THE site of the famed Kwan Yin Tong Temple in Ipoh bustled with lights and energy at night, as thousands of people made their way there to celebrate the 15th and last day of the Chinese New Year celebrations.
The Chap Goh Meh Festival last Saturday was a grand affair, made livelier by eager crowds of people who were there to toss mandarin oranges into the river in the name of tradition and romance.
What was once a simple tradition performed by young women who left their homes to toss oranges into the river at night has transformed into a festive event for youths of both genders alike.
These days, many young men also take part in throwing mandarin oranges with their names and contact numbers, with parenthesis specifying they are males.
There were also young women holding fishing nets at the ready to scoop up the fruit that would, hopefully, lead them to their match of the night.
Student Mak Wei Kinn, 19, was seen chatting excitedly with his group of schoolmates as each of them was armed with fishing nets to scoop up mandarin oranges from the river.
“I’m feeling great about my chances with girls tonight, because I scooped up three oranges, and all three of them belonged to girls.
“But I don’t know about my fate in love. I’m thinking of messaging them later to see if they respond, and I’ll see how I can continue from there,” he said.
Mak related that this was his first time taking part in the Chap Goh Meh tradition.
“I don’t know much about the history behind this celebration, but I think tossing and scooping up mandarin oranges to meet new people is quite special today,” he said.
Mak’s friend Leong Yin Choong, 19, on the other hand, was feeling somewhat dejected.
“It’s quite sad that all three mandarin oranges that I scooped up belonged to guys, since they specified their gender beside their names.
“I feel like giving up, but then again I see my friends who got to scoop up so many oranges thrown to girls.
“I think I might just ‘borrow’ an orange or two from them to contact these girls,” he said.
Leong said this was also his first time observing a part of Chinese culture he has never experienced before.
“By celebrating Chap Goh Meh tonight, I understand our culture a bit better. I usually stay at home on the 15th night of Chinese New Year,” he said.
Meanwhile, student Teoh Chun Weng, 19, said he was scooping the mandarin oranges up for fun.
“I just want to experience scooping up mandarin oranges from the river.
“After that I’ll put the oranges back so that they can be scooped up by someone else,” he said.
Accounting clerk Cheah Kai Yin, 24, was also at the temple to observe the fun of celebrating Chap Goh Meh.
“I’m not looking to meet anyone, but I’ve scooped up some mandarin oranges together with my friends here.
“Perhaps I’ll bring these oranges back and give them to my single friends. Who knows if they might meet someone they like here?” she said.
As for marketing officer Zen Ho, 19, she said she was ready to go all out this year as she had tossed 10 mandarin oranges with her name and contact number written on them into the river.
“I’m hoping that out of 10, at least one guy might pick up my orange and give me a call.
“It’s interesting to meet new people this way. But I think I’ll see how his profile picture looks like on WhatsApp first before I reply,” she said jokingly.
Throughout the night, families and couples who were not looking for love indulged in food and fun activities at booths inside and outside of the temple, while groups of senior citizens sat down under tents to enjoy a line-up of Chinese New Year performances.
Some of the fun activities included guessing lantern riddles, tossing mandarin oranges up onto a wishing tree, game of darts, and catapulting a plush toy towards a pyramid of boxes.
The festival ended with a display of fireworks, which lasted for almost 20 minutes.
Earlier during the day, State Executive Councillor Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon was at the temple to officiate the event.
“Chap Goh Meh is an important festival as it is celebrated by so many Chinese every year.
“The act of tossing a mandarin orange has also become a tourism product for us, as it is expected that 10,000 to 15,000 people come to this temple every year to do it.
“By keeping this 2,000-year-old tradition alive today, many of the younger generation get to experience what Chap Goh Meh is like, why we celebrate it, and who are the ones celebrating it,” he said.
Temple Committee Chairman Ho You Meng said this was the 13th year the temple organised the Chap Goh Meh Festival celebration, and the event has never failed to attract large groups of local and international tourists keen to see the event.
“It is thanks to the support we receive from the state government that our temple’s activities and projects are successful.
“I hope this support will continue for years to come, so that together we can ensure more robust development for the temple and Perak’s tourism,” he said.