How do average-earners manage for CNY?

Chinese Malaysians will celebrate the Lunar New Year (more popularly known as Chinese New Year here) on February 10, 2013.

As the Chinese New Year (CNY) celebration is rich with culture and tradition, a meaningful celebration invovles  substantial spending.

With the rising cost of living going up every year, some Chinese Malaysians are trying their best to manage their expenses to have a meaningful CNY and yet keep low their expense.

Citizen Journalists Malaysia (CJMY) spoke to a few celebrants on how they manage to cope.

Penang lawyer Lynette Quah Richards, 33, has two young sons, age 5 and 9 months.

She compared the cost of living during that of her parents time and hers. She said that her parents were school teachers and proud owners of two landed properties and had raised five children.

“I am a lawyer, yet I’m struggling to pay the mortgage for a 1000 sq ft apartment.

“I have only 2 children, not by choice, but by circumstances, as raising children these days need, realistically, money.

“Such is the cost of living today,” she said.

“During my parents’ time, people would give RM2.00 for  ‘angpow’.

“Today people give RM10.00 minimum for Ang Pau and this is not something everyone can afford.

“We as kids used to have new clothes from first day of CNY to Chap Goh Meh.

“Our parents were decked in new clothes as well (they still do),” she said.

Lynnette explained how fewer ringgit brought lesser joy to kids these days.

“Well, sorry lah, we don’t give RM10 angpow but just RM4 and some children will rudely comment that it is too little in front of us!

“As for clothes, my children will be lucky if friends buy them new clothes, otherwise they make do with hand-me-downs.

“As for myself and my husband, we ‘recycle’ clothes from previous years, hoping that no one notice that we have worn those clothes before.

“These are hand-me-downs were from better off relatives,” Lynnette said.

On food and fireworks Lynnette has made some modifications too.

Lynnette who tries her best to skimp on the reunion dinner said to make CNY meaningful, they go back to basics – love and family.

“For the reunion dinner we have smaller prawns, mushrooms instead of abalones, chicken pieces instead of fish.

“We eat at home instead of in restaurants.

“After all, the camaraderie of preparing the dishes at home is still more meaningful than being served by waiters in a restaurant.”

As Lynette is a Christian who celebrates Christmas, she said that for CNY decoration, she just ‘recycles’ the Christmas tree.

“I will just take down the Christmas ornaments and put up my little tanglungs and angpow packets on the tree, instead of buying those expensive fake cherry blossom tree.

“We teach our children to enjoy fireworks lit up by neighbours and play hopscotch in the CNY evenings, instead of buying the overpriced smuggled firecrackers sold illegally by the roadsides,” she said.

Other parents refuse to compromise tradition and make sure their children still receive new clothes.

Irene See, 45, a teacher from Kedah is more generous on clothes towards her two sons, 13 and 7.

Although she noticed a price hike for clothes but she said since she has only two children therefore it is fine to splurge on clothes once a year.

“Last year I spent about RM150 for a pair of shoes, a shirt and pants for my younger boy but this year the shoes alone costs me RM169, a shirt RM109 and a three quarter pants, RM129.90.” she said.

Irene See and her family.

“However, I would not blame the price hikes on the country as I am myself to be blamed for this situation.”

“You see, my son’s taste has been upgraded this year. Instead of Kikilala, my seven-year-old Gary, wants US Polo for his clothes and the latest Adidas shoes.

“My elder son, Shaun who has never been brand conscious has started to request for certain ones this year.”

She is also generous with angpow and said that her highest expenses for the CNY is the angpow as she spent more than RM3000.

“That adds up to near half my paycheck!” she mused.

She went on to explain that being a Chinese, CNY is an important family event for both sides of her family who are in in different parts of Malaysia.

Travelling from Alor Setar to Johor Bahru takes up a whole day, so instead of visiting her parents during CNY, she goes home during the year-end break and this seems to savec ost on travelling.

