On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Sparkle of magic as we get together

THERE will be more than one celebration for me this Chinese New Year. It’s also my 20th wedding anniversary, which falls on Valentine’s Day and the first day of Chinese New Year.

The combination of occasions has added some sparkle of magic for me, something that most of us seem to lose as we grow older.

The drive back home to be with our parents in our hometowns, an essential part of demonstrating filial piety, continues. The fact is it holds the extended family together.

The compulsory reunion dinner will end once the old folks pass on and their children will be hosting reunion dinners on their own.

Then there are many who have to perform their duties on the first day of CNY to host open houses, which will deprive them of the opportunity to visit and spend time in their hometowns.

Over the past few years, I have made it a point to visit my parents in Penang a week before CNY.

Although the supermarkets are already busy by then, it is still easy to eat at restaurants and coffeeshops and I make it a point to look for Penang hawker food, which I miss being away in Kuala Lumpur.

I also take the opportunity to catch up with childhood friends who studied in St Xavier’s Institution with me.

The only regret is that I would miss those who come home during CNY.

With most of us hitting 50 in a year or two, the conversations these days tend to focus on our children’s education, their future and what will happen to Malaysia in years to come.

The excessive politicking has dampened the mood somewhat, with my friends raising legitimate questions like why Malaysia isn’t focusing enough attention on the economy, why isn’t it competitive, why doesn’t it promote meritocracy, the outflow of capital even at middle class level and, more importantly, the continuous brain drain.

As parents, we would want our children to stay and work in Malaysia. But the question is will Malaysia be big enough, or competitive or fair enough to them?

I am sure these subjects will be a common topic for discussion among many families at their reunion dinner tables. We can choose to ignore them or be bold enough to address them so that we can keep the country’s best brains and talent at home.

The roads in Penang normally come to a gridlock especially on the second day of CNY as tourists start to make their way here.

My family house is in Kampung Melayu, Air Itam, which is not too far from the Kek Lok Si pagoda temple and Penang Hill.

It’s a lot worse for Penangites staying in Tanjung Tokong and Tanjung Bungah with traffic on the road leading to the hotels in Batu Feringghi almost certain to come to a standstill.

It is always near impossible to drive out of my house when the traffic builds up.

I have also been really irritated by jaga kereta boys who have the nerve to demand money from me for parking in areas where I have spent a large part of my life.

Looking at my KL car plate number, they mistake me for an outsider and demand a huge amount from me.

It’s amazing that they have the nerve to make such extortionate demands, sometimes just a few metres away from the Paya Terubong police station, where my wife’s former home is located.

The asam laksa at the nearby wet market, I swear, has to be the country’s best.

My parents have accepted my pre-CNY visits and have, on numerous occasions, joined me in KL for reunion dinners.

The empty roads in KL must be a relief for those remaining in the city, and they are happy with it.

But there’s something else that happens during festive seasons that we still need some time to get used to. This is the sight of foreigners “taking over” the city, and it is a little unnerving. From Pudu to the Golden Triangle of Bukit Bintang, with most KL folks away, the city is seemingly dominated by foreigners who are enjoying their days off.

But there’s another bonus for staying back in KL. It’s debatable but I think the weather in KL is less humid compared to Penang, which is an island.

It’s probably ironic that my family and I have decided to leave Malaysia – for the first time during CNY – to take a short holiday in Bangkok.

The traffic jam there is probably worse than in Penang and the weather would be more humid. But the shops and malls would be opened as CNY is celebrated on a lesser scale in Thailand than in Malaysia.

Here’s to a roaring start to the Year of the Tiger. To all Malaysians, especially readers of this column, my family and I wish you Gong Xi Fa Cai and best wishes for the year.