Monday, February 22, 2010

My Chinese New Year (Part 3)

Yesterday, I wrote about the Yee Sang ceremony as a way to celebrate people or human day known as Cho Chat or the 7th day of the Chinese New Year (CNY).

However, it was a pity that I only managed to show you a sample picture of Yee Sang and a couple of pictures showing a typical Chinese family sitting around their Yee Sang.

Today, I managed to lay my hands on a couple of pictures of people (not necessarily Chinese) tossing the Yee Sang for the benefit of my non-Chinese visitors. However, it is just a co-incidence that both pictures comprise politicians from different political parties. It is not my intention to publicise them.

Meanwhile,today I also learnt a bit more about Cho Chat or People's Day. According to Chinese belief, the hen or chicken was created on the First Day, followed by the Dog, the Sheep, the Pig, the Cow and the Horse on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Day respectively. Then, of course Man on the 7th Day.

Looks like ancient Chinese also have their own version of the Bible's Genesis or 1st Chapter; except that God rested on the 7th day after creation.

Once again, Happy CNY, Happy Birthday everbody and I welcome any comments, corrections, additions, even criticisms, of what I have written about CNY for the past couple of days. I studied Chinese only up to Primary Six level and I stand to be corrected.

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

My Chinese New Year (Part 2)

I was supposed to have blogged this yesterday but circumstances prevented me from doing so.

I wanted to blog this yesterday because it was the 7th day of the Chinese New Year (CNY) or Cho Chat. Anyway, it's still the 7th day of the lunar calender in some parts of the world. (What an excuse!) So what is so special about the 7th day?

Well, the Chinese believe that Cho Chat is a day for all human kind or the day when we were created. In other words, it's everybody's birthday including you and me! So happy birthday everybody!

It is common knowledge that the Yee Sang (also known as Lo Sang or Lau Sang) is part of CNY ceremonies. The Chinese perform this ceremony at the start of the family dinner hoping that the year ahead would bring good luck or prosperity.

(Pix above) A typical plate of Yee Sang. The main ingredient is raw fish. Nowadays, salmon is popularly used but those who can afford even use abalone. Other ingredients include peanuts. Notice the different colours of the ingredients. Some advertisements say "Colourful Yee Sang". I am not sure why the Chinese want their Yee Sang to be colourful but I suppose variety is the spice of life.

In Chinese, Yee means fish and it sounds similar to having extra or leftovers. That's why they use fish including salmon as the ingredient; hoping that there will be 'extra' (money) for the family in the year ahead.

Meanwhile, Sang means to live or to be alive. So Lo Sang means to have an easy life or easy to earn a living. Thus, when they do the ceremony, they try to lift the ingredients trapped by the chopsticks as high as possible. The Chinese believe that the higher you lift, the easier to earn a living or to have a better life.

(Pix above) A Chinese family getting ready to mix their plate of Yee Sang during a CNY dinner.

Thus, in view of the above, and although CNY lasts for two weeks, the 7th day (apart from CNY Eve during family reunion dinner) is a favourite day to do the Yee Sang. It is, afterall, their 'birthday'.

In Malaysia which is a multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious country however, this ceremony is also participated by non-Chinese (e.g. Malays, Indians, Kadazans) when they visit the CNY Open Houses.

Only yesterday, at Pandamaran near Klang in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak joined in such a ceremony at the humble house of an ordinary Chinese folk, much to the surprise and delight of the house-owner. This is the beauty of Malaysia.


Friday, February 19, 2010

My Chinese New Year

Time flies, and it has been more than one month since my last post on 31 Dec 2009; and by the time I am in the mood to blog again it's Chinese New Year (CNY)!

Today is already the 6th day of the CNY but it's not too late for me to wish you Gong Xi Fa Cai (or Kong Hee Fatt Choy in my native Hakka). This is because the Chinese celebrate their New Year for 15 days; culminating in Chap Goh Mei (the 15th day) on 28 Feb which happens to be my birthday, yahoo! So this month alone I will have two double-celebrations - the other being 14 Feb which is both Valentine's Day and Day 1 of CNY.

So how did I celebrate my CNY which is Year of the Tiger? Well, first of all as usual we had our family reunion dinner on 13 Feb which is CNY Eve; except that this year instead of going back to my brother's in Tamparuli we just had a simple dinner here in KK; just the 5 of us - myself, my wife, our two sons, and my mother-in-law.This was because we had a morning flight on Saturday the 14th and therefore did not want to take any chance of missing the flight. Nonetheless, simple though as our dinner was, it was not without the Hakka dishes one would expect during CNY like Kiu Nyuk and Steamed Chicken.

Coming back to the flight, although it was CNY Day 1, we (my wife & I) had to send my mum-in-law to her son's place in Ipoh, Perak where he works - something which we had promised her for some time and so we took advantage of the week-long school holiday (my wife is a teacher).

After spending two nights in Ipoh and leaving my mum-in-law behind as requested, we moved south to Kuala Lumpur where we spent 3 nights before coming home (sweet home) in KK a few hours ago. The first nite in KL was spent in Mutiara Damansara which is quite a distance from downtown KL. There was a reason for that but I will only elaborate in my next posts.