As for cookies and other delicacies, although she heard her sisters in laws complaining on the price hike, she does not feel the pinch as both of her  kids are not into these types of food.

Beside saving on cookies, she also save on food for reunion dinner.

“As for reunion dinner, we will be eating at my parents in law’s place.

“Every year, a friend of mine will give me about a kilo of big prawns, a couple kilos of squid and a fish or two.

“All these will be contributed to the reunion dinner.

“Some of my students’ parents are fishermen and on certain lucky days, I could buy fresh seafood from them at a special price,” she said with a smile.

ML Koh, 54, with two grown working children lament that the  rising costs has been on going since a couple of years back with no sign of any letting-up.

She said, “Instead every year, I feel the cost keep rising.

“During festive seasons, the basics will go up even more – why?”

“However, we manage  by buying only  the basics and necessities and cut down or totally cut out on non-essentials.”

Thomas Chua, a retired school teacher from Kedah, does not placed much importance on CNY since he said he is a Catholic convert.

“I look for the spiritual aspect of the CNY as it simply marks the beginning of a new Lunar,” he said.

“It is simply a strongly cultural, traditional, pseudo-religious festival of the Chinese.

“I have never adhered to the strict observance of the festival at all, especially those that promises to usher in good luck.

“Some examples are the buying of miniature lime tree, the hanging of red cloths and lanterns.

“I also do not adhere to the consumption of special types of food for the CNY.”

Thomas, however, admits that prices of food essentials like butter, egg, seafood, meat are increasing but he said that hawkers also take the opportunity to raise the price of their food, giving the CNY as an excuse.

“It is a viscous circle. People who could afford, somehow feel a bit more generous around the CNY and do not complain about the increase.

“I do symphatise with the low income families who try to strictly adhere to the festival.

“They are badly affected and all the more because they are constricted by observances and expectations,” he said.

Soo Wan Poon

Soo Wan Poon, a 62 years old retired lady, with one children. informed CJMY that nornally, every year, she is very anxious to welcome the CNY and get prepared well in advance the ‘must-have’ cookies but for this year she left that at the very last minute.

She said “I bumped into friends and I heard nothing but complaints that the prices have increased for all CNY stuff,  like cookies, oranges, ‘yee-sang’ (raw fish),  drinks (packet and canned), decorative cut pictures and others.  Some are up by 10% and others more – between 15-50%.

“Coming from a family that is typically traditional Cantonese, there are a number of taboo that I stick to since from my childhood. The ‘must have’ menu for the reunion dinner is chicken, meat, prawns, fish, vegetarian dish comprising of mushroom  and others. Instead of having our reunion in a restaurant my family had unanimously agreed that we will have something different this year yet not discounting the ‘must have’s’. We still have all the ‘goodies’ except each individual will cook their own dishes in the house – we will have Steam Boat !”

On the first day of CNY, they will take vegetarian food, catered from one of the temples in town. They had been doing this for the past years.  It will be a ‘neat and simple’ meal for them, with just one main dish – vegetarian fried ‘bee hoon’ and two different types of Malay kueh.

Vegetarian dishes are served on the first day of the New Year and these were catered from one of the temples in town for the past years.  It will be very ‘neat and simple’ on 10Feb. There will be only one main dish and that is Vegetarian fried ‘Mee Hoon’ (to be done by one of the local stalls) and two different types of ‘Malay kueh’.

“Oh yeah, coming back to the cookies, we  waited till almost the last minute (about a week or so before the New Year) to shop for the mandatory items like the Mandarins oranges, cookies and snacks (nuts and crackers) . The supermarkets were competing to throw prices very much to the delight of the consumers. We managed to grab a number of items at good bargain very much to our delight – a few boxes of mandarins, cookies at 30% discount, snacks and the wet stuff etc.

“I am ready to usher in the Year of the Snake and I feel happy and satisfied I have not omitted any of the important items.”

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