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A Lunar New Year story

  • "Kalau kaya hali hali pun hali busat. Gua olang miskin!"

By Mohsin Abdullah

Many years ago, one of Kuala Lumpur's main movie theatres was the Odeon located along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.

It's still there, opposite Pertama Complex.

The building I mean, not the theatre.

The Odeon has become, what should I say, an arcade? I don't know if that's the correct word to describe the current premises, but there are shop lots selling football jerseys, bags and stuff.

Anyway, this piece is not about the movie theatre per se. Instead, it is something about Chinese New Year.

It was Chinese New Year's eve sometime in the 1970s. My friends and I had gone to the Odeon for a movie. Can't remember what the movie was. We wanted to catch the 9 pm show. We were there by 8.

After buying the tickets, we headed to the many stalls in front of the theatre. Well, not actually stalls but huge wooden "boxes" placed on bicycles of traders selling tidbits: sweets, chocolates, crackers and of course cigarettes.

Yes, smoking was allowed in air-conditioned movie theatres those days.

The traders were Chinese. Many were old, helped by their young sons or daughters.

As it was the Lunar New Year's eve, I asked one of the traders why he was there plying his trade when he should be celebrating the hari besar.

That's Malay for "big day", and Chinese petty traders then would say hari besar when referring to big festivals, be it Lunar New Year, Hari Raya, Deepavali, pronouncing it "hali busat".

His response came quick and in a matter of fact manner."Kalau kaya hali hali pun hali busat. Gua olang miskin!"

His message was clear. For the rich, every day is a big day to celebrate. But he can't do that as he was not rich.

Apparently, he had a very simple reunion dinner with his family earlier that evening before going to the Odeon to carry out his small business.

Sad but that was the reality then. He was by his own admission poor.

Its 2018 now. On Chinese New Year's eve, my neighbours ushered the Year of the Dog rather quietly, with sporadic lighting up of firecrackers and that for a short spell.

Around 30 minutes after midnight, things quietened down, unlike years ago when the area was like a war zone deafened by firecrackers and the sky lit up by fireworks.

On New Year's day itself, some friends of my daughter spoke of the simple steamboat they had for their family reunion dinners the night before. Their parents, in particular, reminisced the days when reunion dinners were 10- or 12-course sek fan.

That same day, I read a piece in Malaysiakini by regular contributor Stephen Ng. He, too, spoke (rather wrote) of the simple steamboat meal his wife prepared for. And it was such a simple affair that he took just 10 minutes to wash the dishes afterwards.

Ng also wrote about how quiet it was on New Year's eve at his neighbourhood. He went on to write lots more but it's suffice to say that his article was aptly titled "A sad Chinese New Year".

Need I say more?

I never had the honour of knowing Ng personally, but I think I assume that he, like my daughter's friends and neighbours, are middle class folk.

Despite being middle class, these people feel they need to tighten up their budget to stretch the ringgit at a time when the economy of the country is slow moving.

But then I read also comments by the prime minister that this year's Chinese New Year is "more prosperous due to the country's improved economy" and that the celebrations are "more lively due to the rakyat's joy", citing among other things, the ringgit's "strength".

I posted on Facebook Mr Ng's as well as Najib's remarks and received a number of comments. Most were not flattering to the prime minister.

I can only summarize their comments as such.

To some, the PM was merely campaigning given the fact the general election is around the corner.

Others conclude that the PM could very well be "out of touch".

I think it's not too late to wish everybody Xinnian Kuaile.

(Mohsin Abdullah is a veteran journalist who writes about this, that and everything else.)A Lunar New Year story

 

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