10 Things To Know About Chinese New Year in Malaysia

Chinese New Year is this weekend and where I’m from, it’s a major festival. Every one joins in the celebrations in one way or another, and you don’t even have to be Chinese to enjoy the festive occasion. Here’s what happens in my neck of the woods when Chinese New Year rolls around.

#1. We get a holiday – Though Chinese New Year falls on a Saturday this year, the entire country is granted a holiday the following Monday which means it’ll be a 3-day weekend for me!

#2. Stalls selling Mandarin oranges pop up – It’s customary to give out Mandarin oranges to colleagues at work and to folks who visit your house during Chinese New Year. These oranges are typically sold at supermarkets and roadside stalls which pop up specifically for this festival. There are often multiple stalls along the same stretch of road, all of which peddle these oranges and all of them would be able to turn a profit.

mandarin-oranges
So many oranges. So many. (Source: The Star Online)

#3. Lion/ Dragon dancers are every where – They’re in shopping malls, in the back of trucks on the streets en route to their next gig and even at your local watering hole. You know Chinese New Year is fast approaching when these dancers with their white t-shirts and colourful pants that supposedly mimic a lion’s/ dragon’s legs show up almost every where.

#4. Streets in the city centre are exceptionally clear – This is one of my favourite things about Chinese New Year. Traffic jams in the city has gotten from bad to worse and it’s only when folks leave the city for their hometowns that I’m willing to drive into the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

#5. Highways leaving the city centre turn into parking lots (almost) – During Chinese New Year (and all other major holidays), commuters returning to their hometowns pack the highways. A regular 2-hour trip home can turn into a 5 hour journey from hell! The congestion is so bad that one year, authorities issued a Travel Time Advisory which recommended times to get on the road depending on where you’re heading. 

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Imagine getting stuck in that traffic with no toilet in sight (Source: The Malay Mail Online)

#6. Retail stores and banks give out (almost) free ang pow packets – Giving ang pows (red envelopes stuffed with money) is a key activity during Chinese New Year. Well, other than eating, drinking and playing mahjong. In recent years, shopping malls and banks stock ang pow packets for their customers and these are where folks tend to get them from. The packets aren’t entirely free if you intend to get them from shopping malls though. Shoppers would need to spend a pre-determined amount before redemption of the ang pow packets are allowed.

#7. Folks exchange their old bank notes for new ones – It’s traditional to use crisp, new notes when handing out ang pows. Hence, the long lines at the banks before Chinese New Year as folks come in with stacks of old bills to exchange for new ones. Apparently every year, the central bank has to print an additional 500 million pieces of the smaller denomination banknotes to meet the demand for new notes!

#8. Almost everyone organises an open house – Eating is a national past time and open houses are basically an opportunity to eat all you can for free! This tradition encourages family and friends to visit one another’s homes to celebrate together. Even companies and government agencies have started organising open houses to which the general public is invited.

#9. Eateries serve some variation of yee sang – In the weeks leading up to Chinese New Year, expect to see some variation of yee sang or the prosperity toss in any eatery you visit. Apparently, this cultural activity is unique to both Singapore and Malaysia as it’s not practiced as much in other countries.

#10. You hear firecrackers eventhough it’s illegal – Yep, fireworks are illegal in Malaysia. Unless you have a permit. I don’t think the homes in my neighbourhood who light up their firecrackers applied for one though. Yet, I go to sleep on the eve of Chinese New Year listening to a barrage of fireworks. All night long.

Thing 1: Biting into Black Pudding

40thingsat40
This post is part of my #40thingsat40 project to celebrate the fact that I turn 40 this year

My brother loves black pudding and for many years he’s tried to persuade me to give it a try. The first time he asked me to try it, I poked at it and said “Why’s it black?” To my utter disgust, he answered “Blood, mainly.” Since then, every time he tried to get me to try a bite, I’d pull a face and respond “Ugh, no.”

On December 9th 2016, before heading into Kew Gardens, my mother and I decided to grab a breakfast at Tap on the Line, a pub located right at the Kew Gardens Station of the London Underground. It was one of the prettiest-looking pubs I’ve ever seen. It had a domed glass roof and extensive outdoor seating. As it’s right on the train platform, from inside the pub, you could see trains come and go, passengers embarking and disembarking. I could sit there the entire day, sipping tea.

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A lovely place to sit outside in the summer with a pint

We perused the simple breakfast menu and I immediately knew what I wanted to get –

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The breakfast menu

Full English, pork sausage, Mrs. Owton’s bacon, Hampshire black pudding, beans, tomato & mushroom, free range eggs to your liking, toast.

I was famished and couldn’t wait to try my first bite of black pudding. “Why do you suddenly want to try black pudding?” My mum questioned as she’s perfectly aware that for years, I’ve resisted. “Well, at least once I try it, if I still think it’s ugh, at least my future protests will be an informed one.” To my ears, that sounded like a perfectly logical and reasonable reason. My taste buds were getting ready to be ugh.

My breakfast came and without wasting another minute, attacked the black pudding. I somehow thought that it would be crumbled but instead it was served sliced, like two hockey pucks. I broke off a little piece and popped the black pudding made mostly with blood into my mouth.

It was DELICIOUS! 

Like sausage, slightly game-y and the edges of the black pudding, which were toasted (I think), tasted crisp. Yum!

So, I tried black pudding – yay me! – and I definitely will again!

(I polished the entire plate)

Project #40thingsat40

This year I turn 40 years young! Yes, 40. Forty. Empat puluh*.

Mostly, I’m okay fine coming to grips with it but there’s a not-so tiny part of me that’s still in denial.

The tendency, when you hit one of those landmark ages i.e. 18, 21, 25, 30, 35, is either to celebrate it in a big way or pretend you’re not celebrating a landmark age. I’ve done both.

For many years, I was 29. The year I turned 30, I convinced myself that I was turning 29 Part 2, and the next year was 29 Part 3, the next 29 Part 4, etc…By the time I turned 35 29 Part 7 35, I’d come to my senses and said “Fudge it! I refuse to be ashamed of my age any more!” and since then, I’ve tried to do something memorable every time my birthday rolls around – drove cross-country alone, traveled to Siem Reap.

So it’s June 2016, and feeling a little glum that in 6 months I’ll be turning 40, I thought perhaps I’ll just pretend again that I’m not hitting another landmark age and instead tell people that I’m turning 39 part 2. A voice inside me shouted “No! Don’t be so pessimistic! Embrace this age!” I told that voice to shut up.

Seriously though, that voice kept coming back and that’s when Project #40thingsat40 came to life. I somehow convinced myself that instead of being depressed at turning 40, why not commemorate this year by learning, experiencing, doing 40 new things and then tell the world (realistically, those handful who read this blog) about them!

Thus, the journey begins.

40thingsat40

*Malay for forty