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Friday, February 12, 2016

Yu Shang 2016

I am back from my Chinese New Year break, pallies! Fatter and poorer though - fatter from all that feasting and poorer because of the Ang Pow distribution! My boys say they raked in more of the red packets this year than last year! And today is only the 6th day of the Chinese Lunar Year. The festivities last for 15 days!

For me, the best part of the Chinese New Year is the reunion dinner, which is kinda like the Thanksgiving Dinner in the west but instead of turkey, we have dishes that are symbolic and homophonous with auspiciousness.

We always start off with "Yee Sang" as the first course. The fun begins with the communal tossing of the ingredients into the air with chopsticks while wishes are expressed out loud to mark the start of a prosperous new year and it's customary that the higher you toss, the greater your fortunes!
Each ingredient has an auspicious meaning as explained in the video below.

Getting ready with our chopsticks...
The tossing begins! Toss high to achieve great heights!


An example of an auspicious and symbolic Chinese New Year dish -  lychee for close family ties and duck for fertility. Several members of our clan have just gotten married! This should explain the increase in Ang Pows. According to Chinese tradition, Ang Pows are generally given by married couples to single people.
At the centre is a sugar sculpture of Shou, one of the three wise men, Fu Lu and Shou. used in Chinese culture to denote the three attributes of the ultimate good life. Fu for prospetity, Lu for ambition/career and Shou for longevity. According to legend, Shou was carried in his mother's womb for ten years before he was born, and already an old man when delivered. He is recognized by his high, domed forehead and the peach which he carries as a symbol of immortality. He is usually depicted as smiling and friendly, and may sometimes be carrying a gourd filled with the elixir of life.
A video to explain how "Yu Sheng" (Yee Sang in Cantonese) is eaten.


Cookies I made for Valentine's Day

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Gong Xi Fa Cai 2016

 1. Spring cleaning 
 2. Bake cookies 
 3. Shop for new clothes 
 4. Ang Pows 
 5. Stock freezer with large prawns 
 6. Stock up on mandarin oranges 

With only a day more to the Chinese Lunar Year, I am quite done with most of the preparations. I really should have a longer list but being Malaysian and Catholic, I do away with many of the practices especially the taboos observed and the non-Christian rituals of the festival.

SPRING CLEANING
While spring cleaning is done to get rid off all the bad luck gathered in the previous year, I do it because it's a good reason to get Hubby and the boys to clean the house from top to bottom once a year. I think that's the only time Josh cleans his room!

COOKIES AND MANDARIN ORANGES
Cookies and mandarin oranges are exchanged as gifts with family and friends throughout the 15 days of the Chinese Lunar Year, kinda like gifting during Christmas. Who doesn't love cookies or mandarin oranges?!!!  Besides, these oranges do not grow in Malaysia and we get to enjoy the fruit only when they are available, that is, once a year during the Chinese Lunar Year. Mandarin oranges are homophonous with "gold" and are an auspicious symbol.

NEW CLOTHES
New clothing symbolizes a new start to the year. l can still recall the difficulty of falling asleep on the eve of the Chinese new year with our neatly folded new clothes that Mom would place at the foot of our beds when we were little.  We were so full of anticipation and excitement for the following big day, eager to parade around in our new cloths when we received our ang pows. I am the second child in a family of three girls and save for special occasions, my clothes were mostly hand-me-downs from my elder sister and cousins so you can imagine what this meant to me.

ANG POW
As a kid, receiving "Ang Pow" was the highlight of the Chinese Lunar Year for me!  It's the one thing that all Malaysians, regardless of race and creed, associate the Chinese New Year with beyond mandarin oranges! "Ang Pow" are those little red envelopes containing money handed out  as Chinese New Year gifts. Folding and slipping crisp new RM$5 and RM10 bills into red envelopes is a pleasure that's hard to describe. I guess there is as much joy in giving as in receiving. The wide smile on the recipient's face is priceless! It is a small yet  thoughtful gesture of thanks and gratitude to the people you encounter daily - the friendly janitor, the helpful security guard, the patient check-out girl in your neighbourhood grocer, the mailman, etc.

And if you are wondering about item #5, that's because large prawns always skyrock to a ridiculous price about 2 weeks before the Chinese Lunar Year due to the spike in demand as people rush to stock up on the essential item for the dinner table during the festivities. You would probably ask, "Why prawns?"  That's because prawn, "HA" in Cantonese, is a homophonic pun for laughter.
Ha! Ha! Prawn suppliers must be laughing their way to the bank!



