Today Malaysians are celebrating independence (merdeka) day and the Jalur Gemilang is flying from buildings, fences, gates and even from people’s cars. Yesterday we popped into a shopping centre to get a few things from the supermarket and happened to see a charming performance by a group of children – little boys and girls, representing the three major groups that make up the Malaysian population, wearing traditional costumes. They were standing in a row and singing (or rather shouting) the national anthem with great enthusiasm. This was also the day that thousands of Malaysians, here and overseas, donned yellow t-shirts and peacefully demonstrated their opposition to the present government’s handling of the country’s economy. As interested onlookers, we admire their patriotism and bravery.
You see notices like this at many intersections around Ipoh. They may include arrows to show wedding guests where to go. This is one of the more elaborate ones I’ve seen. Often they are simpler (like the one below) and may or may not involve tinsel. But they always include the names of the bride and groom and some indication of where the celebration is being held. ‘Majlis perkahwinan’ means ‘wedding reception’ and this is followed by the names of the pair to be married, the date of the reception and where it is to be held. I presume that this practice has arisen because finding one’s way around the city is not easy. Locals often don’t know the names of the roads, many of which now have different names from the colonial names of the past. We’ve become like locals in that we find our way and give directions using landmarks rather than addresses.
Because Chinese New Year is a four-day weekend in Malaysia, we took the opportunity to fly to Da Nang in Vietnam, where they were celebrating Tết Nguyên Đán. This is the lunar new year celebration and the biggest festival of the year for the Vietnamese. Every street was festooned with flags and every doorway flanked by huge pots of yellow chrysanthemums. In the evening of the first day of the new year, we walked along the river where hundreds of people had gathered in family groups. They were taking photographs in front of banks of yellow flowers and the goat statues that lined the walkways. They had obviously dressed up for the occasion and many children were wearing traditional outfits, like the cute little boy in the pic below. There were street vendors selling food, ice creams and balloons (see pic above). It was a vibrant scene that we were pleased to be part of. Some of the children called out “Hello! Where’re you from?” so clearly we didn’t fit in at all!
It’s coming up to our second Chinese New Year celebrations in Malaysia. Soon we will proceed from the year of the horse to the year of the goat. We’ve just spent a few days in KL and were struck by the buzz created by this festival. The shopping centre near our hotel had stalls selling everything from baked goods to large ceramic goats in all the mezzanine areas. The crowds were dense and there was an air of excitement. Outside our hotel, musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments and dancers flourishing fans performed on a raised platform. Almost every shop has special Chinese New Year windows and promotions guaranteeing prosperity. All sorts of things will bring you prosperity: eating a mandarin, planting a kumquat tree, serving your guests long noodles. McDonalds Malaysia even has a “prosperity burger”!
Happy New Year to all the readers of my blog. Thank you for keeping in touch via the blog and using other online means – it has made my first year living away from New Zealand less alienating. We spent New Year’s Eve on the Auckland waterfront with our children and so 2015 got off to a good start. Hope you had similar happy celebrations. All the very best to all of you!
Four more sleeps till we leave for New Zealand to spend the Christmas and New Year period with our girls, other family members and friends. We have been watching the weather forecasts and it seems that summer has not yet begun in the Land of the Long White Cloud. Does this bother us? No! We have had a whole year of hot, humid weather and a few cool, grey days will be welcome. We keep talking about the things we’re going to do – hug the children, walk along a sandy beach, ride some waves (wearing a wetsuit of course), barbecue some lamb, drink cold dry sauvignon blanc, revel in the long light evenings, hug the children. Can’t wait!
Because Malaysia is a Muslim country, I thought Christmas would go by without much fuss. I was wrong! We spent the weekend at KLCC and there are Christmas decorations everywhere, including a huge tree inside the Suria shopping centre (see pic). The shops are all playing Christmas music – “let it snow, let it snow, let it snow” seems even more absurd in Malaysia than it does in New Zealand’s summer. One of the more unusual sights was a women veiled from head to toe in black posing in front of the tree for her husband (in shorts, t-shirt and jandals) to take a photograph. He motioned to her to move so he could be sure to get in the Santa and the pile of presents. I guess that is what it’s all about – another retail opportunity for the shop-owners. Judging by the number of people in the centre, they’re onto something!
Hari Raya dates have been replaced in all the shops by displays of moon cakes. These cakes are round pastries filled with a rich thick filling usually of red bean or lotus seed paste. They are eaten as part of Mid-Autumn Festival celebrations. This festival dates from the fifth century, involves lunar worship and is associated with the legends of Chang’E, the mythical moon goddess of immortality. I found a lovely tea shop in central Ipoh this week. It has a beautiful cafe where one can drink tea from delicate china cups and eat Chinese delicacies, including moon cakes. Since I was on my own I didn’t stay but I did buy some cakes – I chose green tea pastries filled with date paste (and no sugar added!). It is an acquired taste but, having just eaten the last wedge of the first cake, I can report that it is growing on me. Perhaps next time we’re in town, we’ll sit down for tea and moon cakes – join us if you like!
Muslims in Malaysia celebrated Hari Raya last weekend and we all enjoyed a four-day break. Hari Raya is the end of Ramadan and many Muslim families mark the holiday with ‘balik kampung’ (going back to the village) so the roads are very busy. The symbol of Hari Raya on many posters and greeting cards is the ‘ketupat’, baskets woven from coconut palm leaves which are stuffed with rice and then boiled. Not surprisingly food is central to Hari Raya and family gatherings. We were invited to an evening meal on the third night by our Muslim neighbours. The table was beautifully laid with all sorts of traditional dishes, many of them deliciously spicy. There was another table filled with sweet dishes. We tried to to do justice to it but when we got up the dishes were scarcely dented. Our neighbours had all their children and grandchildren staying over and the house was filled with the excited chatter and laughter of the children, dressed in their shiny new clothes. They were enchanting.
The Guan Ping Festival was in full swing when we got to Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur last Sunday. There was a procession down Jalan (meaning ‘street’ in Malay) Petaling consisting of lion and dragon dancers, these lovely ladies, stilt walkers, as well as representatives of the local Indian and Malay communities. The festival aimed to bring prosperity to local businesses. There were hundreds of people in the streets watching the parade and presumably they bought food and other things from the numerous stalls and shops that exist cheek by jowl in Chinatown. The shops along Petaling Street sell made-in-China tat and designer knock-offs. But look past that and up at the buildings and you get an idea of what the old Chinatown must have looked like. In the Lee Rubber Building we found the wonderful Peter Hoe store and cafe (go to this article http://www.kuala-lumpur.ws/magazine/peter-hoe-beyond.htm to see why I loved exploring this store). And later on we found the Old China Cafe (http://www.oldchina.com.my/) where we had a drink and enjoyed the ambiance. So good that you can still get a taste of the old Chinatown.