The Art of Chinese New Year

In Malaysia, it starts with the food. Walnut cookies, pineapple rolls, chicken wontons, Kuih Kapit and Kuih Bahulu, a collision of savoury, sweet, salty, spicy, jars and jars of cookies and crackers, steamed buns and baked buns sold in the lead up to Chinese New Year. Then came the sickly sweet Chinese songs, blared in supermarkets, air conditioned malls, in the passing vendor trucks and softly hummed by your local grocer. These songs of kitchy tunes and simple catchphrases ‘Gong Xi Ni’ (Happy New Year) were so embedded in me, in us, that whenever one comes on, all of us inadvertently hum along to the tune. Then came the cleaning of the house, the dusting of spider-webbed corners, throwing out old clothes; disposing the ghosts of the past, to make way for the future.

The night before New Year was the traditional ‘Reunion Dinner’ where immediate families would come together for a meal, usually involving a ‘Yee Sang’ of fish, vegetables, fruits and special dressing, promising prosperity and wealth for the New Year. At midnight, the firecrackers, sparklers, fireworks (anything that made a lot of noise, and a lot of light really) were dragged out. The days that ensued, of visiting relatives on number-specific days, were made up of wearing red, accepting Hong Baos with two hands, and repeating ‘Gong Xi Fa Cai’ extensively. You could almost call it Christmas for 15 days.

But these celebrations can be particularly hard to enforce if you’re not in the social milieu of your original home. Many Malaysian Chinese, and Mainland Chinese, celebrate the New Year in other countries. Out of all the ethnic groups in Malaysia, Malaysian Chinese are the largest group to migrate to other countries; more than 2 million have migrated since 1957. Thus, celebrating Chinese New Year in your ‘adopted’ home is somewhat common place. But this doesn’t make it normal; it can be confusing and underwhelming at times.

The beginning of Chinese New Year is a public holiday; in many other countries you go to work. The friends and family you went to visit, are no longer accessible. The cheap food and snacks offered at your local vendor, can only be found in niche (and often dingy) supermarkets. The festivities, the people, the celebration disappears.

But this doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate the New Year. Baking Chinese New Year snacks can be relatively easy and inexpensive. Food blogs with Malaysian ‘expats’ have popped up all over the internet, with easy recipes and adjustable ingredients depending on the availability of the food in the different countries. Many Western countries host Lantern Festivals, while Chinese communities have set up similar events.

Like all things, celebrating your culture needs flexibility and vision; an open mindedness to new circumstances, with the love for the traditions that come with it.

 
Wen-Juenn Lee CONTRIBUTOR

Wen-Juenn Lee CONTRIBUTOR

 

The Expat Survival Guide

Moving overseas? Whether it’s your first relocation or your fifth, a move overseas can be both exhilarating and terrifying. The key to survival is preparation.

Before you leave

Minimise. As consumers in a capitalist society, the collection of things seem innate in our nature. But what are you going to do with all that stuff you’ve accrued over the years? If you have a willing relative who is happy to keep your things for you, excellent. If not, really explore your options. How long are you relocating for? Are you staying in one place? Or planning to move around.

On my first overseas move, I kept everything I owned including my car. In hindsight, a quick sale of a depreciating motor vehicle would have given me backup funds in case of an emergency or would have sustained me during some extra travel.

Consider what you really need to keep, and what you need to store.

If storing in your home city, check with your chosen storage company. They may have a deal for paying in advance, for example, pay five months upfront and get the sixth for free.

When you pack your belongings for storage, ensure they are packed and organised for shipping. Know what is in each box. Label them. If your move becomes permanent it is then easy for you to have your belongings shipped to your chosen destination.

Planning a permanent move? Look into shipping from the outset. The long-term costs of keeping unused items at home usually far outweighs the initial cost of shipping everything, not including the continued frustration of buying something in your new country knowing full well you already own three of them at home.

Make sure all of your vaccinations are up to date and that you have enough of your prescription medications.

