting is typically done among family, and less so among friends.

      It’s probably not so dissimilar from what happens to Jewish kids attending a public school that’s mostly Christian during Christmas – they kinda get brought along into the festivities, which walk the line between religious and cultural. For example, we give ang bao to the security guards who staff the entry desk in our apartment building; one is Chinese, one is Malay. We still give to both, and the Malay guard certainly doesn’t return the money! 🙂

      Reply
  8. Meagan

    This is so random, but when you said kopis I knew you were talking about coffee shops before you said so. When I was in college, studying food science, we learned about Kopi Luwak, which is a crazy expensive type of coffee where the beans have been fermented by being consumed and excreted by the Asian palm civet. There’s your random food knowledge for the day 🙂

    That was a very long day, but it looks like a lot of fun going around to visit everyone! As usual, I love reading about the culture. Previously, my only knowledge of Chinese New Year was the color red, that it lasts approximately two weeks, and that my childhood friends that celebrated it always got a lot of money.

    Reply
    1. Holly @ Run With Holly Post author

      “red, two weeks, money” Yep, that about sums things up. 😉

      I think ‘kopi’ is the Malay word for coffee, actually – which would make sense, because the civet probably populates the jungles of Malaysia. 🙂 Singlish steals all sorts of words from every language in the area, so that’s probably where it originated. Funny how little pieces of random info can fit together so perfectly. 🙂

      Reply

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