A belated Xin Nian Kuai Le*!
* ‘Happy New Year’ in Mandarin Chinese. The popular version around the world is the Cantonese ‘Kung Hei Fat Choy‘ and varitaions of it because the Cantonese speaking diaspora emigrated in larger numbers and earlier than the Mainland residents. Cantonese is spoken mainly in Hong Kong, Macau and the southern Chinese provinces.
Last week, Monday, the 23rd of January 2012 to be precise, was Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year as it’s known to a large part of the world. This is the Year of the Dragon.
Thank you, Ben van Wijnen, for permitting the use of the above image from your website.
During my time in China, I spent one Spring Festival (Chinese New Year, remember?) in Baise, Guangxi Province with one of my closest Chinese friends and her family. My friend’s English name is Cher. Baise is not a tourist hot spot, although it is politically significant for some uprising at some time. What made all the difference to me is that the small city was not overrun by tourists as is the norm during that holiday period, and that traditional life was still untouched there despite the central parts of the city being bulldozed by China’s unrelenting modernisation.
Spending the most important Chinese festival with a Chinese family was a unique and unadulterated experience. It was made all the more special by Cher, who is truly ma chère amie. She takes after her parents, who I began calling Ba and Ma (the Chinese equivalent of Dad and Mum) after a week because they doted on me as much as they did Cher and her older brother, Rong. (Unlike most young, urban Chinese, Rong didn’t get himself an English name.) Out of habit, I kept teasing Cher and Fan that I was the favourite child. (Growing up, Big Bro and I would scrap over that title, while Big Sis quietly earned it.)
Spring Festival Eve is the pinnacle of the almost month long preparation period. New Year’s Day itself is a bit of a damp squib compared to celebrations like Christmas, or even Diwali (Hindu New Year) and Eid (the most important Muslim festival) when the actual day is the highlight of the festive period.
The big dinner is on Spring Festival Eve and this is it. Cher is holding up a ready-to-be-devoured zongzi.
Zongzi is one of the many varieties of glutinous rice dumplings. Zongzi are wrapped in a particular variety of leaves and steamed. The savoury variety has a meat and/or veggie filling; the sweet variety has nuts and sweetened, dried fruit. These dumplings are the main food of the Dragon Boat Festival which occurs sometime in June, but some Chinese families eat them at Spring Festival, too.
This is a special version of zongzi that Ma makes only for Spring Festival. The stalks of a particular herbal plant are burned, then powdered with a mortar and pestle. When the ash is rather fine, the glutinous raw rice is mixed in and pounded as well.
Ma has weak eyesight and is short of hearing, so Ba does most of the cooking. He is an excellent cook! I had eaten a lot of good food during my time in China, but I can say, hands down, Ba’s were some of the tastiest meals I’d eaten in China. Deceptively simple looking, not long on preparation time, not heavy on ingredients, yet the outcome every day was a veritable gastronomic delight. I tried hard to learn the recipes, but there were none in the manner that I am familiar with. The kitchen was not very large and Ba would have all three stove burners going while busy washing, chopping and dicing the ingredients. I tried to keep out of his way, but observed and tried to remember as much as I could. Now, all I can remember is how fantastic it all tasted! 😦
On Spring Festival Eve, at midnight, we all went up to the rooftop of their 5-storeyed home to watch the fireworks display that ushered in the new (Chinese zodiac) year. It was a novel experience for me watching the midnight sky light up at that height. It was much better from up there, I think. I don’t enjoy fireworks as much as I used to. Now, I even avoid watching them if I can because that short lived pleasure comes with a high environmental price tag.
Spring Festival Day proper is not a home affair per se. Families go out to the park or wander around town. Both meals of the day are very scaled down as compared to the previous night. The day after Spring Festival or Chinese Boxing Day as I called it, is for visiting relatives and exchanging gifts. And so a-visiting we went! For three days, we went over to close relatives’ bearing fruit, packaged snacks and live fowl in pretty little bamboo baskets! So cute!
And now I’m not in China anymore. 😦
I miss China. I miss my friends, the food, the very different life. I sent the above photograph of mine to my Chinese friends for Spring Festival. And I got a whole lotta dragon fire burnin’ love back my way. 🙂
These are not Chinese dragons, but Celtic dragons. They’ll do for the purpose of this post.
The Spring Festival period ends 15 days later with the Lantern Festival which falls on Monday, February 6, 2012.
From me and my pet Celtic dragons on Bestie Boy’s back, may all kinds of fiery goodness blow your way in the Year of the Dragon!
P.S.: Cheerful Monk adds a footnote to every post acknowledging those who comment on her previous post. She also links the commenters’ names back to their own blogs.
I like both these practices of acknowledging the time and effort made to comment, and the free advertising! So I’m doing what I do well – being a copycat!