Though I may be biased in this statement, I generally think Malaysia has the best Chinese New Year atmosphere. While Penang holds the largest Chinese population, the heat, the congested roads before and after the festive period all contributes to the joie de vivre only found during this period adorned with red.
Traditional folks usually begin preparation as early as the second last day of the old year, where the wife of the family cooks up a feast befitting for a village - praying to the ancestors - partly thanksgiving for the old year and a splash of luxury for the new. The feast would reflect one's family tradition, roots of ancestry and of course the wife's cooking skills.
Stir-fry mixed vegetables.
Salted pickles with duck (kiam-cai ak in Hokkien).
And my favorite - pork stomach soup (tu tor th'ng).
Then families would prepare for the prayers to all the gods at home on the first day of Chinese New Year.
Nian gao (or, surprisingly kuih bakul in Malay).
Of course, unmarried people like me would profit from the little windfall of ang pau money - usually given by married (or working with an income) elders as a blessing for the new year.
One of the fun things (beside peeking the amount of money inside) is to criticize or appreciate the design of ang pau packets, usually distributed free of charge by banks and financial institutions in Malaysia.
The next fun thing is to read cards written by young children.
It's amazing how children have unwavering attention for a television screen.
Families who has lots of guests will prepare a goodies tray in the living room. This is why everybody gains weight during Chinese New Year!
And with everybody fatten up, it's time for photo shoots!
That would be the last of my Penang triad this winter. I will return to Taiwan tomorrow and begin my new semester on Monday - time really does fly - what seemed like a one-month holiday feels like only yesterday. However, let me say that I really cherish the time spent together with friends and family. You guys are the ones that make every holiday season meaningful!