Sharing a community’s story


Young performers: Children from Penang Chinese Girls’ High School kindergarten dragon dance troupe performing a special ‘Blessing of the Twin Dragons’ routine at Penang Chinese New Year Celebration held in George Town. — LIM BENG TATT/The Star

DESPITE the trappings of modern life, the country’s Chinese community has not forgotten its roots.

This is especially evident during Chinese New Year when age-old traditions are observed across all social strata, which in turn ensures they will be passed on to the younger generation.

That has long been the aim of the annual Penang Chinese New Year Celebration – otherwise known as Miaohui – whose 2024 edition on Sunday attracted thousands of visitors young and old.

Visitors snapping wefies with a backdrop of lanterns and cherry blossoms. — Photos: LIM BENG TATT/The StarVisitors snapping wefies with a backdrop of lanterns and cherry blossoms. — Photos: LIM BENG TATT/The Star

Unique history

Held across 12 streets in George Town, the celebration themed “Our Story” highlights the unique way of life of the Chinese forebears who first came to the state centuries ago.

Some 20 temples, ancestral halls and clan associations opened their doors to host insightful exhibitions and workshops.

The organisations’ elders, aided by young volunteers, were on hand to share their knowledge, answer queries and facilitate activities.

Meanwhile, 25 displays enabled visitors to immerse themselves in art forms from handicraft to poetry, music and dance.

Crowds joining a dance session at the Melody of Memories stage area during the Miaohui celebration. — Courtesy of Kwong Wah Yit PohCrowds joining a dance session at the Melody of Memories stage area during the Miaohui celebration. — Courtesy of Kwong Wah Yit Poh

For local families in particular, Miaohui also had educational activities for their children.

Among those met by StarMetro was accounts administration worker Cherrie Chong, 40, whose eight-year-old son Alden Yeoh enjoyed making Hakka lei cha at Penang Tsen Lung Fui Kon.

The delicacy is commonly eaten on Renri or “people’s birthday” which falls on the seventh day of the first lunar month.

According to Chinese mythology, this was when humans were created.

Cherrie said, “His grandpa is Hakka so he was keen to try the activity.

(From right) Ang helping Aaron play cymbals while Aaric and Teoh try lion dance drums as part of Penang Chinese New Year celebration in George Town.(From right) Ang helping Aaron play cymbals while Aaric and Teoh try lion dance drums as part of Penang Chinese New Year celebration in George Town.

“I have been bringing him to Miaohui for a few years as it is good for children to know their heritage.”

The nearby Toi Shan Ningyang Wui Kwon showcased woodworking, which was one of the main occupations of early Chinese migrants in Penang.

Taking a closer look at the tools were engineer Michael Peh, 47, wife Lim Chin Ying, 42, and their children, eight-year-old Samuel and Sarah, 6.

“Being English-educated, I have to make an effort to explore Chinese culture myself as otherwise, my kids may lose touch with their roots,” said Peh.

Peh (right), wife Lim, children Samuel and Sarah checking out traditional woodworking.Peh (right), wife Lim, children Samuel and Sarah checking out traditional woodworking.

Telemarketing worker Chong Li Theng, 32, was pleased to bring her five-year-old daughter Louisa Ch’ng to the event for the first time.

The girl was drawn to cute dragon- shaped dough figurines made by an artisan in honour of the reigning zodiac animal.

“This is an opportunity for her to learn new things about her culture.

“It is important to cultivate interest among the next generation as they will be the ones keeping traditions alive in the future,” the mother said.

Across the event site, there were several booths where visitors could get a closer look at lion and dragon dance paraphernalia and even have a go at the drums.

Assistant HR manager Yvonne Ang, 36, her two boys Aaron Chew, nine, and Aaric Chew, seven, as well as her mother ST Teoh, 60, did not pass up the opportunity.

Louisa getting a closer look at colourful dragon-shaped dough figurines made by an artisan.Louisa getting a closer look at colourful dragon-shaped dough figurines made by an artisan.

Ang said, “It is always good to know where you came from.”

There were also poetry writing at Penang Kar Yin Fee Kon, display of letters sent back home by Chinese migrants at Choong Shan Wooi Koon, cut-and-paste porcelain craft at Thai Pak Koong Temple and incense making at Nin Yang Temple.

Traditional jewellery crafting drew onlookers at Ng See Kah Miew, as did traditional medicines at Lee Sih Chong Soo Penang.

Ancestral origins were the focus of Kwangtung and Tengchow Association, with birthday greetings for elders likewise at Tay Koon Oh Kongsi.

Sun Wui Wui Koon recreated the glory days of Cantonese opera, while Moey She Temple highlighted the pawnbroking business.

Wong Si Chong Chi and Penang Teochew Association delved into the “drawing of lots” folk ritual and coming-of-age ceremonies respectively.

An expatriate putting a dragon hat on her daughter's head.An expatriate putting a dragon hat on her daughter's head.

The spotlight was shone on seal carving at Chin Si Toong Soo, traditional weddings at Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi, glove puppetry at Choo Chay Keong, trishaw riders at Lum Yeong Tong Yap Temple, the teaching profession at Seh Tek Tong Cheah Kongsi and traditional paintings at Koo Saing Wooi Koon.

Cherishing heritage

The stage performances were also mesmerising.

At the main Red Festive Stage, over 40 different routines kept crowds entertained. They included joyful dances welcoming spring and choral numbers celebrating the 50th anniversary of Malaysia-China relations.

Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow and various state leaders including Penang Governor Tun Ahmad Fuzi Abdul Razak attended the opening ceremony at the location.

Alden learns to make Hakka lei cha.Alden learns to make Hakka lei cha.

Chow said he hoped the festival achieved the aim of encouraging young people to cherish their heritage.

Elsewhere at the Spring Street Parade, an aerial lion dance wowed with gravity-defying acts.

Much applause also greeted youngsters who performed a “Blessing of the Twin Dragons” routine.

The Tales of Jiang Hu stage hosted martial arts, war drums and lion dance performances, while the Stage of Poetry saw visitors trying out rhymes in various languages and dialects.

The Melody of Memories area had folk dancing, while Penang Dialect Theatre and Legacy Trades Theatre highlighted diverse Chinese tongues and crafts respectively.

Dance, music and movies played out at the remaining four stages – Echoes of Rediffusion, Good Times Together, Jom: Let’s Kahwin and It’s A Small World.

Festive highlight since 1999

Completing the attractions were street displays, including Stream of Family Surnames and Let’s Go Kopitiam, while others featured martial arts, instruments, paper craft, games, garments and lanterns.

Meanwhile, hungry visitors sampled local culinary delights at several stalls.

Many took the opportunity for photography with the main backdrops – a giant arch flanked by mandarin orange trees and the event’s dragon mascot, and giant panels adorned with flowers and lanterns.

The event was held by Penang Chinese Clan Council alongside Penang Cultural Inheritors Society.

It has been held annually since 1999 except during the Covid-19 pandemic years when it went online.

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