Montag, 26. Februar 2007

My experiences during Chinese New Year

I've just spent an amazing week together with a Chinese family in a small town in Perak and their home in northern Kuala Lumpur.

My AFS Chapter Leader organized this event for me to experience the way, how Chinese people celebrate Chinese New Year.

Chinese New Year (CNY) began on Sunday, the 18th of February and is celebrated for more than two weeks (15days) ahead. I enjoyed the festivals and little trips very much, but I found out, that my stomach doesn't like Chinese food, although I tried its whole variety.

On the Thursday previous to CNY my Chapter Leader picked me up in front of my house and brought me to the local train station. There I board a commuter train leading to KL Sentral station, the modern main station.

After having a chilled Vanilla shake at McDonald's I met Shireen, the woman of the Chinese family, that I was going to live with for eight days. I quickly got in contact with her and we exchanged informations about each other and talked about my life in Malaysia.

Shireen is divorced and lives together with her two children, one daughter in my age (Nilly) and the 13 years old Deawon in a three-storeys terraced house in northern KL. She owns two bookstores hereabout and she hosted a German AFS student the previous year.

On the following Friday we drove to the Kampung (countryside/where one's parents live), like all Malaysians do on CNY (also Malays and Indians) and Hari Raya (the national day). We used the modern North-South-Expressway, which was very crowded, to go to a small little village on the west coast in the bordering state of Perak.

There are no Malays inhabiting this village, only Chinese and a small Indian community. Oil palms and an estuary in the North surround the (remote) settlement. We brought many presents with us, such as sweets and electronic devices, as Shireen only visits her mother once a year.

In the evening I joint the others watching Chinese Hip Hop on the TV, which was very funny. Thereafter we visited some friends and relatives, like we did the next morning.

On Saturday we went to Shireen grand mother's house. She had just set the table for her deceased with a big variety of meals and drinks and was praying in front of the family altar. Around noon I discovered the whole village and the surrounding plantations on my own. The locals very always amazed when I tested my little Chinese vocabulary, which Deawon taught me in the car. Inside the plantation was a cosy atmosphere.

After I arrived back at the house we left to go swimming, but it began raining, while visiting a clinic to arrange an examination for Shireen's mother. So we bought some slippers for me, because I forgot my ones in Shah Alam and then we decided to back as it was still raining cats and dogs.

Towards evening the first events took place in the village center. First I admired the Lion Dance, which was invented to scare a monster, that ate children in former China. The show was great. I have never been to a Lion Dance so closely. And at the end they lit a long cord, which was fitted with tens of hundreds of extremely loud firecrackers.

A group of men launched several huge paper balloons, also fitted with firecrackers. Before there was enough warm air to lift them, the audience was allowed to sign on the balloon surface. High up in the sky the firecrackers made beautiful images and light and sound effects.

Meanwhile there was a singing competition in the parish hall. Only Chinese songs had been sung.

Shortly after we arrived at home, the Indian community came past our wooden house with their mobile temple pulled by two oxen. Their priest put a Bindhi on my forehead and I took some pictures. Shireen told me, that one of their gods had birthday.

New Year began with many firecrackers, rockets and balloons rising to the sky and illuminating it and fulfilling it with crackling sounds. But the fireworks weren't big surprises to me, they are very similar to the Germans. The only addition which is noteworthy, are these cords fitted with thousands of crackers, that make such a loud noise, you have to shut the ears.

At 1 o'clock am I followed Shireen to the next big town, Lumut, to pick up her employees from the bus terminal. The three Malay ladies were also very friendly and curious about my stories. I spoke Malay with them and they were delighted by me doing this. Because of their appetite we went to an Indian Mama's restaurant, that can be found all over Malaysia.

I slept only four hours until we left the village with Shireens employees to go to Pangkor Island. We ferry there with a Jetty called boat from Lumut harbour front. On Pangkor island we rent a minivan and a driver to take us around the island. We visited an old Dutch fort, a Chinese temple, a handicraft shop which also sold local food specialties and of course a beach, but sadly a dirty crowded public beach. Shireen was complaining because, the previous year she enjoyed a hotel beach on Pangkor island.

Pangkor is very hilly, the highest mountain is more than 330 meters high. That is why, the rain forest in the middle of this touristic island is still untouched and many great hornbill birds inhabit this rain forest.

I saw the airport and I think it must be amazing to approach the runway, because the airport site is surrounded by steep timbered hills.

During this trip i felt like a Chinese tourist must feel. Shireen always ordered me to take pictures. But in the end I can just thank her because now I have some pictures with me on it.

On the way back I have had a conversation with a Malay HSBC employee, who was also very interesting in AFS and my every-day life in M'sia.

In the evening, in a seafood restaurant, I had a war with some mosquito troops, who wanted to suck me to death. I forgot my anti-mosquito-spray so I had to shiver all the time.

The next day, Monday, the 19th, was full of adventures for me. In the morning I went into the estuary to collect shells with a cross-eyed man, who also lives in the house where we stayed. In germane I woundn't have entered this muddy water voluntarily. It was great, after a while I figured out how to get the most shells. I had to dig several centimeters into the mud (below water surface). I think we collected more than two hundreds.

Thereafter in the afternoon I went to the public festival of the village and I payed two Ringgits (50 Eurocents) to participate to a duck-catching-game. Those who payed are allowed to enter a reservoir/pool filled with the muddy water from the estuary (sea) to catch as many living, thrown-in ducks as one can. I caught four, that's a lot. We brought them home and ate them for dinner.

I think I have never showered so often at one day (seven timeslah). Whensoever it felt good not to stink anymore like this muddy water. Haha.

On Tuesday we visited friends again and I got many Ang Pows. Ang Pows are little envelopes with some money inside. If they handed them to me they said Gong Xi Fa Cai and I replied the same. The phrase means: Congratulations, you receive money/ Congratulations, earn more money.

In the afternoon we arrived back in Bukit Gombak, in northern KL and I watched a movie about Buddha. Now I know more about that topic.

In the two following days Shireen showed me two Chinese temples in KL. I already visited many Chinese temples in my life, but Shireen told me many interesting stories, rules and explained me the meaning of some rituals. For example the ritual, where I shook many sticks, until one of them poked out of the others. I had to read the number on the stick and picked one of the sheets out of the drawer with the matching number. The sheet gave me some advices for this year and fore casted it a little.

In another temple Deawon had to pray a lot and he had to carry out series of a rituals and praying, because this “Year of the pig” is not good for the peoples born in the years of “Monkey, Goat, Snake and Tiger”. They'll have bad luck, if they don't do like Deawon did.

My week ended with vomiting after having had terrible stomach aches, because of the Chinese food combined with hot coffee and, cold milk and many Chinese sweets.

Anyway, it was a wonderful experience and I enjoyed it very much. I even learned some Chinese words and phrases. But I am also very happy to be back in my Malay host family, that I already love so much.

For more pictures see the German article some days ago (below).


Maria hat gesagt…

Hallo Craig,
das Foto mit den Oelpalmen ist Preis verdächtig, einfach super!
Auch Deine Texte herrlich: informativ, persoenlich und lustig. Weiter so.

Christoph hat gesagt…

HI Craig,

Thanks for this info.

By the way: your English is formidable.

Dengan cinta,