Chinese New Year is a time for family reunions and gatherings, and visiting relatives and friends is very much a part of the festivities. But some are doing their family celebrations a little differently.
Dr Lim Jean-Li and her family keep faithfully to the tradition of having reunion dinner with their extended family every Chinese New Year Eve. But on the first day of the Lunar New Year, they sometimes fly off for a family holiday instead of doing the rounds to their relatives’ homes.
Lim and her siblings Li-Ann and Pey-li used to work and live outstation, so going on a family holiday during Chinese New Year when everyone could get time off was a way to spend time with their parents.
Lynette Chong has also started going on holidays during the Chinese New Year with her husband and two children. Initially, she wasn’t sure if her parents would be agreeable to her breaking away from the tradition of spending Chinese New Year at home.
“Thankfully, my parents have been very supportive and understanding,,” says Chong. “They did not create a fuss with our plans to venture abroad during the New Year. To make up for our absence, we had our reunion gathering with them a week before the trip.”
“During long breaks, be it during Chinese New Year or other extended public holidays, my husband and I usually travel outstation to be away from the hustle bustle of city life. It’s also an opportunity to spend quality time with our children,” adds Chong, who has two children, Rahul, 11, and Daania, nine.
There are many families who have opted to have their holidays during the festive break, and Chinese New Year is peak travelling time not just for those returning home but also for holidaymakers.
Most Chinese-run businesses only close for a longer duration during the Lunar New Year, and it’s the most opportune time to go on holidays. As travel becomes more popular and accessible, going on leisurely holidays with their extended family is also gaining more appeal with the older generation.
Some venture abroad, but many also opt for local holidays. Destinations such as Genting Highlands and Langkawi will be fully booked.
Celebrating Away From Home
Last year, Chong and her family spent the Lunar New Year in Vietnam, and had their reunion dinner on a river cruise at Halong Bay.
“We sampled local delicacies like spring rolls, banh (steamed rice cakes and rolls), breads and salads,” says Chong, who is head of department of an industrial company in Selangor. “We also had a few Chinese dishes similar to the ones my family have during our reunion dinner back home.”
They also enjoyed the experience of celebrating Chinese New Year in a different country, says Chong’s husband Rajaswaran Tharmalingam, known as Waran.
“Although far away from home, our Chinese New Year celebrations turned out to be fun. It was a memorable one, especially being with the family on a cruise and welcoming the New Year with tourists from South America and Australia onboard the boat.”
As Vietnam has a huge Chinese population, Chinese New Year or Tet as it’s called there, is a festive time.
“It is more vibrant and colourful, with decorations and cultural performances,” adds Waran. “Unlike here, a fair number of restaurants were open in Hanoi during the public holiday period. As such, we were never short of places to eat.”
Dr Lim and her family also enjoys celebrating Chinese New Year away from home. One of their most memorable holidays didn’t start well as they found themselves in the midst of protests and crackdowns in Bangkok.
“We diverted to Chiang Rai from Bangkok. Unlike Bangkok, Chiang Rai was less populated and polluted and the weather was great too. So we explored the famed Golden triangle by boat and stopped by to visit Laos. The highlight of that trip was the Mae Fah Luang Gardens in Chiang Rai. It’s not a large garden, but it was well manicured with various temperate flowers in bloom.”
She recommends that coffee addicts visit the Mae Luang gardens as there is a vibrant coffee culture in the highlands of Chiang Rai. “In Northern Thailand where we visited, we saw woven bamboo couplets with auspicious sayings,” recalls Dr Lim.
She also enjoys dining out on holidays with her families in restaurants. “Despite not understanding the language used in foreign countries, my family and I have managed to sample some pretty good local food by pointing to pictures of the dishes in the menu or asking what the delicious looking dish on the next table is.”
Although they are travelling during the New Year, Chong’s families do not miss out on the festivities. She ensures that her children go for family gatherings during the rest of the 14-day Lunar New Year celebrations.
Waran is of Indian and Chinese parentage, and the celebration on his side of the family is also festive. “It is important to cultivate and impart certain traditions and beliefs to our children. Waran and I make it a point to visit relatives on both sides when we come back from our holidays.”
The celebrations in Waran’s family is multicultural as he has Indian, Chinese and Malay relatives. “Food served during our gathering is diversified too, including yee sang, prawns, chicken curry and squid sambal. For an added blast, there’s always the fireworks and card games,” she says.
As they enjoyed their first Chinese New Year overseas, the family will go abroad again this festive season. Next week, they will go on a five-day excursion to Siem Reap, Cambodia.
“Siem Reap is major tourist hub, famed for the historical Angkor Wat,” says Waran, adding their tour also includes visits to other holy shrines around Siem Reap. “We have heard about its amazing scenery and hospitality. Plus, it’s affordable and approximately a two-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur.”
Dr Lim will not be travelling overseas this Chinese New Year as they will be hosting guests from Australia.
Apart from the Chinese New Year holidays, Waran makes it a point to take his family on holidays – locally and overseas – at least thrice a year. So far, they have stamped their mark in China, Nepal, Japan and Korea.
“We prefer to travel around Asian countries because it’s a shorter flight time which allows us to maximise our days in the destination. Each country has its unique selling point and we enjoy absorbing its beauty, culture and food,” says Waran, who has been traveling with his young children since 2013.
He believes that travelling gives his children a wider scope of life because they learn about cultural diversity, issues like poverty and famine, and the importance of charity.
“During a recent trip to Nepal, my children saw how resilient the children in Nepal were. They are happy even though they live in villages without the comforts of electricity and hot water. It made them realise how fortunate they are but at the same time they understand that we can enjoy life with simple pleasures.”
Chong believes their upcoming trip to Siem Reap will be an eye-opening experience for Rahul and Daania.
“Hopefully the children will have a better understanding of the differences and similarities of how CNY is celebrated abroad. They have a deeper grasp on how communities celebrate Chinese New Year festivities, in a different culture, tradition and language.”