I was going to write about Chinese New Year today, as it is the first day of the Lunar New Year. My thoughts and memories lie in my hometown of Kuching, Malaysia, where all my friends and family are joyfully revelling in food, fun and festivities-without me!! In the middle of this post, I took a break from writing and caught up with news online, about the havoc wreaked by Cyclone Yasi on significant parts of Northern Queensland.
 And so this Banana (a nickname applied to me, as I’m Chinese (yellow) on the outside, but ‘white’ on the inside thanks to almost 20 years living in Australia!) is today thinking of  my old home and all the festivities there; and thinking of and my ‘new’ home here in Queensland, and of the people who have lived through the nightmare of a Category 5 cyclone in the dark of the night. Today’s posts will reflect this, accordingly.
Today, Chinese communities the world over are celebrating the Lunar New Year. It is the year 4708 by the Chinese calendar, the Year of the Rabbit. My own memories of Chinese New Year centre around family and food. This is hardly surprising, as the most important custom is the gathering of all generations of family on the eve of the New Year, to sit down together for a Reunion dinner. This dinner, for most families, will be a sumptuous feast of special CNY dishes. Some families will have steamboat, others will have an array of dishes that will often include fish, chicken, duck and seafood.
In Malaysia, the custom for many Chinese is to have an Open House for the first 3-4 days of the New Year. Each family will receive a stream visitors, and will visit friends and relatives in turn. Every open house will be stocked with cookies, cakes, soft drinks and even hot dishes, and each visitor will be served and urged to eat, eat eat! You can imagine the hustle and bustle leading up to the New Year, where each household prepares for the onslaught. Cookies are baked or ordered and delivered, along with cakes and other good things to eat. The house is cleaned very, very thoroughly from top to bottom, so as to greet the New Year in a clean, sparkling state.
  My own Mum, in spite of working full-time, would tirelessly bake many of the cookies for our visitors. She invested in a cookie press, and I remember mastering the art of pressing, clicking and lifting the press, and leaving a perfectly shaped butter cookie on the cookie sheet. Then there was the job of cutting Glace cherries into tiny pieces and oh-so-carefully dotting one piece in the middle of each heart-shaped butter cookie. Mum also made little rock cakes, studded with raisins, her rich, buttery butter cake and crisp, melting cheese straws. We would end up with jars and jars of cookies, sealed and stored away for THE day. She, like many other mums, ordered a few different types of cookies that were expertly made by other home bakers. Cookies were, and still are, ordered in the hundreds. And cookies and other goodies will slowly but surely be consumed, one by one, as hosts honour their guests with food, and guests honour their hosts by (bravely defying their stomach capacity) and part taking of their offerings. This, to me, is what Chinese New Year is all about.

 Today, communities in Northern Queensland emerge from a storm  beyond nightmares to see what remains of their world. Together they will restore their homes, their lives, their communities and each other. As joys of festivals bring a people together, we find that sorrow, in the face of disaster, will do the same. John Donne said, centuries ago, that no man is an island. Today we remember that, and remember that we need and are needed by others. Please stand by Northern Queenslanders at this time, and give generously to the appeals that will begin for their aid.