Sembang-sembang with Tan Choon Hoe
Malaysians are a lucky bunch, always well known for their versatility in languages or dialects. Take for example my late father who was Chinese could converse fluently in English, Bahasa Malaysia, Tamil, Hindustani, Mandarin, Cantonese and of course, Hokkien.
My Kebaya shirt - a journey where novelty meets sublime beauty
Having grown up in a Peranakan household, I have always been intrigued by the beauty of the kebaya. It is not just about how – when matched with a traditional floral sarong – the entire ensemble is wearable art, one that gives a veritable statement on the opulent cultural heritage of the Nyonyas.
The legend of the ferocious beast called Nian
'Nian' in Mandarin means 'year'. However, legend has it that Nian was also a mythical monster that terrorised humans during the New Year. It was so fierce that it threatened to destroy the entire race of mankind.
At a loss at what to do, the Emperor summoned his advisors to find a solution to this looming armageddon. Having devised an infallible plan, the advisors approached Nian and challenged this all-powerful beast to prove of its invincible strength by destroying all other monsters on earth rather than to erase the humans who were obviously no match for it. .
The opulent Nyonya Kebaya
Wearable art that knows no seasons
"When in Rome, do as the Romans do" is an oft quoted maxim about the importance of adapting oneself. Whether or not this bit of wisdom was known to the early Chinese immigrants to Malaysia, some of them eventually married the local folk and adopted Malay customs. The result of this union was the Peranakan Chinese (more commonly known as Babas and Nyonyas), a unique cultural class that flourished for centuries throughout Malaysia.
The many uses of the "horse race" calendar
It's pretty easy to know which day of the week it is. Similarly, we can more or less tell the time of day merely by looking outside the window. But how many of us can tell the date without referring to the calendar?
Ang Pow, a packet of good tidings
A gift of money, ever so simple is practical, convenient and sure to be appreciated by the recipient! All over the world and for as long as anyone can remember, the Chinese have been giving gifts of money during auspicious occasions, like Chinese New Year, birthdays and weddings.
Nyonya kasut manek - timeless objects of beauty
The British presence in the three Straits Settlement states had a profound influence on Peranakan culture. Suddenly, the hitherto unknown suits and skirt became à la mode for men and women respectively.
Western techniques also influenced the art and craft of fashioning Peranakan footwear. The style of embroidery for example, once influenced by the Malays was in turn influenced by Western culture. The fine bead work for shoes with which the Nyonya is identified with is a comparatively recent invention from 19th century Britain and Continental Europe.
The floral bath (mandi bunga) ritual
The Russian musician Igor Stravinsky might have composed Le Sacre du printemps (The Rites of Spring) as an exploration of nature and the rituals of renewal and sacrifice, but one could safely conjecture that the ritual and ceremony of the Malaysian floral bath was created for more personal (and less lofty) reasons. The two may be worlds apart, but both Stravinsky and the local bomoh share one thing – invoking the power and the mystery of nature and the elements in their work.