Yesterday was Singapore’s 57th National Day and as I was wondering what to write about the day, I started thinking about what makes one a Singaporean? Birth is one of course, but why do those who consciously become one do it? I know why I did it and you can read my story and journey here and here. While I was undergoing my process, I came across many who didn’t have any connection to the country and probably became a citizen only because of the privileges accorded by the red Singapore passport was far superior to their own birth country. They were not interested in the language of the country and by that I mean not making an effort to integrate and speak English which is the working language and one that brings together all the races, not interested in learning about the history and not even interested in its people.
So what makes one a Singaporean?
The first thing that comes to my mind would probably be words like obedient, hardworking and kiasu. These are words which probably describe a nation in which a competitive citizenry is obsessed with being number one in all that it does. A word that probably describes the Singaporean core perfectly is kiasu. A word that is Hokkien in origin, kaisu means being afraid to lose out and is Singapore in a nutshell. We need to win and be the first in everything, coming second is the equivalent of losing. This also translates to parents being tiger mums and dads who want their children only to get As in school and the only careers worth exploring are as bankers, doctors and lawyers.
The Singapore accent and Singlish are other Singaporean identifiers. When we travel, especially in the region, hearing the accent and Singlish being spoken takes you back home immediately and makes a connection in a foreign land.
Singaporeans are also very dedicated, especially when it comes to getting their favourite meal at the hawker centre or the latest Happy Meal toy, the biggest discount or the latest trend. We can stand in a line for hours just to reach the thing we want.
We are complain kings and queens and that’s probably a national hobby. With smartphone usage at a high, we love taking photos of those who we feel are breaking rules and post them on social media to complain. We blow stuff completely out of proportion just for the sake of our daily dosage of entertainment. Then after we’re done, we move on to the next better topic. But woe toward others, especially foreigners who complain about us or our nation. Then we get together to bash them up.
Singapore is a very safe place. As a woman, I can walk around the country even late at night, something I can’t think of doing in India. When we are out and want to save our seat or chope it as it we call it, we use our belongings to save the seat. So anything from a packet of tissue to an umbrella or even our office name tag or laptop can be left on the table and nobody will dare to dream to pick it up. It may be annoying to get your food and see empty tables, but all filled with tissue packets, but we put up with it and get on with life.
We are also a wonderful blend of old and new as well as traditional and modern. Old heritage buildings lie cheek in jowl with modern glass skyscrapers and it’s not unusual to see people wearing the latest fashions walking alongside those in a traditional kebaya or saree.
And of course, no post about Singapore can end without a note about Singlish and the fact that we can speak an entire sentence incorporating all four of Singapore’s languages. Our need for speed in everything and being first also means we speak so fast that outsiders need a translator when listening to us.
But all said and done, Singapore has its imperfections, but no country is perfect. We have to accept the good and the bad and make it even better together. So let’s get together and be grateful to this little red dot. Happy Birthday, Singapore! May you continue to prosper.
And as I always share, here’s this year’s National Day song. Enjoy…
Today Singapore celebrates its 56th National Day and in honour of that, here are some perhaps known and unknown facts of the country I now call home.
Singapore is not just one island, but is made up of 63 other offshore that surround the main island. These include Sentosa, the largest of the offshore islands, Pulau Ubin, St John’s Island and Sisters’ Islands.
Singapore is one of the 20 smallest countries in the world. The main island is 42 km long and 23 km wide and has a total land area of just 683 sq km.
There are only three city-states that exist in the world, and Singapore is one of them, other than Monaco and Vatican City.
After New Zealand, Singapore is the easiest place across the globe to do business, according to a business list published by the World Bank.
Singapore is the least corrupt city in Asia and the third least corrupt in the world, after Denmark and New Zealand at number one and tied in third place with Finland, Sweden and Switzerland.
Standing 165 meters high, the Singapore Wheel is the second-highest in the world, losing the first rank by only 2 meters.
Singapore’s Changi airport has been has been named the world’s best airport for the eighth year in a row at the annual Skytrax World Airport Awards in 2020.
