Chinese New Year would always be very meaningful to me . And it would always remind me of many beautiful things of the past.
I have this very special vivid memory of Sibu when it celebrated Chinese New year.
The Chinese New Year season arrived,and every Foochow family would be busy preparing for the festival and a few interesting figures would appear in Sibu, going from office to office, bank to bank and coffee shop to coffee shop. Sometimes they even strolled up to a wedding dinner guest!! They would be promoting their chun lian (or Spring Festival Couplets) for the door posts. These couplets were very auspicious words which will bless the family members, the business and individuals throughout the year. It originates from the ancient days when the Chinese paid very special attention to nature, fate and particularly agricultural fortunes.
Perhaps it was only in Sibu that calligraphers and other enterprising people could earn money from their calligraphy. And upon reflection I thought the Foochows in particular were so kind and generous. After 1980 and especially after moving to Miri I never saw such door to door sales people again.
They would carry a business bag, a brief case, or just a cotton bag containing their special ware : chun lian. These special goods were long red strips of Chinese season's greetings specially calligraphed on paper for sale. Some had very good calligraphy some were just simple ones. Usually they were in this usual traditional red paper made in China, and they stained your clothes and anything that touched it if it got wet.
One person I remember in particular was Lau Mang. His calligraphy was very good and stylish and as far as I remember my father did buy one pair from him. But I cannot remember what those particular couplets were.
Most of the shops would buy from these artists or calligraphists, probably three or four pairs, and they would chase away those they did not like. Yes, sometimes, even shooed them away impolitely, commenting that they were very obnoxious.
I am glad, in those days, no stickers like NO SALESPERSON ALLOWED were stuck on the doors of the shops.
I was very sorry for one particular Foochow lady who came around to sell a few. I wondered if she herself had written them. Most probably she asked her son, or someone else to help write them. She would take out a bundle of red long strips from her rotan basket and showed them to my uncle Lau Pang Kwong in his office in 26 Central Road.
Some were not really in good condition, as not all goods come in good condition.
And furthermore those red script paper in those days were actually of quite poor quality.
So my uncle Lau Pang Kwong would look at them and grumble. But he would sort of pay one or two dollars for them only.
I believe Lau Mang's writing fetched more. My father used to say that artists did not have much money and so it was good for the society to support them in different ways. But when people came around to cheat their own community for their own dubious ulterior motives we just had to be careful and must not be cheated.
Today, you can buy these strips of season's greetings in the supermarket - plastic ones, velvet ones, and even metal ones to hang on the door posts, or across the huge main hall mirror.
But these Sibu calligraphers are forever gone from our community now. In their place we have people who sell homemade biscuits, and the sticky red sugar glutinous cake or nien kao, all nicely wrapped up in plastic paper with a red square piece of paper for good luck or "ee lick".
It is difficult to tell who is in need of extra money or who is just a business person trying to cash in during the season. My money still goes to the poor lady who needs to buy a chicken for her New Year Eve dinner.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Memoir by I Am Sarawakiana at 1:11 PM