CNY 2013

It’s been a while since I last wrote. Seeing as it is Chinese New Year (CNY), I thought I would share something my father shared with me.

On Saturday (the eve of CNY), while pumping gas, a woman came up to my father to sell cakes for RM$2. She pleaded with him to buy her cakes, as she needed money for her meal. My father has previously seen her around the market a few times, trying to sell her wares.

“I don’t want your cakes, but here’s some money.”

This woman’s situation reminded him of his own plight when he was younger. It was the eve of Chinese New Year’s eve in 1958. My Er Peh (second uncle), who was studying in Singapore then, had just returned home to usher in the New Year with the family. My Ah Neh (paternal grandmother), a seamstress, couldn’t get her then employer to pay her her rightful wage. She had to claim it, and yet, it fell on deaf ears. Determine to make a good New Year for her children, Ah Neh was forced to pawn off her eldest daughter’s gold bracelet. Er Peh, through much embarrassment, sadness and tears, had to hurry off to his friend’s pawn shop to pawn off the piece of jewelry.

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Experiencing Ueno

Finding Hatchbori

Disovering Kyoto

Day 7: April 4, 2012 Wednesday

Melodrama aside, I was actually sad leaving Kyoto…and exhausted. As we neared Tokyo, we caught sight of Mt. Fuji – separated by a glass on a moving bullet train!

Mt. Fuji

Mt. Fuji – through the looking glass

The train pulled into Tokyo Station at 5pm. Back on familiar ground. We were back on familiar ground. How quickly the surroundings become comforting. We took the Keiyo line, switched to the Hibiya line and reached our next stop, Naka-okachimachi station. Taking the subway was no longer a scramble of coins and map. We were well-prepared.

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Discovering Kyoto


Day 5: April 2, 2012 Monday

The next morning, after breakfast, we leisurely packed up (after the clueless hotel clerk told us getting to Tokyo Station on the Keiyo Line takes less than 10 minutes) and strolled to the train station. We barely made the bullet train, Shinkansen Hikari 新幹線 ひかり (ran by the JR Rail), and didn’t find our seats (13 cars later) until 15 minutes after the train left the station. The trip was purchased through Japanican.


Shinkansen Bullet Train

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Black Water Dragon 2012

As more than a billion Chinese usher in the new lunar year, the 4,710th of the Chinese calendar, to many, this year is a very special year. The year of the mystical dragon. This year, many Chinese families will try to add to their brood by producing a little baby dragon…God willing.

CNY 2012

Like years before, our 15 days of CNY has FOOD as the focal point. We started early, even before the eve with steamboat at our friend’s in NYC. We had a great time with the Chens and hubs got kid-handled by the children, which was hilarious. Thank you Chens! Your children are a blessing and absolutely precious.

Tonight, on the eve of CNY, we will spend the night having a “reunion dinner” of sorts with my dear aunt in Wayne. Thank you Lims for your hospitality and love! (Not to mention the scrumptious food awaiting us!)

Reunion Dinner Feast

Reunion Dinner Feast (L-R): Steamed Red Snapper, Baby Bok Choy with Fish Cake, Beef Rendang, KaiLan (?), Siew Yok, Ginseng Chicken stuffed with Glutinous Rice (missing from the pic Mushroom Chicken)

Chinese New Year, won’t be Chinese New Year without some drama.

I woke up on the first day to Dusty nose deep in dried yeast that my uncle gave me the night before. Not only was there sweeping involved, which I am not supposed to do for fear of sweeping away the fortune, but there were three loads of laundry done too. On top of that, we were at the vet’s to get the dog to throw up all the yeast.

Yeast is harmful/poisonous to dogs because their body can’t break down the yeast. Instead, it will continuously rise and cause the dog’s stomach to bloat until it explodes. If that doesn’t happen, there is a chance of alcohol poisoning too. What a day!

But we still ended up celebrating the day with lunch at Petite Soo Chow in Cliffside Park and sushi for dinner.

Year of the Golden Rabbit

For 1 billion Chinese people in the world, February 3, 2011 is the beginning of one of the most celebrated and auspicious holidays in its culture. For the following 15 days, the Chinese celebrates and ushers in the New Year with not only a big bang, but plenty of eating, visiting and gambling. This year, the Year of the Rabbit, is said to offer much respite from the tumultuous  passing of the Year of the Tiger. It is said to be a calm-er and slower year ahead, one for those who strive and slogged through the Tiger Year. It is a year of recovery and comfort.

Little known useless fact: the Year of the Rabbit is also known to some as the Year of the Cat (by the Vietnamese). I once watched an anime called Fruits Basket that had 13 animals in the Chinese Zodiac. That 13th animal is an ostracized cat, but a cat nonetheless.