I will be on a blogging break for the Chinese Lunar Year so until then........

HAVE A VERY HAPPY MONKEY YEAR!!

GONG XI FA CAI


Chinese Lunar Year Cookies
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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Fu Dogs?

In my previous post  "Upside Down Fortune", bloggy pally Lin @ Duck And Wheel With String asked, "Veronica, I've heard of Fu Dogs....how is Fu connected with them??"

I've never heard of "Fu Dogs" until Lin mentioned them!  Neither has my all-knowing aunt nor my mom-in-law! Or my Malaysian Chinese friends! I even asked my son's Chinese teacher and she was just as clueless!  Finally, an American Chinese cousin explained that a "Fu Dog" is actually a Chinese guardian LION! Chinese guardian lions, known as Shishi or Imperial Guardian Lions, are  INCORRECTLY called "Fu Dogs" in the West. Chinese reference to the guardian lion is seldom prefixed with " Fu" (佛 or 福), and more importantly never referred to as "dogs". In other words, "Fu dog" is a misnomer.

Over here, on our side of the pond, I have seen these majestic lions guarding the entrances of Chinese offices, temples, hotels, malls, etc. but never quite knew the symbolic elements they stood for until today. I had always thought they were merely ornamental.

Sharing what I've just learnt.

Traditionally made from bronze , the lions guarded imperial palaces and temples in China, always in pairs (yin and yang). These sculptures originally served as totems for the elite, due to their cost, but they have been reproduced cheaply and universally in modern times. Interestingly, you can tell the owner's status by the number of bumps (curly hair) on the lion's head - the more the bumps, the higher the owner's rank!

You can also identify the gender of the lion by what’s beneath the paws: the male (yang)  rests its right paw on a ball, symbolizing supremacy over Earth.
image credit -  https://travelinheels.wordpress.com/2012/01/24/shishi-or-chinese-guardian-lions/
The female (yin) has her left paw on a playful cub that is on its back, representing nurture.
https://travelinheels.wordpress.com/2012/01/24/shishi-or-chinese-guardian-lions/
image credit - http://talltales.me
Traditionally, the male lion is placed on the right side of a building or dwelling it stands before, and the female will be on the left side. The male of the pair is said to guard the structure, while the female protects the interior of the place and its worshipping believers or inhabitants.

image credit - http://www.houzz.com/
Fu dog ornaments, with their striking, often colorful appearance, have become a favorite of decorators in the West.
image credit - http://decor8blog.com

This week's cookies

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Upside Down Fortune

Chinese Lucky Knot Cookies with the character "Fu". The one in the middle is inverted.
I was clearing out my closet when I found a lucky knot with a Chinese character on it. Though I can speak 2 dialects of Chinese, I can't read or write the language. Following the strokes, I tried to reproduce the character on my phone using the Pleco Chinese character recognition app but it could not recognize the character. Dang! I had to seek the assistance of my very traditional aunt who is constantly on my back for my illiteracy. Rolling her eyes at me, she turned the knot upside down and  explained that the character was an inverted "Fu" (fortune)! No wonder the app couldn't recognize it!  I had written it upside down! :smack:  Who knew!  I was curious about the reason behind the inversion but I quickly disappeared before she had the opportunity to launch into another long tirade about how disgraceful I am for being a Chinese and not knowing the language.

 I googled for more information and here's what I learned

 A long, long time ago, in ancient China, a servant was putting up the character "Fu" (福) on the door in a rich man's dwelling to herald the arrival of the Spring Festival. However, this servant was illiterate and did not know the word "Fu". He inadvertently placed the character upside down on the door. This made the  master of the house very angry and he wanted to give the poor servant a good whooping.  Just then, another quick-thinking servant told the master that the occurrence must have been a sign of prosperity "arriving" upon his household. His words calmed the master and in fact, made him very happy. Now, why then did the servant say that?
That's because the Chinese are big on homophones and the character for "inverted"  (倒) nearly sounds the same as  "Dao" (到) meaning "arrive". Therefore, the phrase an "upside-down Fú" sounds nearly identical to the phrase "Good Fortune Arrives".
From then on, "Fu" is pasted upside-down  on all doors in every household as the inverted "Fu" translates into a wish for prosperity to descend upon a dwelling.

Another interesting version to share.

