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!


  1. Wow, looks like a fun celebration! I love all of your traditional clothing and the picture of Brent and Craig in their Lion costume. The only thing that concerns me about this post is that it looks as if Craigy is writing his name and number on an orange ... I think he is a bit too young for dating :)

  2. Lol, he just wrote his name and then threw it into the sea.