Chinese New Year in Malaysia

Chinese New Year in Malaysia
Chinese New Year in Malaysia is one of the biggest holidays in the country. It is celebrated nationwide by the Chinese community living here and falls in the beginning of the year according to the Chinese Lunar Calendar. While it is also celebrated worldwide, many of the Chinese people will take this period of time to travel back to their hometowns to celebrate this auspicious festival with their families.

The festival also begins on the first day of the first month in the traditional Chinese calendar and ends with Cap Goh Mei which is on the 15th day. Most importantly on Chinese New Year's Eve, where Chinese families gather for their annual reunion dinner, you will notice the city and villages come to a standstill.

CNY 2015
 Red crackers going off during the Chinese New Year in Malaysia (Pic from bridgestv.com)

This article highlights the pros and cons of traveling to Malaysia during the Chinese New Year (CNY) Holidays so that you know what to expect. For the first time visitors to Malaysia, the CNY Festival is something to experience as you encounter open houses (where guest are invited to homes for food and drinks), Giving of Red Packets (Ang Pows), Lion and Dragon Dances, Temple activities and fireworks (red fire crackers). 

The fun in participating Chinese New Year Visiting is where you experience down to earth simplicity and amazing hospitality displayed by the Chinese community here in Malaysia. One cannot simply visit a strangers house unless invited or it is a special open house for everyone organised by the government, ministers or prominent businessmen.

If you have a Chinese friend here in Malaysia and you are visiting during this period, most likely, you would be invited to his or her home on the second or third day of Chinese New Year. The first day is always for family only.

 Angry Birds Ang Pows in KL (Pic by TheStar)

Red Packets (Ang Pows)

Ang Pows (Hongbao) are mainly presented at social and family gatherings such as Chinese New Year or weddings. The red color of the envelope symbolizes good luck and is supposed to ward off evil spirits.For the immediate family, the Ang Pows are distributed during the reunion dinner.

These packets often contain money in certain numbers that reflect good luck and honorability. Red Packets or Red Envelopes are also widely used for decorations in homes and businesses where they may hang them or craft them into various Chinese objects like fire crackers.

Giving ang pows (Pic by Theepochtimes.com)

Who gives Ang Pows? 

Ang Pows are only given by married couples to small children, teenagers and unmarried adults.(raise your hand!). These days, even Chinese bosses of a company that is doing well would hand out red packets to staff. Even various government agencies would go around to various organizations to hand out ang pows as goodwill in Malaysia.

Tossing Yee Sang (Pic from NST)

Chinese New Year eating in Malaysia

As most of the Chinese run restaurants, cafes and hawkers would be closed in the city of KL, many of the F&B outlets in smaller cities and towns around Malaysia would be opened by the 2nd day of CNY. Places like Ipoh, Melaka and Penang would be thriving with business as many of the restaurants would be opened throughout the festive period. In the city, most Chinese Restaurants in Hotels would be open as these days, many families would rather spend the reunion dinner there instead of cooking at home. For those seeking a traditional Chinese dinner, hotels are one of the places where you can try the famous Malaysian Yee Sang (鱼生).

What is Yee Sang?

Yee Sang is a Malaysian Chinese appetizer served before a lunch or dinner as a symbol of "good luck" for the new year. The dish is made from strips of raw fish served with daikon (white radish), carrots, red pepper, turnips, red pickled ginger, sun-dried oranges, daun limau nipis (lime leaves), Chinese parsley, chili, jellyfish, chopped peanuts, toasted sesame seeds, Chinese shrimp crackers (or fried dried shrimp), five spice powder and other ingredients, laced with a sauce using plum sauce, rice vinegar, kumquat paste and sesame oil. Right before the toss, the oil, crackers and powder is poured over the dish.

Yee Sang (Pic from Wikipedia)

How to Eat Yee Sang?

Before the lunch or dinner, a yee sang plate will be served and everyone stands up and on cue, proceed to toss the shredded ingredients into the air with chopsticks while saying various 'auspicious wishes' out loud. It is believed that the height of the toss reflects the height of the diner's growth in fortunes, thus diners are expected to toss enthusiastically but don't overdo it or you might mess up the dinner table. If you are not used to chopsticks, I would recommend you learn this skill as it is totally not cool to be using a fork for this.

Lion dance outside a shopping mall in KL

The main thing you should be concerned about is that almost all businesses will be closed during the actual celebrations. The entire city will come to a standstill while the only places opened are the fast food joints, Indian-Muslim food shops (mamak shops) and 24-hour convenient stores. Shopping Malls will be opened but the first 2-3 days, many of the shops inside will be closed. If you are planning of doing some serious shopping, Chinese New Year is not the time for it.

Prominent shopping malls and centers will be the center of attraction in the city of KL while normals streets would be pretty much not worth a visit as everything would be closed. For those who really have to shop or be in a mall, here are some Shopping Malls in Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur and those who prefer the our skirts of KL, there are also some interesting Shopping Malls in Petaling Jaya.

Traffic jam during Chinese New Year in Malaysia (Pic. Lynac)

Chinese New Year Traffic in Malaysia

On traveling during the Chinese New Year period, you should be well warned that the 2-3 days before the festival, there will be massive traffic jams out of Kuala Lumpur city. On a bad time, it can take about 5-8 hours just to reach the city of Ipoh which is usually only about 2-3 hours drive. All modes of transport will be full of travelers, from the roads, buses, trains and even flights. Either you book your travel arrangements way before hand or you are most likely not going to get tickets.

When going on the highways via bus, taxi or cars, take note of the travel days as usually it gets very hectic before and just before the official holiday ends, the return can pose a massive gridlock back into the city of Kuala Lumpur. If you are traveling during this period, make sure you have something to eat, drink, read or do in the vehicle.

Chinese New Year Lion Dance
Chinese New Year Lion Dance
What to do during Chinese New Year in KL, Malaysia
  • You can stroll around town as the city will be rid of the traffic and crowds
  • Chinatown (Petaling Street) would be a great place to explore
  • Catch a lion or dragon dance at various places around the city and smaller towns
  • Visit a Chinese New Year Open House (check with the newspapers on where and when)
  • Visit some of the Chinese Temples as they will be quite lively
  • Try the Yee Sang at any of the Chinese restaurants that are open
What to avoid during Chinese New Year in KL, Malaysia
  • Traveling
  • Shopping
  • Looking for Chinese hawker food in KL city
  • Governmental business
  • Visas
  • Getting anything fixed
*Main picture credit: joiemo.blogspot.com
Overall, this is the only time of the year that the entire country comes to a standstill. Many years ago (10-20 years), most Chinese run businesses would close for a duration of 10-14 days. These days, they would usually close for 2-3 days and some even up to a week. But with the current economy being demanding, many would be back to work on the 3rd day of Chinese New Year.

For those visiting Malaysia during the Chinese New Year Celebrations, may you have a wonderful experience during your trip here. Double check your reservations at your hotel or guesthouse before you arrive. If you are traveling during this period, make sure you have got your tickets too.

On a lighter note, make it a point to get to know some local Malaysian Chinese so that you can do a CNY visit to their homes, provided they are in the city as this would be a wonderful experience. Most local Chinese people are from out of KL city therefore they usually head back to the home towns during Chinese New Year in Malaysia.

10 comments