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  • Writer's pictureAudrey Chin

A bowl of tang yuan for the COP

Updated: Jun 10, 2022

Today is Tong Zhi, the peak of winter. Up north in China, where some of my ancestors originated, they'll be looking forward to longer days and shorter warmer nights. It's an expectation they'll celebrate with tang yuan, sticky rice balls slathered in syrup. And, over here in my Little Red Dot on the equator, I'll be snaffling up my share of tang yuan too.

No, we don't have winter, but the Parliamentary Committee of Privilege's investigation of the Raeesah Khan matter has announced it's coming to a conclusion. After some tortuously long nights watching videos of the proceedings, that alone is time for a celebration.

In my family, tang yuan aren't just eaten at the peak of winter. They're also served on the 23rd day of the 12th Lunar month, to stick the Kitchen God's lips shut even as he returns to Heaven to report on us to the Jade Emperor, and on the eve of weddings, on the night before a bride leaves for her in-law's home.

As with all festival offerings in my family, there's a symbolism to the nosh.

Tang yuan are round. They're a reminder that what goes around comes around. According to the old ones, we eat them at Tong Zhi because the seasons have come full circle. We're all one year older and it's time to behave better, less karma gets us.

Tang yuan stick to the lips. Because less said is better, not just for brides about to become daughters-in-law and ourselves, but also Kitchen Gods, who despite being gods, must still depend on us for their daily bread.

Tang yuan point to the diversity of the world. They are multi-coloured and even parti-coloured. There big ones filled with delicious fillings and simple plain ones. There is no one way to be, just as they may not be just a yes or a no for an answer.

Also, in our house, they're always served sweet. As any grandmother would say, 'Don't you know, you catch more flies that way?'

We don't serve store bought ones either. There are lessons to be learnt when we're crowded around a kitchen table rolling tang-yuan in a group. There's a method to rolling the balls. Too much pressure on the big ones with fillings, and you get a goopy mess on your fingers. Too little pressure on the little ones they end up looking like rabbit pellets! As with all things, balance is necessary.

But if we don't go overboard, if we remember balance, here's the takeaway. The memory of the doing that stays in the muscles of our hands and fingers. The knowing that this is us and we're all together in this wonder of a mess called life.

Glutinous rice flour, red beans, some food colouring, sugar, water. Nothing very complicated, yet replete with a world of meaning. Not too humble an offering then for the gods presiding over the Committee of Privileges.

So, here's my humble bowl eaten for all of you, in the hope of happier, brighter, more congenial days ahead.

Audrey Chin is an award-winning Singaporean writer whose work explores the intersections of culture, faith and gender. She believes in the imponderables including love, god and ghosts AND she's an omnivore when it comes to books.

Buy her books here.

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