When it comes to romance, the Chinese celebrate “Valentine’s Day” three times a year. But are Cupid’s little arrows, the tossing of fruits on Chap Goh Meh and computer match-making getting the desired results?
IT’S that time of the year again to toss Mandarin oranges into the sea, or river as the case may be. Today is Chap Goh Meh, the 15th and last day of the Chinese New Year celebrations. Chap Goh Meh or Yuen Xiao in Mandarin is also the Chinese version of Valentine’s Day.
The practice of tossing Mandarin oranges is uniquely Malaysian. To be precise, it originated in Penang where unmarried women would gather at the seaside on the night of Chap Goh Mei. There, they would toss oranges into the sea, hoping the fruits would be picked up by eligible young men who would then become their husbands.
In China and Taiwan, the 15th day of the new lunar year is also known as the lantern festival, and streets and temples there would be decorated with giant paper lanterns.
In the old days when girls were confined to their chambers, Chap Goh Meh offered them an opportunity to go out to see the outside world – and to be seen by eligible young men in search of potential partners.
Since these opportunities could lead to romantic affairs, it has been called the “Chinese Valentine’s Day”.
These days, while unmarried women still toss oranges into the river or sea hoping for a good husband, there is a new twist to the practice. The women are writing their phone numbers and e-mail addresses on the oranges. This, of course, is to facilitate communication between the interested parties.
And, not content to be just picking up oranges, the men have also joined in the throwing game – they are tossing bananas with messages written on them!
Apart from Penang, this practice is also observed in Taman Jaya in Petaling Jaya, Taman Tasik Permaisuri in Cheras, and in Klang and Malacca.
For the Chinese, there is more than one day in a year to celebrate romance. There are in fact three if you include Valentine’s Day, which has become more popular among the Chinese.
While dating couples will not miss Feb 14 for Valentine’s Day and Chap Goh Meh, they can also look forward to Qi Xi, the day when Qi Jie, the weaver girl from Heaven, is allowed to meet her lover Niulang on the seventh day of the seventh month on the lunar calendar.
According to legend, magpies would form a bridge across the Milky Way to make it possible for Qi Jie to meet her lover. The lovers were separated by the God of Heaven when He found out that the girl, who is a fairy from Heaven, had married a man on Earth. Thus, the day they meet is also regarded as a Chinese Valentine’s Day to commemorate the eternal love between the two.
However, despite all these festivals of romance and marriage, the Chinese in Malaysia are still slow in tying the knot. Sinologist Lai Kuan Fook attributes this to economic pressure which is pushing them to delay their marriage plans.
It is common for the Chinese to place financial stability before other things, and this happens not only in Malaysia but also in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore.
According to Wanita MCA chairman Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun, a study showed that the average marriage age for Chinese men is 30.6, Indian men 28.8 and Malay men 27.8. For women, the average marriage age for Chinese is 27, Indians 25.4 and Malays 24.5.
Since it was formed in August 2001, the Wanita MCA-sponsored Cupid Club is still working hard to match eligible couples. So far, the official record shows that the club had successfully matched 173 couples. Of course, the figure does not include those who married without informing the club.
Lim Swee Kiang, chairman of Cupid Space Wanita MCA, says the club has a 7% success rate. It has about 4,000 registered members, two-thirds of whom are women.
It conducts computer matching and organises activities for singles.
The men who registered with the club were comparatively younger than the women. Men who join the activities organised by Cupid Space can be as young as 26 while women who sign up are normally above 33.
Another feature of the membership is that many women are well educated, with diplomas to master’s degrees, while most of the men have only SPM qualifications.
In his book Malaysian Chinese and Nation-Building, Assoc Prof Tey Nai Peng of Universiti Malaya says the mean marriage age of Chinese women has increased from 22.1 years in 1957 to 27 in 2000.
In addition, the number who remained single has also increased rapidly in tandem with increases in educational level. In 2000, close to a third of Chinese female graduates aged between 30 and 34 were single, and about 17% were still single at age 35 to 44.
Traditionally, women tended to marry men with at least the same level of education. But with higher educational levels, more and more women are now having difficulty finding compatible partners.
“Migration, urbanisation, modernisation and the erosion of parental roles in (their) children’s marriage are important reasons for non-marriage,” says Tey.
Lim also feels the younger generation is becoming more self-centred. They give priority to themselves rather than others, have high expectations and have become choosy, he says.
While it is hard to match higher-qualified women with men with lower qualifications, Peggy Lim, an executive of the Club, remains hopeful when it comes to finding life partners.
“There are couples who get to know each other from the tossing of Mandarin oranges and end up getting married,” she says.
Besides tossing oranges, don’t forget Cupid Space Wanita MCA, she adds.
For more details on Cupid Space Wanita MCA, check their website at http://www.cupidspacedating.com or call 03-77262266.