The following is excerpt from ‘One Day Three Autumns: Of Longing and Remembrance’ by Liew Suet Fun.
It is Chinese New Year morning.
When I was a child, we awoke to the rapid-fire of firecrackers. Even in the area where I grew up in Taiping, with its healthy mix of Malay and Indians, there were still enough Chinese to set the atmosphere crackling with the unstoppable string of popping firecrackers and, afterward, imbue the air with the smell of smoking gunpowder.
Ironically it was a smell to welcome the freshness of spring, lingering in your nostrils all day. The noise created by the crackers is believed to chase away bad luck and spirits, guaranteeing a smooth year ahead.
My mother would have awoken before dawn. She would have cleaned the kitchen and boiled enough drinking water for the day. As children, we had small varied tasks to ensure the house was spick and span to receive visitors the entire day.
But first of all, we had to bid our parents “good morning” and “Kung Hei Fatt Choy” – a phrase to respectfully wish for them prosperity, success and, of course, longevity.
They would, in turn, hand us our ang pows, red packets filled with money for good luck. I then had to get into my new clothes, and carry trays ladened with cookies, cakes and various tidbits to the many neighbours.
It was customary to exchange food during the festive seasons regardless of race and faith. As we waited by the front door, our neighbours would empty the tray and return it with several spoonfuls of granulated sugar placed in the middle of the tray.
My mother would bode no sulky or ill-tempered expressions of any kind that day. We never swept the floors for fear we would sweep our good luck away.
We ate copiously. But often there was no time for our house would be filled with guests from front to back. My father, who was a teacher, would have his students, my brothers and I our school friends, as well as any number of relatives whom we saw but once a year.
It was then the custom to have an open house with no need for formal invitations. People just showed up, and everyone was welcomed with gladness and much hospitality.
Often, my mother and I were kept busy all day, washing drinking glasses and the little dishes which we used once a year to serve the wonderful home-made cookies and delicacies.
My mother and father often laughed about how much work they had to do that day. They laughed because it was a good thing to be surrounded by endless food, family and friends, and have the house filled with the sounds of laughter and good-natured talk.
It would mean your life in the year ahead would be a good one, knitted together in a bond of plenty. And blessed, of course, with the abundance of goodwill that had already arrived at our front door at the start of this Lunar New Year.