Week 27: Buddhist Monks, More Ponggal, a Birthday, and Chinese Prayers

February 1-5

The weather in Malaysia doesn’t exactly allow for a lot of snow days, but I did get a monk day! Instead of school one day, I joined Ibe’s family for lunch with Buddhist monks. Ibe’s host father trained to be a monk, and his teacher is still a close friend of the family. One of the monk’s devotees from Hong Kong (also a family friend) came to Malaysia, and I got to join Ibe’s family for lunch with the monks. I was so excited by this, since I find Buddhism extremely interesting. After lunch, we went back to Ibe’s house for tea. This was one simple but awesome exchange experience I definitely won’t forget! 

From left: Malaysian monk (teacher to Ibe’s father), monk from Thailand, Hong Kong devotee, Ibe’s host mom, me, Ibe

Appa’s birthday was February 1st! We had a family dinner and I made a mango-coconut-walnut-raisin cake and muffins for him (again with a toaster oven and a lot of metric conversions, so it took a good four hours). 

Friday our school had a Ponggal celebration, complete with dances and the making of ponggal rice. 


Amazing kolam (rice art) by students

After school, Ibe and I met Freya in Tapah to catch up over fancy drinks and pasta (!). Freya and I live within five minutes of each other, but we hardly ever meet up! We go to different schools; since Amma is a teacher, I go to her school 10 kilometers from our house. 

Later, we went to a Chinese New Year dinner with the Chinese Business Association in Tapah. It featured an impressive lion dance, and all of us children received ang pao!

Some typical February foliage to decorate the car
On the fifteenth day of Chinese New Year, Ibe’s family had their midnight New Year prayers. Many of their family members and friends came, including my host family and our AFS state chapter president and vice president. 

Ibe’s family set up a shrine in front of the house with fruits, candles, incense, joss sticks, sugarcane, food, and metal statues. Around midnight, prayers began. For all Chinese prayers in front of an altar, people hold joss sticks between their clasped hands and bow their hands forward three times. 

Over the past few weeks, Ibe and her family had folded nearly 1000 gold-colored papers into a shape symbolic of gold. We finished folding the remaining 150, and then… burned all of them. Families burn this ‘gold’ as well as paper clothing as an offering to the gods, praying that the gods will bring them real gold in the coming year. Before burning the mountain of gold, lots of fireworks are set off. 

After fireworks and the gold bonfire, everyone ate. 

Late that night (technically Sunday morning), Ibe, Freya, and I drove to Ipoh with our AFS chapter president and VP, where we stayed overnight. The next day, we went to a luncheon with a branch of Lion’s Club International. The association organized two-week long exchange programs for students from Taiwan to Malaysia and vice versa, and this was the farewell meeting for the Taiwanese students. 

Then we went back to Tapah for school the next day

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