Friday, February 16, 2007

Chinese New Year: Life in a small town Part 3

My childhood memories of Chinese New Year are:
  • wearing new clothes and shoes that were always uncomfortable for some reason
  • unlimited amounts of soft drinks and prawn crackers. Lots of kuih mor - sweet cakey balls of sugar coated loveliness, still my favourite
  • my sister and I counting our "ang-pow" money discreetly. Ang pows are little red envelopes with cash gifts inside. They are traditionally given to children and unmarried people during CNY. The amount you get depends on your relationship with the giver. So the "big money" ones are from your grandparents, uncles and aunts etc. When I was a kid, the standard was B$2 from people you didn't really know, $5 from your parents' friends and $10 from rich people. It was rare to get $10 from someone who wasn't a family member. It all evens out in the end because my parents had to give out loads of any-pows too. So it's just a way of circulating cash I guess. When we grew older (say from 11 or 12) we were allowed to keep our ang-pow money, and boy did I love it! It used to pay for my Smash Hits/ No 1 magazines all year.
  • Visiting other people's houses and comparing their snacks/biscuits. Playing with other kids, while indulgent adults look on.
I remember when the lion dance was banned in Brunei (why? what the point of that?) and I'm glad to see that it is now back. On the first day of New Year we would have open house, and the next day we would normally go and visit our relatives in KB and Seria. Some years we used to go and visit family in Miri, which was great because they had lots of super-duper lion dancing there.

Anyway, one thing I remember distinctly is that the neighbourhood kids used to come visiting at Chinese New Year. They would come in groups of up to 10, wearing their best clothes with their hair all nicely combed, neat and tidy. They would sit politely while my Mum served them soft drinks and kuih sepit*, and wait patiently for their ang pow. Looking back now, they were so cute. I wonder if kids do that nowadays?

I hope that little Malay kids do feel that they can visit the homes of their Chinese neighbours, and that in return their Chinese neighbours make them feel welcome. I know there is a problem with the "food/drink" thing nowadays i.e. that some Muslim people are wary of eating or drinking in pork-eating households. On the other hand, Chinese and Malay people have lived together (reasonably) happily in Brunei for generations - we should feel at ease to visit each other's homes right?

To any Muslim people (and I am not trying to make light of your religious beliefs), Chinese people are not on a mission to secretly feed non-halal products to you. Hey, if you are really worried just stick to the biscuits and the soft drinks. Gong Xi Fa Cai!

*kuih sepit: crispy egg-roll things rolled up into "love letters" or folded into triangles


Jewelle Tan said...

Gong Xi Fat Chai to you! I'm glad that lion dance as well as having christmas trees display is allowed now too. I wonder what was such a big deal about them. When I was told of the bans in the past, I find it funny that anyone could see them as offensive. Good thing they are more open-minded now.

Katie-Ella said...

Jewelle, I'm so pleased that lion dances are back. A happy and prosperous new year to you and your family! Good luck with the "pay per post" project too; I hope you beat your target and make lots of money this year.