Monday, February 23, 2015

Penang - Chinese New Year

Traveling during Chinese New Year in Asia is always problematic. A lot of people from China travel abroad as the national holiday period is six to seven days long. Not to mention here in Malaysia it is a two-day national holiday making it a four-day weekend. I was paralyzed by the prospects. At John's prompting, we had to make some commitments, back in KL. We decided to skip beaches in the south of Thailand and train directly to Bangkok. The earliest train we could get was Tuesday 2/24. That put us in Penang for CNY, not the best place, but not bad. Since all hotels raise rates, and some double, we prepaid for four nights of hotel sight unseen. Thank goodness of online ratings. I find them particularly helpful. We have pretty much ditched guidebooks when it comes to hotel recommendations.

Hotels are tight in Penang over CNY, just because of people have off from work, not because it is a particularly good time to visit. 90% of businesses are closed for an indeterminate number of days, though eating has not been a problem for us. In fact, if they were all open, there are so many vegetarian places, we wouldn't know where or what to eat. Almost all the celebration takes place privately. There are public celebrations in the streets scheduled for next weekend, which would be a better time to visit. The same is true for Singapore. I had puzzled over their calendar when we were there. Now it finally made sense.

While there were the familiar sights of families gathered for New Year's Eve dinner, fireworks and firecrackers, incense burning at temples, I saw CNY lion dancing for the first time. Since it is not a tradition in Shanghai, I had only heard about it. The idea is for teams to go around to businesses to perform and well-wish and get red packets ????? in return. We saw the lions spitting out oranges for the audience instead.

On the other hand, we were very disturbed by a scene that we witnessed at the Kuan Yin temple, the oldest and most popular temple in town. As we approached the temple, I was immediately puzzled by the number of Indians (non-Chinese) people in the courtyard. Before I could think, a scene broke out. A man was handing out a dozen red packets. People started to swarm around him. An Indian man began shouting "Paidui" (means queue-up in Chinese). Not to mention organizational reps from various charities were also standing around for alms. There were so many issues distilled in that one tableau. I couldn't take it and walked away quickly.

What a mixed bag of a CNY!

Let's go right to the Lion Dancing video (about 45 seconds long).


And the link to the video is here if the embedded does not display or play.

A benefit of being in Asia for CNY, one can watch the New Year's Eve fireworks while lying in bed; just remember to keep the window curtain open.
Chinese New Year, George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Chinese temples were busy on CNY day with literally tons of incense and candles burned. There were also AM church services at one Chinese Methodist church near our hotel.
Chinese New Year, George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Chinese New Year, George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Chinese New Year, George Town, Penang, Malaysia

The beggar's camp at the Kuan Yin Temple.
Chinese New Year, George Town, Penang, Malaysia

The beggar's queue...Note the guy at left standing behind a stack of bird cages. One can pay to "set free" a pair of birds which is both and act of kindness and a way to gain merit.
Chinese New Year, George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Chinese New Year, George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Many Asians follow the tradition to eat vegetarian on Chinese New Year, thus the vegetarian restaurants were busy to over flowing like this self-service place near our hotel where we ate in peace and quiet the night before.
Chinese New Year, George Town, Penang, Malaysia






3 comments:

Liz said...

I didn't realize it was tradional to eat veggie prior to the new year.

john said...

Liz - Many lay Chinese Buddhists eat vegetarian on the 1st and 15th of each lunar month. And on the first day of the first month; i.e., Chinese New Year's Day, many Chinese, Buddhist or not, eat vegetarian with traditions varying from country to country, place to place.

Liz said...

Ah, I didn't realize this. Thanks