Thursday, February 28, 2013

My Most Nyonya Chap Goh Meh Ever

Chap Goh Meh started off with me preaching a Sunday message dressed in my new crimson kebaya that is embroidered with phoenixes.

Going through my sermon notes during breakfast. It was so embarrassing walking into the coffee-shop all decked out in my nyonya finery.

That sounds really showy but it has been a tradition in our church for the ladies to wear kebaya on the Sunday nearest to Chap Goh Meh. Normally we would sms each other to make sure everyone knows "The Plan" but this year Chap Goh Meh happens to fall on a Sunday. I would think that it is pretty obvious that those of us with kebayas would come dressed for the occasion.

Unfortunately the obvious did not occur to the rest of the kebaya ladies in church and so I ended up being the only one that was clad in kebaya! And with it being a crimson kebaya, I was really the focus of attention.

After lunch, I barely closed my eyes for 10 minutes before it's time to dress for the State Chap Goh Meh celebration. I started dressing at 3.30pm because it takes a really long time to don the many layers of the baju panjang or th'ng snar (long garment), to put up my hair in a sanggul (bun) and to put on all the accessories.

You really need the assistance of a maid to dress you up properly. I had trouble putting the flowers and my fake chiam mar (hair-pins) in my hair. Thank God, I was wearing my new set of krosang. I would have been in great trouble if I were wearing my mom's krosang.

There is no way I could have pinned on those old-style krosang myself. There are no clasps on the krosang of yesteryears and the pins are attached in such a way that you have to pull the two layers of the garment through the centre of the krosang before you can put the pins through. This ensures that the krosang does not accidentally drop off because there are no clasps that will open and release the pins.

Baby Sis came to pick me at 5.30pm and we were on our way to the Cheshire Home where we parked the car and boarded the Dondang Sayang bus for the State Chap Goh Meh celebration at the Esplanade.

The Dondang Sayang bus was all decorated and lighted up for the festive occasion

I was assaulted by a wave of nostalgia when the Dondang Sayang bus ferrying us to the Esplanade wove its way through the streets of Penang and people started waving to us. When I was still a little girl, my grandfather would drive us in his Hillman (a British car) all over town chasing the Dondang Sayang bus.

This year the Main Wayang singers from Singapore sang for us on the bus but back in those days there would be a baba and nyonya couple who would engage in playful banter and sometimes provocative repartee with each other through song. Their witty remarks were in pantun (poetry) form and were composed on the spot! It's a lost art.

We performed two dances and I must say, with all honesty and without prejudice, that the choreography for our dances were more than a notch above those of the other two nyonya dance groups.

Dayung Sampan with umbrellas
Getting ready to bob a curtsey. Yes, nyonyas still curtsey like in the good old days. 
Our fan dance
Our final pose for the fan dance
Dressed in th'ng snar, we were a novelty to locals and foreigners alike. We were asked to pose for photographs at every turn and it was our delight to oblige.

I also danced along to the joget that the Main Wayang group taught the audience

The event was a huge success although, from the point of view of a performer, I found it terribly disorganized: there was no proper programme, we had to stand (total 4 hours) while waiting for our turn to perform, there were no drinks provided for the performers and there were not enough food vouchers to go round.

The young lad in sunglasses was performing the Oppa Gangnam dance when some nyonyas appointed themselves to be his back-up dancers and they are all over 70 years of age! There are two 81 year olds on stage, one on the extreme left and the other on the extreme right. The tiny nyonya beside the young man is 76 years old. Evidence seem to point to the fact that nyonyas tend to lose their inhibitions with age. The lady at the back is not a nyonya, but a younger Miss Kebaya contestant. 
At the end of the night there was a spectacular fireworks display as our bus left the Esplanade.

This is my most nyonya Chap Goh Meh ever. The only things missing that would complete my Chap Goh Meh is my mom's pungat (a dessert made of sweet potatoes, yam and pisang rajah (king banana) in coconut milk)!

I am sure my mom would be most happy to know that her daughter had finally reclaimed her heritage.

A photo with god-daughter who came with her hubby to take photos and video our dance. She stood amongst the crowd for 4 hours in order to record my 5 minutes of fame. How can I not love her? 

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