It’s the first day of the Chinese New Year, and I’m having mixed feelings about it. It’s the Year of the Tiger in 2022. It’s the first Chinese New Year’s celebration without Mama. It feels very different somehow. Quieter, colder, and darker.
The pandemic has split our family and it prevents the whole family to be united for a single celebration. Without Mama, each family has practically no reason to celebrate together and each now operating as a single unit. Besides, as Omicron is also spreading in Indonesia, it may not be wise to have a big family reunion, anyway.
As a young boy, I used to love it when Sin Chia came (“Sin Chia” is what a lot of Indonesian Chinese called Chinese New Year and the term is apparently derived from Teochew Chinese). Chinese New Year used to be big in our family. Papa would be well-prepared with his new set of undies to usher in the new year – in line with the tradition that wearing new clothes would bring in more fortune.
Chinese New Year wasn’t a public holiday in Indonesia when I was growing up – so I would still go to school, reluctantly leaving home with some anticipation building. Mama would’ve gone to the wet market early in the morning and bought the ingredients needed for all the fantastic meals she would be cooking.
Our family have never really followed the true Chinese New Year traditions. Like many Chinese Indonesians, we improvised and we celebrated it in the manner that ‘worked’ for our family. We adopted some and we created some traditions.
So, Papa would open his stationery store across the road from the wet market, and Mama would also open the mom-and-pop shop. We lived in a busy thoroughfare in an area called Kiaracondong in Bandung, West Java. Then, past midday when I finished school, I would be greeted with mouth-watering smell as I entered the house, past the shop front. The house would be somewhat tidier and cleaner, in preparation for some possible relatives who would come over for a visit. Chinese New Year is a time for family visits and reunions – and for the children, to receive their red packets (“angpao” or “hong bao”) containing money. There would also be a stack of Kue Keranjang (Nian Gao) cakes in the house, as is the Chinese New Year tradition in Indonesia.
Around 2pm, Papa would close his shop and came home for lunch and a siesta – and he might choose not to reopen shop on the day if he didn’t feel like it. Usually at around this time, our relatives would come over to pay their respect to our parents. The chicken soup would have been ready to greet them, the rice would’ve been plentiful. There would be other special delicacies to serve as well – after all, we Asians love to express our love and appreciations through food. The chicken in the dish would’ve likely been personally slaughtered by Mama – she was that kind of lady. She loved the finer things like music and movies, and yet she wouldn’t bat an eyelid about slaughtering a chicken or fixing the tiles on the roof.
We didn’t have much, to be honest. Compared to my friends in school, their celebrations would have been much more lavish and festive – and yet, I remember the giddy feeling of a schoolboy as I entered the house on Chinese New Year.
And gosh, I miss those days.