Aside from the usual tradition before and during the celebration of the New Year, there is the much sought after food during the festivities.

Unfortunately, there will be none of the celebrating for us, or visiting. We are by all accounts, still in mourning after my grandfather’s recent passing. One hundred days have not yet passed.

We, however, can still eat and enjoy each other’s company.

We also swept and cleaned the house, and even managed to change the bed sheets over to the silk comforter that my father bought from China years back. Hubs thought the golden silk duvet cover of dragon and phoenix embroidery was just too Chinese. He told me to sleep by myself. All the better, because I think this “Queen-sized” comforter was meant for little people and not the “American” size.

Unlike last year, the eve of this New Year falls on a week day. What’s more, I was not allowed to take the New Year off (I called that racism and everything else under the snowy and icy sky of New Jersey). So no big dinner on the eve of New Year, but hubs, DC and I will be going out for dinner tomorrow. We would have done a cookout for friends and family over the weekend, but circumstances dictates otherwise.

In any case, we will STILL be stuffing our faces and awaiting my younger sister’s arrival on Superbowl Sunday (the third day of Chinese New Year) to have steamboat at home.

初一 First Day

Went to work – to earn my keep. Came back to really happy children.

After waiting for some time to get a table at Petite Soo Chow in Cliffside Park, NJ, we were finally seated. We ordered fish 鱼 steamed with tofu and chilli in clay pot, (鱼 yu sounds like “extras” – extra food, extra money, extra love, just plain extra), pan-fried noodles, vege wrapped in bean curd skin and scallion pancake. Great dinner that left us waddling to the car and DC made sure the final bill came up to $X8.88.

Damn Chinese!

Off to more eating tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday!

Season of thanks and blessings

So the holiday season has begun with the ushering of a day of thanks (top off with a mad-rush of deranged and fanatical shopping at the end of the night).

I count my blessings everyday. In a foreign land, where home, family and friends are oceans away, everything is a blessing and a reason to be thankful and grateful for.

I spent my birthday this year with both my sisters; a rare occurrence and one that is truly special. We laughed at things that only we can laugh about, and rolled our eyes at each of our idiosyncrasies. We ate like we have been starved for ages (not a rare sight) and cherished the little moments that we shared together. For that, I am very thankful.

I have my family; a dear and tight-knit family from Asia all the way to North America. They are always there when I need them, regardless of distance and time difference. I am thankful for my parents, my aunts, uncles and cousins.

I have my health. A husband that puts up with my pms-ing, melodramatic, cantankerous mood swings. Just like my health, everything is a yo-yo: up and down in a blink of an eye. But without dark there cannot be light. For that, I am thankful. Thankful for the ups and downs in life.

I have my job, a sparse commodity these days. I am thankful.

I have a solid roof over my head; even though this has been a year of repairs, starting with the sewage drain on Chinese New Year. Out with the old, in with the new.

I still have friends (a miracle!). Thank you for remembering me, for I certainly remember and think of you especially during the holidays. You will always have a special place in my heart.

Last but not least, I am thankful for Jessie. We visited a shelter, a shelter where Jess was adopted from 8 years ago, yesterday. It was a horrifying sight and a gut-wrenching sound. Never mind the stench. Everyone of the dogs just wanted to be in a home, to be loved. Every cage we passed, the inmates were calling for us. Most still had fighting life in them. Others were resolved to whatever fate meted out. By the time we left, they were crying and howling because they knew they lost a chance. Jessie, we found you. But you definitely gave us love.

Gratitude | 112609

15 days of Chinese New Year

OriginsTraditionsFoodDecoration15+ Days

Eve | First Day | Second Day | Third Day | Fourth Day | Fifth Day | Sixth Day | Seventh Day | Eight Day | Ninth Day | Tenth Day | Eleventh Day | Twelfth Day | Thirteenth Day | Fourteenth Day | Fifteenth Day

Origins of Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year (CNY) or Spring Festival, 春節 chun jie, is a huge celebration, and one that is the most important of Chinese holidays, for more than a billion Chinese people around the world. The origin of this celebration is by itself centuries old and has gained significance through myths, superstitions and traditions.

My father once told us that CNY began with the fight of men against a beast. Every year, on the first day of New Year, a mythical beast called Nian 年 would attack livestock, crops, villagers and even children. To protect themselves, the villagers would offer food to placate the beast. After much trial and errors, it seemed that Nian was also afraid of the color red and loud, explosive noise from firecrackers. So from then on, overcoming Nian became 過年 Guo Nian and the tradition of preparing food, wearing red and playing with firecrackers carried on.
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12 Days of Christmas

First DaySecond DayThird DayFourth DayFifth DaySixth DaySeventh DayEight DayNinth DayTenth DayEleventh DayTwelfth Day

On the First Day of Christmas…my true love gave to me,

Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009

For more than a month, our bags were packed and we were so ready to go…That’s THREE luggages, one camera bag, one backpack, one carry-on and a big handbag to put my bolster. 😀 The better part of the three luggages were filled only with presents or things for people at home. That left only enough room for the bare essentials, ie. underwear, toothbrush and sunglasses.

