Pigs Have Years

on Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The ReUnion Dinner Menu
双 喜 齐 捞 生Double Happiness Yee Sang
菜 胆 鳳 展 翅Double-Boiled Shark’s Fin in Chicken Wing
港 式 沙 皮 乳 豬BBQ Suckling Pig Hong Kong Style
虾 子 酿 脱 参Braised Stuffed Sea Cucumber with Prawns Roe
鲜 竹 云 耳 蒸 龙 趸Steamed Deep-Sea Garoupa with Fresh Beancurd Skin
Black Pepper Beef
Rice Seasoned with Preserved Meats And Chinese Sausages
贵 妃 金 沙 露Sweetened Pumpkin with Yam
酥 皮 窝 餅Chinese Pancake

Gong Xi Fa Cai. May I wish one and all a happy and prosperous Year of the Pig. To commemorate this event which was on the 18th of February, I had intended to write about the Family Reunion dinner which occurs on the eve of the New Year. The reason this post is late, was because I was rather embarrassed. I had intended to take a photo of each and every one of the dishes of a Chinese nine course meal. My good intentions was frustrated as there was a long delay between courses as there were just too many patrons at the restaurant and the staff were unable to cope with the numbers. As a result, I forgot to take the photos the minute the food arrived and suffice to say it disappeared very quickly. There. With my confession out of the way, let me tell you more about the reunion dinner.

The menu is given for your perusal. We took the chef’s recommended menu and made two alterations. In Malaysia, the chef will normally prepare three menus of increasing prices but the number “8” must appear prominently. This is because the words for “8” and for “prosperity” are very similar phonetically and it is considered good luck. Hence, our basic menu cost RM 888/- per table and other menus cost RM 788 and RM 1088. This incidentally is my 88th post.

This year it was just my parents, myself and my wife and my eldest brother and his family attending the dinner. Things have changed within my lifetime. The reunion dinner was something that no one missed. However, the realities of modern living has made that tradition increasingly difficult to observe. I have two other siblings but they and their families no longer live in Malaysia.

My eldest brother is an architect. His eldest daughter is working as a personal assistant to the Director of a manufacturers association. His youngest (son) is studying Mass Communications. One other daughter married last year and so will spend the reunion dinner with her in-laws.

As I said, times and traditions have changed in my lifetime. When I was young, no one works on reunion dinner night and that includes restaurants. In fact many businesses close for at least a week and some for as long as 15 days. Everyone expected to be with their families and have a home cooked meal for New Year’s Eve. Some very traditional families still observe this and even the choice of dishes is predetermined to represent some form of good luck for the coming year. As time moved on in the 1970’s, some restaurant owners tried to stay open during the Chinese New Year period but they had to pay their staff triple salary and the returns were poor as most people continued to eat at home. Today, most families have their reunion dinner at restaurants and the staff are expected to work without extra compensation. This change has been driven by a weakened economy.

I miss the old days. The celebrations and the family gathering were given a higher level of importance and priority which is sadly lacking today.

Here are some of other customs that are also observed but less frequently within the Malaysian Chinese population. Chinese New Year is not just about the day itself but here are 15 days of celebrations and observations. Likewise, one is also expected to carry out certain observances before in preparation for the New Year. The first is the ceremony for the Kitchen God. According to Chinese traditional beliefs, the Kitchen God is like an official sent from Heaven to oversee the well being of the family (he is often represented by an altar in the kitchen). However, a week before the New Year, the Kitchen God returns to Heaven to give a report on the family. Therefore it is important to offer the Kitchen God specially made sticky cakes made from lotus root and other sweets. It symbolizes sealing the mouth of the Kitchen God to prevent him from giving a bad report and if that failed, sweetening his words. It’s implied that the Kitchen God will keep his mouth shut in return for such offerings. In fact, it is a form of theologically inspired bribery.

Another belief which is held strongly by the older generation is that from the eve of the New Year for at least 24 hours, you should not use a broom to sweep the floor because it signifies sweeping all the good luck out of the house.

Firecrackers, which were a Chinese invention, are meant to scare demons away and to usher in prosperity. In Malaysia today, there is a ban on firecrackers for safety as well as noise control reasons. So like it or not the traditions are changing.

One final thought, for many Chinese, the Year of the Pig is generally an auspicious year for having babies. So watch out for a baby boom.


gledwood said...

喂我看見了您的相片和認為它看了真正地逗人喜愛! 您真正地得到灰色灰鼠在馬來西亞嗎? 其它事: 我注意, 幾乎每個人從blog 我發現的馬來西亞(和我愛隨機跳躍從一個對其他) 是中國Malay 。無論如何我認為我會招待您由寫htis 評論在漢語!

gledwood said...

