Cover Photo: Courtesy of Jessi Chloe Chen

From adopting new traditions to the first reunion dinner as a married couple, three ladies reflect on sharing beloved CNY rituals with their spouses

A time for families to reunite and embrace a fresh start together, Chinese New Year in Southeast Asia also presents a myriad of heartwarming ways that different cultures come together in respect and appreciation for one another. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is interracial marriage.   

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From newlyweds spending their first Chinese New Year as a married couple to a husband-and-wife duo just shy of their 20th wedding anniversary, Tatler speaks with three couples from Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore to learn the tales, traditions and customs that bind them together this festive season.

Jenn Low and Luke Elliott, Malaysia

How long have you been married?

Low: We first met in 2005 and got together in 2009. We have been married for 10 years this year! 

What's your earliest Chinese New Year memory together?

The first time Luke celebrated Chinese New Year with my family was truly special–we had the reunion dinner at my grandma’s place with all my extended relatives, and it was heartwarming for me to see him fit right in at home. 

Tell us about the Chinese New Year traditions in your household.

Food is a big part of our family, so a big part of our tradition involves getting yummy snacks like cookies and bakkwa, buying the freshest ingredients to make a hearty home-cooked meal and definitely lots of lou sang and drinks. My kids Olivia and Oscar are growing up so quickly, and we love exposing them to these traditions as they begin to understand them better. This year, we customised matching outfits too, which the kids love!

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Was it easy for Luke to adopt these Chinese New Year customs after you got married?

Luke has lived in Singapore and Malaysia for over 20 years, so he’s no stranger to Chinese New Year customs. It was very natural for him as he loves being part of the traditions and festivities. 

What are your reunion dinner plans this year?

We are hosting my parents, my grandma and our relatives in our home this year, which should be lots of fun. We moved in between the different lockdowns, so it will be lovely to have all this festive energy in our new home.

What are your favourite CNY snacks?

I really enjoy a good lou sang with lots of vegetables, sweet pomelo and fresh seafood. It’s such a treat to have once a year. Luke, on the other hand, is firmly divided between pineapple tarts and bakkwa

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Jessi Chloe Chen and Ben Andujar, Hong Kong

How long have you been married?

Chen: We first met in November of 2016 and we've been married just over four months.

What's your earliest Chinese New Year memory together?

The most memorable would definitely be Chinese New Year 2020. It was the last trip we took together before the pandemic hit and the first time both of us had been to Myanmar.

We stayed at the Belmond Governor's Residence in Yangon, a romantic colonial-style mansion with beautiful gardens and a resident peacock that we named Barry. We spent a couple of days after in Bagan and went on the most breathtaking hot air balloon ride over thousands of temples at sunrise. Definitely one for the books.

Tell us about the Chinese New Year traditions in your household.

My family is Shanghainese so the overarching theme every year is lots of eating, yelling and gambling. 

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How familiar was Ben with Chinese New Year customs before he married you?

Ben had only been in Hong Kong for a year prior to us meeting, so he was not very familiar with Chinese New Year traditions nor Chinese customs in general.

He is a very open and accepting person, so it hasn’t been hard for him to become accustomed to Chinese ways, though he does still find it shocking when our aunties or uncles openly comment on our weight like it’s the weather (laughs). This will be our first Chinese New Year as a married couple, and that means giving out red packets.

I’d say Ben has embraced the Chinese mindset over the years because he says the only way to balance out the money we’re giving away is to have a kid so we can start receiving it again! 

What are your reunion dinner plans this year?

It’s been three years since my sister has spent Chinese New Year with the family because of the pandemic and travel bans, so it will be a special one with her. Nothing beats home-cooked dinner in our childhood home. 

What are your favourite CNY snacks?

Lo bak go (radish cake), obvi! 

Dr Iroshini Chua and Dr Kevin Chua, Singapore

How long have you been married?

Dr Iroshini: We first met in Dublin studying medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. We’ve been married 19 wonderful years.

What's your earliest Chinese New Year memory together?

That would be Kevin’s grandmother accepting me, a fire dragon, into the family. She was a sweet little old lady who was the matriarch of the family. She spoke no English and I spoke no Teochew, yet she was all smiles and welcomed me with a hug into Kevin’s large extended family.

Apparently my zodiac sign made a big impression with her even before we met. There was plenty of food laid out and everyone was dressed up in CNY threads.

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Before you married Kevin, were you familiar with any Chinese New Year customs? 

Not at all. My main experience with Chinese culture was our favourite Chinese restaurant, The Flower Drum, where my father took us rather regularly. In fact, I enjoyed Chinese food so much that I had a meal delivered to my school almost daily for lunch: perhaps a sign of things to come?

It was not difficult at all for me to adopt the new traditions. I especially love the fun and festivities.

What are your reunion dinner plans this year?

Because we’re in the process of moving house, our official address has been changed to Kevin’s parents’ place for the time being until renovations are completed.

This means that Kevin’s brother’s family is able to join us. Our immediate family is complete–something we took for granted pre-Covid.

What are your favourite CNY snacks?

We love the yu sheng in all its iterations. I’m not sure I’ll ever get sick of it, despite eating it sometimes twice a day during Chinese New Year.

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