For some, the Lunar New Year is about angpows: “lucky” red packets with money inside given to children and unmarried young adults. For others it’s bak kwa, the barbequed slices of sweet, minced pork that people willingly queue hours for to buy from their favourite shops. Or pineapple tarts, crispy yummy love-letters, or some other seasonal treat. Or noisy, colourful, exciting Lion Dances. For me, the Lunar New Year (or Chinese New Year) is mandarin oranges.
Actually, I only realised this of myself a couple of Chinese New Years ago. I was at someone’s house (can’t remember whose, such are the blurred recollections caused by busy visitations to numerous relatives’ and friends’ homes during this annual ritual), comfortably settled into the sofa and eating my fifth or sixth mandarin orange. And it suddenly dawned on me that this was what I’d do without fail every Chinese New Year since I was a kid: eat many mandarin oranges!
I do enjoy bak kwa, pineapple tarts, love-letters and the lot too, but I’m ok about giving them a miss, they’re not must-haves for me. But mandarin oranges – I have observed – are an item I’d always consume at each home visited. My modus operandi: at each stop, after exchanging new year’s greetings and angpows, I’d gather five or six mandarin oranges, find a comfortable spot, and devour them all at a sitting. Then off to the next venue and repeat. I reckon I’d have eaten a whole carton by the end of the day, easey-peasey.
The thing I love about mandarin oranges is that they’re so easy to peel. I’d always try to not let the peel break, so that when off in a single piece, it’d naturally sit itself like a small bowl – perfect for collecting discarded orange seeds. Once the feast is done, it’s so easy to neatly pick up the seed-peel-bowl and dispose, no mess no fuss. Mandarins are sweeter than normal oranges, and when split into segments, which they do easily, they hold their juices in their flesh well, so not only are your fingers and hands clean and dry, they now have a slightly sweet, refreshing orangey scent. Really, what’s there not to love about mandarin oranges?
And especially when mandarin oranges are nutritionally great. They’re free of fat, cholesterol and sodium, and at the same time packed with vitamins A and C, as well as the natural antioxidants that are also commonly found in other fruits and vegetables. Contrary to what many consider to be a “heaty” fruit – ie. causing an imbalance that results in a rise of “heatiness” in the body, making one prone to sore-throat, fever, excessive phlegm production and cough, etc – I’ve always felt that mandarin oranges offered cool, refreshing and sweet respite during the typically hot and muggy Chinese New Year season. So far, for the copious amounts of mandarin oranges I always eat then, or maybe precisely because of that, I’ve never fallen ill over Chinese New Year.
But perhaps more important than the mandarin’s health benefits for some, is the fact that the Cantonese word for mandarin oranges is “gahm”, which is same-sounding as the word for gold. So eating mandarin oranges is likened to eating gold, which I suppose is a very auspicious thing to be able to do!
Along the lines of Chinese New Year auspiciousness, the rule with mandarin oranges is that they are always given and exchanged in even numbers, usually as a pair (you’d never give mandarin oranges singly or in odd numbers). If you put a pair of mandarin oranges side-by-side touching each other, they’d look like the figure “8”, which in Cantonese is pronounced “pahtt”, very close sounding to the word “fahtt”, meaning to prosper, or to have fortune, or to be lucky and hit the jackpot. Extremely auspicious stuff indeed!
This new year will be the Chinese year of the Monkey, according to the Chinese almanac which consists of 12 animals taking their turn around a 12-year cycle. We’re now in the final days of the year of the goat before it gives way to the monkey. And after the monkey will come the rooster. But for the next 12 months, it’s the monkey’s turn to party. And monkeys like oranges. I’m not confessing to being anything like a monkey, besides I can probably out-eat one when it comes to mandarin oranges. But I imagine there’s a natural connection this Chinese New Year between the monkey and mandarin oranges.
And I also imagine that this has translated to increased orders for mandarin oranges from our clients. Of course, that’s just my imagination. It’s natural that during the Lunar New Year season we get more orders for mandarin oranges here at Sofresh, and we have been delivering a lot of them to our clients. This in spite of news reports of a 20 to 30 per cent dip in this year’s supply for the general public’s consumption. Thankfully we’ve not experienced any shortage issues, and it’s been full-steam ahead fulfilling our clients’ orders.
Whatever the case may be with market forces, and for which ever symbol of Chinese New Year is closest to your heart (or stomach), the one thing that Chinese New Year is universally about is the reunion of family members and relatives over a good meal. And for some families, the Chinese New Year reunion dinner is the most important and lavish meal they’ll have together in a whole year.
Chinese New Year is undoubtedly about food, but even more so than food, it’s about family. These days many are quite happy to accept that family often extends beyond biological links, to close friendships, or even a reaching out to those who are in need or alone and not leaving them out of such culturally significant celebrations. “Family” has taken on a broader and more inclusive definition, and I think this is a positive and good thing.
From all of us at Sofresh Offshore Supply, here’s wishing everyone and your families (both biological and whomever you’ve adopted to count as) a happy and prosperous Lunar New Year! May you have the blessings of good health, good relations and tidings, and an abundance of joy. And lots of gahm – enjoy!
Xin Nian Kwai Le! Gong Xi Fai Cai! Wan Shi Ru Yi! Nian Nian Yo Yu!