Thursday, 14 February 2013

Chinese New Year at Kampung Cina

Kampung Cina (literally means Chinese Village) is a microcosm of Chinese settlement along the fringes of the Terengganu River, which houses 236 pre-war ancestral Chinese shophouses. Many of these shophouses have extensions to as far back facing the river. In the early days, the river was the essential mode of transport. Some of these extensions had back entrances and jetties for loading and unloading goods from boats. Today, at the back of some of these riverside shophouses are jetties which dock their speedboats.
I was at Kuala Terengganu purposely to visit and experience the Chinese New Year celebration at this first Chinese settlement in the state. I planned to reach Kuala Terengganu before 6pm as that was when the ‘Big Feast’ would start. However I was not so lucky as I only reached there at about 7.30pm. What was normally a five to six hour journey eventually became eight and a half hour due to the unusually heavy traffic, and I was so exhausted that I decided to head straight to the shower and had a quick nap. 

The welcoming arch of Kampung Cina
My ‘quick’ nap turned out to be a long slumber as I woke up at 6.30am the next day. I was starving and by 7.30, I was already sitting with Pak Din, an elderly man in his sixties, whom I shared a table with, savouring my Nasi Dagang (Terengganu special glutinous rice) with chicken curry at a roadside stall near the Grand Continental Hotel.

An ornate swing door of one of the shophouses 

It was almost 8.30am when I finally reached my real destination - Jalan Kampung Cina (Kampung Cina Road). I had to park my car about a kilometer away as the whole area was especially busy with traffic and pedestrians, a sight very welcoming to the local traders and hawkers. Chinese New Year celebration here was observed just like in any other towns in Malaysia, albeit in a small way. The decorations on the shop fa├žade and the lanterns hung criss-crossing the street were most significant and visually appealing.
Almost all shops were closed for business as family members and close relatives would have a get together, had meals and gave out ang-pao to the young ones. However, there were still a couple of shops that were opened and I later discovered that they were run by either the Malays or the Indian Muslims with the majority of them being goldsmiths or selling textile and garments. 

A mix of old wooden and concrete shophouses lined up the one way street.

I came across a few buntings on the five-foot walkway pillars that were promoting an ongoing exhibition on ‘Kampung Cina Kebaya Heritage’ being held at the State Museum. Apparently, some of the Chinese here are of the ‘Peranakan’ clan.  Originally, the Peranakan were mixed-race descendants of Chinese and Malay and have adopted to the Malay customs - partially or in full, to be somewhat assimilated into the local communities.I was  snapping photos of the bunting when suddenly the sliding grille of the shop behind me opened, and there it was! A cute old lady in a full Peranakan Kebaya with a sarong came out of the shop after bidding farewell to the shop dweller (possibly her daughter or a close relative) and I couldn’t help myself from asking her to stop for a quick pose!

A bunting promoting the Kampung Cina Kebaya exhibition.

A cute old lady in a beautiful Peranakan Kebaya
Further down the street was the Ho Ann Kiong Temple. Built in 1801, the old temple was quite busy during this time as a lot of people came to say prayers and make offerings. It also serves as a community centre for the Hokkiens and the Hainanese and used to offer temporary shelter to the early immigrants. It is also the oldest structure in Kampung Cina and its brand new look is because it was rebuilt according to its original specifications after it was literally burnt down to the ground on Feb 22, 2010.

The completely rebuilt Ho Ann Temple
Little did I realise that I had been wandering around and snapping pictures for almost two hours on the busy Jalan Kampung Cina. Time for a break, and what was more appropriate than having a cup of Hainanese coffee with keropok lekor at one of the old coffee shop! 

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