A taste of CNY in New Zealand

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AS Chinese New Year's feverish pitch reaches its crescendo in Malaysia, inhabitants in Auckland would have had one or two relatively subdued parties with their fellow Asians to mark the event.

Ushering in the Year of the Snake kicked off in Auckland with Prime Minister John Key donning the Chinese brocade-patterned black and red Tang suit. The Chinese community put their indelible stamp on Auckland, with their annual Chinese New Year festival.

"It's great to be back at the ASB LunarFest (sic) event in Auckland tonight to celebrate Chinese New Year," Key tweeted on Feb 1. Except, Chinese New Year hadn't really begun for the rest of the Chinese people around the world.

Such is the beauty of living in Auckland. You get a taste of Chinese New Year, you get a taste of Deepavali, you get a taste of the Japanese or Tibetan New Year, in different enclaves of Auckland where migrants have nestled.

Chinese migrants celebrate Chinese New Year differently. I have a friend who takes a day off at work (since it is not a public holiday in Auckland) to spend time at home -- her way of celebrating the event.

Now, I get a sense of what it is like holding onto traditions. There was a period in my youth when I wondered, why bother? Why the fuss?

My mum makes a mammoth amount of food for the reunion dinner. Why not make it simple, I always used to think.

These days, I don't make it simple. At a small corner in the antipodes, I sink right into the moment, hanging tightly to the last fabric of my Chinese roots.

I have a major potluck dinner, inviting many friends to bring their plate of favourite food to usher in the Lunar New Year. It is not quite a big bang start, but a significant event to cause a little traffic in the cul de sac of my street.

I try to recreate many of the goodies my mum used to make. I dutifully take out the wooden kuih bangkit moulds, which my mum has used and have been in existence for more than 40 years.

I don't particularly fancy these little white clusters of starch melded with coconut and sugar, yet I go through this baking ritual, perhaps as a way of reconnecting with my past; a past that has shaped who I am and who I will become; a past that is fast slipping with the passage of time.

There is great beauty in how culture is preserved, especially in Malaysia. The Chinese Malaysians have a particularly rich heritage, one framed by historical, geographical and economic paradigms.

Across various cultures, there is a certain level of assimilation, a sure osmosis in how cultures adapt, sift, reshape and integrate what is good, what is fine, what is pragmatic into cultural or religious events that are being observed.

Mum was and still is obsessed by making Chinese New Year a larger-than-life event. Every reunion dinner is a splendid universe of its own, with macrocosms of taste sitting in a large pot, to be shared with relatives who visit mum on the first or second day of Chinese New Year.

For many Chinese around the world, the New Year marks the end of bad luck, the spring of new hope. It is a reminder that today's bad fortune can transform into a wave for tomorrow's good fortune, that life has an interminable cyclic pattern of the good coupled with the bad; the happy and the sad; of life and death.

It is appropriate, too, for a political leader like Key to celebrate with the Chinese community; to take note of the changing face of Auckland's population -- where for every 100 people living in Auckland, 53 will be European and 27 Asians of various descent.

Yet, New Zealanders are just coming to terms with the onslaught of new waves of migrants from Asia.

Chinese New Year, then, is an opportune moment for the Chinese to share with the Kiwis a bit of an ancient cultural event with its genesis in a tiresome mythical creature, which ultimately got sent off by firecracker power.

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New Zealand Prime Minister John Key donning the Chinese brocade-patterned black and red Tang suit to usher in the Year of the Snake.


Writer is an Auckland-based business writer

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