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.

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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

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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)

Daily Prompt: Cake (or Three Cakes at 19)

In response to the Daily Post’s Daily Prompt: Cake

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Cake No. 1

It was my 19th birthday.  I was sitting on my bed; silently counting the minutes till I turn 19; an age that I thought was practically ancient at the time. One of my roommates had gone out of the room; she did it so stealthily that I didn’t even know she wasn’t there until I looked around and found her gone. Another roommate was sitting at her desk not doing much of anything while the third was on her bed across the room from mine.  She kept looking up at me from her add maths textbook, then at our roommate who was idling at her desk, then at the door, and finally back at me.  Something was up, I just wasn’t sure what it was.

It was 12 midnight when the idling roommate sprang up from her desk and skipped to the door.  I thought it odd at the time because I didn’t hear a knock at the door. The lights went out suddenly and I was just about to say, “Hey…” when the door swung open and Ninja Roommate, came in with a cake with all 19 candles lit, which made the cake look like it was on fire.  Behind my Ninja Roommate were the rest of the girls and they were singing Happy Birthday as they walked towards me.  I felt tears well in my eyes as I leaned down to blow out all the candles. So many candles. The girls and I ate cake and yakked.  They also tried to shove my face into the cake.  Cheeky.

Cake No. 2

It’s the evening of my birthday, and Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum brought me out for dinner at a Chinese coffeeshop on the way to our ‘favourite’ supermarket, Warta. Then after, they led me back to one of the classrooms in the academic block and this time, the guys had arranged a little get together where another cake was waiting. Yay! Cake! Predictably enough, I had another close encounter with the cake. Not much cake was eaten as everyone decided to get in on the action and smear everyone else with cake. Unfortunately, no photographic evidence exists of that messy activity. Darn.

Cake No. 3

It’s nearing the end of my 19th birthday. I returned to the hostel and found cake No. 3 waiting. I squealed in delight, beyond delirious to have so many cakes in one day.  My squeals soon turned into groans as I was faced with the dilemma of eating yet another cake. I looked at the cake and at my stomach and thought Nope, I don’t think anymore cake can fit in me tonight. In the end though, I cut the tiniest slice of cake ever known to mankind, had a taste and sent the cake on a tour of as many rooms as possible. Cake for everyone!

I went to sleep that night – happy, full of cake, 19.

Daily Prompt: Darkness

In response to the Daily Prompt’s Daily Prompt: Darkness

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I cover my ears to the roars and slurps which leak through the doorway above me, of men devouring fellow-men. It sounds as if the feasting was occurring immediately outside the door of the underground shelter I’d stumbled into the day before.

I scrunch my nose; the metallic scent of blood overwhelms me.

My stomach rumbles. I press my hand against it, willing the growls to silence. I hadn’t had anything to eat since yesterday morning. Nine pieces of cereal found in a bloody baby seat of the abandoned mini-van on the dirt road I trudged through. My hand delves into the left pocket of my dirt-encrusted jeans and count six pieces remaining.

I step back from the door; my hands back over my ears, barely muffling the gruesome sounds. I turn and examine my refuge. My eyes meet dusty and cobweb-covered furnishings.

The shelter I am in is significantly smaller than the bathroom in my apartment from Before. It’s so tiny I feel as if the walls are looming over me and will soon peel away and merge with my body. Canned food lines the walls. Canned fruits, canned vegetables, canned meat. Canned everything. Canned anything. I don’t feel hunger for them.

I open a wooden cabinet nearest to me to discover what else is stored here. I am hoping something non-canned. I gasp as my index finger snags on a rusty nail. Great, I think, another injury to add to the many I already have 

Blood streams in rivulets from the astonishingly deep wound and instinctively I place the injured finger into my mouth and suck. Mmmhoney. I cradle my hand and suckle hard.

Rat-tat-tat!

The wooden door of the shelter shakes, startling me. I freeze and hold my breath, my finger still deep in my mouth.

RAT-TAT-TAT! RAT-TAT-TAT!

“Open the door! PLEASE! If there’s anyone in there, let me in! They’re coming!” A female voice pleads.

I debate whether or not to open the door. This hole-in-the ground already feels confining with merely one person in it. With two, it will be a sardine can. Her pleading transitions to whining. My shoulders slump forward in resignation.

