Friday, February 16, 2007

Prosperous Preparations.

The Lunar New Year, as everyone can notice, is just a couple of days away. We've been pretty much busy this time of year around albeit the annual merrymaking of kuih kapit or peanut cookies. Well, it hasn't been exactly a year yet since kong kong's death so the children decided to skip everything this year. That's right, not even ang pows (red packets) this year to be looking forward to. Of course, it's only entitled to the family members that had had a death last year but not to those outsiders. Yeah, it maybe good news for the parents to be saving on ang pows this year. At the same time, we children are still entitled to receive ang pows from anyone who wishes to give. That wasn't until mom and dad decided to cease all forms of visiting activities this year. They figured if they can't give ang pows, it wouldn't be nice for us to be receiving them either. Bummer it is, I know! Funny though, it must be that sense of respect that none of us 3 siblings even dared to argue! Somehow, I remember dad hinting to the three of us that there is going to be at least one ang pow to look forward to from him!

Seeing that we're not as busy as previous years, it's surprising to even see that we're still busy doing endless last minute shopping at the daily wet market. At this time of the year, the wet markets usually open up till Chinese New Year eve, allowing the housewives and maids who are slaving in the kitchen slicing and dicing, preparing the traditional reunion dinner to order their chatting husbands to buy the forgotten abalones or the insufficient chicken breasts at any given time. It's fun to actually see old grannies or middle-aged housewives with their permed hair and manicured nails still bickering with the butcher on the price of the pork leg with a basket hung around one arm in the middle of the night! It's one of those things that makes the season festive with anticipation. The markets all over Penang are also decked out with New Year decorative ornaments of red and gold and fake pussy willows. Considering that this is the year of the Pig/Boar, it wouldn't any surprise to find the local shirt peddler hanging red t-shirts imported from China (or even Vietnam!) with printed pig/boar motifs around his huge umbrella while yelling out prices to busy passersby. Hell, I even saw one women lingerie peddler selling full sets of red lingerie with little boars printed on the side of the bras and panties!

At least the situation of the market isn't half as maniacal as the situation in the malls, judging by my visit with mom to the wet market. See, we were shopping for groceries last week and the mall was packed. That was only the grocery section of the place and we were practically snatching for trolleys. It was a bumper-to-bumper trolley-to-trolley situation where the flow was practically crawling and the lanes were flooded by shopping carts and shoppers while everybody else were rubbing shoulders (and asses!) with strangers trying to get their way out of the crazy crowd. Cartons of kam (mandarin oranges) and canned drinks were flying off the shelves and tonnes of hampers were being displayed and packed at the same time over at the counter. The queue at the cashier's (as well as the hamper counter) was inexplicably long and it felt like we were running out of air from the crowd when I started to sweat! Sweating in the shopping mall, now that's the first!

What with Grace back and all, we've been visiting the malls even more often, doing last minute shopping. Apparently, we weren't the only ones doing last minute shopping. Everyone we saw in the stores were Chinese and one could easily hear them say, "Eh, can wear this for the first day of new hor?" while holding up a top to show the other person. The stores in the malls were, undoubtedly, displaying red garments through their windows and nonetheless, displaying their red products on the outer side of their shelves. The one time we see red everywhere - from red underwears to red socks, they have 'em all! Not only that, all of the stores are even blasting a wide range of Chinese New Year tunes - from the annoying 'Gong Xi Gong Xi Gong Xi ni ya' to the ever nagging 'chai shen dao'! Seriously. It's really not necessary to be switching on that kinda music to a point near-deafening to your customers! It usually sends Grace and I both running for cover at the sound of it. The banks must be running fry on cash at this time around!

Speaking of music, I've gotten pretty agitated with Chinese New Year music. I used to love them and could even sing to them at one point but not now. I don't know what it is. It just bugs me. The constant clangs of cymbals and fireworks at the background seem to have taken its toll on me. I suppose, that's why the house is unusually quiet this year. Plus, there's no red lanterns or fake firecrackers made out of lights to decorate the house this year seeing that we've encountered two deaths in total the last year and mom didn't think it would be nice to hang anything up since we've declared that we were mourning. Not even the traditional chai (red cloth/banner) over the door this year. Kind of dampens the mood of the red and hot season. Fortunately, we don't believe in feng shui, so not putting up these things wouldn't a life luck-threatening situation as Lilian Too would describe it. While we didn't fall for the over-commercialised feng shui, mom, however, fell for the ah pek's commercialism of good health and prosperity of the new year with the pots of flowers with names that bring prosperous meanings (if translated into Chinese) he was selling at the pathway!

Speaking of plants that brings prosperity, the plants outside the comforts of the home don't look so prosperous to me. The recent dry spell has left everything dehydrated. The fields have turned from luscious green to a pale brown of sorts. Leaves are falling like snow while little plants dry up and wither in agony. A dangerous sign of global warming? The sun isn't much kind on us humans either as its rays burns and leaves an undesired tan on your skin. While sun shades are a big hit amongst shoppers, not to mention a must-have this season, it's normal to see people walking down the streets or coming out of a building (withdrawing cash, I suppose) squinting or blocking their eyes from the abrasive sun. The intolerable heat has also been raising the amount of occupants at the local hospital. As the Chinese says it, the inner heat of the body will lead to the low immunity of the body. No matter, the Chinese sing seh will have the extra income for ang pows. And of all people who could've fallen into the curse of the dry spell, it's Adrian and Edmund, both whom are religiously taking the sing seh's prescription of bugs, beetles and plant roots.

No doubt, I've put on a few extra pounds since Grace's return (last week) that now I'm not even sure if I can fit in into those clothes of mine. I mean, with all those New Year delicacies of peanut cookies, kuih bangkit, kuih bahulu (bought ones, of course!) and the likes plus all the outside food we've been having in the midst of our shopping (too lazy to drive back home for meals), it would be an understatement to just say that I've gotten fatter. Oh, I don't even know how am I going to pull through the New Year itself - all those greasy food that both my grandmothers prepare and all those tidbits that come bundled in hampers. Really, Chinese New Year is also one of those rare occasions where there'll be food everywhere you go (mostly, leftovers from the reunion dinner). Well, if I don't have the time to do anything else besides eating or exchanging old stories with amah by the side of her deck chair, a very Happy Chinese New Year to everyone!

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