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22 January 2017 | Vicar Writes

Remembering Our Roots

By Terry Wong

I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done. Psalm 143:5

There is something unique about Chinese New Year.

What is it?

Is it about the food? Bak Kwa, Choi Keok (Chai Buay) and Lohon chai (Chap Chye)?

My late Mum often made Yin Tai (braised pork knuckles) for the Reunion dinner. It was spectacular as the skin and fats were the first things you saw. When it is placed on the table, the whole thing shimmered. No kidding. If you looked carefully, you can also see an image of yourself after the shimmering stopped. You dug in with your chopsticks, shattering your portrait. You let a piece melt in your mouth. The flavour and texture hit you as the unmentionable swirled in your chops – rich, creamy, fruity, spicy and aromatically complex. Swine can be better than wine, as they say.

Carnal and carnivorous, the Wongs had a way of celebrating CNY. 

Or is it because of how we laugh ourselves silly watching the funny Jackie Chan movies? This will be more common in Malaysian homes but Cantonese humour indeed is in a class of its own. Or is it being enthralled by the endless kungfu movies, which do not seem to run out of moves? 

Or is it the sound of fire crackers? In squeaky clean Singapore, I have to say that I miss the noisy CNY atmosphere in Petaling Jaya. Malaysia boleh. This extends to huge rows and rounds of fire crackers, with a mother lode of it towards the end, which ends with a huge bang, made to shake you out of your skin. In the aftermath, with your ears still ringing, we could see the red evidence littered all over the garden. I often wondered that it should be easy for the local police, aurally and visually, to locate the crime scenes. When they did come, more reds were handed out. No matter what the laws were (and still are!), this noisy tradition cannot be silenced. 

But does this make CNY special? If there is an event which holds memories as far back as I can remember, right to the early years of my childhood, it can only be this festival.

This makes it special: it is about family.

It is about the process of traditioning, where we can never forget what made us, the cultural environment which we grew up in. Every CNY connects us to the past, including memories of some beloved family members who have passed away. It connects us to customs and traditions. Some were long abandoned (like gambling), especially when one embraced a new faith. But I am glad much also remains, like ang pows, how we wish one another at the stroke of midnight on the eve, and of course, how family and friends gathered around the same classic dishes and snacks: Kueh Bangkit, Kueh Kapit, Pineapple Tarts etc.

Today, I am a Singaporean, a Christian and a Pastor to boot. Many of the Wongs have since found our faith in Jesus Christ. But I have not ceased to give thanks to the Lord for my childhood home in PJ, the Wong family and that we are undeniably Chinese, blessed with traditions to remember and celebrate.

In every cultural festival, we celebrate and remember our roots. You will have your own.

Remember how He has wombed and homed you, along with the loved ones you grew up with. 

Have  a blessed Chinese New Year everyone.

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