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Monday, January 30, 2017

Putu-mayam, rendang and whiskey at CNY



When we were young, we ate and gossiped our way through as many Chinese New Year (CNY) open houses and collected as many ang-pows as possible.
Today, age and health problems have crept up with us, and we must restrict our eating and drinking to reasonable levels. Gone are the days of ‘yam senging’ till we slid to the floor in a stupor. With various financial commitments, few can afford to join the others in the back room for a spot of gambling.
Who does not look forward to CNY? The CNY open house is one of those unique things which only Malaysians can truly savour, and I was spoilt for choice during my childhood. Being Malay did not stop us from looking forward to CNY, with the same eagerness as every Chinese child. Unsurprisingly, my ideal CNY spread would include dishes from the different races.
The first CNY open house the family would visit was the neighbour living opposite. Food was plentiful and our neighbours respected our dietary requirements by showing which foods were halal and which were not. We ate off the same plates and drank from the same glasses as everyone else.
There would be putu-mayam (string hoppers) and chicken curry cooked by an Indian neighbour. Beef rendang and nasi kunyit, or sometimes, nasi himpit (compressed rice) from my mother, and on the side table, adjoining the other CNY dishes and cakes, was an array of spirits and fortified drinks.
Having lived in Sarawak, kek lapis is another of my CNY favourites. There were no issues about halal butter being used for making the sweets. It is a shame that Muslim extremism has been allowed to contaminate our thoughts.
Unlike our leaders, whose open houses are paid for by the taxpayer, most of us do not need to make a big show of having open houses to invite friends of different faiths to our homes.
I may not be able to guarantee that my plates and glasses are halal, but I do have a message for the bigots. They need to lighten up a little. They are missing out on the simple pleasures of life and the company of friends. They may choose to make their own lives a misery, but why do they need to spoil ours, too?
Who would have thought, when we were children, that our adult lives would be blighted by people like PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang, Umno Baru’s Rural Development Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob, or the Perak mufti, Harussani Zakaria?
Hadi and Ismail preached their “Malaysia is only for the Malays, and Islam needs protecting, rhetoric”, whilst Harussani is said to have banned Malays from visiting the homes of their non-Malay friends during CNY, Deepavali, Christmas and Gawai.
What do these bigots know about multi-culturalism? Or about savouring the many pleasures of life? Fun is for now. Waiting for the delights of 72 virgins in heaven is not my idea of fun. So, what awaits the Muslim woman? The attention of 72 studs, or 72 copper pans?
There are roughly as many men as women, so it has always puzzled me how each man could be given 72 virgins. I also wonder where you could find 72 virgins in KL, but that’s another story.
In previous CNYs, my father’s colleagues would deliver boxes of mandarin oranges and CNY hampers, complete with bottles of single malt whiskey or cognac. Although we were Muslim, we were not offended.
Sometimes, the hampers would contain bottles of Wincarnis and this thrilled the Malay aunties. “Good for the blood,” said an ageing kampung auntie. “Best tonic for nursing mothers,” said another. Those were the days before ‘religious extremism’ consumed our lives.
‘Poison has destroyed the Malaysia I knew’
Today, many Malays are reluctant to attend CNY open houses, having been warned by the bigots. The poison spread by the extremists has destroyed the Malaysia I knew. Even if our Chinese hosts provide-specially prepared halal food, cooked by halal caterers, the Malays have been programmed to damage the spirit of goodwill with, “Are the plates and glasses also halal?”
One Chinese friend expressed her frustration and said, “We ensured that the food was halal, but apparently, that is not enough.”
Bans are not strictly observed in Malaysia. If you want to buy fireworks and firecrackers, you only have to make subtle enquiries in the pasar.
We enjoyed staying up late on the eve of CNY to enjoy the firework and firecracker displays. The air would be thick with smoke, just like a foggy winter’s day.
The following morning, we would dance around in the thick red carpet of spent firecrackers as we approached our neighbour’s front door. If we were lucky, we could enjoy the acrobatic display of the few homes which had lion dances.
For me, CNY is not complete without all these ingredients, and of course, kuih bakul (nian gao rice cakes), kuih kapit (fortune cookies), and mandarin oranges. I may now be too old for ang-pows, but I am enriched by the memories of celebrating CNY in Ipoh.
Gong Xi Fa Cai.

MARIAM MOKHTAR is a defender of the truth, the admiral-general of the Green Bean Army and president of the Perak Liberation Organisation (PLO). BlogTwitter.-Mkini

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