Countdown to Chinese New Year

Happy Chinese New Year!

Being Malaysian Chinese carries along with it so many things that make up who I am. As much of a banana* that I am, so many aspects of the Chinese culture have seeped into my life. For instance, the kind of food we eat, the way we relate to our elders, etc.

Add to that the labels and expectations that are attached to being Malaysian AND Chinese, and then there is a whole added layer to what makes up my personality.

Anyway, the predominant thought over here at this moment is that I am not 100% proud of the heritage that we inherit by being Chinese (although only in part by now, since my ancestors have been on Malaysian soil for a good few generations by now), but this is who I am and I guess there must have been a reason for God to have fashioned this background that I have been born into.

This little video here, in some ways, says a lot. Never mind that it’s not about Malaysian Chinese in particular, it still reflects a lot on how the Chinese culture and mentality affects those of us who are born into this ethnicity. Notably, it speaks a lot about Chinese parenting in general: That emotionally distant, tough kind of love, the emphasis on studying hard, that inclination towards mathematics and numbers and money, that dedication to work, and sense of duty towards providing for the family.

Chinese New Year is mostly a family centred celebration. So all these things come up. All these family traditions, histories, imperfections… It is, to me, happiness tainted with a large dose of reality. The realisation that there will always be some family member that is alienated. Another who is indifferent. Yet another who tries too hard to unite everyone. All these things.

The angpaus. The hierarchy of family positions and titles. That emphasis on money. Those seemingly eternal debts: be they financial, emotional or all sorts of other in-between stuff. The polite small talk to mask the years of stories, sometimes buried out of convenience.

Hope I haven’t dampened the cheeriness of your Chinese New Year. These are just my musings. I love my parents. I like certain aspects of my Chinese heritage.I just hope to break the mould and be that bit different somehow.

Not to be that stingy, uncaring, crude person that the world might expect of me because I am inevitably Chinese. (Let’s leave the Malaysian bit for another post, another story – that too has a long list of things to be said about which is not worth delving into right now).

What’s your CNY reunion like this year? Mine’s alright, but a part of me always feels it could still be way better.

* A local slang which is used to describe a person who is Chinese but yet cannot speak/write in any of the Chinese dialects proficiently.

Cookery chat

This would not be a Malaysian blog if there was no talk of food.

Food is such a big thing for us over here. It is a means for survival, yes, but it is also a cornerstone of family life, a meeting point for friends, a catalyst for romance and many other things. We love eating out as much as we love our homemade creations.

The variety of food we consume here in Malaysia also speaks volumes about who we are as a community and the collective culture that we adopt in our daily lives.

So it’s only fitting that I should write more about this delicious aspect of my life.

In case you are clueless what it is we eat here in Malaysia, the above image is a general representation of what an average meal would look like in Malaysia. Sure, we have our noodles and roti and other fare, but in terms of staple diet, it usually comes down to rice. Or nasi, as it is called in Bahasa Malaysia.

The other two dishes you see in this photo are stir fried long beans (left) and stir fried chicken in Moroccan seasoning (right).

Stir frying is a common technique used in Chinese cooking. And since we are Malaysian Chinese, it is no exception in our household.

The great thing about stir fried dishes is that they are quick to whip up and require a very small amount of cooking oil. Cooking typically begins by heating the oil (normally about 1 tablespoon of it) and then adding in chopped garlic, shallots or onions into the mix, letting it sizzle for a moment before other ingredients are added to the pan. The order of ingredients that are thrown is would probably be decided based on which one would require a longer cooking time, eg mushrooms would go in earlier, and things like spring onions (which can be even eaten raw) are put in last. Both veggie and meat dishes can be prepared with the stir fry method.

The cooking time is short, but preparing the ingredients needed for a stir fry dish can sometimes be quite time consuming, especially if there are many different parts to put together. For instance, there would usually be a sauce mixture, meat might need to be marinated a bit earlier, and each additional ingredient would need to be chopped separately before being combined into the pan or wok later on.

Another frequent feature of Chinese meals is soup. This is usually clear soup, not the creamy kind you tend to see on a Western menu. The best tasting Chinese soups are double boiled and are left to cook for hours so it is more flavourful. These methods rarely take place in our home. The fact that a bowl of soup could be prepared at all is already something to be thankful for. My husband isn’t too fond of Chinese style soups, so that makes me even less motivated to make soup. I love it though, and if time permitted, I’d ensure there was one at the table each time we dined.

