Happy Chinese New Year
Happy Chinese New Year! “Gong Hei Sun Neen” is Cantonese for Happy New Year. You might also hear “Gong Hei Fat Choy” is also Cantonese for wishing others Prosperity. In 2014 we say goodbye to the Year of the Snake and herald in the Year of the Horse on January 31st: …. the Year of the Horse is a time for all people to go forward confidently in the direction of their goals and dreams, just as the horse gallops at top speed toward its destination. For more information about the Year of the Horse and your Chinese Astrological sign, click here.
Chinese New Year always brings back memories of my parents and how we celebrated this holiday. Of course, when I was growing up, it was not as well known as it is now. However, that didn’t stop my family from partaking in its delights.
When we lived in NYC, my parents would not close the laundrymat if Chinese New Year fell during the week. However, the closest Sunday to the holiday would find us either in Chinatown or some Chinese restaurant to celebrate. The dishes all represented long life and great prosperity in the coming year. One of the dishes my parents always ordered at this time was “Luóhàn zhāi” better known as Buddha’s Delight, a vegetarian dish with all kinds of delicacies – different types of mushroom, bamboo shoots, cellophane noodles, bean curd. More specifically, this dish symbolized self-purification and is supposed to be eaten the first five days of the new year. And, almost as much as Christmas gifts, I particularly looked forward to the “hong bao” or red envelope that held a monetary gift. Not that these gifts were substantial, but I never got money at any other time of the year.
When we moved to NJ and opened a chicken farm, there were no more trips to Chinese restaurants. Even the ones in Lakewood, the closest town 12 miles away, there were no good Chinese restaurants or groceries to purchase authentic Chinese produce or delicacies. As the bankruptcy hit us, the “hong bao’s” disappeared. The year that my mother worked and boarded as a locker room attendant at a hotel, we did not celebrate at all.
Other years, my mother did the best she could with as authentic Chinese home cooked meals. Mind you, she was not the greatest cook, having learned only after we escaped from China to the U.S. in 1947.
Traditionally, we would sit down to a huge plate of noodles, symbolizing long life, usually a dish called “lo mein“, literally translated to mean “mixed noodles”. The longer the noodles the longer the life, so the noodles were never cut. This was a whole dinner in and of itself, mixed in were all kinds of vegetables – tofu, baby corn, bean sprouts, water chestnuts, Chinese mushrooms – and some kind of meat – chicken, beef, pork or fish. We usually had it with chicken. And, fortunately for LaChoy, we were able to purchase much of the above vegetables in cans.
Another favorite dish was “da been lo“, a hot pot of some kind of sizzling broth, placed at the center of the table with surrounding uncooked plates of vegetables and meats. What fun that we could pick the food we wanted and drop them in the pot. This was a family affair, now a very popular restaurant item in Singapore. There are whole restaurants that serve only this type of meal.
Except for that first year of bankruptcy, Chinese New Year was a time honored tradition, an important family gathering, letting us know that hope abounds as we enter the new year together. In the days before this big event, there was always much activity in cleaning the house, shopping and preparing the food. Even in our leanest and years, my parents provided this all important link with family and our Chinese heritage.
I have come to realize, especially in discovering my father’s artwork that, knowing where we come from, knowing the courage of the people that came before us, helps us as we navigate the next stage in our lives. It is a time of renewed hope.
Jenn, Matthew and I wish you all a healthy, happy and prosperous Year of the Horse!
Gayook (Liou) Wong