Have enough foreign cash that if it was taken from you, you could survive without it, but enough to sustain you between ATM withdrawals. Overseas withdrawals are usually charged at a percentage of the total amount plus an overseas ATM withdrawal fee. Inform your bank that you are travelling and ensure that they put notes on your file so your cards won’t be cancelled when transactions are suddenly appearing in a different country. Keep your bank’s overseas phone number in a safe place in case your cards are stolen or you have any issues transacting overseas.

Invest in a handheld travel scale and weigh your luggage. Call the airline ahead to book extra bags if you’re over the airline weight limit. Fees are markedly less if you book additional luggage in advance.

Know where you are going from the airport and how to get there. There is nothing like landing in a foreign country with no idea how to get to your hotel/hostel to start ringing the “what the hell was I thinking” alarm bells. Get to your hotel, take a breath and work out where you are in relation to everything else. Once you have a home base, even if only a hotel room, you will be in a better position to begin branching out.

When you arrive

Sort out the basics. What number do you need to reach the emergency services? I still have dreams where something bad is happening, I don’t know which country I am in and I don’t know which emergency number to call. Write it down somewhere you can see it if you ever need it. Australians have been known to call 911 by accident after repeatedly seeing the number dialed in US dramas. Know who to call.

Where is your nearest hospital? A quick google search can resolve this quickly.

Know where your embassy is and how to contact them. If your passport is lost or stolen, this should be your first port of call.

Make sure your insurances are in order. How long does your travel insurance cover you? Do you need additional health cover to receive medical assistance while you’re in your new country?

Find and register with a GP and locate your local pharmacy.

Get out of the house/room/hotel/hostel.

Find free events in your city or try an immersion course. This is especially important if living in a country where English is not the primarily spoken language. Build your network. Ground yourself. Develop a routine. Are you a gym junkie? Find a gym and go, even if only one day a week.

Religious? Find a church and go every Sunday.

Find one activity that will stay fixed in your week to give you a sense of routine and stability while getting settled. Avoid cabin fever. If you’ve moved on your own, filling the hours while looking for work can become a challenge in itself. Get out and meet people.

Haven’t arrived with a job or can’t find work immediately? Volunteer.

During a year in Singapore, I studied hard and in my spare time walked around taking in different areas of the city. One of my biggest regrets was not making more of this time by contributing in a meaningful way. Volunteering will keep you busy while job hunting and will give you work experience in the country you are living in.

If you’ve moved with a partner, be patient with each other.

Whether you’ve lived together before or not, you cannot be prepared for the sudden importance you will have in each other’s lives. In a very short space of time you will begin to fill roles for each other that are usually occupied by best friends, brothers, sisters and parents.

Give each other space to adapt in your new surroundings while finding ways to grow together.

Move for the right reasons.

“Where ever you go, there you are” and so are your problems. Even if it seems possible to completely reinvent yourself by moving somewhere else, what you are chasing only exists within you. If you don’t change the behaviours that led you to past problems, you will find yourself with all the same issues in a new place.

De-clutter.

If you realise one thing while living out of suitcases, it is that you can get by with very little. When you return home, you won’t even be able to explain why you kept half of what you did.

Budget. Make your money last.

Understand that everything comes with a price. Realistically understand what you are giving up to be abroad. Know how far you will be from home and how much it will cost to get back. Understand that weddings, birthdays and family events often pop up while you are away that you will likely miss out on. Be prepared for the associated feelings of guilt and isolation that come with moving away from what is familiar to you. The loss of a family member I hadn’t seen in eighteen months was a stark reminder of the time I miss with loved ones while away. So stay connected with home, but…

Don’t try to live between two places.

If you are always thinking about home you won’t be able to live fully in your chosen city. If you can’t fully immerse yourself in the life you have chosen for yourself, you will find yourself constantly torn between two places which is unsustainable.

Keep records.

Whilst in the middle of your experience, you can’t imagine that you could possibly forget a single moment of your trip. You will. Take photos. Write a travel diary. Keep tickets and mementos. You can’t yet comprehend what they will mean to you later.

Most importantly, enjoy yourself.

Relocating to an entirely new country is an incredibly difficult step to take. If you’ve come this far, you deserve the opportunity to make the most of every minute. Be free from guilt. Soak it all in and know that in the best possible way you will never be the same again.

