Opening ceremonies at party at Dewan Tun Mustapha signalling the end of Chinese New Year (photo by Tom Bailey)
Chinese New Year is officially over. It left Kudat with a BANG, to which we were invited by our intrepid hotel owner, Mr. Soon Kah Khian (he of the Borneo Post article attached to my last letter). He and his wife and grand daughter (5 year old Natasha) picked us up outside the hotel in the evening–we’d been promised a performance by the “champagne” lion dance troupe–and drove us to the Dewan Tun Mustapha, just a block behind our hotel. Dewan means community hall. As we walked down the aisle into the hall, really an auditorium with a stage and red curtain, we were introduced to a bewildering array of people who either shook our hands or held their hand to their chest and said something to us. I recognized the woman who runs the canteen at the boatyard; she shook my hand.
Natasha was very excited. She wore a silk Chinese dress and sparkling gold shoes, a pink purse with a girl character cartoon on it, and heart necklaces and bracelets and hair elastics.
Mr. Soon sat in the front row of folding chairs with the mucky-mucks and we sat two rows back. As we could have predicted, the even didn’t start on time, and when it did, the opening acts were speeches! Being that the celebration was put on by the political party in power in Sabah, the Liberal Democratic Party, this could be expected. But we’d been treated to the drums of the lion dance troupe from Kota Kinabalu as they swept into the hall with the TRUE mucky-mucks, the local party members, in the van, and we were patient. Especially as a dragon dance by our local group followed, with the dragon glowing red in the darkened hall and lined with lights as it swayed and circled through the space before the stage.
Kudat’s Assemblyman, as they call the members of the State Legislature (as opposed to the Federal Government), Datuk Teo, spoke in nice slow Behasa Melayu and I caught a few words. Most of the talk by the emcee and others was in Chinese, of which I know nothing except thank you, pronounced se-se (like the first syllable in second) in Malaysian Chinese.
Our speeches were followed by Lucky Draw, with the numbers read out in Behasa, Chinese, and English so any of us could read our slips. This took FOREVER–as you who have been to events can imagine! The prizes were basket of cookies crackers tea, a convection oven, a deep fat fryer, and the grand prize, a flat screen tv! It took forever partly because people had to make it down from the balcony–and also because most of the winners sent their children up to collect the prizes. We did not win a thing. Oh well.
So speeches over, lucky draw started, still no lion dance1 Out came a series of young singers who had quite good voices. Their music was accompanied by recorded instrumental and backup singer tracks, rather like karaoke. Almost all again in Chinese, except for one girl who sang I Will Survive with just the tagline in English! The hall was incredibly echoey and between the singers and everyone always talking, children running around, the singers often seemed to be entertaining themselves. But never mind; Natasha had a great time jumping out into the space before the stage, taking 2-second videos on a phone and jumping back to show them to us. At one point she lifted my hair away from my ear to whisper loudly, “Dance!”
Almost four hours later we got to the lion dance. These big-city fellows made our local kids look pretty amateurish. At one point the back-end of one of the lions, while up on the posts, SWUNG his front-end guy in a circle over head and back down and around, and landed him on the posts again. The dances are pretty ritualistic, but the way the troupes play them out varies. I should look at some Chinese acrobats some time, see if there are similarities.
After the lions left the hall started to empty out, and I stood up. “Fireworks still,” said Mrs. Soon, who had been very gracious to us. Frankly we were quite happy to have Mr. Soon off with his friends. He is quite chatty (even his hotel staff attest to that) and it can be exhausting to try to pay attention over time as his English is less intelligible than his ability to keep it up! Dinner had been mentioned earlier, but it was just as well that it was too late now! Natasha had already gone home with her father, Number One son Jack Soon.
So we followed the local dragon dancers out into the night, where a full moon was clearing clouds high above, amazing us because it had been bucketing down rain earlier, and watched incredibly loud firecrackers boom off a series of upright posts, then nine minutes of continuous fireworks. They didn’t go up very high, and were not as elaborate as American fireworks, but the noise and the smoke and the light and the occasional true boom-boom-booms left me breathless.
Then it was over. We found the Soon’s quiet, elegant, air-conditioned van, drove the block to the hotel, where the staff waited in the lobby to see how we had done.
“Fireworks?” said Rell.
“You heard them?” I asked.
“Boss take us.”
On another note, we learned two quite useful phrases today. Hati-hati, which means take care (or be careful), hati being care and the doubling up adding emphasis and intention. And we learned that one of Tod’s favorite street sign slogans, Pandu Perlahan, means Drive Slow. Tonight as we sailed into the lobby with our Kentucky Fried Chicken dinner I said, “Selamat Malam” (good evening) and Tod said, “Hati hati,” Rell said “Yes,” then Tod added “Pandu Perlahan,” and Rell said, “Yes, Pandu Perlahan.” which in the context was nonsense. But you could say them together! Careful! Drive Slow!!