It’s Chap Goh Meh, but here’s a Christmas story

While workshopping Kumar’s show last week, Selena Tan brought up this gem of information on how the Japanese celebrate Christmas. I would’ve teased Naomi for not knowing this Japanese tradition but a) she doesn’t take too kindly to criticism about her lack of Japanese knowledge, b) it is a rather offbeat kind of tradition.

Before 1974, westerners in Japan who happened to be around during Christmas found it difficult to celebrate Christmas because turkeys were apparently hard to find in the shops (or elsewhere, for that matter), and so the closest thing a foreigner could pass off as a Christmas turkey dinner was a chicken dinner, and chicken dinners were easy to find at the Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets around the country.

So, in 1974 a clever marketing fella at KFC decided to sell the first KFC Christmas meal, consisting of fried chicken and a glass of wine. It was immensely popular, and for some reason, Japanese locals began to think that this was a bona fide tradition, and as the years went by, began passing it down to younger generations.

These days, KFC Christmas meals are ordered several months in advance, and if you think about it, Colonel Sanders could pass off as Santa Claus.

If you think that’s weird, @bubblevicious and @tetanus point out that the annual Chingay Parade has its tradition/roots in the government trying to appease the pyromanic masses’ discontent at the firecracker ban in 1973.

Lib lung and prosper

This evening we took a break from eating junk food and took Naomi’s visiting cousin out to a chili crab dinner at Long Beach Dempsey. Good thing we got there early, because a little after we got there, a queue formed with several dozen families, tired from visiting and being visited, looking to get a quick crab meal as well.

At the table next to us in the “outdoor area without shelter (sans umbrella)” was a Japanese family who were convinced to order the traditional yu sheng raw fish salad. The dish arrived, and the funniest thing was that they were given instructions on how to partake of the dish by a Filipino waiter (purst, you tuss eberyting as high as you cahn with the chupstick), who also recited English translations of the Chinese idioms/proverbs/sayings/nonsense rhymes that accompany the tossing of the salad.

May your whole pummily prospurr!

And on the second day, every dog was born

The second day of the New Year is when married daughters return to their birth family’s home and spend time there. We learned of this tradition only after we got married, because previously, both Naomi’s and my family were always pretty sketchy and inconsistent with customs. We still can’t remember for sure how many oranges we’re supposed to bring when visiting, and how many we’re supposed to leave a house with.

I suspect mandarin orange farmers were the ones who came up with the give 4 take 2 back custom, cos if you did the math and did what accountants call a “contra”, a give 2 take 2 back custom would kill the orange growers’ orange rice bowl.

Sometimes we get saboed by our families, when they suddenly come up with customs we’ve never previously observed. I remember vaguely when we were in secondary school, and my parents came home with this new fangled grated carrot and radish salad with crackers and slivers of raw fish and declared we had to eat that for good luck after tossing the salad everywhere on the table.

Sometimes we argue over what customs are what, and actually resort to googling or wikipeding what to wear and what to do so we don’t offend whatever gods it is that our families have subscribed to for the New Year.

This year’s googling/wikipeding taught me that some Chinese also believe that the 2nd day of the New Year is also the birthday of all dogs. Apparently it is when these same Chinese treat dogs extra kindly, feed them well, and try not to eat them.

Also, I found out why firecrackers were banned in Singapore – in 1970, 6 people were killed and 68 injured, leading to a partial ban. In 1972, a total ban was implemented when 2 more people were killed by explosions and 2 policemen were attacked when trying to prevent people setting off crackers.

The ban has been in place with the exception of publicly sanctioned setting off of crackers. Apparently, pro-private-firecrackers’ claim that “Firecrackers Don’t Kill People. People Kill People” fell on deaf ears.

Chinese New Year fashion challenge

I think it was my brother who said to me one Chinese New Year: “Why do people bother to wear dress shoes with their New Year clothes? All you do is dress up, go visiting, and take off your footwear when you go inside someone’s house. Why bother?”

So I challenge you to wear slippers or sandals or even go commando with your footwear (that means barefoot lah) when in the morrow you dress up and visit your relatives’ and friends’ homes.

They won’t notice, and you’ll go away feeling like you’ve been the rebel and bucked tradition a little bit.

Don’t eat endangered animals this Chinese New Year

Give shark’s fin a miss – you’re really eating chicken stock and cartilage anyway. Don’t listen to people who say all those stories about fishermen cruelly slicing off fins and dumping the shark back in the sea are false. You tell me, what do they really do with the rest of the shark? (OK, fish and chips, fish fingers, cat food… yes, I looked it up. But still!?)

I’m not sure what else we eat during Chinese New Year that are on the protected list, but please pause and ponder, because even if we Chinese are not the only ethnic group that thinks along the lines of “the more endangered it is, the more prized the delicacy”, we certainly are the largest ethnic group on the planet.

There’s a Facebook Group called Project:FIN and it aims to stop the consumption of sharks’ fin by debunking and questioning the very reasons we consume it. E.g.:

It is questionable why we are paying so much for a “delicacy” that we don’t even know what it actually taste like. Simply because the fins are tasteless. What we are actually enjoying, is the taste of chicken / pork stock, alongside other ingredients that gives flavor to the dish. And to think that the insistence of buying tasteless food and paying for them at ridiculous prices, is a mockery on its own.

Join it, spread the word, and help finish the fin trade!