This article describes the memoirs of the first 12 Grand Children of Chong Soon Fan where most of them had lived together and grew up together. The events mainly took place in the bungalow, the house of Chong Soon Fan in Menglembu, opposite the Man Wah Primary School in the late 1950s to early 1960s. Not long after the 1963, the elder Grand Children of Chong Soon Fan began to study in tertiary institutions. All the 12 grandchildren have either studied abroad or are now residing abroad.
Chinese New Year (CNY) was an important event in the family. From the children’s point view, it was a time to get something new and cash from the ang pows. In those days, the family did not spend too much money on new clothes or shoes and that only occurred during Chinese New Year.
During the eve of CNY, the family gathered together to have a reunion meal. Married daughters usually brought their husbands and children back to Menglembu, the headquarters of the Family of Chong Soon Fan. The cousins living in Menglembu, would anxiously wait to see their cousins from interstate. After the family meal, done in 3 batches of 12 were taken, the grandchildren would play with each other and renewing their relationship with each other. The night also led to the praying to the heavenly god (Tian Gong) around midnight, led by the matriarch of the family.
On the first day of CNY (Lin Chor Yat), it was a tradition to remain at home and not visit relatives. The visiting of relatives or the beginning of the ang pow trail started on Day 2 of the CNY. Hence on Day 1 morning, all grandchildren would line up and greet the Patriarch “Kung Hee Fatt Choy” and in return, each grandchildren was given an ang pow. In the 1950s, each ang pow contained a crisp new one dollar note. The sons and daughters of Chong Soon Fan got more than this and it was never revealed to the children who got what. It was not polite to ask.
Later in the morning, the Lion Dance troupes would arrive. They came to take the “green”, (a green “sang chow”) with the ang pow tied together. The Lion would first come into the house and bow to the God that was in the dining room and then back tracked to the front door. Firecrackers (big ones) were lit and this time, the Lion would take the green which was hung under the porch. The grandchildren will then wait for the next Lion Dance troupe to come.
On the second day of the CNY, the whole entourage of grandchildren in 2-3 packed cars did the customary route to get rich from their relatives. Most of the visits were to the sons and daughters of Foo Choon Yit, ie. the Matriarch’s siblings. Great Grand Mother (Mrs Foo Choon Yit) was first on the list (including 6th & 7th Grand Uncles) in Greentown, followed by 1st Grand Uncle (Foo) in Belfield Street, 2nd Grand Aunty(Lim) in Greentown, 3rd Grand Aunty (Khoo) Greentown, 3nd Grand Uncle (Foo) in Gopeng Road and 5th Grand Uncle (Foo) in Jalan Pasir Puteh.
In some years, the grandchildren also visited Grand Uncle Foo Yet Kai, a cousin of the Matriarch. At these visits, the grandchildren were well dressed and put on a good behaviour to show the relatives that they have manners. After saying the magic words, the ang pows flowed in and went straight into the pockets. A smile emanated from ear to ear. After all, the grandchildren appreciated cash and it was the only time of the year where you can get cash without doing any work. Cash was not the only things that the kids got from their relatives but food and soft drinks (F&N stuff) went into their hollow legs. Third Grand Aunty was best known for her “western” baked cakes.
Prior to New Year, the whole family were involved in making crispy wafers which wrapped like a fan (keuy ban cake – in Hokkien). Firstly, the cars were removed from the garage, a piece of metal roof was place on the concrete floor and hot charcoal was laid on the metal. A metal grill was put on top of the charcoal to allow the frying pan to rest above the burning charcoal. The pan was a special design frying contraption made up of 2 metal piece joined together like a set of pliers. Each had a 6 inch diameter round pan with etched patterns and was joined to a metal handle about 2 feet long. The two pieces were joined together next to the rounded pan which could be opened and closed by pulling the handles apart or together respectively.
After initial heating of the pan, it was opened and a scoop of flour mixture was placed on the pan. The pan was then closed by putting the 2 handles together and the excess flour mixture (with fresh coconut milk) ran back to the mixture container. The flour mixture was cooked in less than one minute with the frying pan turned once over. The pan was then withdrawn from the charcoal fire, opened and the cooked flat rounded cake (soft and ‘malleable when hot) was placed on a flat surface where someone would then wrapped it into a fan shape by folding it twice. If you were not careful, you could burn your figures. The cake hardens when cooled and it was tasty (coconut flavour) and crispy.
As an aside about working for money, one of the senior grandchildren told me that he was earning good cash buying wholesale cigarettes and selling it to the Uncles and Aunties who smoked (profit -$1 per cartoon of cigarette – 10 packs). He also said that as a courier in the number rackets (before they became legitimate), one can get 10% commission for every dollar gambled.
Gambling was “verboten” (forbidden) for the grandchildren but this ban was lifted during the 14 days of the Chinese New Year. Everyone in the family played the cards (except the Patriarch) and two games were usually the favourite, the 3 cards or 21 points. Winners were happy but losers were miserable, but that’s life. Some of them were careful gamblers and set a budget for losing no more than $5.00 for the gambling season.
Aside from gambling, the male grandchildren were allowed to drink some brandy. In the early 1960s, one young and foolish teenage grandson challenged his uncle (a regular drinker) to a duel on the brandy. He was knocked out after consuming half a bottle of brandy and he was out for the rest of the day. He was so sick that day that he vowed never to get drunk ever again.
Some of the traditional New Year rules about ang pow were followed. Only children and unmarried adults get it from their seniors whilst married people got to pay to all their nieces and nephew and unmarried junior siblings., There were also auspicious rules about the sum of money, in the ang pows, and preferably with similar double digit, ie. 2x20c, $1.10, $2, $8 or $10. The gross intake per grandchild averaged $20 (big money!). What was left in the pockets after Chinese New Year went straight into the children’s bank account and most of them had an account with Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank in Belfield Street, Ipoh. You were not allowed to have those dollars burning a hole in your pocket.
The children of relatives also came to pay respects to the Patriarch and they also received ang pows. The other popular pastime was lighting fire crackers. Cheap ones were little firecrackers and sparklers but the big ones were expensive. They were all made in China even till today.