Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Identity Crisis of a 6 Year Old!

Craig's school is always thinking of ways to make learning fun! They are following the British international primary school curriculum, and this term they are focusing some of their learning on circuses. The reason is that most countries have some form of circus, so they can discuss the similiarities and differences of the circuses in the host country, home country and the home countries of their classmates. I think it's great that Craig is exposed to different countries and I also love that they don't want him to lose a connection to his home country. Sometimes this creates a bit of an identity crisis, but it's a cute one! We put on a circus for all the year-1 students and they were encouraged to dress up as a circus character. Craig decided to be a magician, and here he is, on his way into the circus!
Here are the year-1 class moms, who decorated the hall like a circus and had to come dressed as clowns (and 1 gypsy!). See if you can find me!
Here is Craig, with his best friend Navid. They are enjoying universal circus foods, popcorn and juice. They had to figure out how to pay for the food all by themselves. And since they were using British coins, I wouldn't have been much help, anyway! Look at Craig's hat! He has a rabbit jumping out of it! I am very glad my brother, Aaron came to visit just in time to bring Craig his costume!
Here are Craig and I! Craig thought his costume was pretty magical! It had disappearing cards in it and everything! Disappearing in that when he put the cape down you couldn't see them.
Craig got choosen to go up and help the clown that came to put on the show! He was very excited and decided that being a magician was pretty fun!
So after school, Craig decided to be a magician for the rest of the day. Here he is, showing off his stuff at our salon (Uncle Aaron, Aunt Leticia and Uncle Chris wanted to try our awesome stylist)! Craig loves to be a magician and has since gone out several times in his gear.
So far, Craig is loving the focus on circuses. But we also needed an outfit to help him identify with his home country, which he'll wear later in the term. My mom hooked him up with a real "American" outfit, and he is just loving it. Before it got here, the only thing I could find was a superman pajama set, which he loves. But now, he's married the two, and is often seen wearing this cute little getup all over town!

So here he is, the all-American cowboy/superman!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Gong Xi Fa Cai

Gong Xi Fa Cai (prounounced "gong she fah chai"), or Happy Chinese New Year! As you probably know, China operates according to a lunar calendar. Thus, Chinese New Year typically falls in late January or early February. This year, it ran from February 3rd to February 18th (yes, it's a long holiday). Given the large enthnic Chinese population, we celebrated Chinese New Year in Malaysia. Chinese New Year is a time to celebrate a new beginning, to gather together with old friends and family, and to hope for a fortunate and prosperous new year.

I asked Craig what year it was, expecting him to say 2011. He quickly told me it was the year of the rabbit. Well, he's quite correct, 2011 is the year of the rabbit. Here is Jennifer and Craig posing with this year's member of the Chinese zodiac, complete with the obligatory hand signals.
Here we are in our traditional Chinese outfits, standing in front of one of the many Chinese temples in Georgetown, Penang. Penang held a large celebration on February 12th in honor of Chinese New Year. It was a lot of fun, and very crowded.

Malaysians are award-winning Chinese Lion Dancers. These lion dancers are leaping onto a series of small platforms. Each platform is about 10 inches in diameter. The dancers are probably 11 or 12 year old boys.

Lions always have two dancers per lion. Yes, even in the above picture, there are two 11 year old boys standing on a narrow pole, with the boy on the bottom holding up the boy on the top. The Lion dances to the beat of Chinese drums. You can see the video of a drum performance by clicking here.

You might recognize the dancers in this lion costume.

Here is the "buddy team": Craig and his friends Navid and Karu. They also got into the Chinese New Year spirit by performing their own Lion dance.

The festivities last more than one day. On the last day of Chinese New Year, we went to the Esplanade in Georgetown to see more of the celebration. Here is Chinese pole throwing. Look closely, the acrobat is catching the flagpole with his mouth!

Another part of Chinese New Year is Dragon dancing. The Dragon always follows the ball - which is a fire ball. It's amazing to watch. You can see video of the dance by clicking here. The Dragon scares away evil demons or bad spirits.

Craig was a bit nervous, but don't worry. The Dragon did not bite Craig.

Another tradition on the last day of Chinese New Year in Malaysia is to write your name and number on an orange and throw it into the sea. Then, someone will grab the orange and give you a call - and ask you out on a date. It's a sort of match-making idea that the Hokkien (Chinese immigrants in Malaysia) used to practice.

A few enterprising fisherman were out collecting the oranges that people threw into the sea. I'm not sure if they are simply looking for a snack, or a date.

Chinese New Year is the biggest holiday of the year - similar to Christmas in the United States. Also similar to Christmas, they decorate their temples with lights and laterns. This is the 10,000 lantern festival at Kek Lok Si, the largest Chinese Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia, which you can see from our apartment.

Here is a view of the temple complex with all of the lights and lanterns.

One of the customs in Malaysa is to have a special Chinese New Year meal. Part of this meal is to have a four seasons salad. You mix the salad yourself using chopsticks. As you mix the salad, you make new year wishes for yourself, like "lucky lucky lucky" or "money money money".

Here I am with my team, mixing the salad. The salad has won ton noodles, raw fish, honey, vineagar, and colored noodle things. It's a very tasty salad, although out of courteousness I allowed others to eat the raw fish.

Craig's school also celebrated Chinese New Year. See if you can spot Craig. No, it wasn't pajama day - all of the students were allowed to wear their Chinese New Year outfits instead of the school uniform.

