Singapore Adventure

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Gong Xi Fa Cai
by venitha

Christmas trees and poinsettias have given way to the flora of Chinese New Year: blossoming cherry trees (depressingly fake), potted kumquat plants (unexpectedly real), and feathery red and gold celosia (annoyingly difficult to name).

The 4-ft tall plant in our condo's lobby is adorned with red packets, which, filled with money, are a typical Chinese New Year gift. I've been told numerous times that the tradition is for the married to give cash to the unmarried, though if these were hints, they were lost on me. This new year is not my new year, and at any rate, I am currently exceedingly cash poor as I try to secure funds for our upcoming trip to India at the anemic trickle allowed through the dam of my US ATM card: S$500 (=US$300) per day. One night at the Lake Palace Hotel in : US$420. No, we're not staying anywhere so grand, but you get the idea.

Chinese New Year, known as the Lunar New Year to the politically correct and as to the Vietnamese and to American crossword aficionados, is the holiday in the Singapore. The celebration is colossal, and the festivities continue well into February. Our Singaporean friends are busy tonight with the obligatory family reunion dinner; tomorrow will be filled with visit after visit to relative after relative, and they will dutifully exchange Mandarin oranges.

We've been told again and again that everything will be closed - everything - and that come 6pm tonight, when the reunion dinners start, everything will be deserted - everything. I find this impossible to believe, and yet I await the change with excited anticipation: Singapore transformed into a ghost town, festooned gaily for a party for which no one has shown up. It was with some disappointment yesterday that I noted Cold Storage's posted holiday schedule (limited hours, but still open), and I was downright annoyed early this afternoon to notice workers wandering the construction site across the street.

"Go! Trade oranges! Gamble! Celebrate!" I encouraged them from my 19th floor kitchen window. But the construction workers are Malay and Indian, and this is no more their holiday than it is mine.