High demand for sugar cane

Last-minute shopping: Customers choosing pineapples (top) and pink pagoda-shaped candy (bottom) in George Town as they prepare to celebrate the Jade Emperor’s birthday tonight. — LIM BENG TATT/The Star

GEORGE TOWN: Sugar cane, the main offering during the Thnee Kong Seh (Jade Emperor’s birthday), is back in high demand as this celebration on the ninth day of the Lunar New Year will be on a merrier scale this year.

A check at several stalls by the roadside here saw a large crowd picking their preferred stalks for the event tonight.

Trader Ch’ng Chai Seah, 46, who has stocked up about 5,000 stalks at his stall in Jalan Perak here, is glad that business has picked up after the pandemic.

“I took in about 30% more stock than last year after the fall in demand during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The canes are sourced from Selangor and Pahang. I expect to sell my stock within two days,” he said yesterday.

Ch’ng, who has been selling sugar cane for almost 30 years, said this year, however, rising costs caused it to be pricier.

At his stall, a bundle of three stalks can cost between RM23 and RM28 compared to about RM20 a few years ago.

“Customers generally want more leaves on the stalks and for them (the stalks) to be of a similar length to match their house entrance,” he said.

“Those living in flats and apartments will buy shorter stalks.”

Ch’ng, who also helps chop the sugar cane into shorter pieces for customers, said if the pieces were wrapped in newspaper, they could last over three days when refrigerated.

He said most of his customers were last-minute shoppers who knew where to look for him each year.

He added that his customers could also make drive-thru purchases at his stall located right next to the road, where they could stop by and load the sugar cane stalks into their vehicles.

At a nearby market, other items which sold like hot cakes for the festival were the ngor siew th’ng (pink pagoda-shaped candy), bit chien (skewered sweets), bee koe (sweet glutinous rice) and pineapple-shaped thnee kong kim (gold for the God of Heaven).

Also popular was the thnee kong poh (offerings folded in gold-coloured paper for the Jade Emperor).

Sugar cane is considered a must-have for the festival because the Hokkiens believe that their ancestors from Fujian province in China survived persecution by Sung Dynasty soldiers by hiding in a sugar cane plantation for nine days during Chinese New Year.

They emerged unharmed on the Jade Emperor’s birthday and believed that they were protected by the god.

Every year, the Hokkien community celebrates the birthday of the Jade Emperor, also known as the God of Heaven, on the ninth day of Chinese New Year.

The Jade Emperor’s birthday is also regarded as the Hokkien New Year.

Festivities usually start on the night of the eighth day of Chinese New Year when Hokkien families offer prayers, place various offerings to the deity on a makeshift altar in front of their homes and light firecrackers at midnight.

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