 
Haylee Read - CONTRIBUTOR

Haylee Read - CONTRIBUTOR

 

Be an Independent Champion - Travel Alone

We all know what it is like to pin down a group of friends and get them to agree on dates, price and destination for a weekend break. Considering others when planning a holiday can be a mammoth task.

If you do manage to get away with friends, sharing a bathroom, choosing where and what to eat and synchronising your collective waking and sleeping hours can be exhausting.

Taking a break, alone, can be a liberating pleasure.

Many women live alone, visit movies, the theatre and galleries by themselves, but, flying to an exotic destination and staying there, for a while, alone - phew!

Women are moving in leaps and bounds in business, politics, culture and technology but even the most forward-thinking friends and family can be negative about a woman travelling solo.

Travel is a mind-broadening experience, it opens the whole person to this exciting world we live in.

Destination - Dreamland

Follow a dream, take a chance and journey to a place you have often thought about. If you fancy feeding elephants in Thailand, helping orphans in Romania or walking mountain tracks and climbing mountains, do the research, read books about others who have done it and make plans.

Write down your travel ideas and explore possibilities. This will clear the mind and help you to fully understand who you are and what you like to do.

Going Solo

A friend of mine regularly travels alone. As a designer she has travelled for business but recently has taken holidays by herself. She loves the freedom. A week in Hawaii for a Christmas treat is heaven, for her. Left behind is the Christmas tree, the solar lights and sweet mince pies. On holiday she walks, takes breakfast at a beach cafe, swims and reads while lounging under a palm tree.

The most difficult thing, she says, is to get a table in a restaurant. Restaurants need bums on seats and two or four people at a table is better than one. She gets around this by having a picnic and sometimes eating at a restaurant bar. By doing that she can have a glass of wine and choose small salads and dishes from the bar menu. Plus, there is always the barman to chat to.

Travelling alone tips

Meet the locals and have a few phrases of their language to greet them with. Chatting with other travellers can be a fun way to share experiences and any fear of travelling alone is eliminated.

Be safety conscious, trust instincts and be safety smart about who to talk to. If you are concerned about stepping out alone at night, sign-up for a tour and go exploring in a group.

Take an adventure excursion and meet people with similar interests.

Harassment is a concern for women travelling alone. Just as at home, be prepared and self reliant, so that you do not need to depend on anyone else. Here are a few tips we've picked up along our travels to help you stay safe and prepared while overseas:

Carry a guide book, map, phrase book and cash and mark your hotel on the map for easy reference.

If asking for help, talk to a woman, a family or go into a friendly shop. Before straying too far in a strange neighbourhood take a photo of your hotel, your room number and the bus or train you are boarding. Pick up a hotel business card for address and phone number.

Withdraw cash from a machine during the day not when it is dark. Wear a cross-body bag to keep your valuables close and secure and utilise hotel safes for larger valuables.

Dress modestly to minimise attention from men and leave your jewels at home if visiting a poor country. Do research into the customs of the country to be visited. Always have a lightweight scarf or to wrap in or cover up. Be observant, if women have their heads or shoulders covered, cover yours. In certain religious buildings open-toed shoes may not be permitted and knees may need to be covered.

Before departure ensure your mobile device has service in the part of the world you are travelling to. Know the local phone system and note the emergency dial number.

Research public transport before travelling and be aware of bus and train networks.

Stay in email communication with someone you know. Tell them your plans, flights and itinerary. Give them your hotel number for personal safety reasons.

Plan to arrive at your destination in daylight. Pre-arrange transport to accommodation. Hotels often have their own secure shuttle service. If not, stay at an airport hotel until daylight.

Use your intuition if hiring a driver for a tour. Get a card and sort out the charges before agreeing to use the services.

To limit unwanted male attention wear a wedding band and avoid direct eye contact.

In some parts of the world it is unacceptable for a woman to venture out after dark without a male escort. Acquire basic social knowledge and be a safe female traveller.

Solo travel is empowering

Relish the joys of travel, the beauty of new lands and the people who live there.

Solo travel is liberating, self assuring and increases self-confidence.

Travel with an open mind and return home with adventures to share.


Barbara Bailey CONTRIBUTOR