Singapore’s national carrier, Singapore Airlines has also consistently been voted the best airline with SIA at number 2 in the 2020 Skytrax World Awards.
As of April 2021, Singaporean citizens had visa-free or visa on arrival access to 192 countries and territories, ranking the Singaporean passport 2nd in terms of number of countries a passport holder can visit without pre-arrival visa arrangements according to the Henley Passport Index.
There are over 3000 kilometres of roads in Singapore, which when stretched from end to end, can cover the distance between Singapore and Hong Kong.
Singapore is the second most densely populated country in the world after Monaco as well as being fully urbanised.
Singapore has often been called, locally and internationally as the Little Red Dot.This term was first coined by then Indonesian President Habibie who used it to make a remark about the country’s appearance on the map which is usually represented as a red dot. Although that was an unfortunate reference and one which Singaporeans did not take too well to, the term has stuck and is commonly used by the media.
The national language of Singapore is Malay. The four official languages of the country are English, Chinese, Tamil, and Malay. And although English is Singapore’s language of business, locals speak Singlish, not just English. So visitors should not be too surprised to hear Singaporeans adding exclamations like ‘lah’ and ‘leh’ to their sentence. Singlish— our colourful local slang— is an integral part of everyday conversation amongst Singaporeans. So what is Singlish? Singlish is a collection of colloquial catchphrases and lingo influenced by Singapore’s multiculturalism. Other examples include the Singlish term “chope”, which means to reserve a seat. Locals often chope seats at a hawker centre using packets of tissue paper. And like many Asian countries, Singaporeans also tend to refer to older strangers as Aunties and Uncles.
Singapore is renowned for having some of the cleanest streets in the world, largely due to a 50,000-strong cleaning workforce employed to keep the streets clean. Singapore is also known for its strict laws on littering, spitting on the streets, vandalism and public urination that can result in heavy fines and/or a punishment called Corrective Work Order, where offenders are required to pick up litter in public wearing a bright vest.
Singapore once disappeared from maps. There was a period of time when the city was wiped out from the map. With the exchange of hands between the Majapahit Empire and Siam’s Ayutthaya Kingdom in present day Thailand, as well as marking itself as an important trading port for the Sultanate of Johor, Singapore became hot sauce for traders. This led to Portuguese pirates burning the city down in 1613, leaving the city obsolete for more than a hundred years until migrants from around the region started setting camp, rising it from its ashes. In 1819, Sir Stamford Raffles established a British trading post, and word about Singapore got around.
Singapore’s time zone has been changed six times. From 1905 to 1932, Singapore was seven hours ahead of the Greenwich Mean Time or GMT, and then it moved 20 minutes forward from 1933 to 1941, and a further 10 minutes forward from 1941 to 1942. During the Japanese occupation in World War II, clocks were moved an hour and 30 minutes ahead to sync with Japan’s time. When the war ended, the clocks reverted back and finally settled to sync with Malaysia’s in 1982. Currently Singapore is 8 hours ahead of the GMT.
The red of Singapore’s flag represents universal brotherhood and equality of man while the white symbolizes purity and virtue. The crescent moon stands for a young nation on the rise and the five stars signify the ideals of democracy, peace, progress, justice and equality.
A Gallups Law & Order study has highlighted Singapore as the safest country in the world, for several years running. The UN Office on Crime & Drugs also ranks Singapore as the country with the lowest crime rate in the world together with Japan, at 0.2% homicides in 2017.
80% of Singaporeans live in government housing. The Singapore government owns almost 80% of the land and has used it to guarantee housing to its citizens in what is known as HDBs or Housing Development Board which offers discounted housing to its citizens.
Chewing gum has been banned in Singapore since 1992. But it is not the chewing which carries a penalty, but the importing of it. But locals are known to bring in some chewing gum, especially from Malaysia, but one needs to be careful as technically, bringing some gum from an overseas trip turns one into a chewing gum smuggler. The penalties are quite strict with a fine of up to S$100,000 and 2 years imprisonment.
