Chinese New Year in Penang: here’s a look at what was on
We had the pleasure of spending Chinese New Year in Penang, Malaysia this year and witnessing the city’s many celebrations. Chinese lanterns lit up the night sky, dazzling dragons danced on sticks and acrobatic lion jumped on poles. This combined with displays of reverence at prayer time and the paying of respects to various deities.
Chinese Lion Dance at Kuan Im Teng temple, Penang
After spending our New Year’s Eve in George Town, Penang, we were happy to get a second chance to celebrate with the Chinese New Year. Leading up to the two week long celebration, we happened upon our first experience of a lion dance at the Kuan Im Teng, Penang’s oldest Chinese temple in George Town.
To the beat of many drums (symbolising the lions’ heartbeats), cymbals and a mighty gong (to scare away bad spirits), the lions come to life with the help of two people – one directing the head of the lion and the other, the rear. The fearsome, but fluffy creatures with very wide blinking eyes, strutted around the temple’s patio, sometimes towering above the audience by one person climbing onto the other. The dance culminated with each lion ‘picking of the greens’, or in this case a pineapple. The tradition of choi chang involves the lion cautiously approaching a vegetable or fruit and taking it by the mouth, devouring it and then spitting it over the onlookers. Happily the lion spat the pineapple leaves over us, which signifies ‘good fortune’ in Chinese culture.
The lights at Kek Lok Si temple, Penang
Chinese lanterns were being placed above the streets of the fascinating UNESCO World Heritage centre of George Town, as well as at many of the island’s temples. The highlight was the light display at the Kek Lok Si temple, situated on the Ayer Itam hills looking over George Town.
As we made our way into the temple, we were greeted with a delectable array of colours which brightened-up the night-time Penang sky. Being the year of the rooster we were unsurprised to pass by a couple as we wandered with amazement through the overly elaborate light display, which frankly put the Christmas light displays we have seen to shame. This year’s Chinese zodiac sign, the rooster, stands for fidelity and punctuality.
We climbed higher and higher up the hill through the temple, until the ultimate level – home to a giant statue at over 30-metres high – the Bodhisattv Guanyin or Goddess of Mercy.
This spectacularly lit-up pagoda features a Chinese base, Thai central section and a Burmese design to top it all off.
Finally as we climbed the one-up, one-down stairs to the peak of the temple, we were able to look over the impressive temple all the way down towards the city.
Open-house of Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, Penang
The next day we went to the open-house of Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng to celebrate the start of Chinese New Year in Penang and watch a number of cultural spectacles. Rather than the traditional house we expected, these events took place in a stadium (seeing the number of people attending we understood why). A number of shows took place, from lone singers to choreographed traditional and modernised dances.
Snake Temple, Penang
The next celebration was at the Snake Temple in Byan Lepas down near the airport. At Snake Temple we found a couple of pythons for photo opportunities, as well as many more performances, but thankfully didn’t find any writhing around our feet.
One of the stars of the show was of course a Chinese dragon. The brightly coloured creature swooped over the stage as the performers coordinated its movements.
Walking around the temple, we came across these people dressed as Chinese ancestors, who many saw as a great photo opportunity. What better way to celebrate new year than with a Chinese lantern themed dance to complete the evening?
Prayers at Chew Jetty, Penang
We heard a lot of people talk about the celebrations happening next to the jetties in George Town, so we headed down to see what was happening. It was a little overwhelming as many had the same idea, so we headed down a small road where we could see a more humble ceremony taking place. This was a celebration for the Hokkien Taoists and the birthday of the Jade Emperor God.
The Hokkiens blessed the offerings to the deity and prayed in a reverent ceremony while the rain lashed down outside. After the prayers had concluded, we made our way back to our 27th floor apartment. From our balcony, we watched the midnight fireworks taking place all over George Town.
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Photos are copyright of Coffee and Caminos.