Chinese New Year is almost here, and Chinatown is all dolled up and ready for the party. Red-themed stores appear to have sprung up overnight:
They sell everything from wall hangings …
… to lamps …
… to giant pineapples:
We’re about to enter the Year of the Rooster, so there are roosters everywhere. They’re hanging from the rooftops..
…they frolic in the median on the street…
… and there’s a giant guy ruling the proverbial roost at a major intersection:
I went to Chinatown this morning to take in the glitz, have brunch at the hawker center, and do my weekly vegetable shopping. A lot of other people appear to have decided to do the same thing, because it was already remarkably crowded at ten o’clock. Singaporean Chinese need to do a lot of shopping for Chinese New Year — it’s like Christmas, but instead of standing in line to see Santa, you stand a a line two blocks long (no exaggeration) to buy barbecued pork jerky. People also shop for melon seeds and peanuts, pomelos and tangerines, cans of abalone and tubs of pineapple cookies, bright orange cakes and pussy willow canes.
It’s also important to stock up on red envelopes, which people use to give gifts of cash. The wishes for the new year center largely on wealth — the word “prosperity” is everywhere.
Even my apartment building has gotten in on the New Year’s action; we now have two mandarin trees outside of our doorway.
When I finally felt ready this morning to tear myself away from everything red and rooster-y, I went up to the second floor of the Chinatown Complex in search of food. Last summer, the Michelin guide gave stars to two hawker stalls in Singapore for the first time ever. So while I generally don’t eat meat at hawker centers, I decided to try the chicken rice at Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle.
The line was long, painfully long. Fortunately, a chatty and cheerful Singaporean was in line behind me. After twenty minutes, we were exchanging life stories; after thirty minutes, we were on a first-name basis. And while I never want to wait in that kind of a line for any kind of food ever again, I’m really glad that I got to know Jackie. She told me about shopping for Chinese New Year (she came into town to buy six jars of fish skin), she gave me information about how the New Year is celebrated (mostly with family and lots of food), and she talked about her youth in Singapore (she lived in one room on the third floor of a shophouse, “and a barber lived in the next room, and next to him lived the Indonesians who sold goodies downstairs”).
Jackie seemed to be either concerned for or interested in my culinary development, because over the course of our hour together, she bought me (1) a butterfly bun, which is a Chinese type of fried dough with sesame seeds, (2) a soursop juice, and (3) porridge, a Chinese wet rice dish with soft nuts in a very fishy fish stock. I’m so glad she was there — while the chicken rice ended up being forgettable, my time with her was not.