Monday 23 January 2017

Beware of the pineapple tart: Whither Chinese New Year traditions?

It’s about tradition.

I think.

How many times have you asked people why they’re doing what they’re doing, and their answer is, “It’s tradition”?

So basically, what they’re saying is that the reason for doing what they have been doing for a long time is that they have been doing it for a long time.

I find this particularly true on public holidays.

Why do we waste resources producing a new National Day song every year when we have a surfeit of National Day songs, you know, since we have been producing a new one practically every year?

Well, it’s tradition.

Why do we say “merry Christmas and happy new year” and not “happy Christmas and merry new year”?

There’s actually an etymology behind this, but for most people, it’s just habit.

In other words, tradition.

Why does the Prime Minister have to deliver the May Day Rally speech on May Day?

Because it would be weird if he delivers the May Day Rally speech on Vesak Day.

It’s tradition.

The US had its Inauguration Day on Friday. Although it wasn’t a public holiday, it has its own traditions as Mr Donald Trump was sworn in as probably the least traditional President of the United States.

There’s a joke going around that Mr Trump said: “One week after I take office, China will completely shut down. Factories will stop production, shops will close, stock markets will not trade, and government will grind to a halt.

“The wealthy will flee overseas with their families, citizens desperately trade the RMB for foreign currency, doors all across the country will be plastered with red notices. Supermarket food stock will be depleted and food prices will rise.

“The people who stay will have nothing to do except day-long drinking and gambling. There will be sound of gunfire on the streets for days!”

The Chinese foreign ministry responded: “That’s Chinese New Year, you dumb ass.”

Again, that was a joke. Please don’t share it as news — or even fake news.

Yes, when it comes to traditions, Chinese New Year is traditionally full of them.

But here in Singapore, we seem intent on breaking a few of them of late, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

For example, in the past, I have traditionally queued for a long time at the bank for new notes. Now I queue for a short time at the “pop-up” ATMs instead.

In the past, knowing that many shops would be closed on the first few days of CNY, I have traditionally stocked up on essentials in advance as if preparing for a nuclear holocaust.

Ironically, even though a nuclear holocaust is more imminent than ever now that a former reality TV star can launch an intercontinental ballistic missile at whoever makes fun of him on Twitter, I don’t feel the need to hoard instant noodles this year.

And it’s not just because I don’t use Twitter (that much).

It seems more companies, such as NTUC FairPrice, Cold Storage, Giant and Sheng Siong supermarket chains, are keeping their stores open over the CNY period.

But I won’t be buying any pineapple tarts from them. Each tart has 82 calories.

I know that because in recent years, there appears to be a concerted campaign to vilify traditional CNY food, such as pineapple tarts and bak kwa, by telling us how many calories each snack has.

For example, I read somewhere that if you eat just one slice of bak kwa, you have to run 4.22km to work off the 370 calories in that single piece of deliciously evil meat.

This means I need to run at least a full marathon tomorrow in spite of the plantar fasciitis in my left foot. No pain, no bak kwa.

Just yesterday, the Government released a shocking five-second video called Half The Tart, Double The Huat where a woman dangerously throws a knife at a child eating a pineapple tart, cutting it in half (the pineapple tart, not the child).

I get the point.

Over-eating is a CNY tradition more dangerous than a woman throwing a knife at you and some traditions we would be better off without.

But it’s a slippery slope. Where would it end? Who knows what other traditions we could lose in the future?

One day, I may not even be able to humiliate my single relatives by asking them when they’re going to get married.

What would be the point of Chinese New Year then?

It’s about tradition.

- Published in The New Paper, 23 January 2017