Sunday, February 22, 2015

2015 The Year of the Goat/Sheep

Ray and I took a guided tour of Chinatown the week before Chinese New Year (CNY) to gather some more facts and legends related to CNY in Singapore. As with any media and market-driven holiday many of the "must have" items are not part of the traditional celebration. As newcomers in Singapore we have been asking everyone what we need to know.

Many of the traditional foods and decorations are chosen for their names and what they sound like. Many Chinese traditions have evolved because the word for something sounds similar to powerful or fortunate words.

The key CNY words, found on advertising signs and on various packaging, are:
  • Prosperous
  • Auspicious
  • Courageous
  • Bountiful
  • Blossoming
  • Wealthy
  • Healthyful
Much of the celebration, which lasts 2 weeks, involves food, family visits, "red" envelopes and other gifts. When you visit someone, 2 Mandarin Oranges are presented to the host family when you arrive; when you leave, a different pair of Mandarin Oranges is given to the visitors. If you give oranges that are not Mandarin, it is considered an insult (never give Sunkist oranges, for example).

Another ubiquitous tradition are the red envelopes with an even amount of money in them. Never give a gift of money that is an odd amount! These envelopes are primarily given to children, old people and service people (maids, gardeners, security and others). 

You will note throughout CNY, the main color is RED. Red is considered an auspicious color. There are also lots of yellows and oranges, all of which are considered good.

Chinatown streets are decorated weeks before CNY.

Decorations of all types are bought and sold everywhere.
Eating Lo Hei or Yu Sheng is fun.
One of the Singaporean traditions for CNY family dinners is Lo Hei, or Yu Sheng. It is a salad of many ingredients, each one symbolizes something important for the New Year. The salad ingredients are separated on the plate and more things are added on top of each pile of ingredients, including dressings and sauces. When everything has been added, all family members - especially the children - mix the salad with chop sticks by tossing the ingredients into the air. It is very fun and very messy...this is what it looks like after the tossing:

The after mix - a surprisingly yummy salad

Another tradition is the dragon dances. A local merchant in Tiong Bahru hosts a dragon dance each year which went on for at least an hour with drummers and confetti crackers and lots of very energetic dragon dancers.

Our condo complex is hosting a CNY party 1 March so I'm sure we will have more dragon dance photos to share.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Visit to Arab Street, a Place of Material Beauty.

My inner-Hippie has been satisfied. A trip to Arab Street in Singapore transports visitors to the likes of Istanbul and Moroccan street markets: brass pots, hookah pipes, and pashmina scarves in every imaginable color. Arab Street is in the Kampong Glam neighborhood of Singapore and the home of the Sultan Mosque.

Arab Street is where people go when looking for beautiful fabrics for dresses and decorating. In fact this is what prompted us to bus down there - a hole in Jen's couch cushion. Each shop offers rows and rows of material beauty. There are tailors in each shop willing to sew up a gown for as little as S$25. Not bad...

Ray and I window shopped until the scent of kababs made us stop for dinner. As the little gift shops closed up around 6:30, the restaurants started moving their outside tables around, taking up the sidewalks of the closed shops. This relaxed neighborhood enjoys long evening hours.

We enjoyed sharing a meze platter (haydari, hummus, patates salate, sakusuka, patlacaw salata and lavish) and some Iskander lamb kababs with Turkish coffee and fistikli balkava and kaddyif burma to top it off. I took a risk when ordering a drink. I selected ayran which turned out to be a cold whipped yogurt/buttermilk drink served in a brass mug. It was very good!

This neighborhoods has now been added to places we will take visitors to see.

Hippie heaven.
The huge Sultan Mosque is the first thing you see on Arab Street.

Windows of a backpackers hostel.