A Few Photos from Chinese New Year 2016

Yesterday, on the eve of Chinese New Year, I took off on my motorbike and encircled historical Georgetown in Penang to see how everyone was decorating for the year. Here are a few of my photos.


(above) At the esplanade, a Chinese New Year display which will be the backdrop for a Feb 13 celebration. You can see the Strait of Malacca in the background. (Below) A closeup view of the water with the Penang Port on the mainland in the distance.


(above) Typical Penang street at CNY.


(above) A busy temple on the eve of the New Year.


(above) Outside the esplanade.


(above) This looks like a lucky place to eat on the eve of the year of the monkey.


Happy Chinese New Year!

It’s that time again. Penang’s Chinese community is geared up for the long night, then days, then weeks of celebration!

The lanterns are up. Here are some at a local mall:


What are some of the other characteristics?

Lion Dances.

Random appearances by Confucian looking characters, handing out the ubiquitous red “ang pao” – envelopes with money for children.

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(Hey, lady, you messed up my focusing!)

Kids make out really well on CNY.

Time off with family. Sometimes, this is the only times of the entire year that people will take off of work. The local grocer told me that he’s taking off two days for Chinese New Year. His store is usually opened 7 days a week, 363 days a year – except at Chinese New Year. That shows the importance!

Getting to meet the cousins again after a long year.

Festive and generous attitudes on everyone’s hearts.

Eating. I have a friend who will gorge herself on popiah – Chinese spring rolls.

The house has been given a thorough cleaning, a new coat of paint is on the walls, everything is ready to greet the day!

Nearly a billion and a half Chinese, Vietnamese, Koreans, and other East Asians will be celebrating tonight.

I wish them all a Happy New Year!

“Gong Xi Fa Cai”

“Chuc mung nam moi”


Shade: Are you offering it?

A couple weeks back, we were walking to a Chinese New Year feast at the house of some friends, and my wife and I found ourselves skipping from shade patch to shade patch to escape the blazing sun.

It was one of those stifling days where your sweat can have sweat of its own even when you are sitting idly under the shade of a tree. But if you have to emerge into the sun, it has the feeling that you might as well be standing on the surface of the sun.

It was hot. Biting hot.

However, the shade in such an intolerable environment provided a needed and unexpected respite from the offensive rays. The shade cooled with a caring embrace. The speckled dark patches on the road lay as welcome mats of refreshment, and we danced down the road, jumping from patch to patch like a pair of school children might engage in a bizarre game of jagged movements. But we didn’t care how child-like we looked. All we cared about was finding a place of relief.

Life is very much that way, isn’t it? We find ourselves dodging a series of tests and trials where being badly burnt is a definite possibility. We might be burn by circumstances, by accidents, by malicious intent, or by the slowly progressing humanness which we can never escape. We might find ourselves exposed to the elements and ready to melt under the overwhelming heat  of our circumstances. Or we might feel stifled by the oppressive nature of the climate around us.

Enter shade.

It might be a word of encouragement.

A friend who tells us how much they appreciate us.

A quiet night at home to restore our faith in ourselves and humanity.

It might be a small gift.

It could be a gentle touch  on the shoulder.

It might even be a smile of appreciation.

Shade that encourages our soul comes in a variety of means, but it always feels the same – refreshing, life-giving, and encouraging.

All of us have our trials – maybe even on a daily basis – and we all need those who are willing to shelter us with the leaves of shade.

When is the last time you were able to offer shade to someone who is standing uncomfortably, sweating in the blazing sun?

Look for opportunities to regularly offer shade to those around us because, no doubt, we are going to need it ourselves before too long. Shade is needed for all of our journeys, whether a short trek to a Chinese New Year dinner or a slow walk into our future.

Shade. Offer it. Accept it. Live it.

Happy Vietnamese New Year (and a reminder of Tet ’68)

Chuc mung nam moi!

Happy ‘Tet’ everyone. January 31 marks the most important holiday of the year for the Vietnamese. Yes, yes. It’s the same as Chinese New Year, but no self-respecting person from Vietnam who speaks Vietnamese (like myself) would ever refer to it using the name of their northern neighbor. It’s ‘Tet’! For the Vietnamese, it’s like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s all rolled into the one. It’s the only work break of the year for some workers and shop owners. It’s the time to travel back to one’s hometown “que” and visit relatives and enjoy the revelry. It’s truly a time of celebration. I wish all of my Vietnamese friends around the world the most joyful Tet yet!

Below, I’m re-publishing a post I wrote about Tet 1968 which you may find interesting. It was originally published on this blog during Tet 2012.


I enjoyed many Tet holidays in Vietnam, visiting neighbors, being stuffed with delicacies by eager grandmothers who wouldn’t be satisfied until I would hold my stomach in agony and beg her not to put more on my plate. (She always did anyways.)  Tet is a wonderful time for family and friends to commune and feast while the trials and troubles a a year’s hard work are long forgotten. It’s a three day, non-stop heaping dose, celebrating Vietnamese life. It’s a time to remember the past, enjoy the present, and drink for the future.

But for a different generation of Americans, the word “TET” means but one thing – a horrible reminder of the pain of war from 1968.

The Tet Offensive in 1968 changed the Vietnam War, but it didn’t do so in the way you might expect. Leading up to the Viet Cong attacks on the first day of their New Year, the American people had been led to believe from their government that great progress was being made in freeing South Vietnam from the Communist instigators who had been reeking havoc in the delta and central regions of the country for nearly a decade. But the Tet Offensive proved once and for all that the reassuring words from Washington via the press corp were hollow at best and possibly down right deceitful.

On the first night of Tet 1968,  the Viet Cong pulled off nearly fifty coordinated and simultaneous attacks which caught the Americans and the South Vietnamese armies off guard. From the former Imperial city of Hue, to the central highlands where American missionaries were killed, to the fortified city of Saigon itself, these attacks reverberated loudly throughout the country, the world, and especially the American media which drilled home this point to the American people – we were not winning the Vietnam War.

It mattered little that American firepower pushed back every single one of these advances. That’s right. America won them all, but the Viet Cong delivered a devastating punch and a massive dose of reality to the American people. From that point on, cynicism crept in and led to one of the most turmoil filled years in American history, from President LBJ deciding not run for president again, to the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, to the urban riots, the Tet offensive set the stage for them all.