Welcoming the rabbit

Updated: 2011-01-28 13:20

(China Daily European Weekly)

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Time to eat out, talk and catch up

By Esther Auyong

In Malaysia, food is a big part of the Chinese New Year. But sadly, the traditional new year's eve reunion dinner is fast becoming a rare sight in homes - for practical reasons.

For Malaysian Freddy Lee, 30, the dinner is held at a restaurant in order to reap the most out of any available time to catch up with his family.

The business development director returns to Kuala Lumpur, every Chinese New Year, from Singapore where he is based. "With my parents getting older and kids like us (he and his two brothers) away most of the time, it makes sense not to spend too much time in preparing a meal and to spend more time talking and catching up. Things have definitely become more commercial, and the spirit of the festival is also less important now. The real benefit is being able to see our loved ones and spend some quality time together," Lee says.

However, he admits that the lavish spread of home-cooked food - "fish is a must, so is chicken and always something luxurious, like abalone" - of his childhood "is always missed".

"Perhaps when I have my own family, it will revert to the old times, as there is always that 'tradition' that one wants to pass on," he says.

For many Malaysian Chinese, whether they return home from overseas or from big cities where they are working, the Chinese New always been about spending time with the family.

"On the first day, all the kids wake up early. My parents made it a point that we wear our new, usually red or orange-themed clothes. We then go into our parents' room to wish them gong xi fa cai, and enthusiastically receive ang pao (red packets) from them.

"It is precisely the long duration away from home, for some workers in the city that keeps the Chinese New Year spirit alive in Malaysian states," says retiree Edward Yong, 56.

The balik kampung (return to hometown) rush, especially from Kuala Lumpur to other states, would start as early as a few days before Chinese New Year, with many main highways out of the capital choc-a-block with traffic. Bus and rail tickets out of the city are bought a few months before, with locals of other races also taking the opportunity to visit their families during the public holiday period.

While Kuala Lumpur isn't a complete ghost town, it will be significantly quieter with many shops and restaurants eschewing any potential business to bond with friends and family. As they say, home, especially during the holidays, is truly where the heart is - Chinese New Year or not.

Esther AuYong is a Singapore-based writer for China Daily Asia Weekly.


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