Archive for February, 2007

by Jim
on Feb 18th, 2007

Happy Chinese New Year!

Angela and I made it to Penang fine and are now enjoying the first evening of Chinese New Year. We set off from Christchurch last Thursday, spent one night in Singapore at her sister’s house, and arrived in Penang on Friday morning. Ellen and Lena arrived later Friday evening. Saturday, Chinese New Years eve, began with the practice of praying to family ancestors, and this was accompanied by an offering of food–an entire meal placed in the front doorway of the house. Along with setting out food, a phenomenal number of joss sticks were lit which basically smoked us all out of the entry way. Once the prayers at home were complete, we all went to the columbarium to pay respects to Angela’s father who passed away in 2004. Again a large offering of food–this time to him–accompanied the prayer. I’m learning very quickly that food plays a large part in Chinese New Year customs.

Both Angela and I were jet lagged and turned in early last night, but sleep was soon interrupted by the crackle and pops of fireworks going off at midnight. We had purchased some of our own, but they were going to have to wait until the next night.

This morning, the first day of Chinese New Year (CNY), we all reluctantly changed out of our comfy shorts and T-shirts and into proper holiday clothing. (This is Malaysia… hot and humid every day!) Having donned our Sunday best, we drove to Angela’s aunt’s house for our first visit. We weren’t the only ones either, as a steady stream of relatives trickled in to snack and mingle. This was my first encounter with ang pow in action. Ang pow (red packets) are just little envelopes with some money inside, and they seem to be the main currency of CNY gift giving. Everyone is giving everyone else ang pow instead of wrapped gifts, and the amounts depend on the family relation, age relation, marital status, etc. I merely took my marching orders and gave out ang pow to the lucky chosen ones, for the rules were far too complex for me :(. At one time I was somewhat critical of the ang pow idea, because it seemed somewhat pointless everyone giving everyone money. But now I’ve come around, and the simple process of giving an ang pow packet seems like a good alternative to the usual Christmas gift buying/giving chaos. Would you prefer your Christmas shopping reduced to just getting a package of envelopes and a stack of new dollars bills from the bank? Me too.

We then moved on to another house for visiting and lunch. Lunch was a CNY traditional meal called “steamboat”, which is also called simply “hot-pot”. This is a steaming broth with fish, pork, and a variety of vegetables served in a large heated pot, similar to fondue. As bits were plucked by the guests, the host added more goodies, including other fish and even whole crabs. Because the overall level of the hot-pot never seemed to go down, we all ended eating way too much, until there was finally a general cry for, “no more!” We moved to the front room and sat around mingling for a little while more before moving on. Angela, her mom and the aunt who served us lunch went to visit another relative, while the rest of us headed home to relax around a movie. By this time the Malaysian sun was blazing, so sitting around doing nothing, once again in shorts and T-shirts, was appealing to all of us.

Later in the afternoon, the visitation was flipped around and there were two groups that came to the Tan house. The routine was similar with the host offering drinks and snacks, everyone giving ang pow as needed, and then just sitting around chatting. The last group wanted to gamble, so we broke out the cards and played and slightly skewed variation of blackjack. Some odd rules were issued, like no double-down or splitting (usually a player’s advantage), and everyone having to hit until at least 16, so my blackjack practice and standard play strategy was of no use. The dealer, who both proposed playing the game and set the rules, walked a way with a decent portion of everyone’s money… but it was all good fun and my RM 20 stake in the game equated to only about $6 USD.

The $4 spent on gambling (I didn’t lose it all!) was well worth it, because money and games work across languages once the rules are explained. Sitting around while the family talked was a bit more difficult for me, and it was during the family chatting that I was most prone to zone out simply because of language. Most of the Chinese population in Penang speaks a dialect called Hokkien which is different than Mandarin or Cantonese, and not nearly as widely spoken. My fluency in the language is about six words, and though most of the Chinese also speak some English, their family reunions are obviously conducted in rapid fire Hokkien. This was uncomfortable for me the first time I was in Malaysia, but I’ve since gotten used to it and have learned to smile and act somewhat engaged while not understanding a single word.