While everyone was waiting for the main performers, a few of the students entertained the crowd with their own Lion dancing. They were met with enthusiastic applause from everyone in the audience!

Here was the main attraction - a Dragon dance just for the students!

Here is another picture of Craig with some of his classmates - including Sofie (behind Craig), who helped Craig get adjusted to the long school days by eating lunch with him.

We had a great time celebrating the biggest holiday of the year with a few billion other people in Asia! The dancing, costumes, lanterns, and food are all a wonderful part of the experience. Happy new year!

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Not too long ago Brent had to take another trip back to the States for some business meetings. Unfortunately for him, one of the most amazing cultural Indian Hindu experiences in Penang happened while he was back home: Thaipusam. Not one to sit around the apartment when a festival is going on, I wrapped myself in a sari, threw a punjabi shirt on Craig and went to see what Thaipusam is all about! I can post pictures, but it won't do this experience justice. Look at the journey that millions of Hindu faithful participate in each year!

We went with our good friends, Frank and Kay Lyn Shaw. Frank is the managing director of another computer chip company here in Penang. His company had a booth set up along the road that devotees walk on. The booth serves food to employees and family members on their journey. Here they are serving lunch in their booth I thought we would stay in the booth and watch Thaipusam, but boy was I wrong!
Thaipusam is a Hindu celebration that takes place when the moon is full in the Tamil month of Thai (between January and February). Dedicated to Lord Subramaniam, also known as Lord Murugan, the deity of youth, power and virtue. This Hindu festival commemorates the feats of the Hindu God, Lord Subramaniam son of Lord Siva. It also acknowledges Subramaniam's triumph over the evil forces. Devotees go through a physical endurance of being skewered and pierced on the back and front of their bodies by hooks with miniature urns as an act of penance. These hooks and skewers and the burdens they carry are called Kavadi. After being burdened (or pierced multiple times!)a pilgrimage of several kilometers is made through the streets of Penang, and up a hill to a temple where prayers of thanksgiving and penance are offered to Lord Murugan. We joined in on the pilgrimage. What made this so unreal is that I drive down the street of the pilgrimage all the time, it is literally up the street from Craig's school! While I can post pictures of what we saw, there is no way to post the incredible beating drums and music that filled the air. I also can't post the wonderful smell of curries mixed with incense that permeated the air from the different booths and that lined the streets of the pilgrimage. Here are a group of women in their beautiful traditional dress, making their way up the street and then up the hill.
Here is a devotee making his pilgrimage with his kavadi. Look closely at his mouth. It has been pierced all the way through both cheek, and their is no blood. Look at his body, there are multiple pins pierced all over. Lastly, look at the man walking behind him, pulling some ropes.
Those ropes are attached to large hooks that have been pierced through the body and then pulled on throughout his pilgrimage. And look again, there is no blood!
Craig drew a lot of attention on the street! What a cute little boy! He is very patient with all the people who want pictures of him, everyone loved that he was in festive Indian dress.
Here is a view of the street, so you can get a feeling of the massive quantity of people that walk this road during Thaipusam. There was a stready stream of people from morning until night.
Here is a look at the Kavadi that people in the middle of the crowd were carrying. I was so suprised that the devotees were surrounded by everyone else. I thought we would just watch them go by, I didn't realize we would be in the middle of things, walking with them. Everyone carrying the headresses were also pierced several times.
Take a look at this man! He is covered in metal urns (kavadi)!
If you take a closer look you realize the metal isn't some type of coat, each piece is individually pierced onto the man.
This was the first time I saw fruit covering anyone. This was also the first time I looked at their feet. They make this pilgrimage pierced and barefoot! They walk several kilometers barefoot! I kept wondering why people at the booths along the way where spraying down the cement. I thought they were making a mess, but they were really cooling the ground for the devotees to walk on.
I had a tap on my shoulder and was asked to make way for someone. When I turned around, this is what I saw! Be sure that each one of those metal urns is a piercing!
Look closely at his face!
This is one of the most amazing things to me, look how close Craig and I were to this man. I have never been a part of anything like this before. Craig is understandably a little nervous.
But he calmed down when he saw this man, coming back down from the hill. Here is Mr. Nicholas, a teacher at Craig's school. I really couldn't believe that we actually knew someone so actively participating in this ceremony/pilgrimage. It made it seem not so surreal, that this was actually happening where we live. What a great place to be!!
A few hundred yards before the hill many people stopped at this temple to pray to their Gods. You might remember this temple from Craig's field trip!
And here is the beginning of the end of the journey, the hike up the hill to make offerings of thanksgiving and penance. It was quite a hot day, and we had already walked for more than an hour, so I just couldn't make Craig climb the hill!
So we made our way back to our friend's booth and here we saw a very young boy with his kavadi.

Here are some more awe-inspiring sights we saw and we made our way back to the booth. I took over 350 pictures, and it was so hard to choose what to put in this post!
Yes, the shells are all pierced on!

These men actually stopped to dance!

By the time we got back to the booth, Craig was very happy to see one of his favorite people! This is Patel, Frank and Kay Lyn's driver. Patel and Craig became fast friends when we first moved here. Here we are! Back at the booth. What a truly amazing day! The more I think of Thaipusam, the more I think "Did I really see that? Was I really in the middle of that?" This was one of the true highlights of living in Penang for me, and something I never in a million years thought I would see in person.