Monday, February 6, 2012
Love, romance and oranges in the air
THE Chinese Lunar New Year officially ends on a romantic note tonight with Chap Goh Meh, which is Hokkien for Fifteenth Night.
The festival is usually celebrated by the community with another reunion party.
The tnee koay (nien gao in Mandarin) features prominently on the menu of Chap Goh Meh gatherings. The glutinous rice cakes, cut into slices and sandwiched between pieces of sweet potato or yam, are dipped in batter and deep-fried like banana fritters. They are served hot with tea.
In China, the celebration is known as Yuan Xiao, or Lantern Festival, held to welcome the first full moon of the new lunar year. It is largely dedicated to love and romance.
In the olden days, according to a story I heard, a lantern parade would be held in public parks. The lanterns bore poetic riddles written by single ladies looking for the love of their lives.
Eligible bachelors who thronged the parks had to decipher the riddles before they were allowed to ask for the hand of the maiden.
In Malaysia, while lanterns are reserved for the Mooncake Festival, romance is not. Chap Goh Meh is associated with the throwing of oranges. I am not sure how it all started, but a Penang friend swears that it originated in Gurney Drive three or four decades ago.
There is no way to authenticate the claim, although citrus throwing is undeniably a popular tradition in Penang, as it is in Malaysia and many Southeast Asian countries with a Chinese community. In fact, it has become an annual social event.
One such occasion made it to the news on TV a few years ago. I recall watching a sweet young lady confess how an orange changed her life - the one she threw into a lake promptly found its way to her dream partner, thanks to the waterproof ink she had used to write her phone number on the skin of the fruit. Otherwise, the man would not have been able to SMS her to start the ball of romance rolling.
Not all orange-throwing activities bear fruit, however. A fellow I know, who tried his luck every Chap Goh Meh, had failed to find a sweet ending to the quest for a dream girl. When someone told him that orange-throwing only worked for single women, he decided to resign himself to a life of bachelorhood, minding his nieces and nephews, and remaining blissfully free from the encumbrances that come with relationships.
At the end of tonight, as the celebratory cheer of Chap Goh Meh fades away, the bells of romance will be continuing to tinkle for in just eight days, the town will be painted red again and it will not be from leftover Chinese New Year decor.
Come next Tuesday, roses will cost a bomb; artificial ones crafted from red undergarments will be just as, if not more, expensive.
Eateries, particularly candle-lit restaurants, will make a killing in the name of love.
If you are single or a hopeless romantic - and if the commercialisation of Valentine's Day has yet to make you see red - succumbing to overindulgence may burn a hole in your pocket.