Enter the Dragon

by Jeff Yong

The Year of the Dragon is upon us. Many I am sure are welcoming the new year with gusto since the dragon  holds significant cultural and symbolic importance in Chinese culture.

In the Chinese zodiac, which operates on a 12-year cycle, the Dragon is the fifth sign and it’s highly revered and considered auspicious for many reasons.

First and foremost, dragons are symbols of strength, power, and good luck in Chinese culture. Those born in the Year of the Dragon are believed to inherit these traits, which are highly desirable qualities.

Secondly, dragons are associated with leadership, ambition, and success. And folks born in the Year of the Dragon are often thought to be natural leaders and ambitious individuals who strive for excellence.

Then dragons are also believed to bring good fortune and prosperity. Their presence is thought to ward off evil spirits and bring blessings to those around them. Dragons also hold significant cultural significance in Chinese mythology and folklore. They are often depicted as benevolent creatures.

On Chinese New Year’s Eve or even Chinese New Year’s (CNY) Day, the reunion dinner holds special significance. Those who uphold this tradition will even brave hours of traffic jams just to be present at this important occasion.

Family members, usually the women, often toil to get those sumptuous and often not-to-be-missed once-a-year meals ready. But these days restaurants have also got into the business of hosting reunion dinners, which takes the hard work out of the household kitchen, ordinarily meant for four or five people at the most but suddenly you have 10 to 15 hungry mouths waiting eagerly in line to gulp down the grub!

This also causes a frantic search for Chinese restaurants willing to stay open on that auspicious day! And at prices not normally seen at other times of the year and they usually end with the figure 8, which sounds like “fatt” or prosperity in the Cantonese dialect. So, you have prices from RM488 right up to RM1,088 or RM2,088 for a table of 10, depending on what Chinese delicacies you want to devour.

But I like the Blue Ocean mindset of one southern Indian cuisine restaurant in Penang: Sri Ananda Bhavan has also joined in the fray by offering CNY reunion dinners.

Whether it serves “yee sang” (that raucous fish and vegetable salad tossing ritual for good luck) is a matter of debate but it causes us to ponder in our multicultural Malaysia – do we need Chinese cuisine for the CNY reunion dinners? A big dollop of mutton masala, chicken karaikudi, fish varuvel or taufoo sambal might even spice things up!  

Located at the leafy end of Jalan Macalister and next to the once “Whites only” Penang Sports Club, it even has a big lion dance drum to welcome diners for CNY. Besides the food, what’s attractive about this particular restaurant is the ample parking in a large compound in what I guess must be the official residence of a senior government official before Independence. And talking about senior officials or important personages having gone to the restaurant, I saw pictures of Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow, the Raja of Perlis Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin Tuanku Syed Putra and squash maestro Datuk Nicol David adorned on a wall near the entrance.  

I also met a very genial waiter, Venkates, 31, who hails from Chennai. Well-mannered and helpful, he is seen efficiently tapping orders into his mobile device as he gives round the restaurant also known for its roti canai, thosai and vadai.

What’s significant about him this time around besides his good service is the dragon tattoo on his left arm! He has been sporting it since eight years ago. I sense this Year of the Dragon should be auspicious for him!

I conclude by wishing everyone in Cantonese this time (since my mum came from Dongguan yonks ago anyway) – sum seong si seng – may you succeed in what you wish for; chut yap peng onn – safe travels for you always and tai kat, tai lei (literally meaning big oranges and big pears), which actually translates into abundance of fortune for you! Happy New Year, folks!