Qingming, or Ching Ming, was on April 4th this year. This festival, also known as Tomb Sweeping Day or Chinese All Soul’s Day, marks the day when the Chinese community honour their departed relatives by making offerings to them. This is a cultural festival not a religious one.
During Qingming, all varieties of food (depending on one’s preference) as well as joss stick, incense, joss paper and paper money (depending on one’s religion) are prepared prior to visiting graves.
Once at the grave sites, the tombs would be swept and grass around the area pulled up.
Though I don’t observe Qingming, I’m always fascinated by the types of offerings that are burnt for the dearly departed. A typical offering that is burnt during this festival is paper money. Other types of offerings include model houses, electronic items and this year, even a sports car!
It is believed that all these paper items that are burnt will reach their ancestors who’ll be able to enjoy the objects in their afterlife.
Going to school, I wished I could wear whatever I wanted instead of the uniforms that’s required of us. Before you assume that uniforms are only for those who attend private schools, here in Malaysia, government schools also require their students to wear uniforms.
In primary school (ages 7 – 12), we wore a uniform that consisted of an inner white buttoned-up short sleeves shirt with a dark blue pinafore. We also had to wear white socks and shoes. I remember hating the chore of washing shoes every weekend!
In secondary (ages 13 – 17) school, instead of a dark blue pinafore, we wore a bright blue pinafore.
I was so happy when I was done with secondary school so that I didn’t have to wear a uniform to college! However, after a short, blissful period of wearing whatever I wanted (mostly) to my classes in college, I dreaded having to make the decision of what to wear that day and wished we had a uniform instead! 😀
Did you have to wear a school uniform ever in your life?
The first time I tried otak-otak (o-tuck-o-tuck) was when I was in college and a friend brought a few of them back with her after a weekend at her hometown. I remember being asked if I wanted some otak-otak and I went “Wha….???”
Otak-otak, I later learned, is ground fish meat, tapioca starch and various spices. This mixture is then shaped and placed inside banana or coconut leaf, after which it’s grilled. Though it was a strange and new delicacy for me in the beginning, I grew to love it. At the time, whenever friends would leave for their hometown for the weekend, I’d ask if they could bring back some otak-otak.
Oh, otak-otak translates to “brain-brain” 😀
Do you think you’d be game to try a dish called “brain-brain”?
After introducing the Gas Men and Ice Cream Man to all of you, next up is the Newspaper Man! And before you think that he’s the guy that works at a newspaper company, I’m sorry to have to burst your precious bubble but this is the Newspaper Man I’m referring to:
If you live in a house and not in an apartment building or condominium, it’s highly likely that you get your newspaper delivered by someone who drives around the neighbourhood with stacks of newspapers on his motorcycle – the Newspaper Man.
Normally, in a neighbourhood, there’ll be one dedicated Newspaper Man however, it’s not unheard of these days to have more than one fellow providing this service in a neighbourhood.
I remember moving in to my house years ago and wondering how we could get the newspaper delivered when we saw our new neighbour’s Newspaper Man delivering their monthly bill. So, we hailed him down and told him we needed a Newspaper Man. He gave us a list of newspapers he could deliver and we told him which one we wanted. Delivery started the very next day!
He’d come by each morning at about 6 am, remove the paper from his stack of papers, roll them up, secure it with a rubber band, and fling them over our gate onto the porch! He has nearly perfect aim!
My Newspaper Man works almost year-round except for a few days off for Chinese New Year and when he takes a vacation or if there’s an emergency. If it’s a planned vacation, he’d insert a note with one of the papers explaining how long he’ll be away. That’s when we’d have to schlep to the nearest convenience store to buy the paper ourselves.
Now that we all know that the durian is the King of fruits, did you know that the mangosteen, or manggis (in the Malaysian language), is its queen?
The reason for this (as I’ve been told) is that whenever you eat durian, whenever possible, eat mangosteen after that.
According to the philosophy of Traditional Chinese Medicine , durians are considered “heaty” or “hot” food. While the mangosteen is “cooling” or “cold” food. So, eating them together will balance your body.
One interesting thing I learnt about manggis was that you can find out how many white fleshy segments are inside the fruit before you cut it open. At the bottom of the fruit, there are raised brown ridges that radiate out like a star.
In the picture above, there are 6 ridges/ arms of the star. Therefore, there’ll definitely be 6 white fleshy segments when you open the fruit! Don’t believe me, get your hands on a mangosteen and give it a try!
Ever seen/ ate a mangosteen? If yes, what do you think?
Like Alamak, if you hear someone peppering their sentences with the word lah, you’re probably in the vicinity of a fellow-Malaysian (or Singaporean).
The word lah doesn’t translate into any word although it is used in a variety of situations – to emphasise, tease, cajole and more! I’ve heard some non-Malaysians try to sound local by including lah in their conversation. Unfortunately, their placement of lah in the conversation is not quite right! Sadly, the correct usage of lah can’t be taught because so many factors need to be considered – context or how well you know the other person you’re speaking too! most of the time, depends on the tune and also the context!
Here’s a video of the usage of lah in a variety of situations! This video is an example of its usage in Singlish (or Singapore English) which is nearly identical to Manglish (Malaysian English)! 😀
The capital city of Malaysia is Kuala Lumpur, which translates to “muddy confluence”. I know, not so poetic.
Kuala Lumpur or KL (kay-el), as us locals refer to it, began as a mining town in the 1870s. At the time, tin was being mined across the valley and was gathered at this point to be loaded onto pack animals that then had to ford the Klang River (which runs through the city), and walk many miles to where the river finally became navigable.
