I visited a nail salon in my neighbourhood two days prior to the eve of the Lunar New Year. Celebrated by the Chinese worldwide, this occasion is also known as the 'Spring Festival' in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China. Since I paint my nails only once or twice a year, I decided to splurge and pay for gelish with 3-D nail art on this occasion. Hands alone, I paid $65 for the gelish manicure and $48 for 3-D flowers hand drawn on six of my finger nails. That works out to $8 per 3-D nail art. Not worth it? I know, its pricey. But I had to have a first time. On off-peak season, this isn't the actual price. It is really much cheaper but I don't fancy wearing coloured nails on ordinary days.
My sister-in-law and another in-law's wife liked it when they saw my nails. I didn't know my nail art was a 3-D one until one of them mentioned it to my brother-in-law. No wonder the design stood out from the rest and hence, the price. The other designs which the salon staff showed me were less attractive and cheaper; about $4 per art. I had picked a purplish, maroon polish to match with my new outfits instead of the usual red tones which many women had chosen.
My brother-in-law's wife had also painted her nails with gelish. This is now the rage because gel polish lasts much longer and it is shinier compared to ordinary nail polish. Unlike me, she didn't add the nail art so it was a tad plain. I am beginning to like my nails very much after wearing it for six days. The first thing after I had my nails done last Thursday was to whatsapp two friends to show them my newly painted nails. Every woman likes to be complimented. Enough said, some of you must be bored with hearing all about my nails instead of the Lunar New Year. Yes, coming next.
If you aren't Chinese, no worries. I will tell you from MY perspective. The red packets and two oranges that you see from the second picture is an absolute necessity. Its taboo without them! On each visit, carry some oranges and red packets. Each packet contains monetary notes amounting to any even numbers like two, four, six...and so on. Children and unmarried relatives receive the money while oranges are exchanged for good luck. Two oranges are often presented to the elder in the house. Wish them well; that's more important than being sincere. It is supposed to be a joyful occasion; ushering the new year with happiness and cheer.
During each annual celebration, banks are often crowded with customers at least two weeks prior to the occasion. People queue up to change new notes ranging from several hundreds to a few thousand dollars. Depending on how deep you can dig into your pockets, the standard amount for a red packet starts at $6 to several hundreds for aged parents or more senior relatives.
It is a tradition to give money; I don't know why because I am not that familiar with this tradition at all. In fact, I find it rather puzzling. What is the meaning behind giving money to usher in the Chinese New Year? What about the poor? How are they going to partake in this occasion? Whoever started this tradition is really insensitive.
Frankly, it shouldn't be compulsory for married couples to give red packets if they can't afford it. But many are still doing it out of obligation. The other issue is pride when the amount is concerned. One's spending power and generosity is measured by the amount in the red packet. A rich man can easily give $40-$50 that every child visits him in his home while a poor man can barely spare $2 even for his own children. If children aren't taught to appreciate the act of giving or receiving but seek after the money only, then parents need to do reflection on this.
It is one reason why I NEVER quite like the Lunar New Year. I find it a very pretentious affair. It is a time to wear new clothes; almost everyone wants to look their best, make pleasantries and say only nice things. It is also a time to spruce up your homes with flowers and red banners displaying auspicious words in Chinese. As red is an auspicious colour on this occasion, many people wear it during the first few days unless they have fifteen red outfits to last them fifteen days! There is more: old folks will tell you not to sweep the floor on the first day as good luck will be swept away if we did that. We can't wear black too as its the color of mourning. The list continues but I've forgotten many of them. Good for me.
I'm so glad I resisted and broke the rules. I didn't wear red; I wore blue. My son swept the floor in the kitchen on the first day, Yeah!! I didn't say very nice things on the first day either. I was complaining about something to a close friend and she reminded me not to say bad things. Well, so much for superstition.
As for the last picture, that IS the traditional meal most families prepare for reunion lunches or dinners. It is called the steamboat. This picture was taken in my mother-in-law's house. She has been preparing this meal since I first joined them for a reunion gathering. There is seafood, all kinds of meat, vegetarian stuff and other dishes to add to the main dish. The entire family meets on the eve to bond and welcome the new year. This is often quite tricky as some of us have other reunions to attend with our own family elsewhere. Time wise, it is a juggling act to shuttle from one place to another if both sides insist on doing a dinner on the same day. For me, I had already met my own parents and brothers for lunch so I didn't have to stomach two dinners in a single night!
Not everyone may like the idea of a steamboat meal as it is quite communal with sharing of the soup ladles among those seated around the dinner table. Although diners have their own cutlery, food is cooked in the main soup pot by each family diner who may have unintentionally dipped his/her own spoon into it when the ladles are being used by another person. I have gotten used to it although I didn't feel too comfortable at first.
Personally, I am not into steamboat. I prefer a set course served in a restaurant. Its less of a hassle but a lot more expensive. In fact, my own family had been doing that for years until this year when my older brother initiated a homecoming dinner affair. He prepared the steamboat for ten of us, my children and helper included. It was really nice of him to do that considering he is a man who isn't supposed to meddle the kitchen stuff, haha. Talk about stereotyping, I never knew he had my mom's culinary skills until last Saturday. As for me, I dislike cooking.
So this is how I perceive the Lunar New Year. It is quite a biased perspective but nonetheless an honest one. The other reason why I NEVER quite like this occasion is because I am not close to all my relatives, some of whom I meet only once a year. I don't feel connected with them anymore yet I have to make small talk and hear their conversation which can't sync with me either. I smile, I nod and I sit till its time to take my leave. It is an obligation to visit the elders no matter how unfamiliar they are to us.
It doesn't happen like that at Christmas at all. I am with the people I want to be with; my friends, my loved ones who can sync with me. Unlike the Chinese New Year, I am not inclined to do things out of obligation for Christmas. That said, I know I can't reject my roots no matter how much I criticize it. As for the superstitions, I can always do without it but traditions will have to remain like it or not.
Owing to this occasion, despite my negative voice, may I take this opportunity to wish all Chinese a very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous Year of the Snake.