Date: 5th February 2017 (9th Day of Lunar New Year of the Rooster)
When I arrived at the South Central Community Family Service Centre (SCCFSC) at ten o’clock in the morning, staff, volunteers and members of the community have already gathered and swung into action.
This year was the third year that the SCCFSC organised the Lunar New Year Lo Hei Celebration Community Event. At this year’s event, the participants are made up of SCCFSC staff members, members of the community, individual and corporate volunteers.
The Lo Hei preparation in the morning was very well organised, the team was divided into groups, with a clear division of work and work area. The preparation work started from peeling, grating, washing and drying of the carrots and radishes, slicing of lime to the packing of plum sauce, crackers and other condiments like pickled coloured ginger, peanuts and sesame seeds.
This is the first time I witnessed and participated in the preparation of the Lo Hei ingredients and packing them into plastic boxes. In less than five hours, we have packed two hundred and forty-eight boxes of Lo Hei to be distributed to the community at Lengkok Bahru. And another six boxes for everyone to come together for Lo Hei after the distribution was done. Amazing effort by everyone.
What is Lo Hei?
Some of you may be wondering what is Lo Hei? Lo Hei is a Cantonese style raw fish salad. It is also known as Yusheng (Chinese: 魚生), literally means raw fish. Lo Hei (Cantonese for 捞起) means Prosperity Toss which usually consists of strips of raw fish, mixed with shredded vegetables like carrots and radishes and a variety of sauces and condiments.
Eating Lo Hei during Lunar New Year is a cultural activity for ethnic Chinese living in Singapore and Malaysia. In Singapore, non-ethnic Chinese also participate in the Lo Hei celebration that we may all prosper in the Lunar New Year – Uniquely Singapore.
Lo Hei Preparation
Now let us get into the details of the Lo Hei preparation. The group who was assigned to prepare the vegetables took turns to grate the carrots and green radishes on the traditional graters at the open void deck in front of the Goodwill Store. The carrots and radishes were held vertically for the grating that we may have long strands for tossing later. The well-experienced members showed their “apprentice” the way to hold the carrot or radish that they may grate using less effort and more effectively.
The team brought the first batch of grated vegetables to the wet kitchen to soak in water for 10 minutes to wash away the vegetable stench. Then the washed vegetables were placed into the muslin cloth bag to wring the excess water. The vegetables were then placed on the table next to the dry kitchen island for airing.
The wet kitchen was like an “Operating Theatre”, everyone was focusing on playing their part well. One of the young ladies was perspiring profusely, she did not take notice as she so focused on what she was doing. I took out my tissue to dry her perspiration on her face. Everyone in the wet kitchen cheered and teased her that she was the chief surgeon.
While one group was preparing the carrots and radishes, a few other groups were busy filling up the small containers with the condiments at the open café area. Plum sauce was managed by the active elderly aunties, dried coloured ginger and peanuts were managed by a Malay family and crackers managed by the corporate volunteers.
For our Lo Hei celebration, we did not include raw fish though it is supposed to be a key ingredient for Lo Hei. Keeping raw fish fresh while transporting and distributing 248 boxes of Lo Hei in a climate like Singapore is a big challenge which is the reason for excluding it.
The Act of Giving
Besides helping up with the preparation, some members of the community brought standing fans from their home to the Family Service Centre to help ventilate the area in front of the Goodwill Store, wet kitchen and the open café area where ingredients for Lo Hei were being prepared.
While waiting for lunch to be delivered, a resident who lives on the next block, prepared two pots of green bean soup with sweet potato for the community. It came at the right time as a few of the members have not taken their breakfast. It was a very kind and thoughtful gesture.
By quarter to twelve, we were almost done with the packing of coloured ginger, sauces, crackers and other condiments. We took a logical break for lunch.
Once again, I was touched by the act of giving from the members of the community. Our lunch, nasi lemak (Malay fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk) with the omelette, fried ikan bilis (aka anchovies) and chicken drumlets served with traditional chilli paste, was prepared by a resident who lives a few blocks away. She started preparing and cooking since seven in the morning and delivered the food to the Centre at 12 noon. It was no easy task to prepare lunch for so many of us all by herself. Amazing effort and dedication to giving to the community.
After lunch, we started our “production line” with two Quality Controllers assigned to make sure all ingredients were packed correctly in the box. We targeted to complete packing of 248 boxes of Lo-Hei by 2.30 pm and completed an hour ahead of time. All thanks to the amazing teamwork demonstrated by everyone.
This was the first time I joined the community as a volunteer and only met a few of them once at the briefing session a couple of days before the event. Everyone was very friendly, all ready to help one another. What impressed upon me was not how fast and effective we were. What impressed upon me was people of different races (Malays, Indians, Eurasians and Chinese), background and age coming together, worked cohesively, participated actively preparing for the Lunar New Year Lo Hei celebration. Everyone contributed in their own ways. I have not seen this level of community caring and sharing anywhere else.
I was there with the intent to give back, instead, I received more than I could give. I am glad I participated in this Lo Hei preparation. Let’s toss for a better year ahead!
For more information on South Central Community Family Service Centre, please go to www.sccfsc.sg.
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