Kung Hei Fatt Choy! Gong Xi Fa Cai!
Happy Chinese New Year!
As of 28 January 2017, the world welcomed the Year of the Fire Rooster; the first day of the Lunar New Year which will last until 15 February 2018. Chinese New Year is also called the Spring Festival in China, and new year celebrations begin on the eve of the festival until the 15th day of the first lunar calendar month.
Chinese New Year festivities are merry (and loud too haha): lots of eating and drinking, lion dance performances, and giving and receiving ang pow or lai see (red packets). The red packets always contain money and are given, most commonly, from older folks to children as Chinese New Year gifts. Also, it is a Chinese custom – as far as I’m aware, at least in Malaysia – married couples give red packets to family and/or friends who are single. Hence, in respect to that custom, I’m in no hurry to get married just yet! 🙂
In the spirit of Chinese New Year, I would like to share with you the top things to in Chinatown Kuala Lumpur:
Explore Petaling Street area
Chinatown in KL is located at Jalan Petaling (Petaling Street), a 5-minute walk from Central Market which is one of the tourist attractions in the city. Chinatown, or as locals just call it, Petaling Street is famous for its night market of imitation goods and curio items, however, during the daytime, the area is an interesting place to explore for there are lots of Chinese restaurants, street food and old shops. It’s fun to watch the hustle and bustle of everyday going-ons in Chinatown while sampling some of the local snacks or having a drink at one of the coffee shops nearby.
Have a meal/drink at coffee shops
And speaking of coffee shops, you can drop by Ali, Muthu & Ah Hock at Jalan Balai Polis. Ali, Muthu & Ah Hock or in short, AMAH, is a café located in what was once a street alley but the owners refurbished the café with furniture, décor, photos and music of 1960s Malaysia, save for the stripped painted wall, to evoke a nostalgic ambience of yesteryears. AMAH uses benches and long tables like those found at the food stalls, and round marble tables and stools similar to those in kopitiam or traditional coffee shops.
The café serves Malaysian street food that we typically eat for breakfast and/or lunch such as nasi lemak ayam berempah, chee cheong fun, mee goreng mamak, nasi goreng and traditional Malaysian kuih or cakes for afternoon tea.
And what’s the story behind the name of the café? The owners said that Ali, Muthu and Ah Hock are common names of Malays, Indians and Chinese in Malaysia, representing the three main ethnic groups of our country. Also, they felt that, Malaysians, at some point in their lives, would have had Malay/Indian/Chinese friends whose names were Ali/Muthu/Ah Hock respectively 🙂
Visit the oldest Hindu and Chinese temples in KL
Parallel to Jalan Petaling is Jalan Tun H.S. Lee on which is situated the oldest Hindu temple in KL, the Sri Mahamariamman Temple. Founded by Tamil immigrants from South India, the temple was built in 1873 and is now, reputedly, the richest Hindu temple in KL. Every year during Thaipusam festival, large numbers of devotees converge on the temple to participate in a religious procession whereby the temple’s large silver chariot dedicated to Lord Murugan is transported through the city streets en route to Batu Caves in the northern part of KL.
Across the road from Sri Mahamariamman is a Chinese Taoist temple called Kuan Ti Temple. Kuan Ti is one of China’s greatest warriors, General Kuan (or Kwan). He was given the title of ‘God of War’ for his fighting and war skills, thus many had worshipped him to receive his blessings and protection.
Continue walking for two minutes until you come to the pedestrian crossing between Jalan Tun H.S. Lee and Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock with the orange-coloured building (you won’t miss Lai Foong Restaurant) facing you. Cross the main road onto the other side of Jalan Tun H.S. Lee and you will find what could be mistaken for a carpark area, tucked away in a hidden alley, is the Sin Sze Si Ya Temple.
Sin Sze Si Ya Temple is a Taoist temple founded in 1864 by Kapitan Yap Ah Loy and is the oldest temple in KL. Kapitan Yap Ah Loy was the third Chinese Kapitan of Kuala Lumpur who played an important role in developing Kuala Lumpur as a commercial and mining centre in the mid-19th century. According to Wikipedia, Yap dedicated the temple to the deities of Sin Sze Ya and Si Sze Ya who apparently guided him “to defeat the enemies and defend Kuala Lumpur during the civil war between 1870 to 1873”. Hmm..I don’t remember learning about this civil war during history lessions in school, perhaps it was “conflicts among interested parties” to gain control of the tin production in Kuala Lumpur then.
Since its establishment in the 19th century, Sin Sze Si Ya Temple remains as an important temple to the Taoist community in KL. The temple functions as a cultural centre for the Chinese Taoists and is usually crowded with devotees on special festive days like Chinese New Year.
Devotees come to the temple to pray to numerous deities dedicated to different aspects of life – studies, careers, prosperous business, fertility, a change of fortune or to be protected against bad luck. Some devotees want their fortunes to be read as well. They rattle a container of fortune-telling sticks until a stick falls out on which is stated a number that corresponds to a paper slip with that number. With that, the temple caretaker interprets the fortune for MYR1.
Also, when you visit Sin Sze Si Ya Temple, you will meet a Punjabi woman who works in the temple and speaks fluent Cantonese. Her name is Ranjit Kaur whose father was a watchman for the temple since the 1940s until he passed away in 1987. Ranjit comes from a family of ten children and the entire family are very close to the current custodians of the temple; they are considered family to the temple members.
When I visited the temple in late December 2016, I had noticed Ranjit, observed that she knew her way around her temple and that she spoke fluent Cantonese. I approached and praised her for her fluency in the language, and she responded, “Haihh, I have lived here for a long time, this is my home” 🙂
One of our local dailies wrote about Ranjit, the article is here. And I like the way the article ended with this note “this story is of a Punjabi family working in a Chinese temple…nothing manufactured, just uniquely Malaysian”.
This post was written based on my visits to Chinatown, AMAH cafe and Sin Sze Si Ya Temple, organized by Tourism Malaysia as part of #AboutKL 2.0 Things To Know About Kuala Lumpur & Beyond” launch. Opinions expressed in this post, if any, as always, are my own.
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