So we are still in the 15 day long celebration that welcomes in the new year of the Zodiac in the Chinese calendar. I had never really experienced Chinese New Year (CNY) before and I had no idea of the traditions that are associated with it so it was quite an amazing experience!
My first run-in with CNY tradition was with LGC (lifeguard corps) who bought and had Lou Hei after training last Wednesday! Lou Hei is a dish with a series of ingredients that is added sequentially and then once all the ingredients are added all the people stand around in a circle and using chopsticks try to raise the food off the plate. The lifting up of the food mixes the dish but the significance is that the higher the food goes then the more prosperous the new year will be. It was pretty cool to be part of, and it was very tasty. It contains shredded vegetables, some crackers, sauces and spices and then fish can be added too.
Now, the way I chose to spend Chinese New Years Eve was a little different and much more stressful. I decided to do a one off shift at a posh hotel who needed staff to serve their CNY buffet and private banquets. I have no previous food service experience, I don’t know Chinese traditions around CNY, I don’t really know much about the lay out of Chinese food service e.g. chopsticks and serving rice bowls and dishes so overall I was not well prepared. I went along with a friend but I quickly realised I was getting special attention because I was the only one of the staff who was Caucasian. It was bizarre as I was one of maybe 30 to 40 staff who had just come for that evening but I was kept front of house to serve the private banquets, I had one of the regional managers and the manger of that hotel come up to me and chat to me about why I was there. It felt wrong to be picked out just because of my race in a privileged sort of way, I’d much rather have been picked out because of the work I was doing rather than my skin colour.
I wouldn’t say however that being kept front of house was necessarily the best as the spread of staff was awful. They let 4 girls sort cutlery after it had been washed and I was left with one other girl to serve 2 tables of 16 and a table of 11! I have never been so stressed and busy for so long in my life!! I worked a 9 hour shift with a 15 minute break for dinner, other than that I didn’t get time to stop for a drink of water let alone a sit down. I got told by our supervisor that if we put a foot wrong then the he would “kill us”, so that’s always a comforting start. As I said I have never worked in any environment like that, but I’m pretty sure that was one of the most stressful nights of the year for the experienced staff due to the importance of reunion dinners in their culture. It was definitely eye opening, and I learnt a lot so despite the stress and being shouted at, it was worth it.
The benefit of serving the private dinning tables was the fact that one of the tables gave me a red packet for serving their table. It is effectively a tip but it felt so much more because of the ceremony and well wishing that is implied.
So after an exhausting 9 hours I decided to go with my friend to get a drink with my red packet (not that it covered even half the cost of the beer), and we were lucky enough to arrive on the bay just as it turned midnight and the fireworks were set off form the float! We sat and had a drink overlooking the bay and MBS and then headed home for a well deserved rest.
Quite an incredible experience and working a shift like that truly gives you an insight into the traditions and also the working environment here. I’m grateful for the experience and my first ever red packet.