Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tossing Luck

What do you get when you add abundance to luck, throw in a pinch of wealth and a dash of prosperity, fold in wishes for riches, and, just for the heck of it, mix in some eternal youth?

A salad, of course…and not some metaphorical “recipe for success” kind of salad, but a literal vegetables and dressing, you can eat this for lunch and not feel guilty about it, girls’ night out kind of salad.

Yu Sheng, literally meaning “raw fish” but which can be interpreted to mean “abundance (fish) of wealth and long life (raw),” is a salad that is traditionally served during Chinese New Year. More specifically, it is often served on the seventh day of the New Year festivities, Ren Ri, or “Everyman’s Birthday.” This is one tradition I can definitely relate to: I mean who doesn’t want 15 days of New Year celebrations, the seventh of which is your second birthday of the year on which you get to eat abundance of wealth and long life for lunch?

And these literal keys to riches and eternal youth?-nothing but raw salmon symbolizing abundance and excess throughout the year which is mixed into green radish, eternal youth, white radish, prosperity in business and promotion at work, and shredded carrot, blessings of good luck. A bit more luck is added with the pomelo, a grapefruit-like fruit. Then, the whole thing is topped with peanuts symbolizing a household filled with gold and silver, a dash of pepper in hopes of attracting yet more money and valuables, cooking oil and plum sauce to smooth everything together, and finally, deep-fried flour crisps in the shape of golden pillows are added with wishes that literally translate to mean “may the whole floor be filled with gold.” Greedily hungry yet? Don’t get too excited, I haven’t even gotten to the best part.

When all the ingredients are both literally and metaphorically “on your plate,” the fun really begins. Chopsticks in-hand, even as you hear your mother’s voice clearly ringing in your ear telling you not to, you proceed to make a glorious mess by throwing this lovely salad in the air with bits and pieces landing all over the table all the while shouting “lo hei,” tossing luck, and other auspicious New Year wishes. The ingredients are mixed further by pushing them toward the center, an encouragement to push on the good luck of all at the table. Yes Mom, I know I’m not supposed to play with my food, but Yu Sheng lunch with my mentor and Stephanie last weekend was about the most fun I’ve ever had eating in my life.

I had certainly worked up an appetite for the lunch as Saturday morning was spent in the classroom. But this time, I was not the teacher but the student learning all about the use of video in the English Language classroom. Teachers in Singapore are required to take two courses a year, and the combination of media and English seemed to be right up my alley.

After lunch, my mentor, Yui Yun, and I went to the National Museum of Singapore where we spent three lovely hours in this incredibly architecturally impressive building wandering through the Singapore history exhibit, the food gallery (only in Singapore), the fashion gallery, and the visiting Quest for Immortality Egyptian mummy gallery. I wound down my evening with a stroll through Ft. Canning park, a place where Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, built his home. The hilltop home was later replaced with a fort, which proved to be useless protection as the cannons could not reach as far as the harbour, Singapore’s weakest spot, so it was demolished. It is now a quiet hillside park complete with beautiful running trails and a Gothic gate that is all that remains of the fort.

My Sunday was similarly peaceful. I spent the good part of four hours hiking along Singapore’s southern ridges, a coastline trail of bridges, paths, and canopy walks that seamlessly connect four parks, completely losing myself in nature and in my mind. I stopped for frozen yogurt before I joined Ana, Jenny, Mark, and Trevor for a movie in there apartment.

The remainder of my free time this past weekend was spent cuddling with my new furry friend, Ella, a kitten that Stephanie and I adopted on Friday night after spotting her on, of all places. Ella is just over a year old, tiny, independent, really affectionate, and perfectly content prancing around like the diva she is in her black rhinestone collar in Steph’s and my three bedroom apartment where she spends her time, when she isn’t sleeping or cuddling, keeping our wildlife situation under control, geckos, bugs, and all.

It is also nice to have someone to come home to when the school days seem particularly long. Monday and Wednesday were wonderful days at school during which my lessons went smoothly, my kids seemed to be paying particularly close attention (although many of them have probably perfected the art of sleeping with their eyes open as I had definitely done by the time I was 14), and I had even had the opportunity to work with the percussion group on choreography for their upcoming performance. Memories of choreographing Riggs High’s indoor marching band concert certainly came flooding back.

Tuesday, on the other hand, was another story. Let’s just say, I started the day by spending the entire 30 minutes of one music lesson scolding my kids about their lack of respect for authority and ended it by locking myself out of my house with no way to get in until Stephanie returned three hours later. Everything in between wasn’t much better.

It’s on days like this that you really have to search for things to be thankful for. In all honesty, though, it is often only on days like this that we really think about what we have for which we can be thankful. I certainly don’t go around pondering my blessings when having one of those “I’m riding cloud nine through my rainbow painted sky licking an ice cream cone" days. So maybe something good can come of it a bad day after all.

My thankful list on Tuesday certainly wasn’t made out of a true desire to remind myself of all the wonderful blessings in my life, though it did eventually end up doing just that. My effort was rather made to prevent myself from spinning into a mad rage or bursting into tears in public.
Here is what I came up with in the three hours I had to reflect:

1.) Sometimes these consistent 95 degree temperatures really suck (especially in the button down shirt and long suede skirt you wore to work), but at least it doesn’t snow here.

2.) You can make a full dinner out of two thosai, an Indian flatbread served with curry or chutney dipping sauces, and a beer for only five dollars. (which is necessary because you only have five dollars and no credit card with you at the moment and you really need a beer more than you need a fruit juice right now)

3.) Your compulsion to constantly put a book in your purse can be quite a nuisance at times, especially when you don’t even have time to read it and it gets in the way of finding your phone, camera, keys (if you happen to have them), chap-stick, and whatever else is buried under the book, but thank God for it now.

4.) Eating alone in a restaurant is really quite liberating, and it is good to spend some quality time with yourself. Eating alone at a Hawker Center surrounded by old Chinese men who are swigging pint after pint of beer and staring at you in a way that implies either they have never in their lives seen a girl alone in a Hawker Center drinking a beer or that you have a giant sign tattooed on your forehead that says “Stare at me Awkwardly Please” (I would guess it is the former), is just strange but slightly amusing.

5.) After this experience, you will probably never lock yourself out of your house again. Congratulations, you learned your lesson.

This weekend should bring more Chinese New Year and Yu Sheng salad adventures and, hopefully, a lack of locking myself out of my house adventures as Steph and I are off to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for our Chinese New Year break that extends through Monday and Tuesday.

Cheers, Happy Year of the Tiger (almost), and TIA,

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