Family Ties

Chinese character kat for prosperity or good fortune
made from tangerine wedges
New year 2012 was ushered in right smack at the height of lunar new year preparations and it was a series of non-stop celebrations with loads of feasting and family gatherings throughout January. 

Since December, shopping malls had tinsel and snow decorations festooned along with red and gold paper chains while Christmas carols competed with tong-tong-chiang traditional Chinese New Year pop songs.  It was quite confusing and rather annoying for a while but very soon it was kongxi-kongxi-nee music at every turn!

I’m all for the fun and tradition especially in shopping for new clothes, dressing in bright colours and family feasting as well as receiving red packets of lai-see!  But I mostly enjoy listening to senior family members reminisce about bygone years and thrill to the discovery of classic old photos of my parents that were taken way back when… One of the high points of this festive season is seeing how the kiddies have grown and matured into young adults and the pleasure of having meaningful conversations with them. 

Uncle Roland [Right] giving his aunt a kiss!
We have a traditional pai neen culture of paying visits to relatives, starting with the senior-most relatives, and this travel circuit to the homes of eldest uncle and eldest grand-uncle in the first two days of the lunar calendar has been maintained for as long as I can remember. 

USJ, Selangor, is another destination in our annual festive visits to see grandma who lives there with Aunt Polly and Uncle Steven.  It was good to see grandma looking well in her advanced age and I was privileged to feed her a slice of homemade apple-pie I brought from Johor Baru – which she happily nibbled – for her afternoon tea!

Cousins Bernice and Gillian were home from Wimbledon and Sydney, respectively and it was lovely to catch up with them and enjoy the antics of Ber’s two charming boys, Jackson and Quinlan.  Gi said she was shocked when her mum brought out a huge soup pot from the storeroom for her to brew the broth for delicious soto ayam that I enjoyed topped with a sprinkle of fried shallots and chopped chillies.  This is what Gi will cook in Sydney when she entertained guests and I can just imagine the Aussies thrilling to the taste of this mild chicken soup filled with vermicelli and homemade patties of bergedil!

Gillian brewing broth for soto ayam in big pot!
It’s very interesting to meet younger family members who are able to put aside their electronic gadgets to socialize with visitors.  We may see each other maybe, only once a year during Chinese New Year or even less often because they study abroad, so I do appreciate that these young people do not shy away from sitting down for a chat.  It’s also good that parents made the effort to re-introduce their children and let the youngsters establish relationships with the extended family on both sides of the Causeway. 

I know it can be mind-boggling to grasp who’s who and how we are related in such a large clan but with a little bit of effort, it can be figured out.  I’m particularly impressed with the interest and understanding these young people have in the various family links and the history in Johor Baru.  I had very good chats with young cousins Gerald and Alex and when I left the party, it was nice of Gerald to assure me that he’ll stay in touch through reading my blog!   

Victoria [Right] with the Swedish version
of Elle magazine for me!
It was also a pleasure to meet 13-year old Victoria again, back from Sweden with her parents, for the festive season.  She’s cousin Catherine’s daughter, who now stands almost taller than me and is still growing!  As soon as I gave her the link, Victoria quickly looked up my recollections on her phone of how her mum used to enjoy ice-balls while we were kids at Ah Kong's house - and read out that section about her mum's horror experience with too much ice on her tender lips!

Catherine told me it’s Victoria’s idea to bring me January’s issue of Elle magazine – the Swedish version – and she was sure I will enjoy it even though I may not read the language.  And she’s right!  What an unexpected delight to receive this gift and I’m deeply touched by Victoria’s thoughtfulness!

As always cousin Karen and her family hosted a simple but sumptuous lunch at home and I especially enjoyed her smooth, jazzed-up renditions of Chinese New Year pop songs on the piano.  Uncle Roland gave her request after request for his old favourites but these songs, from such a bygone era, were sadly not in her repertoire! 

Karen playing Chinese New Year
pop songs in her smooth jazzy style
However Karen promptly obliged with his request for “Lover’s Tears” a tune that holds fond memories for Uncle Roland because it was once dedicated to him by Mary Ho, a beauty queen.  At that time he did not know the title of this tune so when he went to shop for it, he had to whistle it to the music shopkeeper.  His whistling was so clear that the shopkeeper could identify the tune and picked out "Lover's Tears" for uncle!  And as always, uncle did not hesitate to continue to regale us with more of his tales and fond recollections …

After lunch, Karen’s nephews and niece gave us a little show with brothers, Edward and Ethan, dancing as a prancing lion while Myra their sister, kept rhythm on a drum.  What a great way to channel their youthful energy!  I later learnt it was the boys’ idea for the little “lion” to peel a tangerine and arrange the fruit wedges into, “kat” [Cantonese], the auspicious Chinese character for prosperity and good fortune!

Celebrations are continuing with more family feasting at home and in restaurant banquets that include the ubiquitous yee sang or raw fish salad.  Feasting and snacking on traditional cakes and cookies are very much part of the festivities and it’s just more meaningful when shared with lots of laughter and much love.  Knowing that I’m partial to this delicacy, Aunt Lily gave me a whole bar of homemade Hakka bee phang or fragrant rice bubble crackers as a takeaway to indulge in …yum!  With fifteen days in the traditional lunar new year celebrations, the fun and feasting is spilling into February but I’m not complaining.  Are you?

What's left of the crispy bee phang or
fragrant rice bubble crackers!
Ber's boys - Jackson [Left] and Quinlan, drinking water from his spade!
Just add Gillian's chicken soup to make a delicious bowl of soto ayam!
Auspicious fish-shaped jelly served by Auntie Agnes at the Mak's

Ethan and Edward are the prancing lion while their sister plays the drum!

Interesting Feedback:

Jenny said:  Truly enjoyed it especially because they are all real life stories.  In particular, I love the pic of the orange fish!  Looks familiar.



  1. The best write-up! :) Hope you enjoyed the beautiful pictures in ELLE.

  2. Great review. Wished I had been there to partake in all the revelry!!

  3. Anonymous2/10/2012

    My kids had a wonderful time, thank you again for capturing precious moments of our families.