CNY traditions explained - at Chinatown walking trail

This article was first published in The Straits Times on Jan 13, 2014. 

WHY is red the auspicious colour during Chinese New Year? What does nian gao, a sweet sticky cake, have to do with CNY?

These were some of the CNY traditions explained to visitors taking part yesterday in the first Chinatown Chinese New Year Walking Trail organised by the Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng Citizens' Consultative Committee. They were led by volunteers from the Tourism Management Institute of Singapore.

About 40 visitors, including tourists and locals, gathered at Kreta Ayer Square just before the free walking tour at 3pm kicked off.

Over 1 1/2 hours, the visitors were led in groups of 10 to the heart of Chinatown where the CNY bazaar was held. They observed crowds jostling to buy festive goods such as waxed meats, pomelos and pussy willows.

Tour guide Peggy Song, 40, pointed out famous heritage shops in Chinatown such as Chinese pastry shop Chop Tai Chong Kok, which dates back to 1935. The shop sells nian gao, which some Chinese put in the mouths of Kitchen God idols during CNY.

She explained the practice to the visitors: "The Chinese believe that every new year, the Kitchen God reports back to the Heavenly King on the happenings of each household, so they put something sweet in his mouth to make sure he says good things."

Visitors ended their tour at Chinatown Point, where there was a "wishing tree" decorated with wishes for the upcoming Chinese New Year written on pieces of paper.

Said German visitor Nadine Eitel, 30, a human resource manager who took part in the tour: "Now, at least I know the meaning behind some Chinese New Year traditions and goodies in the bazaar."

The Chinatown Chinese New Year Walking Trail will be held at 3pm and 7pm over the next two weekends. Tours are conducted in English. Visitors can also request Chinese-language guides. For more details, visit www.chinatownfestivals.sg

kashc@sph.com.sg