It is said that the emperor Zhu Yuanzhang once used the character "Fu" as a cryptic code when he marked someone to be killed.
One such person who knew too many secrets about the royal court was on the emperor's hit list.The assassin was to kill that person with the indication of a character “Fu” hung on his door.
The kindhearted wife of the emperor, Empress Ma,  could not bear to kill people and she worried that the insistence of their killing people would lead to broad and severe repercussions.
To thwart her husband's plan, she gave everyone the order to hang the character “Fu” on their doors. Interestingly, an illiterate family hung the “Fu” upside down by mistake. Confused by the "Fu' on all the doors,  the assassin was not able to identify his target. On hearing this, the emperor was enraged. In his fury, he ordered to kill the goof who hung the “Fu” upside down.

To avert the situation, the clever empress remarked that the inverted "Fu"  had an interesting meaning “Fudao”(福倒) which was homophonous  with that of “luck was on my side.” The Emperor was placated and the victim was spared.

Thus, besides praying for prosperity, the "Fu' is hung upside down in memory of the kind and wise Empress Ma.

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Monday, January 11, 2016

Year Of The Monkey

Monkey Cookies for Chinese New Year 2016
Despair not if your New Year's resolutions are not coming along nicely 'cos you're in luck!  With the Chinese new year just round the corner, here's your second chance for a do-over.

We're 15 days away from the Chinese lunar year and 2016 heralds The Year Of The Monkey. If you're into Chinese hocus-pocus, the Monkey Year is predicted to be a rather challenging year ahead for those born in the year of the tiger. Grrrrrrr!  Yep, I am a tigress!

My HORRORscope reads, "Tigers won't have such a great year when it comes to health and luck, because the Tiger is the enemy of the Monkey. "There are forces on your chart that will test your motivation and resolve."

Truth be told, I'm a little disturbed by the negative prediction but I am NOT going to let that affect me. I am thinking of Katy Perry's song "ROAR".

"I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire
'Cause I am a champion and you're gonna hear me roar
Louder, louder than a lion
'Cause I am a champion and you're gonna hear me roar"



Bring on 2016! You're gonna hear me ROOOOOOOOAR-OR-OR-OR-OR!

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Sunday, January 3, 2016

Malacca

Hi pallies! I'm back. Hope y'all  had a great Christmas and a wonderful start to the new year.
We spent 2016 in Malacca (Melaka in Malay), a state located in the southern region of Peninsular Malaysia. It was a last minute decision as we all wanted a short weekend getaway before school reopens on January 4. It had been quite a while since our last family vacation. Now that Josh is in college, his semester breaks and Rodney's school term breaks are no longer concurrent.

A little info about Malacca to share.

The story of Malacca a.k.a "The Historic City of Malaysia" begins with the legendary tale of a Sumatran prince named Parameswara who was out hunting one day and while resting under a tree, witnessed one of his dogs cornering a mousedeer. The mousedeer in its defence attacked the dog and even forced it into a river. So taken up by the courage of the wee creature, the prince decided on the spot to found a city on the ground he was sitting on. Hence, Malacca was born. Many claimed that the prince took this name from the 'Melaka' tree that was shading him. The year was 1400.

Parameswara established the Sultanate Of Malacca and the kingdom flourished under 8 sultans until it fell into the hands of the Portugese in 1511, followed by the Dutch in 1641, and then handed over to the British in 1795. Malacca went briefly under the rule of the Japanese in 1942-1945 during World War II.  In 1957,  Malaysia (known as Malaya then) gained its independence from the British.

The ruins of the A Famosa Portuguese fort, an iconic landmark of Malacca
Me and Josh. Excuse the sloppy dressing! I had to untuck my shirt and unbutton my jeans after stuffing myself with Satay Celup! Burp!
The Stadthuys
Malacca's most unmistakable landmark. This red town hall dates back to 1650 and is believed to be the oldest Dutch building in the East. The building was erected after Malacca was captured by the Dutch in 1641, and is a reproduction of the former Stadhuis (town hall) of the Frisian town of Hoorn in the Netherlands. Today it serves as a museum complex.
The Statue of St. Francis Xavier
Notice the missing right hand. In 1952, a statue of the Jesuit priest from Spain was erected in front of the ruins of St Paul's church in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of his sojourn in Malacca. A day after the statue was consecrated, a large casuarina tree fell on it, breaking off its right arm. Incidentally, the right forearm of St. Francis Xavier was detached in 1614 as a relic!

