Disappointed with CNY SOPs, but a smaller celebration will have to do

Kenneth Tan and his parents Nellie Toh and Ranny Tan, celebrating Chinese New Year at a restaurant in 2019. Photo: Kenneth Tan

For Kuala Lumpur-based designer Kenneth Tan, 39, it will be a very quiet reunion dinner this Chinese New Year.

“I will most likely cook something at home - maybe steamboat for one!” says Tan, who lives alone.

Tan, like many other Malaysians won’t be spending the reunion dinner with his family. Under the CNY standard operating procedures (SOP) announced on Thursday, senior minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said that “reunion dinners and prayers are only allowed among family members living in the same house, and visits as well as cross-border travel aren't permitted”.

“Usually, every year, we (my brother and I) will go back to our parents’ place for the reunion dinner. We'd be back a day before,” he says.

“But my brother who is based in Singapore hasn’t been back since the first MCO in March last year, and I’m also not taking the chance to go back to my parents’ place. Although I wish to see them, but my parents are at that high-risk age, and I wouldn’t want to put them at risk, ” says Tan.

His parents, Ranny Tan, 74, and Nellie Toh, 67, both retired, also live in Kuala Lumpur, so it’s kind of like “so near, yet so far” to them.

Tan (right) with his parents celebrating CNY at their home last year. Photo: Kenneth TanTan (right) with his parents celebrating CNY at their home last year. Photo: Kenneth Tan

“But we'll have a video call together, and we'll be celebrating together ‘virtually’ this year,” says Tan.

“I'll miss my mum’s cooking. She’s a great cook and usually, every year, she’ll surprise me with some special Nyonya dishes. My favourite dish is ChapChye with belacan, ” he enthuses.

“Although it will be some time before we can all see each other again, as long as we’re all safe and healthy, that’s the most important thing,” he says.

Times are hard

Senior citizen Jessie Tan, 70, lives by herself in SS20, Petaling Jaya so this year, she'll be celebrating Chinese New Year all by herself.

"But I'm not sad. I've already started preparing and ordering food for the festive period for myself, anticipating that it might be harder to go out and get food during that time," says Tan, whose husband passed away some time ago. "Plus, I have some really nice and helpful neighbours who often share food with me or even help buy me groceries and pay my bills for me if I need them to."

Tan adds that she was "a little lonely" until she adopted a stray cat that started visiting her home a few months ago.

"Now, I have her for company and I also have all my plants," she says contentedly.

For her, not having a reunion dinner to go to and spending the New Year on her own is something "we have to do for our own good".

"What to do? We have to follow for our own safety," she says. "If I fall sick, I will only be troubling my children and my neighbours so I better stay put."

She more or less has her reunion dinner menu planned out for herself too.

"It will be like dinner any other day. And, as I favour Malay and Indian cuisine, I'll probably have sambal fish on the eve of CNY and Roti Canai for breakfast the next day," she says, with a laugh. "To me, as long as I am happy and healthy, I can celebrate at a later date. We can have a reunion some other time," says Tan who has a son and a daughter, and six grandchildren.

A must-have dish for Melinda Wong and her family every CNY is poon choi. Photo: Wikimedia CommonsA must-have dish for Melinda Wong and her family every CNY is poon choi. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Not a surprise

The CNY SOPs weren’t a surprise to KL-based businesswoman Melinda Wong, 35, and her family.

“We weren’t exactly surprised by the announcement and had already planned to scale down our usual celebrations this year, ” she says.

For Wong, who is married and has a 10-year-old child, CNY has always been an “elaborate affair” with a huge reunion dinner on the eve at her parent’s home in Selangor, and many home visits.

“My relatives from as far as Johor and Kedah would all congregate at my parents’ home in PJ. We would also visit our friends and relatives,” says Wong, who has two older brothers and a younger sister.

But this year, everyone will be celebrating in their own homes, she says.

“Every year, one of our special must-have CNY dishes is poon choi (a traditional festive meal with layers of ingredients like meat, seafood and vegetables, served in a huge porcelain, clay or metal bowl/pot),” says Wong.

“This year, instead of preparing the dish together at our parents’ place with everyone contributing the ingredients, we decided to order it from a restaurant in smaller portions and have it delivered to all of us who are in KL and PJ, so that we can have the same meal, or dish at least, together, even if we’re apart,” she says.

“We’re also going to have a Zoom session for our reunion dinner,” she adds. “It’s the best that we can do during these uncertain times.”

Wong adds that giving out angpows to the children will also be carried out online instead of in-person this CNY.

“There are many kids in our family because all my siblings are married. My parents have seven grandchildren and we can’t disappoint them,” she laughs.

For Melinda Wong, angpows will be given to the children in the family electronically instead of in person this year. Photo: The Star/Art ChenFor Melinda Wong, angpows will be given to the children in the family electronically instead of in person this year. Photo: The Star/Art Chen

No laughing matter

When asked how his family will be celebrating CNY this year, engineer Ron Ng, 49, says they will be “having the reunion at the pasar malam or supermarket ... because got air-conditioning!” and laughs uproariously.

He is of course joking.

“But seriously, the pandemic is no laughing matter,” says Ng as his face turns serious. “I also wouldn’t wish to risk exposing my elderly relatives to the Covid virus.”

“It’s not so much of an issue for my family since my mum (who is a widow) lives with us,” says Ng who is married and has three children in their teens. “So, we'll be having the reunion dinner and celebrating together at home.”

“The only difference is my siblings and other relatives won’t be visiting. In fact, we had already planned not to have our usual CNY open house this year,” he says.

“We only bought enough CNY cookies and food for our immediate family,” he adds. “And instead of going out to visit relatives and friends, we’ll be staying at home watching CNY movies and series.”

“It’s ok, I don’t mind. I save hundreds of ringgit on giving out angpows this year!” he laughs again.

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