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Arrows and Oranges

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Arrows and Oranges
February 5 is the last night of the Chinese New Year 2023, aka Chap Goh Meh (15th night).
Often labelled Chinese Valentine’s Day, because both days feature singles (mostly) in quest of true love (mercifully).
Except, the Western Valentine’s is marked by Hallmark cards with Cupid, hearts, bows and arrows, and the Eastern Chap Goh Meh is signatured with mandarin oranges. Guess which is the more a-peeling?
Chap Goh Meh is massively observed in Penang (my hometown, now you know why I left; citrus is not my scent of choice).
Traditionally, on the 15th night of CNY, maidens and unweds, after a hearty family meal, mince their way to the Esplanade (the Penang one). Each single lady cups a pair of mandarins (no, no, not the Chinese scholar mandarins Mr Lee and Mr Tan) to toss along the beach by the water’s edge.
Bachelors and assorted rugged rascals leap about to catch those very oranges, on which peels have been inscribed the (prospective) girl’s contact. Mobile number, email if she is old, Instagram if she is vain, bank account if she is desperate.
With the right squeeze, a propitious union may follow. At worse it’ll all turn sour.
My Penang aunts had schooled me in the language of love via citrus fruit.
“Tim ho kum
Chuay ho ang”
In our refined Hokkien, the ditty translates:
“Throw good orange
Find good husband”
(Actually you should leave the husbands alone and find yourself a single man.)
My Penang uncles though, long in the tooth married to my aunts, sang a different song.
“Courting, courting, courting is no good
If you want to court my darling
Go to the Supreme Court.”
In later years destiny went for the practical.
If you don’t live by the sea, any old body of water will do for the orange toss.
River, lake, pond. It could be a wet drain, your kitchen sink filled with water, a water-laden bucket. I think the ice-tray in your ‘fridge does not count. Oh wait, maybe melted ice can.
All of the above sure bests a Hallmark card professing
Violets are blue
Roses are red
When I see you
I wish I was Fred
(The Nightmare on Elm Street Freddy.)
Decades ago, in the time of Ah Beng-Ah Lian, a Chinese girl set me straight on the pursuit of life and love.
“We all don’t give chocolates, buy flowers, all.
We ask each other, ‘Are you cold?’ ‘Are you hungry?’
This is how we show our love.”
Darned! Nailed it.
OCBC as they say. Orang China Bukan China. Chinese, not Chinese. Not as funny as it is barbed. Which is to say “You and your Western ways, where are your Asian values?” I think.
Do you celebrate Valentine’s Day here in Singapore? I can’t quite recall when it got to be such a big deal. With teddy bears holding heart-shaped whatevers, engagement rings at the bottom of a champagne flute or embedded in an arctic roll (I say, where to buy arctic rolls, ah?).
The plus point if you don’t salute Valentine — you don’t have to shave your legs, nor pretend to smell the roses or enjoy chocolates.
Speaking of which, here’s a cheap hack. Say that you left the flowers and candy in the taxi or train, and that you’ll make it up tomorrow. Because the day after, blooms and sweets go on sale and you’ll save some spare dosh.
One time in my brazen youth I ordered, in anticipation now misplaced, dinner for two.
Have you ever tried to eat two dinners on your own? It ain’t pretty. Ah yes the Valentine Day’s notches on some friends’ bedposts….
“Sax and violins, I said sax and violins! Not sex and violence you prize idiot!”
In the fullness of time, she did marry her prize idiot.
The last time they honoured Valentine’s Day, he brought along their two children.
She was apoplectic. “I said wouldn’t it be lovely to have orchids for Valentine. Orchids, not our kids!”
You’d be driven to think men can’t do anything right. Well there was the gung-ho chap who bought a fly-by banner-in-the-sky for his sweetheart and then gave her name, but incomplete.
So it read across the skies “I Love You Son”. Instead of Sonia.
In my neck of the woods, we are not fussed. I made a heart-shaped pizza, easy-peasy, I simply bit and chewed off part of the circle of the pizza until it got heart-shaped.
Now, will you be my quarantine?

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