Most of our 2-day stay in KL city proper was spent along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman (TAR), known in the pre-Merdeka (Independence) days as Batu Road. The reason was simple - my wife wanted to buy from the traditional Indian textile shops which are aplenty along TAR road and they are all next to each other. Another beauty of TAR road (especially the stretch nearer Merdeka Square) is that once one has finished shopping at the textile shops, there is also the ultra-modern Sogo Shopping Complex selling more luxurious and branded items. If I am not mistaken, Sogo is a Japanese emporium chain just like Yao Han which was popular in the 1980s both in KL and KK but has since 'disappeared'. And both the Monorail and RapidKL are within walking distance too so you don't have to depend on the blood-sucking taxis.

Another characteristics of Jalan TAR is that it is one of the oldest parts of KL so that most 2 or 3-storey shops were built between the late 1940s and the early 1950s after the 2nd World War. Infact, standing at what used to be Batu Road and looking at the old shophouses (some of which look as if they can collaspe any time), one may start wondering if he is actually in the middle of a city. Batu means stone in the Malay language. I am not sure why it was called such but a good guess would be it was one of the first, if not the first, KL streets to be paved after the War.

Most men would not trail their wives when the latter shop for obvious reasons. So while my wife shopped and shopped, I had plenty of opportunity to explore Batu Road and surrounding areas on my own for two days, on foot. When I had walked far enough and was tired, I returned to the hotel by the nearest light-rail transit train.

One of the old shops I managed to explore, rather frequent, was an old Hainanese-style coffee shop while waiting for my wife. By the time we had to go back to Sabah, I had already made friends with the owner of the shop - the Capital Cafe. I did not ask the owner why it was called Capital but my suspicion is that it was because KL was the first Capital of Malaya (later Malaysia) and everybody was proud of the Self-Rule (1955) and Independence (1957) gained from the British then. It must be remembered that the Merdeka (Independence) mood filled the air around that period.

(Pix above) The Capital Cafe situated on the ground floor of an 'antique' 3-storey building along Batu Road in KL. The upper floors served as hotel rooms but I am not sure if the hotel is still in operation.

Another reason why I decided to write about this coffee shop is that after a few visits over two days for lunch and high-tea, I realised that it was unique in the sense that although it was a Chinese-owned coffeeshop and the cook (who fries noddles and rice) at the right entrance of the shop is also Chinese; the Muslims including Malays would not hesitate to eat there, including what the 'Chinaman' cooked. Now this is something very rare in KL. I know because I worked in KL in the 1980s for 3 years.

(Pix above) Another view of the Capital Cafe. Note the 3 Chinese, Indian and Malay stalls on the right, centre and left respectively at the front entrance of the coffee shop.

Although the coffee shop does not serve pork, still it is not easy to convince the Muslims to eat there. To complete the cafe's services or products, there was also a stall offering Indian-style fast food at the centre of the entrance and then an Indonesian-style Nasi Padang stall occupying the left entrance of the shop. So you have Chinese, Indian and Malay stalls all under one roof - this is not easy to find in KL and this is what I call a true 1Malaysia Cafe!

(Pix above) The younger Ling (left) at the cashier counter of his cafe. Behind him (left, with fan) is where Tan fries his noddles and rice. On the right is the Mamak stall selling Indian light food.

However, although the middle-aged Chinese cook only fries Hainanese-style noddles, neither he nor the shopowner are Hainanese. Infact, they are both Foo Chows. The cook, a Mr Tan (Ting to most Foo Chows) was born in China, came to KL as a young man, and has been standing there frying mee for the last few decades! The owner, a Mr Ling, who is now in his 60s was born in British Malaya and his son is assiting him in the shop. In other words, it's already 2nd generation running the shop. But the younger Ling said he wasn't too sure if his children would want to take over one day for obvious reasons.

(Pix above) The senior Ling, in his 60s, still makes the drinks in his cafe although he is assisted by Indian workers. I suppose it's not easy for him to give up something which he has been doing for the past few decades and having built up the clientele over half-a-century some of whom have either retired or even died. But the younger Ling has already been groomed to take over him any time.

The Capital Cafe is also popular with guests staying in the many budget hotels along Jln TAR, so much so that the younger Ling called it "the coffee house of the budget hotels", in an obvious reference to the absence of coffee houses in budget hotels and the Capital Cafe's popularity with such hotel guests.

(Pix above) The Malay/Indonesian food stall on the left entrance of the shop. It's popular with the lunch crowd, both Muslim and non-Muslim alike.

The day may finally come, may be another couple of decades from now, when even the younger Ling retires and if his children refuse to succeed him, the future of Capital Cafe may be at stake and with it a piece of KL history may be gone. I certainly hope not, for I look forward to visiting the coffee shop many more times, God-willing.

(Pix above) A view from the front of the shop. On the left is the Indian stall while uncle Tan is busy frying his noddles or rice on the right. Truly 1Malaysia!

(Pix above) A close-up of the Capital Cafe signboard which must be half-a-century old. Notice the spelling of Capitol. This must have been the original spelling before it was changed to Capital. It means the same thing though.

(Pix above) Uncle Tan has been practically standing like this frying noodles and rice over the last few decades. Note the notice on the wall - it's the menu which has been there since 1956! Uncle Tan is no longer young and it's a pity if there is no one to replace him. By the way, the noodles and fried rice are much cheaper than in Sabah, although the price has of course gone up compared to the 1980s when I worked in KL.

Gong Xi Fa Cai!