Singapore is that it is home to two very profitable casinos which jointly generate over $4bn in revenues annually and puts the country on fourth place in the world casino ranking by gross revenues, but even though it’s far behind the world’s largest casino market of Macau which generates $33bn because of Singapore size, it represents a much larger percentage of GDP. Local residents, including Singapore citizens and permanent residents need to pay $100 to access the casino but entrance is free to foreign visitors.
Buildings in Singapore cannot be higher than 280 metres. Currently, there are three buildings of that height – OUB Centre, UOB Plaza and Republic Plaza.
The National Stadium at the Sports Hub has the world’s largest dome with a retractable roof. The 20,000 sqm roof dome measures 312m in diameter and can open and close in 20 minutes. In 2016, the National Day Parade returned to the National Stadium after 10 years. The dome roof let performers ‘fly’ through the air in a first for the Parade!
Singapore is seriously green. In fact, it is one of the world’s greenest cities with nearly half of Singapore’s land area or approximately 700 sq km under green cover. Beyond numerous parks and gardens, there are pockets of undiscovered plant life housed in the most unusual of places. Like the Parkroyal on Pickering which is known for its hotel-in-a-garden concept and its four-storey cascading vertical garden. Other than green areas, parks and park connectors, Singapore is rich in biodiversity in its nature reserves and is home to over 2,100 native vascular plant species. The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in particular, is said to contain more tree species in a single hectare than the total number of tree species found in North America. However, Singapore also has one of the highest percentages of green spaces of any city in the world at 30% according to a study by MIT and the World Economic Forum.
Singapore is also home to the world’s first night zoo with the Night Safari providing a nocturnal experience like no other in the city. Opened in 1994, the 35-hectare park features over 1,000 animals in their naturalistic night-time environments. Visitors can hop onto a 40-minute tram ride for an overview of the park’s main attractions and also walk along the four interlinked walking trails within the park, for a zoo trip like no other.
Singapore is a city of man-made waterfalls. According to the Wildlife Reserves Singapore, the first man-made waterfall was built at Jurong Bird Park in 1971. Dropping from a height of 30 metres, it is said to be the tallest waterfall in an aviary to date. At the Gardens by the Bay, in the Cloud Forest dome, there is a huge, 35-metre waterfall, which is the centrepiece of the misty conservatory, designed to house plant life from the tropical highlands. And no trip to Singapore is complete without a visit to the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. Housed in the retail and lifestyle complex of Jewel Changi Airport, the HSBC Rain Vortex soars at 40 metres, and is surrounded by a lush indoor garden.
Singapore pioneered the first F1 night race which has been held annually since 2008. The Grand Prix Season Singapore features a gamut of concerts, racing and entertainment activities, for Formula One fans and visitors of all ages. The Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix made racing history as the world’s first ever FORMULA 1 night race. The twisty Marina Bay street circuit has largely remained unchanged in the years since; the track’s brightly lit floodlights also add to the spectacular night views of Singapore. According to Formula 1, the Marina Bay Street Circuit also boasts more corners, 23 in all, than any other circuits on the Formula One race calendar.
It’s home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site with some unique VIPs. The Singapore Botanic Gardens became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015 and has a history of over 150 years since its founding in 1859, more than a century older than modern Singapore itself. Its most popular attraction is the National Orchid Garden, which houses thousands of orchid species known as Very Important Plants or VIPs. Over 200 hybrid orchids in this garden have been affectionately named after visiting foreign dignitaries such as Nelson Mandela, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as well as celebrities like actors Jackie Chan, Zhou Xun and Bae Yong Jun. Singapore’s first botanic garden opened in 1822, on the slopes of the area now known as Fort Canning Hill. Measuring just 19 hectares, the garden closed in 1829 due to rising costs and its land was then used for various public projects, including an Armenian church, a school and a hospital.