Satay Celup
No trip to Malacca is complete if you haven't tried their Satay Celup. Celup in Malay translates as "dunk" so Satay Celup is basically skewered seafood. meat or vegetables that are dunked in a pot of boiling peanut sauce. Think Malaysian fondue!
And you can't say you've been to Malacca if you missed out their chicken rice balls!
The rice balls are just rice shaped into ping-pong sized balls but they are more flavourful than ordinary rice and have a sticky texture, kinda like sushi.

We had a great time in Malacca but the boys and I would really have preferred a beach vacation.  Yep, I think I am going to add that to my 2016 list.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Spread Cheer With Cookies

I just love, love, love the holiday season! I live for the holiday season!  It's the perfect opportunity and excuse to BAKE, BAKE and BAKE cookies!

This holiday, I am participating in the Betty Crocker's #SpreadCheer campaign. Make the world a better place this Christmas when you spread cheer with the gift of cookies. Homemade gifts for Christmas is one of my favorite ways to show people I care about them.

Here's the video to share . More info here.


My first batch of cheer. I will be distributing them to my neighbours, my favourite charity organization and to Hubby's co-workers.

You can download the adorable free printable  gift tags here.

Help get the word out to inspire others to keep the celebration going.

Use #SpreadCheer, tag your friends and nominate them to keep the cheer coming.
Snowman Cookies

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Monday, December 7, 2015

The Complicated Chinese Family Tree

My newlywed neighbour, Jenny, will be visiting her in-laws in their village in China for the first time and she is frantic! That's because the Chinese kinship system is among the most complex  in the world and she is expected to address each and every member of her in-laws according to the different terms for relatives depending on whether they are younger or older than a closer relative (mother or father) and depending on whether they are maternal or paternal relatives. Calling them by their rightful titles especially the elders is a sign of proper respect and etiquette and it is a reflection of your parents. It means that you have been well brought up.

Here's a simple example.
Take my dad, for instance. He's the third child in his family of 2 elder brothers, an elder sister, 2 younger brothers and a younger sister. From young, we were taught to address Dad's  elder bothers as "pak" and his younger ones as "sook", His elder sister is "gu ma" and the younger one is "gu".

Confused already? And I haven't even started on the uncles' wives and aunts' husbands and my mom's side! Maternal aunts and uncles and their spouses and kids have different titles too! Hmmm, I wonder if that's the reason China introduced the one-child policy?!!!!  LOL! Interestingly, how does one address a gay relative and his or her partner/spouse?

This system is spot-on though. Say a friend tells you her ''sei yee cheong" is visiting, you know at once that she's referring to her 4th maternal aunt's husband.  "Sei" is the number 4, "yee" is a younger sister of your mom and "yee cheong" is the husband of your mom's younger sister. And if she tells you her "gu poh" has passed on, you would know that she's referring to a sister of her paternal grandfather.

I am wondering - how do you address the ex-husband of your mom's divorced sister? Ex-yee cheong? We never found out 'cos he passed on before my sisters and I were born!

Here's a video to share



My mind exploded after the first 10 seconds! My boys are lucky I do things the easy way out, They generally address all their aunts and uncles as Aunty and Uncle. So my younger sister is just Aunty J to them and Aunty J's husband is Uncle William! Anyway, I only have an elder and  younger sister which means my boys only have to remember "Tai Yee" (Big Aunty) and "Sai Yee" (Small Aunty). That shouldn't be too difficult!

So Good Luck to Jenny on her visit to China!

From left - Tai Pak (eldest paternal uncle), Yee Pak (second eldest paternal uncle, Sook Jai (youngest paternal uncle)!
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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

POTUS

Guess who was at Josh's campus??!!!!
There were snipers on the roof top ....


K9 dogs were sniffing around and The Beast was entering the grounds!
WOW!  According to Josh,  it was just like watching a scene right out of a movie!


Yep! The President of The United States was in town and he was hosting the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Town Hall event at my son's university.

Just how cool is that !!!

This week's cookies
Polar Bear Cookies

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Nutcracker

Is it just me or do you find a nutcracker creepy?  I am referring to those evil looking wooden soldiers that seem to haunt a perfectly good Christmas as they somehow find their way to being a staple during the Yuletide season. I was told they are meant to look scary, to ward off evil spirits. Those huge teeth and angry eyes .....shudder!! My former Danish neighbours used to display a waist-high nutcracker next to their christmas tree every year and it scared the crap out of my boys when they were little. We could see it from our window.  It looked really creepy at night when the lights were out and you could still see those ginormous white teeth under the blinking christmas lights. Eeeek!