I don’t live in KL but in Petaling Jaya, a satellite town, which was established when the KL population exploded. However, when I send out postcards to strangers via postcrossing, I always wrte “Greetings from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia!” instead of “…Petaling Jaya, Malaysia!” I suppose I do this because folks would be more familiar with the capital city of a country instead of one of its secondary cities!
I go to the city centre of KL rarely. Traffic into the city is horrendous, although less so with public transit now. Still, there’s nothing to draw me to the city because I can get everything I need in Petaling Jaya or PJ (pee-jay).
When I was younger, an excursion into KL was a treat. Mum would announce during the week that we’d make a trip to a mall in KL and early Saturday morning, we’d dress in our best and get into the car for what felt like a long ride into the city. Eventhough, it really wasn’t. We’d spend half a day in KL and by the time we got home, would be happy and tired.
My relationship with KL grew when I was 18 and enrolled in an A-levels course at a government-funded college in KL. I felt like a fish out of water, relying on newfound friends who were more familiar with streets and neighbourhoods of KL than I was. To this day, those places in KL that I got to know during those two years of A-levels remain precious to me – Taman Shamelin (Shamelin Garden), the bus route from my college hostel into the heart of KL for ice cream, and so many other places that are etched in my memory.
This unfamiliarity with KL and its environs does present somewhat of a conundrum though when friends from overseas come to visit. I become like a tourist myself as I attempt to take them around the city of which I don’t know too well either. Some would say that I should be ashamed to not know KL as well as I should. I don’t think so. I know enough to pinpoint the tourist attractions and for me, that’s enough.
What do you know about Kuala Lumpur? Have you ever heard of this city before?
There are many Malaysian traditional dances and each ethnic group in Malaysia has their own dance. For Ibans, it’s the ngajat, a dance that mimics warriors in battle. For the ethnic group that originates in Sabah, it’s a dance called the sumazau.
Ever since I was young, I was always involved in performances, most especially dances. One of the first traditional dance I learned is called the joget (joe-get). It’s a traditional dance belonging to the Malay ethnic group. It’s a couple dance and the tempo is fairly quick. A good workout! This dance is quite popular and would often be performed at international events or occasions, weddings.
I had the opportunity to perform this dance at an event during my secondary school years. I remember we had to practice every other day until we got the complicated footwork right!
I managed to dig up a decades old photo of me doing the joget. I’m the one on the far right, focusing on my feet. The girls all wore sarongs and a baju kurung top. A baju kurung is a traditional dress. We also had long scarves around our necks. And yes, the dance is sometimes performed barefooted.
Maybe one day, I’ll try my hand at ngajat since that’s the dance of my people 🙂
When I was a child, I’d eagerly wait for the the sound of a handbell being rung followed by motorcycle honking. When I did hear it, I’d run to the gate and wait for the ice cream man to make one more round of my neighbourhood so that I can wave him down. In Malaysia, we didn’t use to have ice cream trucks, rather ice cream was sold by men riding motorcycles with a cold box on the back of it.
When they’re not driving around neighbourhoods, the ice cream man would sometimes park at schools waiting for kids to get out or at parks on the weekends.
The variety of ice cream sold would be displayed on the box, along with the price. So, you’d just point at which ice cream you wanted, get your cash ready and the ice cream man would open the box and reach in to get the ice cream you wanted!
Some of the ice cream I’d crave would probably not be as familiar to non-Malaysians. One of the cheapest ones I used to get as a kid cost only 10 Malaysian cents and it’s not quite an ice cream but rather a sweet drink poured into a long tube-like plastic bag which is then frozen.
We’d chew off the plastic from one end and then suck on the frozen icy concoction! Another favourite would be ice cream scooped into cones although usually the choices of ice cream flavours would only be limited to three types and most often it would be corn, chocolate or durian!
It’s quite rare to hear the ice cream man’s handbell these days but whenever I’m in the mood for ice cream and see the familiar motorcycle with the ice cream box on the back, I’d revisit my childhood.
There are headhunting tribes documented in many countries around the world – Taiwan, New Zealand, India and also Malaysia. In Malaysia, the headhunting tribe is known as Iban or sea dayaks (sea people). Most Ibans are from Sarawak, located on the island of Borneo.
There were many reasons for why the Ibans mounted headhunting expeditions – avenging theft or murder, being the dominant reason. Another equally important reason the Iban men headhunted was that the Iban women showed a preference for a man who’s able to give proof of his bravery by killing one of the enemy. In this instance, I suppose, the enemy’s head was more valuable to the woman being courted, than a bunch of roses!
When I was writing this post, I found out that there’s a legend related among the Ibans as a reason for this custom –
Once upon a time, a young man loved a maiden, but she refused to marry him until he had brought to her some proof of what he was able to do. He went out hunting and killed a deer, and brought it to her, but still she would have nothing to say to him. He went again into the jungle, and, to show his courage fought and killed an orangutan, and brought it home as proof of his courage; but still she turned away from him. Then, in anger and disappointment, he rushed out and killed the first man he saw, and, throwing the victim’s head at the maiden’s feet, he blamed her for the crime she had led him to commit. To his surprise, she smiled on him, and said to him that at least, he had brought her a worthy gift, and she was ready to marry him.
Okay, so that also proved that us Iban women are bloodthirsty. Yes, us. I’m Iban 🙂
Of course, headhunting is no longer being practiced by the Ibans (As far as I’m aware) as it was banned by Sir James Brooke, the first White Rajah of Sarawak, in the 1800s. So, the Iban women had to settle for receiving something else other than heads, I suppose.
A long time ago, my father told me that our family has kept the heads of our enemies, heads that were cut by my ancestors. I’ve never seen them as the heads are in my father’s longhouse which is deep in the interior of Sarawak. Undoubtedly, I’m curious about these “heirlooms”. I’m also curious as to how many of these heads were used to win the hand of Iban maidens in the family.