In our home, we also have an oven, 2 slow cookers and an air fryer to depend on for preparing our main meals. Other ancillary appliances include a blender, food processor, bread machine and sandwich maker.

The air fryer was the latest addition to the kitchen arsenal and it is serving us well. Tell me, who doesn’t like fried chicken after all?

Besides the Chinese dishes, we also often cook Indian curries and sometimes also try out Malay dishes like rendang or assam pedas. We also love Western food, so every week there is usually at least one meal of this nature. Examples of stuff we have whipped up in the past include shepherd’s pie, pasta, pizza and sandwiches.

Oh, and breakfast menu is normally simpler fare as compared to lunch and dinner. Bread or cereal is often what we resort to. Sometimes we’d have pancakes, muffins or steamed Chinese sponge cake too. I’m hoping to incorporate more options into the list of breakfast choices. In particular, some roti and pau and maybe some kuih and rice or pasta options too. But that might take awhile to work out, since it needs some prior planning and food preparation.

With our son around, we have also been making efforts to vary the items on our diet as much as we can afford to. So we have at least two types of meat every week, with chicken being the staple as it is the cheapest option available.

Fresh fruits are also served up on a daily basis in our home. I usually serve them over breakfast. But on lazier or less organised days, they creep into the lunch or tea time menu instead. Sometimes, they would be made into juice instead. But since this involves using the blender, that means more cleaning up so it isn’t as often as I’d like it to be.

I guess I shouldn’t cram too much information and stories into just ONE post. I’ll share more about our kitchen capers in subsequent posts.

I’d love to hear about what your daily meals are like though. Especially if you’re residing somewhere other than these Malaysian shores. Drop me a comment if you can 🙂

Choosing to be a Work-At-Home Mum

I could be wrong, but I personally feel that only a really small percentage of people out there truly understand what it means to be a work-at-home parent.

Say that you are in full time employment, describe the main responsibilities of your job in a few sentences, and you will have others nodding their heads. They can imagine how you pass your days. They conclude that you are living your life productively.

Or tell people you are a stay-at-home parent, and they will envision house chores and self managed childcare. They might still make wrong assumptions about what your daily routine is like, and may overestimate the actual amount of free time you have, but they will at least have a somewhat concrete idea of what you would possibly be doing on a day-to-day basis.

But tell someone that you are a Work-At-Home Mum (WAHM) and I believe they can’t really reconcile what it is that you do at all. The concept eludes them. You are either a plain vanilla housewife, or you work like the rest of them and usher in hard earned money that’s needed to keep your family alive. But WAHM? How does that even work?

What’s horrible about this is that I often feel the need to justify what I do. While in conversation with others about my WAHM status, I often tend to emphasise the fact that I do work, even while caring for my son at home. They may not have actually asked about this, but I will be anxious to point it out, as though it is terribly idle of me to only be focussing on house chores and being available to my son. This feels like a terribly wrong thing to happen. But it keeps turning out this way.

Let me illustrate my point. Here’s an example or two of how a chat with a friend might go:

Friend : So, you’re taking care of your son at home full time now?

Me : Err yeah… and I also do freelance writing too.

Or this…

Friend : So, what do you do every day nowadays?

Me : Well, I am at home, taking care of my son… and I try to work at the same time too.

I got asked a similar kind of question again recently. So I figured maybe it’s about time I wrote about this. Maybe it will lend some clarity to my thoughts so that next time, I can explain it all much better to someone else.

And perhaps it may benefit you, my reader, in ways I cannot yet comprehend. It might somehow be useful to you to know what a WAHM does, or why a woman might become one in the first place. Who am I to know?

So, without further ado, let me tell you about why I am a WAHM and what this means for my life.

Our reasons

While waiting for the arrival of our son into the world, my husband and I had many good chats about what we would like our family life to be like. We talked about childcare options, hit some dead ends, and concluded that, based on the options we had and our personal sentiments towards it all, that me becoming a WAHM would be a feasible choice.

One of our main reasons for arriving at this conclusion is that we felt uneasy about sending our son to a daycare or to hire a babysitter to look after him. Babies are incapable of communicating to you whether they have been well cared for or whether there has been an abuse of some form taking place, so rather than have to worry about all that, we felt we would rather that one of us be at home to take care of him.

