Some are celebrated, some are absurd but always laughable.
Chinese superstitions in modern Singapore still abounds. Many people have tied these customary beliefs to old wives’ tales, some originating in China but today, many still follow the rituals arising from believing them. This certainly brings some humor and laughter to those who do not believe but we would still respect tradition. Belief is entirely the person’s choice
We shall start with the Lunar New Year this year which will start on 12th February and ends on the 13th of February. Almost all Singaporeans will not sweep their homes on the first day but some would extend it to three days. The reason is that fortune and wealth would be swept away, hence the dirt in the house takes a breather once a year during this festive season.
If you sight lanterns in the form of pineapples, that is because it symbolizes prosperity. Many of these lucky charms result from their names. Pineapple 王莉 in mandarin rhymes with the word ‘prosper’ 旺. A string of red-clothed chilli may be pronounced as 吉利 in Mandarin which means very lucky. Red and gold is the auspicious color known to draw wealth into the homes and offices.
Designs cut out of red paper often have the word 福(fu) which means luck as well as wealth and it is often displayed such that the word is upside down so that fortune ‘pours’ in. The symbol of fish is also a good omen of unending food availability for the household.
The Chinese New Year Celebration is very special in this way. These may be superstitions but they are fun rituals for every Chinese family.
The Chinese have many events and festivities and along with them some irrational notions too. A case in point is when one gets pregnant. Everything to do with sharp objects seems taboo.
I first got my experience of how cumbersome it was to be pregnant because of superstitions. Pregnant women must never cut anything or do any sewing on the bed. I have heard many tales that restricted my actions. Sewing and cutting on the bed apparently would cause one to produce a hare-lip baby. God forbid a pregnant woman to hammer a nail into the wall or her baby would drop!
Needless to say, the scissors became my nemesis and I would rather go around unbuttoned than to sew it back!
Then, she is highly advised not to eat seafood like crabs and lobsters as these may cause the child to be hyperactive! It sounded ludicrous but when these motherhood statements are drummed into your head by mothers on both sides, you would not take a chance. Fortunately, I was not crazy about this creepy crawlies but my kids turned out to be hyperactive!
The tales continued after delivery. The new mother is cautioned not to wash hair nor bathe for 30 days! She must not leave home as well. The rationale is that wind and even moisture may seep into the body causing rheumatism and resulting bone and joint pain which they swore would make me scream.
Two weeks into confinement, citing hygiene reasons, I rebelled. I took a good shower and made a trip to the salon to have a relaxing wash of my hair. Subsequently, I washed my hair and bathe every day and to date, my joints have not creaked a bit.
The only part of the ritual I would thoroughly agree with is that new mothers having suffered much trauma during the delivery should be served nice, hot meals and pampered in many ways.
Parents including myself are often to blame as well as our parents and to be fair, the ancestors too, for perpetuating some beliefs that are archaic. However, all parents meant good so some beliefs are still extolled.
When the children are young and are not co-operative in eating, Chinese parents often tell their kids that their spouses would be pock-marked in the face if they frequently leave crumbs behind on the plate. This superstition was passed down from generations but may be losing its effect as children are getting smarter these days.
Recently, I met a young bachelor who had helped me in some office matters. I could not help asking why he had two rings on the ring fingers of both hands. He mentioned that his mother told him they were to block the gaps between the fingers so that his wealth would not slip away. I thought this confusion would also reduce his chance of getting a bride as he may be deemed engaged or married.
An event to give presents during weddings, birthdays and house-warming may be linked to many superstitions as well.
Never present a pair of scissors, a set of knives, or a clock no wonder how beautifully made they are. It is highly taboo. In Chinese culture, giving scissors is tantamount to cutting off the relationship.
My mum gave a lovely set of knives to her friend for her housewarming and never heard from her again. In Chinese, ”一刀两断” is a popular phrase used when people break off any relationship and the knives might have unknowingly symbolized that.
Similarly, giving a clock is called 送钟 which rhymes with 送终 a send-off during a funeral. Hence, it is highly offensive to gift this to an Asian who understands the Mandarin language.
On the subject of spirits, more superstitions flourish and some swear by them and follow the rules rigorously.
Don’t cut nails at night. They say it’s got something to do with drawing out the bad spirits. We can only speculate that in the olden days when lamps were used at night, over-protective parents did not want children to hurt themselves and hence spun this story.
In Chinese culture, the 15th day of the lunar calendar is the ghost day which is generally celebrated as a month. During this period, the Buddhists abs Taoists believed that the souls of the deceased are free to roam the earth. It is also a time to respect their ancestors.
Food and prayers are offered to appease them. Even entertainment in the form of roadshows called “getai” where singing, skits, and over the top costumes are featured to make the spirits happy.
For the superstitious, they would tell you not to go out as far as possible during Ghost month. Indeed, at every Ghost festival, my well-meaning relative would call me the day before the festival start and cautioned me.
A month of inactivity would stupefy me. Imagine, no swimming as the spirits may drown you. No taking pictures as that would be as good as asking the spirits to join you. Some believe that you do not hang damp clothes outside at night as they may be construed as an invitation to try them and then be brought into the house when you bring the clothes in. And of course, weddings are not popular during this month.
In any case, it affects dentistry during this season. Some patients avoid seeing dentists especially for wisdom tooth surgery as well as extractions as they believed that the spirits may enter the sockets.
In Singapore, 4 and 13 are considered unlucky numbers. You may see some hotels skip the 13th floor in the elevator numbering. The number 4 is also considered a jinx so if you have a house number that ends in 4, it may pose some difficulty to sell to someone who is concerned about this number. 4 in Mandarin sounds like death, 24 in dialect sounds like easy to die.
Superstitions remain grounded in people’s beliefs as long as they get passed on. It is up to the individual’s intellect and choice to tell what is sensible and reasonable to what is ludicrous and live your life without any impediments.
Albert Einstein said it best, ‘Scientific research can reduce superstition by encouraging people to think and view things in terms of cause and effect.’