We were boarding the first flight out of JFK to HKG bright and early in the am. The night before was a mad rush to finish all the chores and last-minute packing before leaving for KL. After a quick dinner and washing up, we packed all of Jessie’s essentials and dropped her off at her sitter’s. She didn’t realize what she was in for. She has known for a while that something was happening. It was the what, when and how that she didn’t understand. I tried to tell her every night, but instead of listening, she either dozes off from my rubbing or spreads eagle for more belly rubs. I’m overjoyed to be home, but am dejected for leaving my baby behind.
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Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving and I have plenty to be thankful for.

1. Family.

My parents. Even though my parents are miles away, I know they are just a phone call/email/im away. They never express their feelings but their actions speak louder than words. When we were younger, my mom would wake up at 4 every morning to prepare our breakfast and lunch for the day. The moment she reaches home from work, she’s making dinner for us. Even as adults now, my mom still worries about our nutrition. My father took the night shift, and stayed up with us as we did our homework. As a child, I had trouble sleeping from time to time. I would creep into my father’s room and wake him up. He would take me back into my room, sit next to me until I fell asleep before he left. He’s still sharing in my worries and happiness today. He’s my counsel and my ready ear. I am thankful for parents who doled out corporal punishment, but meted out an equal amount of tlc after. I am thankful for parents who didn’t give gifts for birthdays, but gave me the presence of friends and family for my birthdays. I am thankful for parents who don’t say I love you, but showed me they love me instead. I am thankful for parents who didn’t read me to sleep, but gave me books so that I can read myself to sleep. I am thankful for parents who gave me culture, but sacrificed everything so that we are who we are today.

My sisters. Even though we grew up fighting each other tooth and nail, and are still bickering, we have always had each other. They are my shoulder to cry on, my friend, my reason for happiness, my equal. I adore them not for their smarts or their grace, but for their quirks and irritating habits. I am thankful for their wit, because no one else would laugh at my jokes. I am thankful for their fighting spirit, because without them, I would never have been a soldier. I am thankful for sisters who cry with me, laugh with me and share all my pain and joys. I am thankful for sisters who scaled gates with me, learn to ride the bike with me and played imaginary roles with me. I am thankful for sisters who keep me in line – who until today, humble me. I am thankful for one sister for letting me be a spoiled brat when I feel like it, and the other for letting me be a mother when I choose to.

My better half. When I am unable to move, he doesn’t just carry me. He’s standing next to me, helping me. He chauffeurs me to work everyday, while I sleep, and drops me off right at the door before he parks the car. He tucks me in at night, every night. I am thankful for his one-track mind, which leaves multi-tasking a chore. I am thankful for his short-term memory, which makes what I said a week ago null and void. I am thankful for his height and my lack of it, which makes asking him do chores that much more logical. I am thankful for his humor, which amuses me to no end. I am thankful for his reticence, which makes me his mouth piece. I am thankful for the useless things that he sometimes thinks I need – wii, pda, iTouch, new cell phone, flowers, love – which I begrudgingly and secretly enjoy.

My four-legged baby. I am incredibly thankful for her. I am thankful for her adoring eyes, although it was scared when we first picked her up from the shelter 7 years ago. I am thankful for her unfailing gift of greeting me at the door everyday after work, although it was a gift of poop and pee at the start. I am thankful for her health, although she gave me quite a scare today, having to rush her to the emergency late tonight. I am thankful for her energy, although she did tear up my piano bench a long time ago. I am thankful for her devotion, although it was difficult having to leave her at home at first without making her think we were abandoning her. I am thankful that I have an excuse to leave a party/dinner/gathering because I have to return home to walk/feed her.

My jee mai. Without her, I wouldn’t have a scar on my nose to remind me that tantrums will never win. Without her, I wouldn’t have known what strength is. Without her, I wouldn’t have someone to turn to for wisdom and unbiased truth. Without her, I wouldn’t have two gorgeous, intelligent and dear cousins. Without her, the family up in Canada won’t be whole.

