Friday, January 27, 2017

Lunar New Year trend

Two weeks of merry-making to usher in the year of the Rooster. Picture by Jehan Mohd.




Bloomberg's piece on young Chinese celebrating the Lunar New Year outside China for shopping and sightseeing resonates with the actions of some Malaysians who belong to different ethnic groups. The article describes the trend among some Chinese notably the younger adults, who eschew the traditional pilgrimage back to their hometowns, preferring to spend their seven-day festive break, also known as Spring Festival, exploring the world rather than feeling miserable at home. This will allow them to "bypass the mobs, clogged roads and subways, lousy customer services as well as boredom" -- features, the Bloomberg article says, "mark holidays at home". Their favourite destinations are Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asia and "outbound travel for the holiday break is expected to top a record six million passengers". "Rising incomes and an expanding network of international flights" are driving the craze among the young Chinese.

Statistics are not immediately available but anecdotal evidence suggests that young Malaysians and not so young ones will also be doing the same thing. Carina, a seamstress based in Ipoh, will be spending a quiet new year in her hometown for a variety of reasons. But this was not the case in previous years. The hardworking dressmaker always looks forward to Chinese New Year because this is the time she takes a long break usually two or three weeks to travel overseas with her family. Going away on vacation with the family is a worth while experience, and a great way to "chill out" or de-stress, she says.




Yee sang, a New Year delicacy enjoyed  in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Picture by Jehan Mohd.



The Chinese are not the only ones who want to escape the strictness of tradition at home. The other ethnic groups in Malaysia do it too. A growing number of Malay Muslims find it appealing to observe Hari Raya Aidil Fitri, the festival that follows the end of Ramadan, away from Malaysia. It is not a new phenomenon but the movement is gaining more and more adherents. Some want to avoid the tedium of reunions with quarrelsome relatives while those who have lost their parents and other loved ones cannot cope with the pain of going back to an empty family home. It appears that their enthusiasm for "balik kampung" has disappeared following the demise of the anchors in their lives. They appear to have embraced the new tradition, finding enjoyment in new experiences and different environments.

However, the practice has come in for criticism from purists who feel rituals associated with festivals such as the Lunar New Year and Hari Raya Aidil Fitri must not be tampered with. A re-connection with the ancestral homes and extended family is the essence of these celebrations, they say. According to Bloomberg, more than 414 million Chinese will leave their adopted homes in Shenzhen, Beijing or overseas to re-establish ties with their ancestral dwellings in China for this year's Spring Festival celebration which is from Jan 27 to Feb 2.

Happy Lunar New Year to those celebrating and enjoy the long weekend to the others.



Chinese living overseas head home to welcome the New Year with their families. Picture by Jehan Mohd.



Friday, November 25, 2016

When trees become a nuisance


Mango trees dot the streets of residential areas in Malaysia. 



I read recently that living in a neighbourhood with trees lining the streets has benefits that are not easily understood.

A Canadian study has found that people who live on a tree-lined block are less likely to report conditions such as high-blood pressure, obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Maybe it is the cleaner air (thanks to the trees) that makes people want to go out and about or it could be due to the "poetry-inspiring aesthetic beauty" of trees that motivate people to want take care of their health.

I completely agree with the above.

But my friend's current problem with a neighbour whose passion is planting trees makes me wonder if Malaysians have gone overboard in responding to the call to plant trees around their homes.

Rabiaa Dani is upset that the neighbour did not ask her permission to plant a mango tree in a space enough for one tree on her side of the kerb. He had pulled out the palm tree she had planted earlier replacing it with the mango tree, a favourite among Malaysians.

That was nine years ago. She didn't speak to him about it then because she did not want to create problems.

But the tree had grown to a point where the roots are likely to snake their way into her small garden and possibly damage that part of the wall surrounding it. Also people with bad intentions could use the branches stretching outside the wall to climb into her yard and do mischief.

Additionally, it is close to an electrical pole. Another potential hazard.

She told the neighbour, after much thought, that she was going to cut down the tree. At first he agreed but went back on his word and "reminded" her that she had given his wife permission years ago to plant it. Rabiaa vehemently denied making such an agreement and forcefully told the woman so.

Rabiaa is going ahead with her resolution to get rid of the tree because of the dangers it would pose, as noted above.

They say time heals griefs and quarrels and she would be grateful if this could happen sooner rather than later.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Ramadan is not just about colourful bazaars

Ramadan bazaars sprout up like mushrooms during the fasting month. They seem to get bigger and busier with each passing year. It will be no different this year.

Ipoh, the capital city of Perak, is gearing itself to be the best state in Malaysia in terms of providing Ramadan bazaars to Muslims in the city. Apparently, the Ipoh City Council will provide "five-star services" to visitors and traders at some Ramadan bazaars in the city in a project known as the Ibu Bazar Ramadan or Mother of all Ramadan Bazaars.

Five areas -- Perak Stadium, Medan Gopeng, Taman Perpaduan, Taman Tasek Indera and Taman Desa Aman -- will launch the experiment today, the first day of fasting.

There will be a special marquee for donation seekers and tithe collectors, in addition to the colourful spread of local favourites in stalls dotting the premises of these bazaars. Prayer spaces for women and men complete with ablution facilities are also available. In other words, the Council wants to make these Ramadan food centres in Ipoh the most talked about in Malaysia.

I have no quarrel with the Council's plan. Indeed, Ramadan bazaars have become a major feature of the fasting month in all states throughout Malaysia that draw visitors to local events specially set up for the holy month and give us the opportunity to explain our culture.

However, Muslims need to remind each other that the month of Ramadan is more about renewing oneself spiritually to face the challenges of the future on Earth  and preparing for life after death than making plans to visit the various bazaars.

Many appear to focus on preparation to greet the month of Syawal including making cakes and cookies, cleaning the house, buying new curtains and furniture as well as shopping for new clothes for the whole family.

We tend to overlook the significance of Ramadan which offers us extraordinary possibilities to engage in activities -- fasting, paying zakat and night prayers, among others -- that will enhance our connection with Allah SWT. Are we prepared to make Ramadan this year better than last year's? We must try hard to achieve that goal,

Ramadan Kareem to Muslim readers of this blog!



Bazaars appear suddenly and in large numbers during Ramadan in Malaysia