Looks like Chinese New Year has been cancelled

Looks like Chinese New Year has been cancelled
By Zan Azlee

If there ever was proof or evidence to show how disconnected we are about the different cultural practices that exist in Malaysia, then the latest standard operating procedures set by the government and announced by Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob to celebrate Chinese New Year under the current movement control order (MCO 2.0) is the most obvious one.

Ever since MCO 2.0 was extended beyond the Chinese New Year, everyone has been waiting for the authorities to announce how we would be able to celebrate it this year amidst the pandemic. We knew that restrictions were obviously going to be there, and rightfully so, but we were hoping for something logical.

I come from a mixed family and we celebrate both Malay (and by default Muslim) and Chinese celebrations. Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Chinese New Year are of equal importance to us and we celebrate both with vigour. So, forgive me if I am taking this issue a little bit too close to home – because it is.

So according to the minister, we can all celebrate Chinese New Year. However, we can only celebrate it with members of the same household. The reunion dinner on New Year’s eve is ‘allowed’ to go on, but we cannot unite with the rest of the family. The authorities are allowing prayers, but it must be at home and not the temple (except for the maximum five temple committee members).

There is a bit of a problem here. Chinese New Year is mainly a cultural celebration and not a religious one. Chinese of different religions or even no religion celebrate the lunar new year. It’s like how the entire world celebrates Jan 1 every year. Nobody has any kind of prayers. We just celebrate it with friends and family.

Hence, the importance of the reunion dinner. It is a time when the entire family takes the opportunity to come together, appreciate each other together and have a meal together. With the authorities now ‘allowing’ the reunion dinner to go on but only with members of the same household, it is basically a normal everyday dinner. Where is the reunion?

Since Chinese New Year is a cultural celebration, there really are no prayers at the temple. For those who do pray, it is usually at home anyway. So what difference is it from any other day? I guess that would make this year’s Chinese New Year cancelled. It’s just any other day in the pandemic.

Here is the problem that I can see. To be honest, I doubt that anyone is planning to go against any standard operating procedures (SOPs) set out by the authorities during the MCO because we are all on the same page when it comes to battling Covid-19. However, when the SOPs set seems a little bit on the illogical side, then what do you expect the people to do?

The joke on social media is that reunion dinner should just be at the pasar malam (night market). Comedian Dr Jason Leong (who has a Netflix special that everyone should watch!) tweeted: “So during this MCO, I cannot visit my parents for CNY as we live in different houses but it’s okay. My family and extended relatives are all meeting up to at least say hi and exchange angpows – at the nearest pasar malam.”

The authorities are allowing night markets to open, heck even shopping malls are allowed to operate. But one night/day for families who are living just within the same district to get together for Chinese New Year isn’t allowed? Where is the logic in that? I am not saying that night markets and shopping malls should be closed. Just have the right SOPs.

And people wonder why we need diverse representation in government. Well, this is why. When you have a homogenous and non-diverse cabinet that is making decisions, the chances that inclusive policies and regulations that take into consideration every layer of society will be made is reduced drastically.

Well, you can be sure seeing how strict, adamant and gung ho the government is at battling Covid-19 this time around with MCO 2.0 and the emergency, everyone is going to abide by the set SOPs for this Chinese New Year. What are we going to do anyway, right? They have already declared that they know what’s best for us.

[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]

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