Date: 14 December 2014
Time: 7.30pm – 11.00pm
Venue: Padang Brown to Esplanade
The Chingay Lion and Dragon Dance Parade will be strolling through the streets of Georgetown this weekend. Colorful dancers will be doing the traditional lion and dragon dances. Meanwhile, other dancers will be balancing long poles on fingers, foreheads, and whatnot. There will be 30 dance troupes represented this year, as well as a float.
The Chingay Parade will start at Padang Brown, and wind its way down Datuk Keramat Road, Carnavron Road, Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling and Light Street. The grand finale will be on the Esplanade.
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Every year, there are two public holidays in Malaysia that confuse me every year. I look it up every year because, every year, I forget what I learned the year before. In fact just two days ago, I told a friend the wrong information! That’s how confused I get There’s National Day, or Independence Day, in August. Two weeks later there’s Malaysia Day in September. Both are public holidays, so what’s the difference?
Well the gates of hell are about to break open and hordes of demons will need to be appeased with song dance and food for the 7th month of the Chinese Lunar calendar. Yes it is the Hungry Ghost Festival, widely observed (celebrated) here in Penang, Malaysia. This year (2014) the festival starts on the 27th of July and will run for a whole lunar month, til the next full moon on the 24th of August.
This year the start of the festival will coincide with the end of the Muslim month of fasting, Ramadan. The big holiday, Hari Raya, marking the end of fasting, is going to be the second day of the Hungry Ghost festival. It should be interesting to see how the two cultures work together, or work around each other during these days.
Traditional observance of the Hungry Ghost Festival
The story is that the gates of hell open up for the souls of Chinese ancestors to come to earth to wander, to bother, and to eat. The living honor the dead, and appease them, by burning joss-paper, and paper maché material goods, like houses and clothes.
Chinese opera stages are set up and loud performances run through the night for the hungry ghosts. For many a foreigner trying to sleep near these monstrosities, this highlights the hell-on-earth aspect of the festival.
Special Hungry Ghost Festival foods
The Hungry Ghost Festival is an opportunity to find some Chinese delicacies that only become available during this month. Look around for a colorful sweet dessert called si koh th’ng. You can find grilled cuttle fish and Jellyfish satay.
Where to go in Penang
In 2008, UNESCO declared the city of George Town, Penang to be a World Heritage Site giving it status as an important cultural nexus. Every year, 7 July is a Public Holiday in Penang State to celebrate the anniversary of the declaraion. There is an organization called the George Town World Heritage Inc that organizes events throughout the year promoting and preserving the culture and the history of George Town. The pinnacle of the year is the Heritage Day celebrations which will be on the 6th and 7th of July.
Living in Penang, you come to realize every day is a holiday. Not in the sense that you can kick back and relax, in fact everyone I meet is on the move, working hard. No I mean every day is some kind of celebration or observance for someone living here. Right on the heels of Chinese New Year, which ends today with Chap Goh Meh, comes this weekend’s Floating Chariot Procession which will take place in Teluk Bahang.
Chap Goh Meh (sometimes spelled Chap Goh Mei) marks the last day of the Chinese New Year celebration. It’s been two weeks of fun food and firecrackers, with Hokkien New Year being the halftime show. Now it’s time for the unmarried ladies to go down to the Esplanade and throw oranges in the water. Wait… uh why?
The story is that long ago, during the Ming Dynasty, the ancestors of the Hokkien were hiding from bandits in the sugarcane fields during Chinese New Year. They prayed to the Jade Emperor, a diety also known as the King of Heaven. For eight days the intruders searched for them and could not find them, eventually giving up. On the ninth day, the Hokkien came out of hiding and celebrated, praising the Jade Emperor for protecting them. They celebrated the Chinese New Year 8 days late.
Here in Penang, the Chinese New Year celebration isn’t one day. It lasts 15 days. And the peak of it is today, the ninth day, Hokkien New Year. The fireworks displays for this particular night outshadow (and out deafen) the ones from 8 nights ago.
Outside many of the temples, and some Buddhist homes are these massive incense sticks that burn for hours. These are in honor of the Jade Emperor who protected them in the past. Some also call this day the birthday of the Jade Emperor.
At the markets you can find some specialty foods and knick knacks like thni kuih (sweet cakes), ang koo (red tortoise buns), mee koo (red-coloured buns), huat kuih (prosperity cakes) and bright pink miniature pagodas.
Sugarcane is everywhere for sale. I’m told that in the past Perak Road was lined with sugarcane stalks.