Everyone has heard about the Merlion, Singapore’s iconic emblem. The Merlion is a mythical creature with a lion’s head and a fish’s tail. But what many people don’t know is that the Merlion was partly inspired by the city’s Sanskrit name, Singapura, which means Lion City. This Sanskrit name is thought to have been given by a Sumatran prince Sang Nila Utama, who ruled Temasek, a settlement on the Singapura island during the early 14thcentury. While hunting for animals, the prince spotted a strange creature moving quickly, which was identified as a lion by his advisors. However, there were no records of lions native to Singapore. It might have been a tiger that he saw, for tigers used to be found in the wild in Singapore, up until the 1930s. The Merlion is however is completely made up and was designed by Alec Fraser-Brunner, a member of the Souvenir Committee and curator of the Van Kleef Aquarium, for the logo of the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) in use from 26 March, 1964 to 1997 and has been its trademarked symbol since 20 July 1966.
Built in 1869, and originally named Edinburgh Bridge after the Duke of Edinburgh’s visit, Cavenagh Bridge is the oldest bridge in Singapore. It was named Cavenagh after the last India-appointed Governor of the Straits Settlement, Sir Orfeur Cavenagh. The Cavenagh coat of arms and original signages still stand at each end of the bridge that’s used by pedestrians today. Based on the vintage police notices that are still up, no vehicles, even cattle and horses, are allowed to cross the bridge to this date. The bridge spans the Singapore river and provides scenic views of the city’s business district. On the other hand, the close-by Anderson Bridge has a morbid past. Completed in 1910 and named after then Governor of the Straits Settlements and High Commissioner for the Federated Malay States, Sir John Anderson, the steely exterior of the bridge, before becoming part of the famous F1 street circuit, used to have severed heads of spies and criminals hanging from it during the Japanese occupation of Singapore.
Singapore is the only country in the modern world to gain independence against its own will. The late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew wanted a merger and unity. However, due to extreme political fallouts, the Malaysian parliament unanimously voted to expel Singapore, forcing the little red dot to stand as an independent and sovereign state.
From the From the 1960s to the 1990s, the government deemed long hair to be negative and detrimental to the country. Therefore, popular bands like Led Zeppelin and the Bee Gees had to cancel their Singapore tours due to the ban.
Collectively, Singaporeans are the fastest pedestrians in the world, walking at a speed of about 6.15 kilometres per hour.
Of the only five official Tintin shops in the world, one of them is in Chinatown in Singapore with the remaining four in Japan and Europe.
One can find the National Anthem of Singapore on the back of the SGD 1000 note, written in micro text.
Military service is compulsory for all male Singapore citizens and second generation permanent residents who serve for two years in active duty as full-time national servicemen (NSFs) in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Singapore Police Force (SPF) or Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), following which they transition to an operationally-ready reservist state as operationally-ready national servicemen (NSmen). Enlistees are called up after they finish their A levels or diploma, and are usually 18 years and above, though they can enlist early after they turn 16 with parental consent. As operationally ready servicemen, they need to come back for training on an annual basis as part of the reservist force until they turn 40 or complete a certain amount of training sessions.
The signature Singapore Sling, which contains gin, Cointreau, cherry brandy, Dom Benedictine, pineapple juice, Grenadine, Angostura bitters and lime, was first served at the Long Bar in Raffles Hotel in the year 1915.
Singapore as a country has grown in land size in the last decades. This is not through expansion or invasion of other countries but through land reclamation efforts which started in varying degrees, since the arrival of the British in 1822. Around 25% of Singapore today did not exist at independence and has been reclaimed from the sea to cater to industrial and population growth.
The USB flash drive that the whole world uses was invented in Singapore. Trek 2000 International came up with the thumb drive in 2000.
The Mint Museum of Toys is the world’s first museum for toy artefacts. It houses a world-class collection of over 50,000 vintage toys and collectibles, of which 8,000 are on display in the museum.
Suntec City’s Fountain of Wealth is the largest fountain in the world! Made of cast iron, it cost almost US$6 million to build in 1997.
Singapore is the only country in the world that reclaims and recycles water. The five NEWater plants meet up to 40% of the country’s current water needs.
