Foreigners impressed with Penang’s diverse culture during celebration to pay homage to Jade Emperor

Student Max Eggs, 19, who is travelling to Penang for the first time with his girlfriend, was surprised to see such a big celebration when met during the Thnee Kong Seh (Jade Emperor’s) birthday celebration at Chew Jetty in George Town, Penang. -LIM BENG TATT/The Star

GEORGE TOWN: The crowd started to build up along the stretch of clan jetties along Weld Quay here to pay homage to the Jade Emperor as early as 6pm Sunday (Jan 29).

The actual celebration would only begin at midnight at Chew Jetty.

Spotted immersing herself in Penang’s diverse culture was medical student Paula Kinkel, 24, from Germany.

"This is my first time in Penang and I will be here for four days.

"I live in a hostel nearby and heard the loud music.

"I was told about the celebration and decided to drop by to check it out.

"I'm amazed by the beautiful Chinese New Year decorations and I love that there are red lanterns everywhere.

"This is the first time I will experience the festival and it will definitely be an unforgettable experience for me," she said.

As for student Max Eggs, 19, who is travelling to Penang for the first time with his girlfriend, Chinese New Year has always been a muted affair in his hometown in Germany.

"There will be a small celebration for families in Chinatown but I had never seen such a big celebration.

"My girlfriend and I are doing a gap year and Malaysia was our first stop.

"We will be travelling up north to Thailand in the next few days.

"It is definitely a cool experience for us.

"We have never seen a celebration like this before," he said.

The celebration saw devotees gathered along a grand altar at Chew Jetty in front of the Chau Yuan Gong Temple for the celebration.

Various offerings such as rice wine, ang koo (bean paste cake), mee koo (red tortoise bun), huat kuih (prosperity cake), roasted meat and fruits were placed on the altar.

Sugar cane stalks were tied around the altar which was brightly lit with red lanterns hung over them, while people held up joss sticks and uttered prayers in silence.

The wafting smoke of incense greeted locals and tourists alongside the rhythmic clashing of cymbals.

The last grand celebration was in 2020 before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Bai Tian Gong is the prayer to give thanks to the Jade Emperor, the divinity that rescued the ancestors of Hokkiens from an invading army.

Legend has it that Hokkiens from Fujian province in China survived persecution by hiding in a sugar cane plantation on Chinese New Year for nine consecutive days.

Hokkiens have since celebrated Chinese New Year on a grand scale on the ninth day of the Lunar New Year.

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