Of Oranges, Red Packets and Family Ties

by Aishah Madinah

*Aisyah Madinah speaks her views experiencing Chinese New Year as a Chinese Muslim.

The time of the year has made its appearance and sparked excitement in everyone regardless of race and religion. Yes, Chinese New Year fell on the third and fourth of February this year and since I am half Chinese, I was just as excited as anyone.

The first thing that happens when one utters Chinese New Year, pictures of oranges, red packets and my mum’s Chinese relatives flash through my mind. Faces of my aunts, uncles and cousins would just come into view and I can even remember the slight whiff of my aunt’s place in Kuala Kelawang. I don’t exactly celebrate it but I join in with the festivities since my mother is Chinese and this has become a ritual where she gets to meet up with her family and us them.

Some of you might wonder, what do I occupy my time with during this occasion?

Well, I visit my Chinese relatives of course. It has become customary for my family to visit on the eve of Chinese New Year, the first day and the third. Usually, I visit my aunt and uncle in Klang. It has been quite a while since we organized a reunion dinner for the entire family due to the fact its quite hard to gather everyone since half of my Chinese family are placed all over the world.

As I recalled, the last time we had a reunion dinner was back in 2007 when I was at the tender age of twelve. Nevertheless, we still keep in contact via the Internet and mobile phones. But I digress.
Back to what I was saying, I would visit my aunt and uncle in Klang and exchange news about everyone. I always look forward to this because it marks the week where I would soon be surrounded with Cantonese, Mandarin and Hakka speaking people who shower me with oranges, kuih kapit, sugarcane drinks, and love.

The next day – which would be the first day of Chinese New Year – my family i.e. mum, dad, brother, sister and me would be squashed into our Grand Livina and we’d have to endure a two hour ride to Negeri Sembilan. No one complains because the amount of fun we have during the journey always makes up for the car sickness and incapability to move around. When we arrived at my aunt’s house which is situated at the outskirts of Kuala Kelawang, my cousin, Ah Peng, would always welcome us with a huge benign smile smacked on her face and a big bear hug.

The first thing I do is greet my uncle – who is considered the man of the house – Uncle Sang, then my cousins and mum’s little nephews and nieces. My mother would give them a box of fruits and other goodies as a Chinese New Year token. This year’s Chinese New Year was quiet due to the fact my mother’s sister had passed away last year October so we didn’t really celebrate like how we always do.
More often than not, my parents would exchange tête-à-tête with the adults while my brother, sister and I would definitely go fishing at the small pond in the compounds of the large farm house.

I am very grateful that I have the chance to live through an actual kampong experience.

Chickens and dogs would be running astray all over the orchard-like garden and sometimes, I would sneak to the rubber plantation behind the house and just walk about, totally enjoying the natural surroundings. My father and brother would embrace the child in them and stroll all over the place playing firecrackers and little bombs which emitted a deafening bang.

And I always get to see the lion dance live right before my eyes.

After spending a good four or five hours at Kuala Kelawang, we would journey on forth to the next house which is at Air Kuning, Negeri Sembilan. Here lives the biological family of my mother – my mother was adopted – and I’d get my fair share of Chinese soap opera’s; my mother’s family are huge fans of those.

Sometimes, frustration would be the main feeling whenever I see my mother chatting away fluently in Cantonese and I am just lost amidst the sea of words she and her siblings exchange.

I used to be able to communicate in Cantonese back when I was nine but I stopped going for classes, hence, my inability to speak Cantonese. My relatives will always teach me a word or two every Chinese New Year, so my vocabulary grows when I meet them.

Each house I visit, I would always give myself a moment to just drink in the atmosphere of everything. The buzz of people talking; the sudden outbursts of laughter; the soft sound of someone peeling an orange; the small grunts a dog makes when its feeling disgruntled; the pats-on-the-backs and bear hugs I receive from everyone; the sincerity when someone actually asks about me.

Plus, not forgetting the feeling you get when someone hands you a red packet! And we all know the red packets are synonymous with one thing: cash.

And the wonderful feeling I get when receiving these little red packets is that the aunt or uncle giving it actually exudes happiness and takes great pleasure in doing this act! I now understand why people say one gets more satisfaction in giving than receiving. But I am not really concerned about the money because the things I see, feel and live through are priceless. All in all, it’s a really beautiful experience.
I really cannot express how grateful I am to have the opportunity to be exposed to a colorful array of festivities, no matter the race or religion. During Hari Raya, I can mingle with my Muslim relatives and gain a whole new experience from that alone each year.

The same goes for Chinese New Year!

My eyes are opened by how the Chinese celebrate this worldwide occasion and I learn so much. More than I could ever learn in a classroom and that is knowledge one should never let go of.

As the saying goes, experience is the mother of all teachers.

Lastly, I would like to take this chance to wish everyone a very happy Chinese New Year!

*Aishah Madinah is currently studying at Convent Bukit Nanas, Kuala Lumpur & aspires to be a writer one day.


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