Singaporeans speak in a mixture of languages even in a single sentence. Growing up in a multicultural society, it’s not uncommon to have friends from different races and when that happens, one tends to learn phrases from each other’s languages. So its not difficult to have people speaking multiple language in any conversation.
So here are some known and unknown facts about Singapore for those who don’t know this city. Happy birthday Singapore and may you continue to grow and prosper. Majulah Singapura!
Yesterday was Singapore’s 55th National Day and as I reminisced about my twenty odd years here, I thought back on my journey in Singapore.
I have written about my journey to become a Singaporean last year, but this post will be slightly different. 2020 is my twentieth year in Singapore and as I have mentioned previously, I could have become a Singaporean about two to three years after I got my Permanent Residency given that S is native Singaporean and BB & GG were already born who are also citizens by birth. But I wanted to make sure I was taking the right decision. When I first came to Singapore, I was quite happy with my permanent residency status and had no intention at that point to renounce my Indian citizenship. I was very proud to have been born in India, especially Mumbai (and till today, I proudly call Bombay my hometown) and since I was actually getting some of the benefits which I would have not gotten if BB & GG were not Singaporeans, there was no real hurry for me to take the next step.
As I grew used to staying in Singapore, it slowly started becoming home to me. In fact I remember a conversation with the officer at the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority when I went to get my passport stamped with my re-entry permit who was doing the stamping. She asked me why I didn’t apply for citizenship since I am married to a Singaporean and my children are also locals. I should have no problems with my application according to her. I responded saying I didn’t feel Singaporean yet and so will wait before I take such a decision. That feeling came about fifteen years into living in Singapore. I can still remember when I finally acknowledged to myself it was time to become a Singaporean not just in spirit, but officially too. I was returning back from a business trip and when the plane landed in Changi airport, the pilot (or co-pilot) said the usual welcome dialogue which SIA usually has which has something to the effect of “Welcome to Singapore and for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents, welcome home”, I realised that Singapore was indeed home for me. I also completed a new rite of passage as a Singaporean recently when I voted in the recent general elections which happened last month.
When the sight of Changi airport’s control towers says you are now home, when Singlish seems as normal as Hindi and Marathi, when Majulah Singapura means as much to you as Jana Gana Mana, it means that Singapore has become home to me now. Even though it took me about fifteen years to come to this realisation, I decided that was the time to take things to the next level and make Singapore officially my home. BB & GG were, I think, the most excited when I took this decision. I have not travelled much, especially regionally after getting my red passport, but I look forward to exploring more countries in the region. I can remember trips to Thailand and Cambodia where I had to rush to get my visa on arrival stamped in my passport while S and the children either waited for me or went ahead to collect the baggage because they had Singapore passports which ensured that they just walk out. Or even work trips where I had to get visas every single time and my colleagues usually had to wait for me before we went to collect our baggage. Pre COVID, we used to drive down to Malaysia, specifically Johor Bahru quite often to buy groceries and shop and crossing the causeway without needing a visa was so convienient.
Happy birthday Singapore! Prosper and flourish for years to come…
What’s a National Day, without a National Day song? I’ve shared my favourite NDP song, Home by Kit Chan last year, so here’s this year’s song sung by Nathan Hartano.
I am not sure if I have ever shared this, but I finally bit the bullet and became naturalised as a Singapore Citizen a couple of years back. Since today is Singapore’s 54th National Day, here’s my story.
I became a citizen after having lived here for more than 15 years and it was a decision that I didn’t take lightly. Of course, having the strong red passport which means easy travel was a big draw, but if that was the only consideration, I could have done as soon as I completed my two years as a permanent resident. Given that S is a natural citizen, and having children who are also citizens by birth, my application could not really be rejected unless it raises some serious red flags. But I waited and when the time was right, I decided to take the plunge.
There are many blogs which have the whole process documented, so I won’t document the process, but I would like to say that it really takes time. It took me six months after applying online to get a slot to meet an officer who would check my documentation, including my educational transcripts, marriage certificate and my children’s birth certificates and passports. Then, after a waiting another six months, I got the letter confirming that my application was accepted. I had to go through a three process orientation which included an online quiz, a visit to some Singapore places of interest and lastly a session at my nearest community centre.
