Phai Thien Kong

9th Day of Chinese New Year

On the eve of Chinese New Year we were expecting a lot of firecrackers and fireworks but it was actually relatively calm. The reason is that in Penang there are many people who are Hokkien, a member of a people traditionally inhabiting south-eastern China and the Hokkien Chinese New Year is celebrated on the 9th day of the first month of the lunar calendar.
This special celebration is known to Hokkien people as the “Phai Thien Kong” which literally means “praying to the Heaven God”. This day is especially important to Hokkiens because they believe it is the birthday of the Jade Emperor (Thien Kong) who protected the ancestors of Hokkien people from a ruthless army in ancient China.
During the massacre all of the Hokkien people hid in a sugarcane plantation on the 8th – 9th days of Lunar New Year, coinciding with the Thien Kong or the Jade Emperor’s birthday. This is why the Hokkien people offer thanksgiving prayers to him on this day. Although these prayers are traditionally performed only by Hokkiens more and more non-Hokkien people have begun to join in to pray for a good year ahead.

In the lunar calendar the day starts at 11pm and so all the Hokkiens start their prayers at 11pm on the 8th day of Chinese New Year. However, preparations start well in advance of this. On this night tables are set up (draped in a red tablecloth) full of food which are to serve to the Jade Emperor. Some of the most popular items are sweet cakes (thni kueh), red tortoise buns (ang koo), red-coloured buns (mee koo), prosperity cakes (huat kueh) and bright pink miniature pagodas.

The Hokkiens make piles of kim cua (folded pieces of gold paper) and these papers are hung from sugar cane before being burnt as a thanksgiving offering to the Thien Kong. After these gold papers are set ablaze, the family members then take the stalks of sugarcane from the altars (a pair of sugarcanes are usually used) and throw them into the flames. There will be fireworks and firecrackers that mark the beginning of the ninth day, as well as the survival of the Hokkien people.

So on Friday 24th February ,and the next couple of days, the noise was somewhat deafening with firecrackers and fireworks going off at various intervals well into the night.


Gong Xi Fa Cai

Happy Chinese New Year – it is New Year’s Eve today and the YEAR OF THE DOG lasts from 16th February 2018 to February 4th 2019.



Beautiful clear sky in Penang yesterday. After so many years experiencing pollution in Hong Kong and China what a magical sky. We have the same in France and I never tire of looking at it…..I do get some strange looks as I stare upwards but I think many people don’t even take the time to notice…..

Bakwa aka dried pork jerky

One of the essential snacks for Chinese New Year in Penang is bakwa. You see it being sold on roadsides and from house fronts. Here is our neighbour preparing her bakwa:


The bakwa, originally made to preserve pork and other meat, is thin square slices of minced pork that have been grilled over a charcoal fire. Originating from the Fujian province of China, and using traditional methods of cooking handed down over the years, it is believed bakwa was brought to Malaysia by Fujian immigrants almost a century ago. Boxes of the dried grilled meat are usually bought to give to friends and family.

Bakwa, which is Hokkien for dried meat, is made with minced meat seasoned with five spice powder, rice wine, sugar, salt and soy sauce. Once seasoned the meat is flattened into thin squares and dried before being grilled over charcoal for a smokey finish. The bakwa is a soft chewy jerky that is sweet, savoury and juicy and can be eaten as is or with bread or a bun.

Something of an acquired taste, based on the small sample offered to me by our neighbour, but it is clearly an activity associated with Chinese New Year that brings the whole family together – four generations in my neighbour’s case!

Plastic Bottles


On the face of it the above picture (which I took recently in Penang) shows a nice picture of the sea and the sea shore. But look a little closer and count the number of plastic bottles nestling among the stones. Not great is it? We all could, and should, do more to reduce plastic waste.

With thanks to the Green Education Foundation here are 17 ways to reduce the amount of plastic we consume:

  1. Stop using plastic straws, even in restaurants. If a straw is a must, purchase a reusable stainless steel or glass straw
  2. Use a reusable produce bag. A single plastic bag can take 1,000 years to degrade. Purchase or make your own reusable produce bag and be sure to wash them often!
  3. Give up gum. Gum is made of a synthetic rubber, aka plastic.
  4. Buy boxes instead of bottles. Often, products like laundry detergent come in cardboard which is more easily recycled than plastic.
  5. Purchase food, like cereal, pasta, and rice from bulk bins and fill a reusable bag or container. You save money and unnecessary packaging.
  6. Reuse containers for storing leftovers or shopping in bulk.
  7. Use a reusable bottle or mug for your beverages, even when ordering from a to-go shop
  8. Bring your own container for take-out or your restaurant doggy-bag since many restaurants use styrofoam.
  9. Use matches instead of disposable plastic lighters or invest in a refillable metal lighter.
  10. Avoid buying frozen foods because their packaging is mostly plastic. Even those that appear to be cardboard are coated in a thin layer of plastic. Plus you’ll be eating fewer processed foods!
  11. Don’t use plasticware at home and be sure to request restaurants do not pack them in your take-out box.
  12. Ask your local grocer to take your plastic containers (for berries, tomatoes, etc.) back. If you shop at a farmers market they can refill it for you.
  13. The EPA estimates that 7.6 billion pounds of disposable diapers are discarded in the US each year. Use cloth diapers to reduce your baby’s carbon footprint and save money.
  14. Make fresh squeezed juice or eat fruit instead of buying juice in plastic bottles. It’s healthier and better for the environment.
  15. Make your own cleaning products that will be less toxic and eliminate the need for multiple plastic bottles of cleaner.
  16. Pack your lunch in reusable containers and bags. Also, opt for fresh fruits and veggies and bulk items instead of products that come in single serving cups.
  17. Use a razor with replaceable blades instead of a disposable razor


Travelling down to Ipoh from Penang and passing vast plantations of palm oil trees made us wonder about the origins of rubber and palm oil, two of the most important industries in Malaysia, together with tin. For someone who grew up in Kuala Lumpur I am a little embarrassed to admit that I had no idea that neither rubber, nor palm oil tress, are indigenous to Malaysia.

The rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) is in fact indigenous to the Amazon basin in South America. Rubber seedings were smuggled out of Brazil in the late 1870’s and became the parent planting stock for all rubber plantations developed in present-day Malaysia and other Southeast Asain countries at the turn of the twentieth century. These plantations gradually superceded those in Brazil partly because of much improved productivity. In Brazil the trees naturally grow some distance from each other; in Southeast Asia trees were planted close together making harvesting much easier and quicker. Today Brazil plays an insignificant role in international markets.

The story is much the same with the oil plam tree (Elaeis guiniensis jacq.) which originates from West Africa where it grows in the wild and later was developed into an agricultural crop. It was introduced to Malaysia, then Malaya, by the British in the early 1870’s as an ornamental plant. The first commercial planting took place in Selangor in 1917 but it was in the early 1960s that palm oil cultivation increased significantly under the government’s diversification programme to reduce Malaysia’s dependency on rubber and tin.

Sadly the production of palm oil has long been associated with negative factors such as:

tropical deforestation, biodiversity loss, air pollution, soil and water pollution, soil erosion, violation of customary land rights.

Deforestation followed by plantation establishment has had a significant effect on carbon stocks and greenhouse gas emissions.