I approach the door, peek in between the door slates and see a young girl with dark brown hair matted with blood. Her clothes are torn and blood streams from a cut underneath her left eye. This girl alternates between looking over her shoulder and peering into the door. At one point, we are eye to eye.

“Open! Please, open! PL-”

“Get away from the door!” I halt her plea mid-way. “I’m going to open the door and you’re going to jump in! On the count of three – one, two, THREE!”

I remove the bar across the door and it swings inwards. The girl falls in with an OOOOFFF!

I shut the door and secure the bar. I stand there for a beat, making sure that no one…no THING…follows. I strain to hear anything out of the ordinary but in fact, realise that I hear nothing. Not even the sounds that I find grisly just moments before. Instead, I hear…this is strange…music. Violins, to be precise. I jump away from the door.

The girl is still on the floor. I hear, no, feel, her heart race and my own heartbeat mimic the rhythm of hers.  I search her face. Her eyes arrest me. They’re glacier blue and wide, the latter most likely with fear. This pleases me but I don’t understand why. Blood from her wound dribbles onto the concrete floor and each drop echoes. My head pounds in concert.

“Do you smell peaches?” I ask her; maybe one of the cans has sprung a leak.

“A-am I safe here? I-i-is it s-safe here? I-is it?”

“Yeah. Sure.” My stomach rumbles again. I will need to feed soon. Feed? I meant eat.

“Do you-do you hear violins?”

“Peaches? It smells like sewage in here. And how can you hear violins over the sounds of what’s out there? D-do you have anything to eat h-here?” She looks hungrily at the rows of canned food surrounding us. My eyes rest on the newcomer.

“Plenty.”

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I sit on the wooden stool and crouch over her. This seems the most comfortable position to be in. I lean forward and allow her flesh to satiate my growing hunger. I start by lapping my tongue all over her eyeballs, reveling in the gelatinous organ.

Delicious. It reminds me of fish roe. I enjoy fish roe.

The rumblings in the pit of my being decreases. Only marginally.

#BEDM Day 28: Chest Nuts

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So, this is where I get my regular fix of chestnuts. Or “chest nuts” as the sign says. This fellow is parked in front of my local supermarket most evenings and when I’m in the mood for chestnuts, I drop by and get a bag. These days, he’s diversified to steamed peanuts and also sweet potatoes. I’ve yet to try either.

Here, the chestnuts are being “dry-fried” in a wok with pebbles stained with black soot. There’s lots of popping and I stand back a little. Once done, he removes all of the chestnuts using a slotted ladle and places them in the blue  box behind the wok and stuffs a pillow into the box to keep the heat in and chestnuts warm.

Not quite “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” but when I crave for chestnuts, this will more than satisfy the craving.

#BEDM Day 9 (Europe): I Heart Pickled Herrings

Update: After more sleuthing in the world wide web, I came across this blog – Found Love Now What – that has her suggested daily topics for #BEDM from 2015, which I find quite appealing and may possibly borrow for the purpose of this challenge 🙂

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Following a month of blogging (nearly) every day in April for the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, I wanted to continue the momentum and decided to do the Blog Every Day in May Challenge. I’d attempted this challenge in 2013 but didn’t complete, probably due to blogging fatigue 🙂 This year is my second attempt and I’m starting at Day 9 although if I’m really determined, I may go back and post for the days I missed, which means that for the most part, I’ll follow the proposed topics for each of the days in the challenge.  

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In October 2015, I visited Amsterdam for the first time and out of so many things that I was looking forward to for my trip, one of the top things (the #1 thing on my list was seeing windmills) was trying pickled herring.

Immediately after landing at Schiphol airport, my hunt began.

I searched for the kiosks that sold pickled herring which were supposed to be scattered amongst the canal area only to find one which had yet to open for the day. Refusing to be denied my pickled herring, I resorted to buying pickled herring from Albert Heijn, the supermarket chain ubiquitous in Amsterdam and devoured the entire tray of perhaps 10 herrings with a side of raw onions. My first impression? Oh God, I could eat this for breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday! Who cared about fishy-onion breath!

Then, while at the famous Albert Cuyp Market, I found this place – Volendammer Vishandel:

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Photo credit: http://www.myhiddengems.co.uk

where I ordered and devoured this – pickled herring AND fried oysters. I could’ve ordered 10 more of these but I had the whole market to eat through 🙂

Smoked herring

Pickled herring, I heart you.