I chose the National Museum plus the NeWater Plant for my visit. Here, I realised that for many people, this citizenship is just a means to an end. At the museum, after going through with the guide provided, we were grouped into groups according to age. I was in the second oldest age group and within our group, we were asked to finish a questionnaire which had questions about the history of Singapore, the answers to which were found in the museum. I knew the answers to almost all the questions, but when I started consulting the others in my group, I was met with shrugs. They indicated to me to answer as I see fit as they were not interested. Out of around 4-5 people in the group (excluding me), almost everyone was from a particular ethinicity and from a single country. I don’t want to take names, but most minorities in Singapore would instantly know which ethinicity and country I am referring to. I was really saddened by this as it didn’t seem to me that they are becoming Singaporean because they believe in this country, but because they just want to live in a better country and have a passport which takes them places. No emotion is involved in this decision of theirs at all. Of course this is true for people across the spectrum of ethnicities and old nationalities (including India), but at least those people can converse in English!
Anyway, back to my motivation to get naturalised. I used to tell anyone who asked when I planned on becoming a citizen (including once an immigration officer when I went to get my permanent residency extended) I used to tell it will probably happen when I stayed longer in Singapore than in India. I had been mulling over this for a few years prior to actually clicking on the application form and for me it when I realised that Singapore is now home for me! When the sight of Changi airport’s iconic tower brings relief that I am now home and most important for me is when I no longer have the deep sadness I used to have when the flight takes off in the initial days of shuttling between Mumbai and Singapore, I knew that my definition of home had changed from Mumbai to Singapore and that was when I decided that to formalise what I felt internally. I had already felt Singaporean and even spoke with the lilt associated with the local lingo and could spew Singlish like a local, so it was just natural that I also decided to call myself a Singaporean officially.
After my orientation, I had to renounce my Indian citizenship for which all I needed to do was submit a form to the Indian High Commission and then a week or so later go down and get the letter of renunciation and my old, now invalid passport. I then booked an appointment with the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority to go and formalise the process and officially become a citizen. This meant going down there and after documents were checked and after fingerprinting for the identity card is done and S signs some documents as my sponsor saying he is doing this of his own free will and not being forced, I had to take my oath of citizenship in front of a Justice of Peace. Then I got a temporary identity card and also dropped off my passport application at the same time. After around 3 months, I got a letter asking me to head down to a community centre in my constituency whose turn it was to host the citizenship ceremony where I got my citizenship certificate and pink identity card.
That was my journey in becoming a Singaporean! I think BB & GG were the most thrilled as now all of us have the same passport. I just think it was the right time to do, since I already feel Singaporean, so it’s nice to have my identity validated in the form of my pink IC and red passport! I also have the Overseas Indian Card which allows me visa-free entry to India for a lifetime (or until the policy changes) so I can travel to India on the drop of a hat!
Happy 54th birthday Singapore! May you prosper and flourish for centuries to come!
To end this post, here’s one of my favourite national day songs and the one which inspired the title of this post and one I actually used as a reference when I applied to become a Singaporean.
Yesterday marked the start of the new Lunar New Year and living in Singapore, this becomes just as important to us (and not just for the 2.5 days public holidays we get). We Lo Hei in offices and great our friends, neighbours and colleagues a Happy New Year. I’ve blogged in detail about the Chinese New Year previously, so this year, I was looking at some of the myths and legends associated with the new year that I wanted to share with you all.
The Legend of the New Year or Nian
The legend of the new year or Nian is a famous one. Long ago in the mountains, there lived a horrible demon creature named Nian. Every year, on the first day of the year, the creature would awaken and descend upon the village. He would eat all the grain and livestock. And if there were any children unfortunately stuck outside, they would disappear.
The villagers lived in fear of this beast and boarded up their houses on this night to protect their families. One year, right before this event was to occur, an old man visited the village. He turned to the villagers and asked, “Why do you fear this creature such? You are many and he is but one. Surely he could not swallow all of you.”
But the villagers remained sceptical and locked themselves up anyway. That night, Nian did not come. The old man had ridden him until dawn and the creature went back to its cave hungry. This went on for several nights until the old man revealed, “I cannot protect you forever.”
He turned out to be a god and had to return to his duties elsewhere. The villagers were terrified that once the old man left, they would once again see Nian return.
So the old man informed them, “The beast is easily scared. He does not like the colour red. He fears loud noises and strange creatures. So tonight, spread red across the village. Hang red signs on every door. Make loud noises with drums, music, and fireworks. And to protect your children, give them face masks and lanterns to protect them.” The villagers did as the old man instructed and Nian never returned again.
The Legend of Why Red Envelopes Are Given
During the Chinese New Year period, the married or the elderly give red envelopes to children or unmarried juniors. A red envelope is also called yasui qian (“suppressing Sui money”).
According to legend, on New Year’s Eve, besides the monster Nian, there was a demon named Sui that came out to terrify children while they were asleep.
It was said that the children who were touched by the demon would be too scared to cry out loud, and got a terrible fever and even became mentally unstable. To keep children safe from being harmed by Sui, parents would light candles and stay up for the whole night.
On one New Year’s Eve, in an official’s family household, the parents gave their child eight coins to play with in order to keep him awake, so as to avoid him being hurt by the demon. The child wrapped the coins in red paper, opened the packet, rewrapped it, and reopened it until he was too tired to fall asleep. Then the parents placed the packet with eight coins under his pillow.
When Sui tried to touch his head, the eight coins emitted a strong light and scared the demon away. The eight coins turned out to be eight fairies. From then on, giving red envelopes became a way to keep children safe and bring good luck.
The Legend of Why Spring Couplets Are Pasted
It is recorded that the origin of spring couplets can be dated back to 1,000 years ago when people hung taofu (written charms on peach wood) on doors.
Legend has it that there was a huge peach tree stretching for more than 1,500 kilometers on a mountain in the ghost world. To the northeast of the tree, two guards named Shentu and Yulei guarded the entrance to the ghost world. They would catch the ghosts who harmed people and then sent them to tigers as food.
Therefore, all ghosts were afraid of the two guards. It was believed that to hang a piece of peach wood with an inscription of the two guards’ names on doors could scare evil things away.
By the Song Dynasty (960-1279), people began to write two auspicious antithetical lines on the peach wood instead of the names of the two guards. Later, the peach wood was replaced by red paper, which symbolizes good luck and happiness. Since then, pasting spring couplets has been a custom to welcome the new year and express best wishes.
The Legend of the Upside Down Calligraphy
Another decoration is calligraphy. The most common word is fú, meaning happiness or fortune. But you’ll rarely see it upright.
It is said that in the Ming dynasty, the Emperor ordered every household to decorate by pasting fu onto their doors. On New Year’s Day, he sent soldiers to check. They found that one illiterate family pasted the word upside down.
The Emperor ordered the family to be punished by death. Thankfully, the Empress was there and came up with an explanation: “Upside down” (dào) is a homophone of “here” (dào). When it’s upside down, it means that fu is here.
The explanation made sense to the Emperor and he set the family free. From then on, people would hang the word upside down, both for fortune and in remembrance of the kind Empress.
The Legend of the Kitchen God and Candy
The Stove God (zào shén) is in charge of people’s meals and livelihoods. He’s one of the gods that interact with humans the most.
On the little new year (xiao nián) before the official “big” New Year (dà nián), he returns to the heavens. The Stove God reports to the Jade Emperor (yù dì), telling him how each family was during the year. He later returns to Earth to either bless or punish the families, as ordered by the Jade Emperor.
This is why families will make malt candy gourds and leave it out at night. The candy will sweeten the Stove God’s mouth so he’ll only praise the family. It can also stick his teeth together, stopping him from saying bad things. This way, the family will enjoy plentiful food the entire year.