A “niamah”  family affairs short essay.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for the Chinese around the world.

That’s of course is Chinese New Year (CNY in short). One of the Chinese tradition is spring cleaning  before CNY to welcome the new year. But it’s a taboo to sweep the floor during the first day of CNY as it’s akin to sweeping away good luck.

I travel around Hong Kong, South East Asia, and around the world, but I try my best to return to my “Heung Har”, my immediate ancestral home in Ipoh, a small city around half way between the more famous cities of Kuala Lumpur and Penang, up north. My Hakka ancestral home traces back to “Tsang” Sing village, near Guangzhou, China.

Within a few hours on arrival at my mum’s condominium, she got me to clean the hard to reach places such as ceiling fans, dismantling and cleaning light fixtures, and putting up CNY decorations. But it has to perfect according to my Mum’s highest standards. Both of us are the only Virgos in the family, and you can probably guess we are both very particular about purity, cleanliness, order, and perfectionism.

My Mum is the world’s most fussiest, and most demanding boss and critic as far as I’m concerned, even my Fortune 500 clients are not so fussy. She is so hard to please. But she is my Mum, and I love her, and I will do anything for my Mum.

“You, Wong Yue Tau!” Mum keeps repeating to me as she supervises my every cleaning move and every 5S Quality Control spot cleaning. “Wong Yue Tau” literally means “Yellow Fish Head”. She accused me of being a lazy bone, cutting corners, doing a quickie job, not being thorough, and she uses all her favorite insults deserved only for her beloved children. She instructed me which of the 20 glass sticks in the living room ceiling lighting were not aligned! That‘s Virgo OCD for you.

5 Glass Tubes Lighting

Aligning the 20 glass sticks in the ceiling lighting fixture.

Nothing, nothing escapes her sharp eye even at her elder age, she does not wear glasses except for reading. She threaten a few times not to pay me “salary” or cook her famous “Chee Ka Fan”, Mum’s home cooking.  She still treats me like anything from an eight year old to a naughty teenager, who never grew up in her eyes.

“La Lee Foo!” my sweet Mum exclaimed many times, which probably means a softer version of damn, quite close to the rude “Niamah”. I do not know if it is my Mum’s unique vocabulary or a Hakka/ Hokkien phrase, it’s probably her own coined phrases which we heard all the time while growing up and up to now.


By the way, “La Lee Foo” is not the same as “La La Lee Thum Pung” sometimes followed by “Sik Fan Ng Sai Sung” (eat rice without dishes), which Chinese play when individuals in the small group shows either an upward-facing palm or a downward-facing palm at the end of saying the phrase. The odd one is eliminated, when the majority shows the same palm facing, repeated until it’s down to two persons, or down to the required total number of players.

La Lee Foo, I’m so like my Mum, four of my astrological Planet signs are in Virgo, besides my Sun Sign. So I’m a Super Virgo. And Mum is forever Mum, with love from her yellow fish head son.

Happy Chinese Year of The Rat. Kung Hey Fat Choy. Gong Xi Fa Cai.

Robert Chaen is known as the CEO-Celebrity Whisperer, writer, corporate coach, headhunter, and venture builder. He writes for RobertChaen.com

Published: 24th January 2020.

Watch my YouTube video of my Mum and I spring cleaning for CNY: