Kiong Hee Huat Tsai

Dragon Dance

Yesterday was a non-working holiday in the Philippines in celebration of the Chinese New Year. Holidays meant I got the chance to sleep in, have a late rush-free breakfast, and time to catch up on blogging and chores. It was a breath of fresh air walking around the traffic-free Makati neighborhood on holidays.

While we were walking back to our apartment, D and I were summoned by the sound of drums a couple of buildings away, and came upon colorfully-clad folks with props, getting ready for a dragon and lion dance. I’ve always been fascinated by this dance, though I never truly knew why I see them all the time during this holiday. So, for this year, I decided to get to know a little more about the Tsinoy (Chinese-Filipino) traditions during Chinese New Year. My friends were more than happy to talk about their happy family practices, and here’s what I gathered so far:

First off, though the words “Kung Hei Fat Choi” are widely said (and printed on tarpaulins, ads) in the Philippines, the more proper way for the Tsinoys to be greeted is “Kiong Hee Huat Tsai”. Majority of the Tsinoys are Hokkien, and Kiong Hee, for short, means “I wish you happiness”.

Ang Pau

These red envelopes have gold patterns printed on the outside and have money inside them. They are given by the elders to the younger members of the family, as a sign of passing on good fortune and blessings. Many Filipinos have accustomed to giving out ang paus during the Christmas season as well.

Food for Prosperity

A usual sight on the dinner table are the kiat kiat, pineapple, tikoy, pansit and whole fish.

Round shapes are believed to bring solid wealth, hence the kiat kiat – a small orange.


At the center of a fruit basket is a pineapple, which is believed to bring good luck. In Hokkien, pineapple is called Ong Lai, which translates to ‘prosperity comes’.

Tikoy, is a sticky cake, is known as the Chinese New Year cake. We receive this as a gift from our Chinese friends, and we usually dip it in beaten egg and fry it. The belief is that because it is made of sticky rice, it ensures the family’s togetherness.

Pansit, or noodles, are cooked and served uncut, to symbolize longevity.

Lastly is the fish, which must be cooked and served whole. The usual way to cook the fish is by steaming. My friend said it symbolizes sagana or surplus.

Dragon and Lion Dance

For families with stores or establishments, they hire dragon and lion dancers as they are believed to bring good fortune for the business. The lion dance is composed of 2 dancers (the head and the tail), while the dragon dance is composed of several dancers holding the body of the dragon on with sticks. My favorite part when watching this is the beat of the drums and the movements of the lion. In today’s dance, I saw the lion reach out to receive a gift mounted on the entrance door of the building.Dragon Dance

I wish was able to go to Binondo to see more of the dragon and lion dances and experience the celebration of Chinese New Year more up close.





Filipino Christmas Traditions


Sending merry Christmas wishes to you all. Here’s to a day of love and peace, with greetings from the Philippines!

Since I was young, Christmas had been my most favorite day of the year. I loved looking at decorated houses and well-lit Christmas trees. My heart leaps when I hear Christmas songs being played (in the Philippines, it’s as early as October). When I was a teenager I had my share of singing Christmas carols with friends from Youth For Christ. I remember excitedly practicing with them and having a blast singing with them at family friends’ homes.Christmas

I remember days before Christmas I would join my folks and my grandma and go to church to hear early morning mass, called ‘Simbang Gabi‘. It is a nine-day Catholic tradition, where church bells would ring as early 4 in the morning, to call on the churchgoers. I’d be clad in my hoodie and warm clothes (though weirdly these years I don’t get to feel as cold in December. I feel it more In January).

After the simbang gabi we would head to the stalls of bibingka and puto bumbong. Bibingka is a cake made of glutinous rice (or galapong), topped with salted egg and cheese. It is baked in clayware and usually molded using banana leaves. We eat this for breakfast, adding sugar, grated coconut and butter or margarine. Puto bumbong on the other hand is made of purple glutinous rice and is steamed inside bamboo tubes. It is served with muscovado or brown sugar, butter and grated coconut. I’d be happy with my bibingka, it’s so yummy.Bibingka

Christmas Eve is when most families get together to feast on Noche Buena. Common staples on a noche buena table are the quezo de bola, ham, lengua, embotido, morcon, fruit salad, and fruit cake. Now that I have my own family our yearly noche buena tradition includes barbecue, bolognese, salad, and molo (shrimp dimsum) soup.

On or before Christmas day, adults would give presents to their godchildren. I remember as a kid I received presents from my ‘ninongs and ninangs’ until I was around 13 years old.

While these traditions are good, I have learned as I grew older that advent and Christmas is more than just shopping and preparing for noche buena and gift giving. I still look forward to the intimate family get togethers, and I give more meaningful (usually DIY) gifts to loved ones. But I guess what is more important to me now is preparing myself for Christ’s coming.

Lots of good memories from Christmas. It’s truly festive, and traditions like these are best spent with family and/or loved ones.

I hope your Christmas is filled with joy!

Learning Minhwa


I’ve been honing in on my art skills, and I’m keen learning any medium that I can. Earlier this year I’ve participated in an acting workshop, attended basic drawing and oil pastel class, did a bit of coffee painting, practiced water color and acrylic painting, and most recently I’ve enrolled in a semester of Minhwa classes. Minhwa is a traditional Korean art using painting as a medium. My teacher, Teacher Yoon, said during our orientation that Minhwa was art done by the common people, when they expressed thoughts and depicted everyday life through painting. Usually the subject is an animal or flowers. They use vivid colors when painting.

My first Minhwa painting
First finished work

The class that I am attending is held at the Korean Cultural Center of the Philippines in Bonifacio Global City at Taguig. For 12 Saturdays I would go to class and paint for 3 hours. I always look forward going to class because I quite enjoy mixing colors, deep breathing while painting, and listening to the different genres of music that Teacher Yoon plays. I have fun focusing on my work and I would barely notice the time when I start painting.

My Minhwa
My Minhwa painting – still a work in progress

Because I am a beginner, I was given flowers as subjects of my paintings. My other classmates who are more seasoned animals and landscapes as their subjects. We use hanji (Korean paper) and a mixture of Korean oriental painting colors. The paint is similar to acrylic when it comes to its vibrance, and its texture is similar to water colour. I would do two layers of paint to make the colors pop out more. Like water colour, I would let the first layer dry first before I apply the second layer. The paper is thin and absorbs water quickly. It also takes just a few minutes to dry. Teacher Yoon created the wood frame for both of my paintings.PaintBrushes

Overall I find the class worth my time, and I look forward to enrolling to other semesters so I can do more paintings. There is another class being done in the Korean Cultural Center of the Philippines and it’s called Mooninhwa. I’ll try to find out what the difference is and see if I can also enrol to that class next semester.