What we do on Chinese New Year: Four families and an individual share their yearly traditions

Taking a family portrait every Chinese New Year helps Mr Jeff Cheong and his wife, Ms Faith Koh (both above with their children), document their children's growth.
Taking a family portrait every Chinese New Year helps Mr Jeff Cheong and his wife, Ms Faith Koh (both above with their children), document their children's growth. PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Four families and an individual share their yearly traditions, from dressing up for a photo shoot to cooking a special dish to watching a Jack Neo movie

Photo-taking and columbarium visits

Every year, on the first day of Chinese New Year, before visiting any relatives, the Cheongs take part in a family ritual.

The first part involves taking a picture in the living room of their terrace house in Telok Kurau. Using a camera on a tripod, the family of five take a dozen family portraits in formal and wacky poses.

The father, Mr Jeff Cheong, 40, who is the president of advertising agency Tribal Worldwide Asia, says this is to "track how fast our children have grown".


Eating fast food alone tonight

Ms Porsche Poh (right) spends Chinese New Year visiting beneficiaries of mental health advocacy organisation Silver Ribbon (Singapore). Ms Yee Yung Jen (left), who has depression, is one of the beneficiaries. PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

Tonight, Ms Porsche Poh, 45, will have dinner by herself at a McDonald's outlet.

The executive director of Silver Ribbon (Singapore), a mental health advocacy organisation, will have a McSpicy burger extra value meal with fries, and a cup of green tea to wash it all down.

Eating fast food has become a tradition for her during the Chinese New Year period. She is single, an orphan and only child, whose father died of heart disease when she was seven. Her mother died of cancer 11 years later.


Window for family holiday

Mr Chris Koh and his wife Janice, with their son Calen. PHOTO: COURTESY OF JANICE KOH

Instead of visiting relatives, some families choose to spend the Chinese New Year period on holiday abroad because it is the only window in the entire year they get time off to travel.

The Koh family is one such case.

The family business is a car repair and insurance company which is open all year except for the 15 days of Chinese New Year.


A pencai made with love

Ms Cheong Mei Xi (first from right), on her family’s Chinese NewYear practices, which include making pencai filled with each family member’s food contribution. With her are (from left) her mother, Mrs Suzanna Cheong, father, Mr Cheong Soon Kiat, her sister, Mei Yan, and brother, Wei Ming. PHOTO: MATTHIAS HO FOR THE SUNDAY TIMES

Food is always serious business in the Cheong family and all the more so when Chinese New Year comes around.

That is when "masterchef" Suzanna Cheong - the nickname her husband and three children have for her - whips up an elaborate gourmet feast for the family's reunion dinner, which has always been held at their five-room HDB executive flat in Pasir Ris.

For the past three years, the family have been creating their own version of pencai by adding their favourite ingredients into the pot. Pencai is an all-in-one-pot dish usually filled with Chinese delicacies.


Movie date with a clan of 70

Most people have a lazy start on the first day of Chinese New Year.

Not Qian Hu Corporation's managing director, Mr Kenny Yap, and his family of more than 70.

The entire clan - including his 86-year-old mother, eight older siblings and 23 nephews and nieces - get up early to go to the movies.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 07, 2016, with the headline 'What we do on Chinese New Year'. Print Edition | Subscribe