Tossing Tangerines & Other New Year Traditions

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.


The first statue we came across was a qilin, my favorite creature in Chinese mythology.


Welcome to Year of the Monkey!



For a small donation, you can purchase a ribbon and hang it on a “prayer tree.”. There were many blessings to choose from, but I chose Constant Happiness for the new baby.


Prayer tree.


Guan yin.


Candles in the temple to Guan yin.


Every single structure had lights on it.

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.


Interesting price structure for citrus.


Look at that tangerine floating on the horizon! This lady threw a couple of oranges into the sea. You can aim for the baskets by the nyonya ladies, but it doesn’t matter if you get them in or not.

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.


Cute balloon creations.


Making dragon’s beard candy.

A little girl had a bubble gun and kept Simon entertained for quite a while. 


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