By Anthony Dylan
This year, the Chinese New Year fell on Sunday, 22nd January 2023. That meant that with Malaysia having the first and the second day of Chinese New Year as gazetted public holidays, Tuesday automatically became the replacement holiday. That allows for a stretch of leave taken for the whole week. School began for term 3 of the 2022/23 session again on Wednesday, 25th January 2023.
It was barely off Christmas and less than a month as a matter of fact that Chinese New Year came. Many would have just returned from their Christmas leave and New Year leave and worked for just about 2 weeks before taking leave again for Chinese New Year. The even fell on a Saturday, 21st January 2023.
We went on our annual return to Kuantan on 18th January 2023. Having gone through past experiences, we though that the best would be to leave at 5 am in the morning. We had heard that many had opted to take leave from 19th January 2023 in order to do some last minute cleaning up and shopping before the eve. Some had opted to travel away but we heard that many had travelled on holiday in December and would return back for this Chinese New Year.
Driving out from Subang Jaya on the NKVE heading towards the Duta toll plaza took roughly about 30 minutes. The traffic in the early morning, though still a work day was smooth. From thereon, we continued on the DUKE Highway on E33 till we turned into Exit 3303 and passed the Sentul Pasar Toll Plaza onwards to the Gombak Toll Plaza. That took about 15 minutes. The winding road going up the hilly topography is a unique experience all the way to the Bentong Toll and then to the Karak Toll Plaza.
There are some really dark stretches in the early morning as the winding roads at certain parts do not have any illumination. Being alert is key to driving in the dark as a winding turn can reveal a sudden sight of a stopped vehicle.
The weather back to Kuantan was quite good. It did not rain at all until we hit the Karak highway stretch. The weather started to turn, and the droplets got heavier. There are not that many toilet stops other than the Lanchang, Temerloh, Maran and Gambang ones before you hit the Gambang exit or the Kuantan exit. These stops are far apart.
To get into Kuantan you can opt to exit at Gambang or at the Kuantan exit. To get into Kuantan town, the fastest is the Kuantan exit though this exit is about 20 minutes apart or about 26 km away. I would exit Gambang if I wanted to have a faster exit from the highway and better inner roads. The Kuantan exit has smaller inner roads with more lorries plying them. We arrived at 845am which is a good 3 hours and 45 minutes with one toilet stop along the way. It was a good arrival time for breakfast too.
This is the first time that we felt such chilly weather throughout Chinese New Year in Kuantan. It rained in most parts and the night felt as if we were in Genting Highlands with the windows open. It came down to as chilly as 21 deg C mostly in the late night and throughout the early morning before hovering at an average 24 deg C throughout the day.
This was also the first time after missing the last two Chinese New Year of 2021 and 2022 that my sister in law and her family managed to make it back from Singapore. They drove in at 3 am and arrived just short of 11 am the same morning using the eastern side of the Peninsula. The traffic they later informed was good with a 1-hour traffic jam at the immigration and customs on the Malaysian side of the Causeway.
This year, the reunion meant a lot as it was the first time since the Covid 19 lockdowns that everyone was home again. Though the weather was unrelenting with sudden blasts of rain, there were no thunder and lightning. What we had was an even more exciting neighbourhood where you see the skies light up with pretty water colour like bursts of fireworks from 930 pm onwards till past midnight. The thunderous sounds of repetitive bursts of firecrackers remind you that Chinese New Year is again so alive as before. The distant sounds of cymbals and the harmonious beating of the familiar drum cause you to quickly identify that a Lion dance was being performed.
It was a great time to catch up over bak kwa, pineapple tarts, kuih bangkit, kuih kapit, ground nuts and even over a bottle of wine. Reunions are always great to be part of. I never cease to find joy in whatever reunion. My arms are sore of carrying each nephew and my only niece but the soreness is incomparable to their joyful look as you lift them up as if your own.
Very soon as you read this article, Chap Goh Meh would be upon us on the 5th of February 2023. Let us celebrate joy and wish everyone a bountiful life as we live through 2023. It is a start of the Water Rabbit year. The Water Tiger left us with hope. Let us have an even better Water Rabbit Year. We do not mind some chilly weather!