GEORGE TOWN: In Hokkien, pineapples are called "ong lai", which sounds exactly like saying "fortune comes" in that dialect.
And when the "ong lai" decides to grow more than one crown – even better if the multiple crowns are arrayed in a glorious fan shape – it is a flamboyance worthy of being placed on temple and home altars, especially to celebrate the birthday of the Jade Emperor on Sunday (Jan 29) night.
Fruit seller Maria Wong, 50, calls such a pineapple "wu jia zhi bao" in Mandarin, which literally means "a treasure without a price".
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"In a field of hundreds of pineapple plants, you can find only four or five like this," said Wong, who used to grow all kinds of fruits in Balik Pulau with her husband before she became a fruit seller in Pulau Tikus market here.
She said she had to negotiate firmly with the distributor and after much to-and-fro, she was only allowed to buy five.
When met at the market on Sunday, Wong had one left and the price tag on it was RM38.
It was, in fact, just a common Bali pineapple, which usually sells for RM5 to RM8 a fruit.
But Wong said when the plant decides to adorn the fruit with an ostentatious set of crowns, it becomes a prized creation of nature, particularly for Chinese festivals.
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"I grew pineapples before and know how rare these are. That was why I was willing to bid hard for them," she said.
Wong admitted that these fruits, impressive as they look, are not as sweet as the usual ones because the plant had dedicated a lot of nutrients to form the multiple crowns.
Monday (Jan 30) is the ninth day of Chinese New Year celebrations and the birthday of the Jade Emperor, regarded as the king of heaven.
It is a particularly important festive day for the Hokkien community because of a legend that the Jade Emperor saved the clan from total annihilation during a war in China centuries ago.
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Hokkiens around the world prepare for an extravagant celebration the night before that lasts till midnight.
According to agricultural research articles, pineapples with multiple crowns are actually mutations due to genetic or environmental factors.
They commonly form when intense sunlight and higher temperatures occur when pineapple plants begin flowering.