Reminiscing over a nostalgic affair

13 Feb 2019 / 10:49 H.


GONG XI FA CAI! Today is the ninth day of the lunar new year. Another important day for some Chinese, especially those from the Hokkien community.

It’s the birthday of the Jade Emperor, or Thein Kong, who is highly revered by them.

The celebrations are big-time affairs in places where Hokkiens live in large numbers.

On this day, two things stand out – firecrackers surreptitiously let off from midnight, and tall sugarcane stalks used for prayers.

And on the next day is another celebration – Valentine’s Day! This is a day which exudes a lot of love and romance, and a day when prices of flowers, especially roses, hit the sky!

Unless you need to really send a bunch of roses to your sweetheart to express your love, I would suggest you wait a while.

You don’t really need to wait till Feb 14 to say it with flowers, do you?

However, if you’re bent on sending flowers, don’t do it on Feb 19 either, as it’s the 15th day of the lunar new year, which is also known as Chap Goh Mei or the Chinese Valentine’s Day.

It’s a day when mandarin oranges are worth their weight in gold!

Word of mouth from days of old has it that on this day, unattached ladies would try to meet their Mr Right by throwing mandarin oranges into the river or sea!

They hope that Cupid’s arrows would strike their prospective beaus’ hearts by doing so.

As for me, I’d make sure that my real heart is beating fine without any arrows piercing through!

These days, to make sure that their ‘signs’ of affection don’t get misplaced, some ladies even write their mobile phone numbers on the mandarin oranges before casting them out!

I have a better solution for those out to find a soulmate. I’d like to suggest they read Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

That’s how I started to have so many friends, so much so that my mum sometimes teased that some of those riff-raff came from the hog and canine communities!

Oops, I had better watch what I say, since this is the Year of the Boar as far as the cycle of the Chinese animal zodiac is concerned.

My mum also used to tease me about my once-a-year gluttony over carbonated bottled drinks during the lunar new year.

I’d finish off the drinks almost by the dozen (that was the max that we could afford then) even before the second day of the new year!

When she asked me how and why they’d been wiped out so quickly, I’d sheepishly answer that I couldn’t resist hearing the fizzy sound whenever the bottle cap was opened!

More than half a century ago, carbonated drinks in bottles were expensive and uncommon. I’d jump for joy whenever my mum brought me to town when she visited her friend whose husband operated a fruit and drinks shop in China Street opposite the Goddess of Mercy Temple in Penang.

That ‘Uncle’ operated about the only carbonated drinks shop in town then. He’d put shaved ice together with either flavoured rose, lemon or sarsaparilla syrup in a tall glass, and dip a dash of fizz or gas from a nozzle linked to a gas cylinder.

That was before the carbonated drink bottle emerged. When such bottles flooded the market, that ‘Uncle’ had to close shop!

In the absence of a fridge at home then, my dad would buy a block of ice from a coffee shop during Chinese New Year to put our cooked dishes in a pail, and cover them with a gunny sack to preserve them a little longer after the big day.

One or two of those carbonated drinks would also go into the pail, but with me around, it wouldn’t be too long until I would succumb to the need to hear that fizzy sound!

Jeff Yong, after making his mark in the twisty maze of mainstream journalism, has finally decided to enjoy what he does best – observing the unusual and recounting the gleeful. He can be contacted at

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