Gong Xi Fa Cai!

That's what they tell me anyway.  We haven't done much in the way of mentioning it, so probably a good deal of our readers have missed the Chinese New Year that has taken over Singapore over the past couple of weeks.  February 14th marked the start of the newest Chinese year - the year of the Tiger.  The Chinese calendar is fairly lunar and significantly complicated so as that most people I've spoken with just trust the dates they are told without necessarily understanding the calculations behind the curtain... so don't ask me to explain it either.

Anyway, it's a big deal here.  Leading up to it, there were sales (there are always sales), there was special music played somewhat randomly around the neighborhood, and there was a run on mandarin oranges.  It is apparently a time to really clean up your house, cut your hair, buy new clothes, forgive past wrongs, come together with family for big celebrations of successes, and basically a time to turn over a new leaf for the new year and wish everyone luck and prosperity (I do not believe there are any resolutions made though).

My workplace had a special celebration complete with food-tossing (explained below), a big buffet, and a lion dance (that I missed as I was still in lab)- a week prior to the actual new year, expecting that by the time the new year was actually upon us, the institute would be empty.  This was mostly true-- both Monday the 15th and Tuesday the 16th were public holidays, so many people took long vacations with the extra free days.  It's a mixed bag though-- free vacation days, but those trips cost more and need to be planned months and months in advance, so we just stayed home.

We did venture to Chinatown to see the crazy on Friday the 12th.  It was not entirely different than usual, except for the fact that it was packed with people.  A walking trip through the area that normally takes 5 minutes took closer to 30 and we heard stories of (but had no experience with) lots of bag-snatching and pickpocketing. We made one walk through, got some bratwurst from our sausage guy, bought some random candy:

a couple of oranges:
and then headed back to the safety of our home.

The candy was something not generally present in Chinatown and was priced by weight (that's why I'm leaning way over to weigh my stash).  I decided to be daring and grab one of everything, despite that very few were identifiable in any specific way.  Lessons learned: durian candy is awful-- it tastes like the worst smell of durian, without any of the redeeming quality of the actual fruit; preserved plums are awful, bitter and sour and yuck, all at once; even candy flavors that at first seem normal and recognizable quickly devolve into a strange unpleasant imitation; Chinese candy will not be purchased again.

We needed to purchase mandarin oranges because we were invited to a colleague's fancy Chinese New Year party.  It is custom to bring one orange per person-- only to take one per person away with you.  I don't know the deeper implications, but from what I have learned, there is guaranteed to be associated increased prosperity. It is all about some prosperity. 
Lucky for me, we made it to this party in time to see the lion dance.  It was pretty entertaining:

Lion dance teams have been all around for the past two weeks. The teams are paid to do the dance at a home or business as a blessing for the business. The lion dances to the beat of loud drums, and eventually has to climb to the top of a pole in order to tear something down.  He also becomes ravenous on some mandarin oranges, with the "tail end "of the lion furiously peeling oranges so the "head end" can throw them around. Alli has heard teams driving through our neighborhood banging the drums every day. The whole show is meant to scare away the evil spirits--to which Alli and I ask 'if they are scared away by the lion dance were they worth worrying over in the first place?'

It turns out that CNY is celebrated for 15 days, so the party is just almost over.  But not without a lab lunch at the top of a revolving restaurant for the denouement.  Once again, there was an opportunity for food tossage.  It works something like this.  We are seated approximately 10 around a large table.  The server brings a bowl to which various edible things are added.  In Chinese, she describes these and I believe provides some sort of "blessing".. I imagine like this "shredded carrots, for long life, minced onions, for wealth, smoked salmon, that you will not die of mercury poisoning in the coming year", etc.  There are sauces added, fried crunchy noodles, and more.  When this is complete, each person grabs their chopsticks and tosses the salad-- again I believe ideally performed to much well-wishes around the table.  My boss substituted wishes for Nature and Science publications in the coming year...  We kept ours pretty tame, but some people apparently like to really toss the salad.  At our institute-wide salad tossing, I did get various bits on my shirt.

Finally, just one picture of the view from atop our revolving restaurant- quite a different look at Singapore, the large port, with the central business district skyscrapers in the distance.  that's a lot of shipping containers.