Another reason why we went with this WAHM decision was that we wanted to be available to our son. That when he reaches out for help or wants company or any other need he may face at this early stages of his life, we would be the ones there to meet those needs. Sure, any other adult whom we appoint could stand in and do the same thing for us in the daytime, leaving us free to carry on with our jobs as before, but it would not be the same as if it were us, his very own parents, being there for him.

And just so you know, my husband and I are the type that evenly shares out responsibilities such as house chores. We also make a lot of decisions together rather than dividing up tasks and managing them independent of one another. So the process of pregnancy, delivery and child raising has always been something we were both actively involved in, as it has been for other aspects of our life together.

The decision that it should be me quitting my job and not him was mostly because he earns a better salary than I do. Also, the nature of my career lends itself to better freelance work options than his.

So that is what we went for and our rationale for it.

Another thing to add here is that we are not rich. Surviving on a single income as a family is scary, given the economic situation of our country at the moment. In some ways, I felt that it would help compensate for my loss of full time employment to a certain extent if I at least were to try and work on a part time or freelance basis. I also wanted a backup in case somewhere along the line my husband is unable to work or cannot secure a job.

Work arrangements

To give you some background, prior to becoming a mother and quitting my full time job, I was a journalist. So, when I transitioned to freelance work, I naturally wanted to take on writing jobs. Which I did.

Initially, I managed to get some journo gigs too; not just for my former employer, but also for other publications. It felt good, because I thought I would not be totally giving up on my skills and earning power.

But as time went on, I found it was getting harder to do journalism work while having my son in tow. For one, I doubt most interviewees would fancy a bubbly little toddler frequently interrupting their conversation with me. Being on time for appointments would also be a challenge with a tiny tot around. Then there was the arduous task of transcribing which would require a significant amount of time and focus; something I do not have enough of most days. And this is not even taking into account the actual writing process yet.

So I resorted to changing things up a bit and only accepting certain types of writing work.

Currently, this means only taking up copywriting or PR related work. In some ways, the returns are better than journalism assignments actually. But the nature of the writing involved is rather dull. So, in other words, it’s mostly about making the moola and little else.

Daily duties

Before I end off this post, a little on what I do every day.

Just like your average SAHM, I have my lion’s share of house chores and childcare related tasks to tackle all the time. I think you can roughly imagine what that might involve: Laundry, doing dishes, making meals, tidying up after my child, bathing, feeding, etc.

And then there’s the ongoing demands of my toddler to manage too. Like when he wants me to play with him. Or he wants to engage me in conversation. Or he has lost a random toy that he absolutely cannot do without. The thing about a young child is they do not understand the concept of waiting too well so they will likely want a response from you straight away. And to top it all off, they have no inkling of whether the current activity you are doing is urgent or otherwise, so they will just interrupt you anytime they need you. Which means your attention gets divided a lot and things you are working on often get abandoned halfway.

Many times, I’ll have a few tasks running and at various stages of completion during any given time of the day. It’s a bit maddening and takes some getting used to. The fact that your priority list has to keep getting adjusted to suit the demands of the hour. Consider it like a job which requires you to do a lot of ad-hoc tasks. Or one where you could be on call at any hour of the day.

Then comes the actual paid work bit. As with any other form of work, there are clients to please. This means deadlines and promises to keep. A certain degree of discipline to get work tasks done, regardless of whatever else is happening in the realms of house chores and your child’s wants and needs.

Oh, and I think it’s worth mentioning too that since these are freelance gigs, you will very often be dealing with new clients. And with every new one, there’s that long, arduous task of getting acquainted, familiarising with their communication and work styles, and negotiating the entire work agreement. This is in itself VERY TIRING and the part I am least excited about when it comes to freelancing.

Now, what does working at home look like?

Having my tablet or handphone always close by, and keeping an eye out for any messages or emails coming in which are about work. Replying them within a 24 hour timeframe (this is a work ethic I set for myself).

Planning ahead to finish work with some buffer in terms of time, because you can never tell when something unexpected will happen at home that will knock your work schedule off its course. Example: Child/spouse/yourself falling sick.

Working at any time of the day and at any corner of the home (toilet included), no matter how ridiculous it might be, as long as it’s a span of time which is fairly uninterrupted so that you can actually think properly and produce relatively good quality work. This also sometimes requires staying up when you want to sleep. Foregoing naps you desperately need. Ignoring the child in the background who keeps inviting you to play. Putting off your own meals till later and then (potentially) suffering gastric from the folly of your actions.

