Sunday, January 23, 2011

23 January 2011: Chinese New Year

We couldn't leave Malaysia (tomorrow!) without partaking of the nation's celebration of Chinese New Year - a national holiday that's been packing the malls, jamming traffic, and greatly profiting the economy ever since we've been here. Think Christmas preparations in the United States a month after Christmas has already been celebrated - given the plethora of plurality of traditions in Malaysia, gift giving opportunities abound, and with them, reasons for partying!

Chinese New Year is one of the most important festivals for the ethnic Chinese, and from what I've gathered from my travels here in KL, is accompanied not only by generosity, but also by extravagent decorations (the proliferation of red banners and lanterns gives the impression that the city's commercial centers have spontaneously converted to communism), cultural performances, and in particular, great hopes for prosperity.

Prosperity is perhaps the most prominent motif winding its way through the various manifestation of preparation and celebration of Chinese New Year, at least here in KL. Earlier this afternoon, we had the chance to witness a Chinese Lion Dance, performed by a local troupe of high school acrobats. The Dance is meant to exorcise evil demons from the site of its performance, thus opening space for the in-breaking of prosperity and blessings for those in attendance. Throughout the ritual, the lion both eats and spews forth mandarin oranges, symbolizing gold, particularly to those who are willing to stroke the mane of the beast. Lion Dancing is apparently a national sport, complete with world championships each year, the most exhilarating of which feature a duo of acrobats executing the dance atop a series of six- to seven-foot pillars. After the main performance, our lions proceeded to prowl throughout the mall, casting out evil spirits from such locations as McDonald's and Starbucks, while also making stops at bank teller windows, jewelers, and also crowds of admiring children. Baptism of empire, subversive street theatre...or, in true Eastern fashion, something beyond simple dichotomies? Much needed work, regardless of the ultimate motivation!

The mall has been the locus of our experience of Chinese New Year here, and questions of exorcism and consumerism aside, its afforded us some wonderful opportunities to expose Abigail to new cultural horizons. On our way to dinner (back at OUR mall!), we passed yet another dance troupe, this time performing with fans and scarves.

And of course, our journey through the intersection of the corporate and the communsitic would not be complete without experiencing the culinary offering placed upon the altar of the new year by none other than Mr. Ronald McDonald himself. One of the most popular take-away dishes in Malaysia at present, Micky D's foray into the mandarin, the Prosperity burger, comes complete with special curly Prosperity Fries and a scintillating Prosperity McFizz. I was particularly intrigued by the slogan on the server's trademark McDonald's visor: "What is prosperity?" A wonderful question to contemplate as the year of the rabbit bounds its way into the present moment, shaping the hopes, desires, and prosperity of the greater part of the world's human population. (Here I am with Chris, earning luck for the year to come - he's the reason we're here on this amazing adventure, so when you see this, wish him extra prosperity for the year to come - his generosity towards us more than merits it!)

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