26 January 2009

Sun Lien Fai Lok - a letter to The Kitchen God

First in importance among Chinese Festivals is the celebration of Sun Lien - Chinese New Year, which begins one week before the old year ends, and when the God of the Kitchen Jao Jun ascends to heaven to report to Sheung Duy, Almighty God - The jade Emperor, all the virtues and vices of each member of the family.

So, on the twenty-third day of the of the Twelfth Moon, the family gathers before the picture of the Kitchen God which is pasted upon the kitchen chimney of every home. Accompanied by the sound of noisy popping of firecrackers, which are supposed to chase the evil spirits away, the family worships him and then smears his lips with molasses and other sticky sweets. This is to induce him to speak nothing but good, or to seal his lips so thoroughly that he will not be able to utter anything evil.

Then the picture is taken down, placed upon a chariot or horse made of reeds and paper, and brought to the principal courtyard with great ceremony. With even greater ceremony, the Kitchen God upon his horse or chariot is burned, and in this way he rises to swiftly on his spiritual way to Heaven.

On the thirtieth day of the Twelfth Moon the family gathers around the kitchen furnace once more; this time to welcome the return of the God to the kitchen with displays of delicious food and the cheerful sound of firecrackers. The new and gaudy picture of the Kitchen God is pasted upon the chimney and prayers are offered to encourage his generosity and good will during the New Year.

This period of celebration reaps a world of good, for it promotes benevolence and reunions. People in their best finery pay their respects to parents, grandparents, friends, acquaintances, and deceased ancestors. Kindnesses are shown to one and all, and petty quarrels are patched up. Also before the breaking of dawn of the New Year, all debts are settled. This is to insure the saving of the face of the borrower and to bring good fortune to him and his family during the coming year.

Doreen Yen Hung Feng, The Joy of Chinese Cooking, 1964

Dear Jao Jun, honoured Kitchen God,

I hope that you had a comfortable and swift journey to the court of the Jade Emperor preceding the New Year and that when you reached heaven that you were welcomed with a great and sumptuous banquet, filled with your favourite and most auspicious dishes.

I look forward to your return to my kitchen today and want to apologise in advance for the state of disarray that will greet you. Brace yourself.

Unfortunately you will return amidst the stink of acrid fumes. The smell of bitter herbs is emanating from my brewing of Traditional Chinese Medicine, that I hope will eradicate my symptoms of Polycystitic Ovarian Syndrome. I have faith in Professor Lo's skill, as you may recall he fixed my spinal issues and restored my ability to walk unassisted with months of nasty brews, that you too were subjected to.

I hope that by employing his knowledge of herbs we might conceive a child in the year of the Ox, but ultimately it is in the hands of the Jade Emperor. If it is not in my destiny, so be it. At least, by taking the herbal mass of seaweed, crab apples, roots, branches, bark, spices and tubers, the elimination of the symptoms will bring great comfort to me.

As you cast your eye across the household you will be disappointed. It is a mess. I failed in your absence to clean and tidy the house as I should. I have been working until 7pm, returning home to cook and then working again until midnight or later. There has been no time. Forgive me.

Mr Stickyfingers boxes of goods destined for eBay are still cluttering the entry to the house and the rooms after a more than a year, and you will find that they have been joined by boxes of the detritus removed from his office pod at Telstra following his redundancy. We are drowning in clutter. Grandmother would not have approved and would have shot me one of her 'dragon looks'.
I know. I am ashamed. It's very poor Feng Shui.

In your report of our household to the Jade Emperor is there a chance that you were benevolent, in spite of the chaos of the home? Is it possible that you overlooked certain things in favour of other efforts?

In the year of The Rat you will have witnessed that I was concentrating on trying to be kinder, more understanding and less judgemental. I have been working hard to try to assist and improve the lot of others, through volunteering my services, teaching, spreading knowledge and mentoring. I have made an effort to remove myself from the toxic personalities that I was once drawn to and to be less bombastic myself.

I have been optimistic about mankind's abilities to support one another and to move forward in our respect for protecting the planet, its beasts and flora. And in order to save my beloved's face when others have said that I should work harder to support him financially whilst he enjoys not working, I have smiled, chewed my tongue and resisted the urge to tell them that it has always been me who keeps the roof over our heads and our bellies filled with food.

Speaking of which, I am indebted to you for broadening my cooking knowledge and skill, and for bringing along the opportunity and self awakening to newly explore more sustainable, local, ethical and organic foods. Thank you also for showing me that my passion for food could bring me fantastic new friends via the Blogosphere. I am grateful also for the opportunity I have had to visit South East Asian countries in the past 12 moons, learning more about the culture of my family and the recipes of the dishes that I love so much.

Tonight we will celebrate the new year with my parents. They have chosen not to eat the traditional Cantonese fare of our ancestors that is full of symbolism at new year, but to eat Hakka Chinese food in a restaurant in Glen Waverley instead. Traditionally there is no love lost between the Cantonese and the Hakka, so I have no idea why we are doing this, other than that my folks are eccentric to say the least. I'm sure it will be an education and no doubt, delicious. Last year we ate Malaysian food and didn't hook up until the fifth day of the new year. It is enough today that the family is together, as that is what Choy Lien Yut is all about.

As I look towards the year of the ox I am preparing my list of what I wish to relinquish and what I aim to gain in the next 12 moons. After holding my nose to swallow my nasty herbal brew, I will chew a preserved plum and burn my annual list with joss paper to be received into the heavens.

Until tonight when I will celebrate your return, I am as always forever in your hands,



Sun Lien Fai Lok - gung hei fat choy!!

Happy Australia Day

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