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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Chinese New Year celebration (2014) in Melaka: Sharing childhood memories

Chinese New Year celebration (2014) in Melaka: 

Sharing childhood memories.

By C S Wan

It has been our family tradition to hold open house at our respective houses for our extended family members and close friends at our respective houses during the Chinese New Year. However, this year (2014) we had to make some alteration to our usual arrangement as a nephew was getting married on the second day of the New Year. My brother and sisters then decided to pool their  resources and hold an open house at our ancestral house in Batu Berendam, Melaka. The wedding date, however, was a blessing in disguise as some relatives from overseas and those residing outside the state, who  came for the wedding, were also able to attend the open house. Other than our usual guests, this year  we were happy to welcome our cousin, Alice and her husband Ken from Japan; our friends Peter and his son Aaron and wife from Kuala Lumpur and my cousin,  ‘Nyonya”, whom I last met some 20 years ago in Singapore.

The lunch began with the tossing of the yee shang ( salad of raw fish and shredded vegetables mixed with other condiments and sauces) . With boisterous shouts and laughter we tossed the yee shang into the air, as it is believed the higher you toss the yee shang the more earnings you will receive for the year.

Then it was time to head for the buffet table which was filled to the edge with a wide variety of delectable dishes:

Mee, satay and other delectable dishes

Special delivery: Otak-otak from Muar

Rojak from Simpang Empat

Rojak: Joon's speciality

Les's signature dish

With a disposable plate piled high with food, I joined my cousin, Tiam Swee, and others at a table under a red canopy and we were soon recollecting and sharing our childhood experiences and escapades during our stay in Batu Berendam. Those days most of the area in our neighbourhood was covered with thick, lush vegetation and the few houses in the village stood far apart. At night only the pale glow of kerosene lamps flickered from within the wooden houses, as electricity and running water had not reached the village.
One night, Tiam Swee recalled, he was down with a slight fever and was resting in the bedroom when from just outside the window he heard the mocking sounds of birds and animals. Grandma too had heard the sound and knowing it was a Pontianak ( vampire ghost ) she hurried to the kitchen. She took out some dried chillies and placed them in a lighted incense burner. Irritated and angered by the pungent odour that wafted from the burner, the Pontianak let out a spine-chilling cackle that rent the night air. In the pin-drop silence of the dimly-lit room, Tiam Swee and grandma listened to the mocking laughter that gradually faded into the distance. 

The story reminded me of an earlier conversation with my cousin Alice from Japan. Alice too had fond memories of her childhood days in Batu Berendam.

Alice and Ken

 She remembered harvesting lemon grass and tying them into neat bundles which they sold for twenty sen a bundle. She also recalled the time when the village was buzzing with the sightings of orang minyak (oily man ). According to Malaysian folklore, the orang minyak was a physically deformed hunchback who made a pact with the devil. The devil promised to change him into a handsome, young man during the day, but at night he would be transformed into a dark, oily man and had to seek and sleep with young, unmarried girls. Alice also remembered the kampung folks telling them the branch of a drum-stick tree (pokok kelor ) when placed inside the house would deter the orang minyak from entering the house. Mother who was also concerned about the safety of her young, daughters too had managed to get a branch of the tree and placed it beside the main door.
The sight of a drum-stick tree that stood at the edge of the playground now triggered a memory. Camera in hand, I made my way towards the tree and was joined by my sis, Teck Neo and nieces Lisa and Fiona. 

 While my sis explained to my nieces on how to select the fruits for cooking curry, I stood gazing at the tree. I was told when news about the sightings of the orang minyak finally fizzled out, mother took out the branch of the drum-stick tree that had been placed beside the door and planted it in front of the house.  I am not sure if the tree was able to provide protection from the orang minyak, but to-day, fifty years on, the tree provides us shade from the heat of the scorching sun and bountiful supply of fruits. And it stands there as a reminder of a mother’s care and love for her children.

This Chinese New Year ( 2014 ) not only gave us the opportunity to renew and strengthen family bonds and friendship, but also an opportunity to share our childhood memories.  

1 comment:

  1. How wonderful if the bonds of family could be rejuvenated in such manner in the years to come. The memories and experience would be kept alive for our future generation to savour and learn from. Hope to be there next year!