Below is a list of the National and State Public Holidays for 2014. National and Penang Holidays are highlighted. Knowing the public holidays in advance can help you plan your time here or time away.
|Date||Public Holiday||Applies to|
|01 January||New Year’s Day||National except Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Perlis, Terenganu|
|14 January||Mohammed’s birthday||National|
|15 January||Yang di-Pertuan Besar of Negeri Sembilan’s Birthday||Negeri Sembilan|
|17 January||Thaipusam||Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya, Johor, Negeri Sembilan, Perak, Penang, Selangor|
|19 January||Sultan of Kedah’s birthday||Kedah|
|31 January||Chinese New Year||National|
|01 February||Chinese New Year 2nd day||National|
|01 February||Federal Territory Day||KL, Labuan, Putrajaya|
|04 March||Installation Anniversary of Sultan of Terengganu||Terengganu|
|15 April||Declaration of Melaka as Historical City||Melaka|
|18 April||Good Friday||Sabah, Sarawak|
|19 April||Sultan of Perak’s birthday||Perak|
|26 April||Sultan of Terengganu’s birthday||Terengganu|
|01 May||Worker’s Day||National|
|07 May||Hari Hol Pahang||Pahang|
|13 May||Wesak Day||National|
|17 May||Tuanku Raja of Perlis’ birthday||Perlis|
|30 May||Kaamatan Harvest Festival||Labuan, Sabah|
|31 May||Kaamatan Harvest Festival||Labuan, Sabah|
|01 June||Gawai Dayak Festival||Sarawak|
|02 June||Gawai Dayak Festival||Sarawak|
|05 June||Israk and Mukraj||Kedah, Negeri Sembilan, Perlis|
|07 June||SPB Yang di Pertuan Agong’s birthday||National|
|29 June||Ramadan Begins||Johor, Kedah, Melaka|
|07 July||Anniversary of declaraion of Penang as World Heritage Site||Penang|
|12 July||Yang di-Pertua of Penang’s Birthday||Penang|
|15 July||Hari Nuzul Al-Quran||Kelantan, Pahang, Perak, Perlis, Penang, Selangor, Terengganu|
|28 July||Hari Raya Puasa||National|
|29 July||Hari Raya Puasa 2nd day||National|
|31 August||National Day||National|
|06 September||Yang di-Pertua of Sarawak’s birthday||Sarawak|
|16 September||Malaysia Day||National|
|11 October||Yang di-Pertua of Melaka’s birthday||Melaka|
|05 October||Hari Raya Qurban||National|
|06 October||Hari Raya Qurban 2nd day||Kedah, Kelantan, Perlis, Terengganu|
|23 October||Deepavali (replacement holiday)||National execpt Labuan, Sarawak|
|24 October||Sultan of Pahang’s birthday||Pahang|
|25 October||Awal Muharram 1435 Hijrah (Islamic New Year)||National|
|12 November||Sultan of Kelantan’s birthday||Kelantan|
|22 November||Sultan of Johor’s birthday||Johor|
|29 November||Hari Hol Almarhum Sultan Iskandar||Johor|
|11 December||Sultan of Selangor’s birthday||Selangor|
|25 December||Christmas day||National|
Some dates are subject to change. Replacement holidays are for when the actual holiday lands on a Sunday, the next weekday is given as a replacement holiday.
The Ministry of Education released the 2014 Malaysia School Holiday Calendar. These should be pretty definitive, but please note that these dates can change. This list plus the public holidays calendar should help you in your travel planning.
I’ve mentioned the Thaipusam festival on the blog before. It is a Hindu festival that happens every year in January. It is a very colorful and exotic thing, and while I do not recommend it for younger children, it is something that you might be interested in experiencing.
Well our good friend Dave Ray will be running a photo tour here in Penang during the next Thaipusam Festival. You will get to see the tour, embedded with the people, trailing the participants. There will be opportunities to work with the other tour participants to learn new photography techniques, and story telling with photography.
The details can be found at Dave’s tour page. The tour price includes the hotel and meals plus all the work Dave’s put into getting you into the heart of the festival.
Spaces are limited, so you need to sign up as quickly as possible.
In general, I think photo tours and photo workshops like these are a great way to get into the local culture. The tour guide has done a lot of the legwork to get you an insider’s perspective, in this case into the Thaipusam festival. The advantage of a photo tour over a regular tour is that 1) you can see what you’re going to see because the photographer often shows you the images you should be expecting to capture. and 2) you take home with you all your images to remember what you’ve experienced. I highly recommend photo tours and will be pointing out other photo tours in Penang as they come up.
[I have not been paid for promoting this tour, I just believe in the product and the photographer.]