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Archive for February 6th, 2012

“Lin Yau Goh Sai, Yan Yau Low, Chin Yau Mow!” grandma chuckled this to herself as she watched us took down the decorations.

Lin Yau Goh Sai in Cantonese means Chinese New Year celebration is over.

Yan Yau Low means everyone got older.

Chin Yau Mow means all the money was finished up.

Put together, it paints a very grim picture, don’t you agree? Generally, that was the mood on the last day of the celebration, popularly known as “Chap Goh Mei” in Hokkien or “Yuen Siu Jit” in Cantonese, also called, Yuan Xiao Festival (元宵节, 元宵節).

I think she was right in a wicked way.

Unlike now where goodies such as biscuits and carbonated drinks were so easily available to kids throughout the year, it was a luxury to have a bottle of Sarsi to go with some cookies in those days. We are only allowed these treats for the two weeks of the celebration. You won’t get to see them again after that. Not only this, by the last day, all the “tick tick kam and pop pop” will be finished too.

To be told that you are getting older and not younger is very depressing, especially for those from the fairer sex. It is believed that everyone got a year older after the seventh day of Chinese New Year which was known as Yan Yat or Human’s Day. It is the universal birthday of all mankind.

But the biggest pain is to find your pocket very much lighter after the celebration. Money is spend buying some new clothes and shoes, decorations for the house, foods for the entire family and of course into the red packets to be given away to children and unmarried adults. Hence, by the end of two weeks of revelry, many were almost broke.

That was why, from the years 1971 to 1974, when my dad went bankrupt after our coffee shop was closed down, we chose to skip the celebration, simply because we could not afford to buy even a chicken, let alone a new dress. It was after his scissors sharpening business picked up in 1975 that we got to celebrate it again.

But wait, not all is gloomy for everyone on this day!

For children or unmarried adults, this is the day to open all the red packets collected so far. Do you know that it is very rude to open your red packet before the celebration is over and worst of all, in front of the person who gave it to you? It is the act of giving that counts; not the amount of money contained inside the envelope. To open it so hastily shows that you are impatient to know the contents inside. That would make the giver very embarrassed.

This is also a day when people would flock to temples early in the morning to take part in a ceremony called “Juen Wan” or “Changing Your Luck.” Many people wished and prayed for a better year ahead in terms of their studies, career, romance or family life. After lighting up some red candles and joss-sticks and burning paper offerings, the next thing to do is to get a piece of your garment chopped with red ink. This is believed to drive away bad luck so that the good ones will come your way.

In the days of yore, it was a popular custom for young women to throw mandarin oranges inscribed with their names and contact numbers, into the river, sea or lake, on this day. The men who pick up the oranges will be their suitors and future husbands. With match-making agencies mushrooming here, there and everywhere, this custom died a natural death many years ago. But I heard from the radio this morning that this custom is making a popular comeback.

Today is Chap Goh Mei or Yuen Siew Jit. So make the most of what is remain of the celebration before its back to business for all of us!

Note: The photos in the slide at the bottom of this post shows the interior of the Water Moon Temple in Ipoh which is my mother’s favorite temple for “Juen Wan.” It is now mine too. Also shown was the Kinta River in front of this temple, I think it is a good place to throw the mandarin oranges but lately, some illegal immigrants were seen fishing by its bank, so think again before throwing! This temple is more than 130 years old and it was founded by the earliest settlers of the city more than a century ago when tin was abundant in the Kinta Valley.

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