Monday, February 06, 2012

Chap Goh Meh

The Hokkien community calls today chap goh meh which means the 15th night and signals the close of the lunar new year. Over the past 15 days the moon had grown to its fullness tonight making it a romantic sight to behold especially if it is a clear and cloudless sky packed with an array of stars to dance before our eyes. The past weeks have been rainy in the late afternoon but last night the moon came out to display her soft glow. I hope tonight the weather will be kind for us to gaze upward, enjoy the 'night sun' and say goodbye to the celebration. Today happens to be a public holiday too, so many families are reunited. I hope there will be fun, laughter, embraces, clapping and remembrance. Most of all I hope we can be thankful that times are still good for many of us, but to remember and help the needy in our midst.

CGM also signify time to go back to serious work, to earn hard money and improve the livelihood of those at home. For about a week before the new year the Chinese businesses will try to sau kung or literally pack up before the new year begins. Building contractors will stop work. The only Chinese businesses roaring into the new year are those selling gift hampers, barbequeing pork and yes, dancing into businesses and homes with their lion dance troops which now has teens from other races as well. Salaries and bonuses are normally paid early so that workers can buy food, new clothings, shoes, presents and set aside new notes to be given to young children and parents as a sign of prosperity and wish for a great year ahead. The Chinese treasures goodwill and will try to close off all debts so that the new year will start on a clean slate. But it is also inauspicious to ask for money so usually the debtors will do their best not to roll over old debts into the new year as it may bring bad luck. It is a perception but a healthy habit to start a new year clean.

So what is this tradition of casting tangerine into the lake by single ladies? It is held that by doing so and making a wish they will find suitable partners to marry. This tradition is popular in Penang with a majority Hokkien community and tonight the Esplanade will be the place to be to look out for the presence of a group of pretty girls doing their thing. Some may even go further out to sea in sampans and boats. Whoever thought this out must be an ingenious Hokkien businessman. This is a great tradition to consume surplus tangerine otherwise they will rot. Already many are getting sick of eating them. This year I ate alot, every day I will peel and eat at least one and the fruit is generally sweet with little or no spoilage. Some people advise against over eating as the fruit is 'heaty' and develop coughs.

Tonight the sight of young girls writing secret messages on the skin and throwing the orange into the water is something tourists will enjoy watching as this tradition is unique to the Hokkien Chinese. Even the locals enjoy it including those from other dialect groups and other races. If you are in such a place tonight, especially in Penang and Singapore, you will be witnessing a truly multicultural tolerant society. And today the lion dance troops will come out in full force to drum, clang and prance their way into the hearts of the celebrants and spectators of the unique and rich culture the Chinese offer the world. I am quite sure the various Chinatowns in UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere will be celebrating too. Once again, Kong Xi Fa Cai, until next year.

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