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Chinese New Year Evokes Nostalgia Among Malaysians

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KUALA LUMPUR – When supermarkets start blaring ‘Gong Xi Fa Cai’ and other similar festive Chinese songs, you know that Chinese New Year is just around the corner.

Meanwhile, laterns in the auspicious colour of red adorn the streets during this special time of the year and red banners compete for space at homes and business premises as they represent good luck and prosperity for the community.

Shortly after celebrating Thaipusam with the Indian community, Malaysians now get to share the excitement of the Chinese community as they wait for the arrival of the lunar new year.

Chinese New Year is one of Festivities in Malaysia celebrated with great fanfare. And because it is a cultural celebration, the whole Tiong Hua community celebrates it regardless of religion.


Each time Chinese New Year approaches, Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) lecturer Dr Shamsu Mohamad remininces his Chinese neighbours in his village in Pasir Mas, Kelantan.

The home-made Nian Gao (kuih bakul) wrapped in banana leaf have become a family favourite eversince their Chinese neighbour, who was fluent in the Kelantanese dialect, came over with the cakes and oranges.

Shamsu’s mother too would reciprocate by cooking rendang for the neighbours as an additional dish for their family reunion feast.

“I’m not sure if they still practice giving out Nian Gao. Oranges are still given out to this day,” he said.

The Nian Gao is made from glutinous rice flour. It is steamed for several hours until golden. Though it may be available throughout the year, it is more popular during the Chinese New Year.


For UiTM Perak senior lecturer Dr Salwa Ayob, Nian Gao will always have a place in her heart as the sweet cake had strengthened the bond between families.

“I was born and raised in Penang. I even attended St George’s Girls School where the number of Chinese and Malay students were almost equal in number, so Chinese New Year is quite familiar to me and my family.”

As her father operated a sundry shop, the often interacted with Chinese customers and business people. Her father’s good friend, a Chinese, set up a hardware shop next door.

They had become more than business neighbours and more like family. Even the children became close.

“Whenever Chinese New Year is near, Mandarin oranges and Nian Gao are a must. We usually get such delicious and soft cakes as well as good quality oranges,” she said.

She said, in turn, the family would send over cookies, cakes and ‘rendang’ for Hari Raya Puasa.

Though not the main factor for the lasting friendship, the exchange in goodies had maintained the friendship which Salwa said had extended to the third generation.


A public health institute personnel Sobashini Kanniah, 34, recalled some interesting memories of growing up in Kuantan next to a Chinese family for 20 years.

For the mother of one, the closeness of the two families had made her accustomed to changes that occured over at her neighbour’s house.

“When I was in primary school, I noticed that the house next door would become more red. Red lanterns would be everywhere and they would also buy boxes of oranges.”

She even recalled how she was awoke from sleep due to firecrackers blasting away and her mother would console her, saying it was only the neighbours celebrating Chinese New Year.

“Enforcement was not strict then as it is now. Now our neighbour’s grandchildren have changed to sparklers”.

During the day, lion and dragon dancers would make their way to the terrace housing neighbourhood and perform door-to-door.

“We will all go out and watch them perform. I used to run away from the lion because it looked like a monster when I was small. Later I became excited to watch the lion jump to catch the ang pau dangled by the house owner. Then all of us rushed to get the oranges thrown by the lion dancers,” she recalled.

She said she and the other Malay and Indian children would then trail the lorry carrying the drummer and dancers on their bicycles as the group stopped at each lane to perform.

When the performances ended they would collect the ang pau and oranges given out by home owners. – BERNAMA

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