Friday, January 27, 2012

Chinese New Year in Malaysia

Chinese New Year is a time of Reunion, some families travel a long journey to be with family. I recall when I was living in Singapore, many people in my neighbourhood went back to their home towns, a term in Malay "Balek Kampong". When we got back to Singapore, the first question was how was the traffic jams? There were times when we were stuck in the jam for six hours. At times, we traveled at the wee hours of 3am, the trouble was everyone had the same idea. In the tropical heat, and road rage, tempers are bound to flare up.

Hong Baos, are generally thought of as gifts given by the elders to the children. In some families, the grown adult children also given to their parents, as a sign of respect and filial piety.

Yu Sheng, the raw fish salad that has become very popular, especially among businesses. With evolution, the custom of Yu Sheng crept into our culture. Apparently it was common among the fisherman of Hong Kong. But now is in a big way. Tiny slivers of fish are decorated beautifully in a big platter of salad and nuts. Before the meal, everyone has a pair of chop sticks, stand up, and mixes the Yu Sheng by raising the ingredient upwards, and do the Lo Hei, and say all the auspicious words. Christians add Christian messages.

Friends of different nationalities enjoy Yu Sheng.

Tonight at the Mt Albert Baptist Church, Chinese Fellowship Lunar New Year celebration, I will be giving a short talk on Chinese New Year in Malaysia.

There are 22 provinces in China, most of the immigrants in Malaysia come from the 2 southern most provinces, Guang Chow and Foojiang. They came to Malaya and Sarawak and Sabah. Even though they came from the same area, some of the customs and traditions are different. Some have evolved through cross regional marriage and ease of transportation.

I grew up in Sarawak, in a Christian influence state. So a lot of the non Christian rites were done away with. In West Malaysia, on the first day, they go vegetarian, and it was hard for me to get used to it.

Oranges/ mandarins represent Gold/Kam, and people in West Malaysia go visiting with 2 oranges. This is for exchange. You give the host family 2 oranges, and they give you 2 back. This happened to my sisters. Eldest sister is married to a Sarawakian, younger sister is married to a West Malaysia. Oldest brother in law couldn’t understand why younger sister is staying for so long. Younger brother in law couldn’t understand why older brother in law is not giving then the 2 orange. Even when older bro in law said, I have to go out. Then younger sis realized it is the 2 oranges.

I was in Singapore, the kids here more straight-forward. My daughters’ friends tell me, “ Aunty, my mummy said you must give me two oranges in return.”
Traditionally we visited our relatives, and the custom was to visit the senior ones. In the old days, the relatives lived quite near to each other, you suffer the consequences if you were seen paying your respects to a younger relative. The kids love this, as we receive Hong Baos or in Malaysia, we call them Ang Baos.

The best thing that evolved in Sarawak, and then to West Malaysia is the Concept of “Open House.” We visited our neighbours and friends. And we offered them mum’s best baked cookies. There was a time, when the Malay Hari Raya /New Year coincided with the Chinese New Year. We mutually visited each other.

Things like pineapple tarts, pickles like achar are evidences of how people have changed because of their environment. My mum used to serve curry chicken 40 years ago. Now, my friends tell me because of our cultural differences o

The rest of the customs are common. New clothes, new shoes for children, lots of red and gold decoration. Certain foods to be eaten and not to be eaten, do not sweep the floor, be careful with your language, parents try not to scold your kids.
Firework works were banned, but nobody really cares. In my home town of Sibu, it was a joke that if the police was going to lock up those who set up fireworks, the town town would be locked up.


magchewchia said...

This post is wonderful. Yeah, I just found out from Diana Chin this year that people in west malaysia go for vegetarian on the 1st day of CNY. Interesting. Is that your dad sitting in the middle? And yeah, we did the Yu Sheng for the last few years and it was love doing that.

The JR said...

Happy Chinese New Year!