BBC Radio Interview – Chinese New Year 2008

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Wai Yee Hong Chinese SupermarketAllison Chow chats to Sophie Oliver from BBC Radio Bristol about Chinese New Year and what it means to the Chinese community. Click below to hear the interview, alternatively a transcript has been provided below:

Interview Transcript:

Allison Chow: Well, it’s how the moon is circling the Earth. That’s what they say.

Sophie Oliver: So you have an extra month to do things in a year, sometimes?

AC: Yes. Some years you have 13 months. Every four years you get one year’s extra month.

SO: So, do you go on holiday for a month, in that year?

AC: Oh no! You still work!

SO: Or is it a chance to earn more money in a year?

AC: Not really, no! But they say that when there’s a leap year like that, it’s good for marriage. They say that if you marry in a leap year it lasts longer; you get a more happy married life.

SO: Fascinating facts from Allison there, but there was one question I was here to ask: So what do you do on your New Year?

AC: Now obviously, we have a New Year’s Eve like you do. We have a New Year’s Eve, which you have a traditional family gathering dinner and the dishes contain certain items like: Must have chicken, must have fish, must have lots of vegetables and also lotus roots. Lotus roots, the Chinese name is ‘lian’. So ‘lian ngau’, that is the name of the lotus root. They are superstitious; they say that ‘you’ll have something for the year’. And you’ll always end with a dessert like rice balls. They say the rice ball is round, you round up your year!

SO: Oh how lovely!

AC: So that is what we call a New Year’s Eve dinner, family dinner, when the whole family sit down together to eat. On the first day of the New Year, the Chinese say that you must not kill, so you shouldn’t have any meat. Nowadays, people have changed; their beliefs have changed. When I was young, we were not allowed to eat any meat on New Year’s Day. We had to have vegetables, candies or whatever, but no meat. The second day of the New Year, you should have a feast. It’s the day that you open up the New Year. You have all sorts, you’d have anything, but always start off with a nice chicken. I don’t know why, but my grandma always cooked us a nice dinner with chicken, fish and lots of vegetables!

SO: So how many days is the New Year?

AC: We celebrate 15 days.

SO: Wow!

AC: Yes! 15 days!

SO: Do you have things that you do over each day?

AC: They say that, well, you should but they don’t do it now: The first day, we don’t kill, second day is open day, which means we can eat anything, so we eat meat. On the third day, you should not have a row with anybody. And then, normally, we do visitings during the New Year. It goes up to the tenth day, normally. We go and visit people; family, relatives. I used to go to my nan’s on the second day of the New Year, or the fourth day, but never the third.

SO: Never the third.

AC: Because they say the third day of the New Year, you go out and you have a row, so you stay at home!

SO: So you stay in, away from everyone!

AC: And the seventh day, they say, is everybody’s birthday. There are not big celebrations but the seventh day, it’s always nice to sit down, everybody’s birthday!

SO: Do you buy presents for each other?

AC: No! We give lai see, the Chinese red envelope. You give them to kids, but if you are married, you don’t deserve one! Sorry! You should be the one to give them! Give it to the younger children. But nowadays you give it to relative children, rather than anybody you see, but the olden days the whole street you know everybody, you will give it to their children. So, close friends and family, that’s where you give the lai see.

SO: And what is the lai see?

AC: Lai see is a little red pocket envelope, they don’t put a lot of money in it, nowadays you put £1, £2, whatever. For close family, like a Christmas present you probably put a bit more. But for young kids, you just give them a little pocket money for the day, for the year.

SO: So is there anything else after the seventh day then?

AC: Now, the fifteenth day is the Chinese Valentine’s day. The fifteenth day of the New Year, is the Chinese Valentines day, where they have lanterns. In the streets and the squares, they have all these lanterns. They try to attract girlfriends and boyfriends, in the olden days. Nowadays, how they celebrate that, they also eat rice balls, sweet rice balls. They say it’s sweet and it’s sticky because the rice balls are made from sticky rice, and they stick together.

SO: Aw, nice!

AC: It’s good isn’t it? It’s nice! And they always play with lanterns on that day because what they do is on the lanterns they have little poems. And the girls meet the boys, and the boys meet the girls, they have different poems, and they start talking to each other.

SO: That’s so sweet, so romantic!

AC: Yes, that’s our Valentines day on the 15th of January, Our January, not your January!

SO: So it’ll be our 22nd this year because it starts on the 7th, doesn’t it? Your New Year, this year?

AC: So, plus 15

SO: So on the 22nd, we can all celebrate Chinese Valentines day.

AC: Yes! Didn’t you know that?

SO: I’m looking forward to it!

AC: Something new you know everyday!

SO: I didn’t really know much at all about Chinese New Year until I spoke to Allison and found out all those really interesting facts, but another thing that I find I always like to learn, is the language, so I asked Allison a bit about Cantonese.

SO: How do I say Happy New Year?

AC: Gong hei fat choi.

SO: Gong hei fat choi.

AC: That means I wish you health and wealth.

SO: Gong hei fat choi.

AC: Yes. You see everybody in the street on the Chinese New Year’s day, they say gong hei fat choi.

SO: Gong hei fat choi.

AC: It doesn’t matter you know them, you don’t know them. It’s like a simple hello for Chinese New Year.

SO: Yeah. And what about hello, how are you?

AC: Lai ho. That means how are you. But we don’t really say ‘hi’ we just say lai ho.

SO: Lai ho

AC: Yes, lai ho.

SO: Lai ho

AC: Sometimes, in mandarin, they say ni hau.

SO: Ni hau, or lai ho?

AC: Lai ho, lai ho is Cantonese. But they all understand!

SO: And what about, how would you say I’m good, I’m fine.

AC: Ho ho.

SO: Ho ho?

AC: Yeah, doh tse.

SO: Doh tse.

AC: Thank you!

SO: Doh tse! Ah! Lovely! So, what is coming up in your New Year celebrations?

AC: Now, in our premises, we are having a dragon and unicorn dance at about 10:30 on the 10th of February, Sunday. We will start off with a firecracker. They say the firecracker is to frighten the devils away. So, we are going to frighten all the devils away, and then welcome the New Year with a dragon dance.

SO: Lovely.

AC: Oh, must mention this, the dragon dance people are very nice, I don’t know if you have heard of the Ng hairdressers down at Gloucester road. Matthew, he trained these little kids, I think they range from 8 years old to 12 years old, and they are having a little dragon to do the dance for us, and I thought that it is very very nice. You must come, everybody welcome! Everybody welcome! It’ll be right outside the front door. Just pop in, and you can see them. And also, I was told that there will be a money god visiting us on that day as well, so we hope that he will bring everyone lots of money and lots of health and lots of wealth!

SO: So get down here 10:30 in the morning on the 10th February. Thanks Allison.

AC: You’re welcome!

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