Why are they called nutcrackers and do they actually crack nuts? I googled for information and here's what I learned from Dawn @ Dawn's Scary Thoughts.

"Well, they do crack nuts and apparently nut crackers have been around since at least the Greeks and Aristotle, at least in a decorative/functional form. England’s King Henry VIII gave second wife Anne Boleyn a decorative wooden nutcracker as a gift in the 1500s. But, the colorful nutcrackers we now associate with Christmas didn’t exist until the 18th century, and were the product of German craftsmen.

In Germany, nutcrackers weren’t just practical tools, they were totems said to protect families from danger. Their big wooden teeth were designed to scare away evil spirits, and their ability to crack nuts symbolized the circle of life: A tree drops a seed (nut), which becomes a tree and from the tree the wooden nutcracker is born. The nutcracker, by design, also was a form of satirical political commentary. Nutcrackers made in the image of high-ranking officials, kings and soldiers were a way to force high-status men to “serve” the people. For example, Napoleon may have won battles in Germany, but he was helpless in the hands of the German people, who made the little general’s likeness the most popular nutcracker design of its time.

In the 19th century, nutcrackers began being sold as children’s toys for Christmas. The most popular designs during this time were harlequins and soldiers. One of these soldier nutcrackers became the protagonist of E.T.A. Hoffman’s novel The Nutcracker and the King of Mice , which subsequently inspired Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suit e and The Nutcracker ballet. In America, the nutcracker as a collector’s item first gained popularity in the 1950s, when American GIs returning from Germany brought the colorful nutcrackers home with them. During the same period, The Nutcracker ballet’s popular success also sparked interest in the colorful wooden toy."

My cookified version of a nutcracker.

Nutcracker Cookies
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And oh, my nutcrackers were featured on Sunday's Best Link-up #49 and Wake Up Wednesday Linky Party #97 !

Monday, November 16, 2015

Santa

Growing up, I always believed that our parish priest, Father W, was Santa. Father W was Irish and he looked just like the Santa depicted in my story books - jolly, round, red-faced  and lushly white-bearded. He had the kindest face I know and kids just adored him. For many years, he always played Santa in the children's Christmas parties that were organized by our church.  My parents went along with my belief and I was told that though Father W was a priest, he would magically transform into Santa during Christmas. I was convinced. I guess it bought them time before I would eventually figure out that Santa wasn't real. I was about six years old when Father W returned to his home country.Taking his place as parish priest was Father A, a priest from India.

Now, don't get me wrong - it was nothing racial but being greeted at a children's Christmas party by a brown and skinny Santa with a fake white beard made of strung up cotton wool instead of your regular picture-perfect Santa was a major bummer! One of the older kids at the party, a real meanie, squealed smugly, "It's Father A! Told ya, Santa IS NOT REAL!".

On the way home after the party, Mom explained the truth about Santa. Funny, but the revelation did not devastate me. Like the tooth fairy and Easter bunny, our culture and religion place very little emphasis on Santa. To us Christmas = Birth of Christ and Easter = Christ's Resurrection.

Frankly, I think Santa and the practice of gifting have taken away the true meaning of Christmas. I always remind my boys that Christmas is all about giving and not gifting when they don't get the gifts they request.

Interestingly, I asked my son, Rodney, how did he find out that Santa wasn't real. He answered that he never really gave it a thought and that he knew Santa wasn't real from the start! Anyway, he googled that when he was six!

Am I a bad mom?

When and how did you find out Santa isn't real?

This week's cookies
Santa Cookies

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Cedric

My parents used to have a pug named Cedric. He was abandoned by his owners when they migrated to Canada.  My mom found him  in our neck of the woods when she was taking her daily evening stroll. Mom adopted Cedric. Dad lovingly nicknamed him "Ugly". Cedric was kinda ugly in a beautiful sort of way.

I hate people who dump their pets when they move. It breaks my heart. Poor Cedric! He pined for his owners ever single day. Each time Mom opened the gate, Cedric would run to the house of his previous owners and wait there until Mom called for him. He returned to the empty house daily, faithful, loyal and resolute, awaiting his master's return.

Cedric lived with my parents for a good five years before he succumbed to cancer. I dread to think what might have been if Mom hadn't rescued him. God bless my mom!

Pug Cookies
Sharing this short, poignant Hungarian film with an impactive message about abandonment.

There is a twist. The ending really hits and I had to watch it a second time before I got it. I was wondering what kind of a man could leave his child behind until I realized she was .........

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