My ta mai, who will be visiting from Canada this Thanksgiving. Without her, I wouldn’t know that I abhorred gooey food – chicken skin, fish skin, fat, cartilage, which she forced down my throat and I promptly threw out. Without her, I wouldn’t have seen Edmonton during my time in Minnesota. Without her, I wouldn’t know what waking the dead means. Without her, I wouldn’t have gloves, zip-locs, trash bags, pain meds and jello. (trust me – they are ALL related)

My unc. tak. Without him, I wouldn’t know the difference between a positive and a negative integer. Without him, I wouldn’t know how to tell a joke with crudeness and innuendos. Without him and my ta mai, the first batch of cousins would never have spent countless school holidays together – picnicking, going to the museum and Lake Gardens, frolicking in the chilly waterfalls, spending precious time together.  Without him, I wouldn’t have two young cousin brothers, who we watch grow up before our eyes.

My er peh. Without him, shopping in Singapore wouldn’t be a delight. Without him, my daddy would never have had the opportunities he had in life, and I wouldn’t be where I am. Without him, I wouldn’t have a cherished elder cousin sister to look up to and a dear aunt to be fond of.

My aunt and uncle in Wayne. Without them, I would have been on the streets when we first moved out here from Minnesota. Without them, I have no place to go for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Without them, I wouldn’t have known my extended family.

My maternal and paternal family. Without them, I wouldn’t know the joy of talking at the top of one’s lungs just to be heard. Without them, there will be less hugs and kisses. Without them, I wouldn’t know what a family truly means.

2.  A roof over my head.

I am thankful for my blind luck of getting and liking the first place that I see. I am thankful for the diy work on my kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room. I am thankful for a home to call my own and return to everyday.

3. A job.

I am thankful for a job that I still enjoy. I am thankful that I am still abusable, and am thankful for that leverage.

4. My health.

I am thankful for learning to deal with tough things in life. I am thankful for my weekly injections. I am thankful for my lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Raynaud’s and eczema, because I can sometimes use it as an excuse to get out of housework. I am thankful for my lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Raynaud’s and eczema, because I have learned to live.

5. Food.

I am thankful for (good) food. Amen!

6. (Last but not least) Friends.

My school/childhood friends. Thank you for your loyalty. Thank you for your trust. Thank you for your reliability. Thank you for taking me the way I am.

My college friends. Thank you for the years of small talk and big talk. Thank you for cramming with me during finals. Thank you for showing me life is more than just hitting the books.

My colleagues, who have gone from mere acquaintances to life long friends. Thank you for witnessing our growth. Thank you for your patience and time. Thank you for painting my house. Thank you for filling my house with laughter. Thank you for house-sitting miles away.

Mooncake Festival

We had an involuntary furlough day from work today. It was supposed to be doing things that we LIKE.

We were at the doctor’s for most of the day. My arms, yes plural, were stabbed four times before they were able to squeeze two vials out. One side has turn black and blue as we speak. The other side is just holey. Since they were short-handed, we have to return tomorrow to get our EKG done.

Had batten ramen for lunch at 2:45. By the time we got home, it was time to meet my sisters for dinner in the city.

We took the bus before 5. Finally reached Chinatown before 6. We went straight to buying groceries first. First stop – we bought fuji apples the size of two baseballs melded together.  Then we stopped at the tofu shop. I tried to get the auntie’s attention to sell me a pound of bean sprouts.

“Auntie, mm koi, yat pong ngaa choy.”

I must have said that five times and yet, nothing. The “auntie” helped everyone around me except me. Must be my invisible cloak that I have on today.

Then cheh stepped in.  Nothing.  Hubs had to ask too. Nothing. Finally, I gave it one more try, before I got my pound of sprouts for $1. By that time, we added a tumbler of tau fu fa too.

Just as we walked towards Nyonya, a Malaysian restaurant, we saw a bakery that was selling mooncake and mooncake biscuits, which we call, chuu chai – little pigs. I got one big chuu chai (for hubs and I) and two smaller ones (one for each sister), in the shape of a fish and buddha. I tried to pay, but once again, it seems like I am invisible. I tried all the “excuse mes” in Chinese.  Nothing.

Then, rather haughtily, I said, “Excuse me,” in English. That got their attention.

Cheh will be off to Vancouver tomorrow morning so we had our family dinner for Mooncake Festival (aka Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋节) tonight instead.

We ordered oyster omelet, kangkung sambal belacan, stingray in lotus leaf topped with sambal belacan (again) and tofu casserole. YUM!

After dinner, we went hunting for more chuu chais because my younger sister wanted to buy some herself. We stopped at the same bakery. While the three of us fussed over what we were getting, hubs waited outside the store. When he finally came in, my younger sister got herself a bun and chuu chai, cheh got about 6 buns, and I got a mango bubble tea. Hubs found a $20 bill.

A few days earlier, while walking Jessie in the morning, I found a dollar.  I thought it was my lucky day.  Hubs wins.

To celebrate our “good fortune” for the week, we purchased $2 worth of lottery, drawing for $105 million tonight.  A little luck or an invisible cloak goes a long way.

As of this morning, the lottery pot has gone up to $122 million.