I hope this gives you a glimpse into what my life is like as a WAHM. If it is beneficial for you, I will attempt to talk about this experience more in future posts. Let me know what you’d like to know more about and I’ll do my best to put it into words to help you out.

Perhaps you are considering going down a similar path. Or would like to better understand your neighbour, relative or friend who dons the WAHM label. If something I have already been through would be useful for you to learn from, I’d be happy to share.

Anyway, I really glad to have had you stop by, and hope you enjoyed reading this.

CNY again

Chinese New Year decor at a mall in PJ.
So we’re midway through Chinese New Year (CNY) already. Or for the picky ones, Lunar New Year. 

To be honest, I find that the older I get, the more I find that I don’t feel much of anything for this entire festive season at all. 

Well, for starters, since our family are Christians, we don’t observe much of the rituals surrounding CNY. We just celebrate it for the fact that it’s part of our cultural background. So a lot of hustle and bustle is already cut out of the equation. 

Then, there’s the current situation with my extended family where no one really gets together for Chinese New Year anymore, with the exception of the few that we usually reach out to and make an effort to meet. There’s no massive family gathering like there used to be in years past. It’s a bit sad, really, but that’s how things have been ever since the passing of my last surviving grandparent (on my Mum’s side of the family).  

Even amongst my cousins, the closeness really isn’t there. Well, truth be told, even if we did meet up over the CNY period, it would feel somewhat pointless since we don’t connect at all during other times. Like it would be just something we do for the sake of keeping up appearances. Or something along those lines. 

That’s for my own family. With Deric’s family, it’s even worse because we only meet his cousins. His father has passed on, and his mother isn’t even in the country. 

So there is no balik kampung for us. There isn’t anything to look forward to during CNY for us actually. 

It’s just that now that we’ve got Jamie around, there’s angpaus to be collected whenever we meet friends and family. But that’s about all there is to it. 

Oh, and of course, we have to prepare our own set of angpaus to hand out to other children too. And to have gift packs ready to cart along for visits to homes. 

Last but not least, there’s that stash of Mandarin oranges we habitually will buy and consume over the CNY season. 

But that’s that. That’s our CNY. 

I guess you could say it doesn’t necessarily mean if we had big family gatherings and lots of family activities over the CNY that things would be any cheerier. I do know of some people who dread meeting their relatives as they aren’t really the sort of people that they’d like to hang around with in the first place. And whenever there’s older folks around, there’s bound to be lots of unsolicited advice and nagging and awkward situations. 

Oh well. We Chinese ARE a complicated bunch of folks after all.  I bet every Chinese family has their own brand of domestic drama to contend with. 

I’m generalising, definitely, but it’s mostly true though: We’re loud, money minded, food centric and steeped in loads of tradition. 

Speaking of tradition, I’d really like to build our own set of CNY traditions to observe with our little immediate family, but I haven’t really got round to thinking what that should look and feel like. It doesn’t help that my husband isn’t the kind to get into the spirit of things during any festive season (even Christmas, I might add). 

But it’d be nice to, someday, see the kids excited to usher in CNY and bustling about the home making cookies, decorating the hall, etc. 

Kids, I say. We only have one son at the moment. I dream plenty. I wonder whether we’ll ever get there. 

Since we’re on the topic of CNY, I might as well address my sentiments about being Chinese. To be honest, I have mixed feelings about my racial heritage (the other bit about being Malaysian is another story altogether, which probably will warrant a separate post of its own). 

I like that as a Chinese, the general perception people will have of you is that you are hardworking. Also, the fact that the Chinese have a long history of success to their name and are regarded as being very resilient, able to survive and thrive anywhere that they are found all across the globe. 

But that’s probably as far as my Chinese pride goes. 

I’m not so happy to acknowledge that being Chinese means also being associated with being frugal , conniving and selfish. Being perceived as having an attitude of looking down on others that are of a lower socioeconomic standing than you are. Being loud and brash, inconsiderate towards the needs of other races in the community. 

I guess the only saving grace I have going for me is that I am not from China (or not anymore, anyway, since my ancestors had migrated years ago) and was born and raised a Malaysian. 

What does it mean that I am a Malaysian though? That’s something worth pondering. I will need to think more about this and come back at a later date to write a decent discussion about this. 

Does the world think anything good of Malaysians anyway? Do they remember anything about us and our nation other than the curious incidences of disappearing planes and the fascinating array of food we have to offer our guests? 

Oh, this post is such a disjointed collage of my thoughts. I should take my leave now.