THE Lunar New Year highlights some of the most fascinating aspects of Chinese tradition and rituals.
This festival is a time for family reunions, firecrackers, the lion dance, mandarin oranges and ang pau (red packets with money).
It begins on the first day of the lunar calendar year (the first day of the new moon) and ends on the 15th day, known as Chap Goh Meh (the last day of the full moon).
To mark Chinese New Year, Higher Ed looks at how non-Malaysian Chinese students celebrate in this country, away from home.
Welcoming Chinese New Year in a different country has given these students the chance to experience a different way of celebrating.
Zhang Jing, fondly known as Nancy, from Yunnan, China, is a second-year American Degree Transfer Programme student at Taylor’s University who has been celebrating Chinese New Year away from home for the past two years.
“The first year I celebrated Chinese New Year in this country, I was surprised to receive a lot of red packets from families of my friends.”
Traditionally in Malaysia, since Nancy is single, she is eligible for a red packet from those who are married.
“It is different in my hometown. If I am empoyed, I have to give red packets to my elders and younger ones in the family.
“However, most of the traditions here and back home are similar. Many Chinese also wear red clothing and decorate lanterns in their homes.
“In Malaysia, every family has oranges as they represent gold. However, in China, oranges are not that popular. We have candies for our celebration,” said Nancy, 24.
“In China, I am asked about my marital status, as most use this time to find romantic partners. And since I am single, I am always approached with requests to meet suitors.”
While in Malaysia, Nancy finds it refreshing to prepare a special meal at home, play cards and watch a movie instead of fielding questions about her marital status.
“But I do miss my family a lot and I call them to wish them a joyous New Year.”
Zhou Ling, 28, who prefers to be called Eli, from Chongqing in southwest China, celebrates Chinese New Year for the first time in Malaysia. She plans to get together with her friends who are not heading home to China for the festive season.
“I am excited to experience the similarities and differences in celebrating the festival in the two countries.
“This time of year is the busiest in China when everybody is preparing to usher in the new year. For example, parents will buy new clothes for their children and prepare festive fare. We invite relatives and friends to our home. It is a time when I miss my parents and brother very much,” said Eli who studies at Taylor’s University.
Indonesian Jennifer Veronisha, 21, celebrated Chinese New Year here for the first time two years ago with her family and a friend at a reunion dinner in Klang.
Celebrations in both neighbouring nations are similar but she finds it much more festive here. “In my hometown, we hold a small family reunion, prepare dishes to offer to deities and visit relatives, but the atmosphere is quieter compared to Malaysia,” said Jennifer.
The biggest challenge is celebrating the auspicious occasion without her family. “Chinese New Year is about spending quality time with family members and, without them, it is incomplete.”
South Korean Henry Seo Hun Min, a third-year student in a business administration programme in collaboration with the University of Hertfordshire at INTI International College Subang, said he has celebrated Chinese New Year in Malaysia with two families since 2015.
“The event started with lou sang (tossing raw fish salad), with the family at a huge round table. It is a good appetiser for Chinese cuisine before heading back to the family home after dinner to receive the red packets.
“It reminded me of the Korean Lunar Festival,” said the 22-year-old, who added that there are some differences between it and Chinese New Year.
“For example, the celebration here focuses on family bonds and traditional values. In Korea, however, some people think of the new year holidays as ‘me’ time rather than time spent with family.”
Sunway University business studies student Liang Yating, 19, from Zhejiang province in China, will be celebrating Chinese New Year here for the second time.
Last year, while enrolled as a Canadian International Matriculation Programme student at Sunway College, she made dumplings for her friends, who are also from China, to celebrate the festive occasion.
“We spent Chinese New Year together since we were not able to celebrate the festival with our families and friends at home.
“In China, we do not serve raw fish salad. It is our tradition to eat dumplings during the cold weather instead. Making dumplings together is one of the activities that creates opportunities for family members to interact.
“We also make sausages together and dry them under the sun. We will then share them with our families and neighbours,” she said.
Year One Monash University Foundation Programme student, Wang Nan, 18, will be travelling to Singapore and Thailand with her friends during Chinese New Year.
“The festive practices are the same in China. We dress in new clothes, hold a family reunion dinner or lunch, receive red packets and visit relatives.
“The only difference is yee sang (raw fish salad). In Shanxi province, China, we eat dumplings instead,” she said.
“Every Chinese New Year Eve, we watch the Spring Festival Gala broadcast by China Central Television.
“Reunion dinners are usually hosted in a hotel and we book 10 to 12 tables for the meal. Hotel restaurants are fully booked during Chinese New Year. We also stay up late on the eve to pray for our parents’ longevity.
“In the neighbouring province, yangge, the Chinese folk dance, is performed during the festive season.”
Vincentius Hermawan Hamwiyanto, 21, from Indonesia is celebrating Chinese New Year here for the first time.
“I will be away from the family but my friends are in the same boat. I’m looking forward to celebrating with them.
“Since I am on my internship this semester, I can join the company lunch. It will be a good opportunity for me to mingle with my colleagues,” said Vincentius, who added that the malls in Indonesia will be decorated during Chinese New Year and there will be dragon and lion dances. Vincentius is studying computer science at Monash University Malaysia.
Leiying Wang, 20, from China, celebrated Chinese New Year here for the first time a year ago while she was enrolled in the Monash English Bridging course at Monash University Malaysia. But unlike most Chinese Mainland students, her mother has been working in Malaysia for more than 10 years.
“So even though I was not in China, I could celebrate Chinese New Year with my family. We went to Ipoh and enjoyed a hearty
reunion dinner with my parents’ friends,” said Leiying.