After sunset we lit off our illegal fireworks. The correct time would have probably been at the stroke of midnight a day earlier, but fireworks are set off randomly throughout CNY so we weren’t out of place at all. After a half hour of burning the street and sidewalk, and surviving a few near misses, we headed in–injury free–and chose to wrap up CNY in a most orthodox way: head to Starbucks to play more cards and use their free WiFi! Hey, without this modern twist you wouldn’t be reading this.

So far so good with my CNY experience. I’m learning a lot, having fun, and haven’t thought about work for more than about ten seconds, which definitely is cause to celebrate.

by Angela
on Feb 14th, 2007

Sunshine in Christchurch!

It’s finally sunny in Christchurch! It’s a high of 67F and the sun is finally peeking through the clouds. Whohoo!!. This is my third day of early retirement. I’ve been waiting for a sunny day to go out cycling.

As soon as I saw blue skies this morning, I put on my running pants, long sleeve shirt (the UV here is crazy), sun glasses, running shoes and cycling hat and off I go. I was heading to Halswell Quarry, its about 8 miles from the house.

As soon as I got down the hill from our house, I met about 30 cyclist. They were all in full cycling gear and on their racing bikes. As I turned onto the main road, I was ahead of them. I cycled hard on my mountain bike, in about 1 minute I started hearing people behind me and 30 seconds later one after another pass me by without any effort. They were courteous and wished me a good morning as they go by. I soon realized, these 30 cyclist were true retirees who were at least in their 50s!. They are fit, about 10x fitter than me. They have the look of being able to drop their bikes and run a full marathon right there and then. Many asked me to hopped on to the end of the group, little did they know this young doe cannot keep up even if she wanted to. After 3 minutes they were over the hill and out of my sight, oh … just as well :-).


I reached Halswell never the less, with my pride a little jaded but keen to carry on my walk around the quarry. It was a beautiful morning. I finished my walk and cycled home; this time without the company of “tour de France” ;-).

by Angela
on Feb 12th, 2007

Chinese New Year 2007

Chinese population all over the world will be celebrating Spring Festival (or Chinese New Year) on Feb 18. It is the year of the pig according to the Chinese Zodiac. This year Jim and I will be in Penang and Singapore for the celebrations. It will be our first time home for Spring Festival. My sisters and I are excited and looking forward to the family reunion.

Chinese New Year is my favourite holiday. It is like thanksgiving, I love thanksgiving. Away with all the gifts nonsense, and back to just sharing a lovely meal with family and friends. When I was little, I used to stay up all night on CNY eve to hear the red fire crackers go off at midnight. It is a very old chinese tradition to welcome the new year and also to rid the home of bad spirits. On CNY eve, my dad (very traditional), will ask us all to put on new cloths before going to bed. Another part of getting rid of old and bad spirits ;-).

I have always enjoyed all the little practices even though it may be silly. It is the one time in the year when the day is very different. My paternal grandfather came from China but on my maternal side of the family, my sisters and i are the 5th generation in Penang.

I think I have grown up to believe that chinese people are very superstituous on CNY. One is not suppose to wear black during CNY because it is the sign of mourning. We invite our ancestors spirit to join us for the celebration. We fold bags full of incense paper (represents money in the afterworld), and burned them for the departed love ones. Married couples will give “hong pau” (red packets will small amount of money) to children. The younger members of the family visits the elder family members normally bringing sweets and mandarin oranges with a red paper to wish good luck.

All I know is I can’t wait to be home in Penang. My mom is planning all sorts of delicious dishes. Jim and I look forward to days with temperature above 60F (summer high today for NZ). Some sunshine and a little home cooking makes a whole world of difference. I just can’t wait.

by Jim
on Feb 4th, 2007

Going nowhere fast (er.. at all)


They’re suppose to be one of the elite, 5-star airlines, but so far I’m unimpressed. For the past six hours I’ve been sitting in Auckland airport listening to ever extending delays of my flight to Japan (via Hong Kong). This latest Japan trip came up quickly, and is short, so the nearly certain prospect of losing a full day bites. To sour the situation a bit more, Cathay just sent off their other Auckland->Hong Kong flight on time, with more than 100 empty seats! The ground crew here wanted to move people over, but the bean counters in Hong Kong said it would cost too much.

Hmmm… scheduled to depart in 20 minutes, but the engine is ripped open and someone atop a ladder is swapping parts out. I’m not even sure I want to get on this plane.

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