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Kung Hei Fat Choy: Phuket’s expats on one of the world’s most celebrated festivals

Expats from China and Hong Kong discuss their take on life in Thailand, what Chinese New Year – or Spring Festival – means to them and how they’ll be seeing in the year of the pig.

CultureCommunity
By Amy Bryant

Monday 4 February 2019, 11:00AM


Jin from Henan province, China

What brought you to Phuket?

It was my fate. In China, my investment failed and I decided to go abroad to teach Mandarin. I arrived on 31 October 2015. I’ll never forget because there was a small earthquake that evening. I thought “Okay, you’re welcoming me Phuket. Thank you!”

What do you like about the island?

Thailand, I think, has an open, inviting culture. Western and Eastern cultures can exist very well together, no matter the differences between them. I love swimming in the ocean. In my hometown, there is the Yellow River but you have to go to the east of China to see the ocean. I love the nature here too. Most of the cities in China have fast development and the air is not good. Here, you see blue sky nearly every day.

How will you be celebrating New Year?

Normally on the eve of the Spring Festival, families will eat dumplings so I will do that but with my friends from the UK and Canada. After, I will stream the CCTV New Year’s Gala show which Chinese families have got together to watch on TV ever since it started in 1983. During the show, I will call my parents and wish them health, happiness and long living and tell them not to worry about my future.

What is significant about the year of the pig?

The pig features in lots of stories in China. There’s a famous novel, Journey to the West, where a general, Bajie, disobeyed the laws in heaven and was sent down to our human world. Unluckily, he fell into a pigsty and became half-pig, half-man. To make up for the bad things he did in heaven, he became a student of Master Tang Seng. They travelled to India to seek Buddhist texts which they spread throughout the Tang dynasty on return to China. I’ve heard from older people that those born in pig years should wear red coloured underwear for good luck.


Li from Hong Kong

What does the New Year mean to you?

My husband and I both have strong Chinese backgrounds. He is Thai Chinese and I am Hong Kong-born Chinese. Everyone likes to celebrate Chinese New Year in Hong Kong. Whether it’s for the food, to get together with friends, to make money, for the excitement or even just to stay home for five days or more, there is no incentive not to like it. I think, no matter where you are, you cannot forget your country and culture. I will try my best to continue the customs for my children.

How do you find celebrating New Year in Thailand?

I’ve been in Phuket for around a year but I’ve been in Thailand for 15 years in the outskirts of Bangkok, Si Racha, Nonthaburi, Chiang Klong and Chiang Rai. There are little differences in how it’s celebrated around Thailand. In Phuket it’s closer to the Cantonese/southern Chinese style. In the north, it’s closer to the Yunnan style. In the centre, in Bangkok, it’s closer to the Beijing style.

You’ve kindly brought me a present!

This is nian gao, a cake made of three ingredients: glutinous rice flour, water and brown sugar. Nian means year and gao means cake. There is a timeframe for making it. On the 28th/29th day of the last month of the Lunar calendar, we clear up our houses ready for the new year. After that, we stick blessing words on our walls and then start making this kind of cake. In the old days, when there was no harvest during winter time and no fridge to store food, they would make a lot of nian gao as it keeps for a long time.

What are your hopes for the next year?

I hope for a boom in our business. This year was difficult for a lot of businesses here. I hope my family will all be healthy. I hope Thailand will stay peaceful and united and everyone will help each other more.

BRITISH INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL, PHUKET

Qiong Yu from Shanghai, China

How are you finding Phuket?

We have come here on holiday every year for the past three years. We like the heat here. My husband is from Harbin near Russia and it’s very cold. We had a hair salon in China but we moved here for my son’s education He goes to an international school. In China, children study very hard and there is a lot of pressure and stress. Here, there isn’t this problem. The children learn a lot but have fun at the same time. He is learning by the environment around him and not by books only.

Who have you brought with you today?

This is the first year I’ve spent New Year away from home. My mum and my friend have come over especially so that we could celebrate together. We are an independent family but they think it’s not good for it to just be the three of us (me, my husband and our son) on New Year. In China, we usually go to the homes of our extended family one by one. This year, I will send them The Phuket News article to show them how I am celebrating!

How will you be celebrating New Year?

We will cook a big dinner at home including leg of pork and braised fish. Fish must be eaten for good luck and doing so means next year will be rich. We will go to Chalong Temple to buy fireworks to set off in our garden at midnight. When I was young, I really liked the tradition of giving children a red packet with money inside and we will do that for our son. It’s for good luck.

What is significant about the year of the pig?

In China, we like pigs. They are funny, cute and quite lucky too. They are fat which means they are rich in food. In Chinese folktale they say that the coming year might be challenging for those born in the year of the pig. They may experience bad luck. Wearing red might help to avoid this though.


Teacher Lee from Beijing, China

What brought you to Phuket?

I moved to Phuket four years ago to be with my son and my wife. I met my wife 10 years ago whilst performing a wushu show in Phuket Town for the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s birthday. We opened our wushu school last year, the first of its kind in Phuket. It’s important as Thailand and China have a good relationship and exchange of culture.

What is wushu?

We can say it’s kung fu and refer to Chinese movies with Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Bruce Lee and you can have some picture of what it is. Although kung fu means time. Anything that takes time to practice to master you can call kung fu. Wushu also needs time. Maybe martial arts is a better term. Wushu can be divided into three types: tai chi which is a slower form of exercise linked to Chinese medicine and focuses on balance; wushu taolu which is jumping and running; and sanda, similar to Thai boxing except wushu does not use elbows and you can throw your opponent.

How will you be celebrating New Year?

Our students will be performing at shows in Phuket Old Town, by Phuket City Municipality Office, on Feb 10-12. The whole school will perform at the opening ceremony on Feb 10 with a lion dance and wushu display. We will invite the students to our home to eat dumplings too. Even though it’s called Spring Festival, it’s very cold in Beijing at this time so usually we gather round with family, drink, eat and chat. This year I’ll video call my family instead.

What are your hopes for the coming year?

I only have two wishes. The first wish is a very normal one: that all my family members are healthy and happy. As we have just started the wushu school, the second wish is for more students, both children and adults, so people can understand more about this kind of sport.

 

 

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