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February 2, 2011

Happy Year of the Rabbit?

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – Decorated with rabbits as the New Year draws near, Kuching stores and coffee shops have all taken on a festive mood. Red lanterns, paper streams and Chinese characters painted in gold on red paper brighten up even the most dismal décor.


Every store broadcasts Chinese music and the only words I can pick out are “kung see, kung see, kung see nee” which I think means new year. Unlike the broadcasting of Christmas music in the states, it puts everyone in a festive mood because it hasn’t blared for two months.


Oranges, traditional gifts and food are in every store and kedai. Boxes of 36 individuals wrapped in red cellophane, red plastic baskets with a top decorated with a white daisy and holes to circulate the air and some with a diameter of about 12 cm are arranged neatly for sale. The one in front of me has “Super Honey Ponkan” written on the clear wrapper, something in Chinese characters and red leaves.


Like in America, there are sales. Stores offering bargains on new furniture run huge newspaper ads because it brings luck to redecorate the house. My landlord will lay new carpeting and I did manage to talk her out of red.


Everyone gets new clothes and the tailors are busy sewing shirts, pants and dresses to be worn on February 3rd. Moms bring their children into the juniors departments with moms heading for leather shoes and slacks while the 'tweens and teens want the very latest and expensive imported Levi’s and Nike’s.


For those who don’t want to cook, restaurants offer specials for the traditional family gathering time for New Years Eve. For around $200 per table of 10, one can get a sit down dinner that includes Five Taste Blaze, Braised sharks fin soup* with dried scallops and crab meat, steamed pomfret (sic) fish in Cantonese style, double boiled chicken with herbs, pan-fried prawn with nuts and herbs, braised sea cucumber with dried oyster and black moss, glutinous dumplings with creamy pumpkin soup and a fresh fruit platter, all served with gallons of Chinese tea.


Heavy monsoon rains coupled with the King tides always occur during Chinese New Year here in Borneo. Two years ago, the town was flooded with about a meter of rank river water. Last year, and this year so far, the monsoon season has been mild. Hopefully the fair weather will continue as millions worldwide travel home, sometimes a difficult journey in this part of the world.


I was born in the year of the Rabbit and 2011 is my fifth 12-year cycle. My fortune for the next cycle includes bad health, bankruptcy and other maladies. But that is not going to happen. I am putting away my anti-NRA ideology and going rabbit hunting.


* Efforts have been made to stop the sale of sharks fin soup but thousand year traditions do not die easily.


For other articles on Borneo see Tom’s blog at All are welcome on his Facebook Page at Borneo Tom


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