Let’s back up just a little bit… we got to experience a few other Chinese New Year traditions earlier this month and I never had a chance to write about them all.
Kek Lok Si is the largest Buddhist temple in all of Malaysia, and it’s situated right here in Penang. From all across Georgetown, you can see the big temple built into the side of Air Itam Mountain. It’s a sprawling compound, but the most famous structures are a three-tiered pagoda and a 99-foot tall statue of Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy.
There is a Gustavus field trip scheduled to go to Kek Lok Si later in the semester. But our family had to go sooner. For two weeks following Chinese New Year, the temple is lit up with thousands and thousands of lights and lanterns. Think of the biggest Christmas display you’ve ever seen. This is more sparkly than that. And so anyone who is ever in Penang during the month of February: you must definitely go to Kek Lok Si at night.
In Malaysia, the 15th and last day of Chinese New Year celebrations is called Chap Goh Meh. Given the timing–mid-February–and the fact that it’s a holiday that focuses
courtship, the day is sometimes called “Chinese Valentines Day.” Traditionally, on this day, young single women would get dressed in their best clothes and seek a suitor.
(In China, the same day is known as the Lantern Festival, and it will always be remembered in Carlin Family Lore as the day Simon took his first steps.)
Penang has its own special take on this holiday. On Chap Goh Meh, single ladies go to the seashore and toss oranges into the sea. A modern twist has them using a Sharpie to write their names and cell phone numbers on the oranges, so that any potential young suitor who walks the beach and discovers and orange can track them down. It’s a blind date, taken to a whole new level through tangerines.
The center of the festivities in Penang were at the Esplanade. In addition to the orange-throwing station, there were cultural performances on a central stage and numerous food vendors were set up to offer Hokkien specialties.