How long have you lived in Perth?
Just gone 13 years since moving here in October 2006. I was an international student in Perth and spent about five years back home in Singapore before marrying a Perth boy and making it my permanent home. I think Perth and I were always meant to be.
What's celebrating Lunar New Year in Perth like for you?
I have a memory of a life moment connected to Lunar New Year the first year I moved to Perth. It was early February, a few months after moving and it was a stressful time, I can’t lie. Newlyweds, making a home together, in a new country no less … it was stressful. But my emotions didn’t get the better of me until I found myself standing in the aisle of Emma’s Seafood Yong Tofu in Northbridge, trying to get stuff I needed for reunion dinner on Lunar New Year’s Eve.
The high-energy cymbals and melodic tunes of well wishes for wealth and prosperity were blaring from every speaker and I started to cry! The music that I used to find so annoying brought back every associated memory and emotion, I was a mess. I missed home so much and it was ironic that that music was the straw that broke this camel’s back.
So when is Lunar New Year and what are its origins?
Unlike the fixed new year of the Gregorian calendar on 1 January, the new Lunar New Year is celebrated on a variable date somewhere between late January and early February, determined by the appearance of the new moon. Folklore has it that Nian (年), a lion-like beast would rise from the sea each year to devour people and livestock. It is terrified of loud sounds and the colour red however, which is the reason that fireworks and red feature so heavily in the celebrations. Loud lion dances sometimes mimic how Nian was driven back into the sea.
What do you do to celebrate Lunar New Year?
It typically starts with a spring clean and we’d decorate with red lanterns and auspicious decorations that are meant to scare off Nian and usher in prosperity for the new year. I’m not very good at the decorating bit though and they’re a little hard to come by in the stores in Perth but the cleaning part I enjoy. It must all be done before the start of the new moon too, as doing so after would ‘sweep’ away all the good fortune.
It’s a time of change and new beginnings so new clothes add to the festivities when visiting family and friends. The best colour for the occasion is red. Black or white should be avoided at all costs as they are unlucky colours.
Children and unmarried adults are also given red packets (hóngbāo, 紅包) filled with money. This is the best part! You’re meant to open the red packets in privacy but as kids I remember we’d sneak off to see how much money we got in each one. Parents and elders hope to pass on a year of good fortune and blessings in doing so and the value varies according to the relationship with the receiver. The number comes into play however as traditional lucky numbers like 6 or 8 represent smooth success or gaining wealth. Whole numbers such as 10s, 50s and 100s are also favoured.
What foods are best to eat during Lunar New Year?
Eating is definitely central to the celebrations, as with other festive occasions. Traditional foods vary between countries and even regions that celebrate Lunar New Year but some staples can be found at the table. Dishes with fish are a must because the name of fish (yú, 魚) sounds like the word for abundance or surplus (yú, 余). Mandarins are said to resemble gold so to gift them would be to wish wealth for the coming year. Long noodles represent long life so the longer the better.
Singaporeans also have what is called YuSheng (魚生), also known as Lohei. It’s a Cantonese-style raw fish salad that is made up of up to 27 ingredients and arranged beautifully on a large platter. Auspicious wishes are said while everyone tosses the salad into the air with chopsticks and it’s believed that the higher the toss, the better the growth in one’s fortunes. It’s good fun!
It’s the Year of the Rat in 2020, what’s that about?
Each Lunar New Year is aligned with one of the animals of the Chinese Zodiac. The order of the cycle, dictated by the results of a mythological race set by the Jade Emperor is – rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. 2020 marks the start of a new 12-year lunar cycle with the Year of the Rat.
Which other communities celebrate Lunar New Year?
Though the varied celebrations of Lunar New Year are often lumped together under the Chinese New Year name, many countries have their own name and celebrations for it. In Korea, it is observed as Seollal, Tết is celebrated in Vietnam and in Mongolia, it’s called Tsagaan Sar. Regardless of where it is celebrated, Lunar New Year is a time to reconnect with family, share gifts, eat, drink and revel in the opportunities that the new year will bring.
Last question, where do Perth locals go to celebrate?
There are loads of colour and celebrations in Perth over this festive period. Northbridge comes alive with over 300 beautiful red lanterns adorning William and James streets, plus a digital wishing tree at Northbridge Piazza. Then on 2 February, the annual Chung Wah Association’s Perth Chinese New Year Fair will fill James street and Perth Cultural Centre with street performances, food stalls, lion and dragon dances, games, rides and a multicultural concert.The City of Perth are bringing an internationally renowned art installation ‘Museum of the Moon’ to Perth Cultural Centre from 7 to 9 February. It features a seven-meter wide, hanging artwork by UK artist Luke Jerram. And to close out the celebrations on the last weekend, Northbridge Common and City of Vincent will put on a free community street carnival between Newcastle and Brisbane streets.
Last but certainly not least, there is an abundance of mouth-watering fare to be had right in our CBD. From Hong Kong BBQ house for their infamous roasts, to Fortune Five’s delicious dim sum and Grand Orient at The Melbourne Hotel for something a little more luxurious. There is something for everyone to see, do, experience, eat and drink as we jointly usher in the new moon.
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