Happy New Year of the Golden Swine!!

I found your blog via someone who commented on mine's. Your furry picture attracted me. Do you actually have GREY squirrels out in Malaysia? I thought they were American... you know our squirrels here in England used to be red. Then someone imported grey ones and the red ones got hammered... anyway... If you'd like to visit my blog you are most welcome. It is at gledwood2.blogspot.com. Very different to yours though. I've added you to my links so I can come back later. This is a very interesting read you have here.

All the Best now


gledwood said...

PS This is how the Chinese translated back to English. I hope the Chinese wasn't quite as garbled...

Fed me to see your photograph and to think it looked truly has teased to like! You truly obtain the pessimistic squirrel in Malaysia? Other matters: I pay attention, nearly each person Malaysia which I discovered from blog (and I likes stochastically jumping from to other) is Chinese Malay. I thought in any event I can entertain you by to write the htis commentary in Chinese!

Proxima said...

"I miss the old days. The celebrations and the family gathering were given a higher level of importance and priority which is sadly lacking today."

I couldn't agree more, it is a world wide epidemic! Under the label "family" is a post called "Simple things", which express the same longing.


Tai said...

You, Squirrel, write VERY interesting and entertaining posts.
I really do enjoy reading your offerings!
Have a wonderful New YEAR!

Open Grove Claudia said...

Um... a chinese pig baby boom? There's a squirrel boom here....

Happy new year, Squirrelly.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Happy New Year to you. Thanks for your kind words and the link to my site. To your question, there are no grey squirrels occuring naturally in Malaysia. I got hooked on them when I was in Canada for a spell. Thanks for taking the trouble to write in Chinese but I'm a bit of a Banana (yellow outside but white inside) so I only recognise a handful of characters.

Come back soon.

"ah, the good old days.." Does that make us sound ancient? LoL

Thank you, thank you for the ositive feedback even though I feel I am just jibbering most of the time. Happy New Year to you too.

squirrels are probably following the Chinese calender as well!!!!

Josie said...

LGS, That menu looks divine. So.... how come you didn't invite me?

I think family celebrations all over the world are getting smaller, you're not alone.

The Chinese folks at work have been brining in goodies and delicacies all week. Yum!

Happy New Year,

Janice Thomson said...

I have to agree with Tai, LGS...you do have some of the most interesting and informative posts tied up with a little humor! I look forward to reading them everyday.

You are quite right family traditions and values have changed tremendously. A lot of young people today will never have the warm memories of those wonderful family dinners.

Oh, and where can I get me some of those 8's? hee hee hee ...on second thought forget it, that would mean more taxes too :)

Josie said...

LGS, when I post to your site, I get a prompt back that your e-mail is full...


squirrel said...

What a really interesting post! Thanks for the lesson on the Chinese New Year!

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Ummm. If you come to malaysia, I'll definately take you for a chinese dinner. Sorry about the email reply. I guess I haven't been clearing the mail.

Thanks. You and Tai have been very generous with your compliments. Now I feel a bit under pressure to deliver! haha :)

my pleasure. Thanks.

CSL said...

Sounds like a nice family event with tons of good food. (Except for that poor flayed piggy - not such a happy year for him.) Happy Year of the Pig to you, too!

Ellie said...

Very interesting post. Like the others said, it is very informative. Through everyone posting about the Chinese New Year I found out that I was born under the year of the snake. Do you know how badly I hate snakes? I actually shuddered when I found that out! lol

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

csl and ellie,
You know, the Chinese have a reputation of eating anything which brings us to this question:

Q: How do we know Adam and Eve were not Chinese?

A: If they were Chinese, when the serpent appeared, they would have eaten it instead of listening to it.

adelym said...

Ahhh...the dinner was tiring as I am still feeling the effect of the late service (indigestion). For everyone's information, the piggy was kind of good but i was hoping to have it earlier and not the dish just before dessert.The whole dinner lasted more than 2 hours due to the slow service. Yes..I miss the old home cooked dinner on the eve of CNY.

Uncle, I remember you brought the camera but didn't recall seeing you take the piggy. Must be too buzy waiting for the dishes. Btw... I work for a Power/Utilities Company..ehehhe... you forgotten.

Actually in Malaysia, during CNY it is eat eat and eat. I have gained 2 kg since the eve of CNY.
I had to have porridge yesterday for lunch as I have overeaten. I hope I don't look like a piggy soon. :)

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I forgot to take the photo of the piggy. So I had to use a file photo.

I'll ask you about the Power/Utilities company the next time we meet cause I thought you're still working in the preivous place.

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