Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Malaysian Culture: A letter to pen-pal

99 Jalan Setia,
Taman Setia,
86200 Simpang Rengam,

6 October 2009

Dear Jeannette,
I am glad that your brother came home for Christmas. Your mum must have been delighted to see him after for so many years. Travel must have transformed him both physically and spiritually. I, myself have seen changes on my eldest brother when he retuned from his studies in Germany seven years ago. He has matured and more responsible. Sometimes I miss the bubbly side of him which seems to have disappeared since he has to take charge almost five thousands workers working under him. He is getting married soon. I really hope that he will resume his cheerfulness once he has children.
So, your brother’s presence must have been the best Christmas gift ever for you and your mum. Here in my country, I celebrate” Hari Raya” or better known among the European Muslims as Eidul Fitr. Unlike your Christmas, Hari Raya is not celebrated on the same date every year because the calculation of the date is based on the Islamic lunar calendar. It falls on the first of Syawal.
However, we are obliged to fast for a month in Ramadhan. Ramadhan is the ninth month in the calendar. Daily fasts begin at dawn and ends with sunset. Special nightly prayers called, Taraweeh prayers are held. The entire Quran is recited in these prayers in Mosques all around the world. This month provides an opportunity for Muslims to get closer to God. This is a month when a Muslim should try to speak no evil, hear no evil, do no evil and look to Allah with fear and hope.
What I like about fasting month is the abundance of food. My mum usually cooks about three special dishes but since our neighbours enjoy extending their generosity, our table is very quickly filled up. Fortunately, there are eight of us in the house. Otherwise, all the lovely delicacies may go to waste. My mum then shows gratitude by giving them some of her cooking. So almost everyone in the village is savouring a variety kinds of food cooked at different houses.
When the last week of Ramadhan approaches, every member of my family is busy preparing for the day of festival. My father who never favours shopping hands the task to his financial adviser, my mum. She is very smart. She gives each of us some amount of money, with a list of some dos and don’ts, and drives us to the mall to buy two pairs of new outfits and other things we need. She then leaves us to do her own shopping spree and comes back two hours later.
Unlike most of the kampong folks, my mum never bakes her own cake or biscuits for Hari Raya. As she is a teacher who devotes 18 hours a day on schoolwork, she refuses to stay coop in the kitchen after work. She prefers to join the Taraweeh prayer and recite the Quran, making sure that all of us tag behind her.
My task is the most interesting one. I am assigned to light up oil lamps along the street in front of my house. It is a beautiful sight to behold at night. My sisters Rina and Lia are expected to fill up the beautiful glass jars with tarts, brownies, ginger biscuits, chocolates and sweets. Meanwhile my brothers must mow the lawn, hang new curtains, wipe the window panes, wash my parents’ cars and rearrange the furniture in the house. All these however are done under my mum’s strict supervision. My dad is not exempted. He sits on an armchair at the verandah of our house weaving the coconut leave into “ketupat” cases which is filled with rice on the eve of Hari Raya. My mum usually boils them for four hours in a pot full of plain water. The “ketupat” is ready to be eaten in the following morning.
On Hari Raya, my mum is the first to wake up. My mum begins preparing special meat and vegetable dishes to be eaten with “ketupat”. The next person to wake up is my father, who then summons us to leave the bed, to bathe and to get ready. My dad, then, can be seen helping my mum in the kitchen. They are a great team.
Once ready, the six of us ask for forgiveness from our parents and then we head to grand mosque on foot since it is only twenty metres away from our house to perform a special morning prayer. Men, women and children attend the prayer. We give out a special charity, known as Zakatul-fitr prior to the prayer. After that, we go home and enjoy the wonderful meals my mum prepares. We spend the rest of the day visiting relatives and friends. I love this visiting part as I receive some pocket money and I can eat almost everything served by the hosts.
Well, Jeannette, I am sure you will enjoy our festival as much as you enjoy Christmas. Hari Raya is a day of joy, a day to forgive and forget and a day to bring a family, relatives and neighbours closer. See you in the next letter. Please write as soon as you can. Take care. Bye.

Your pen-pal,



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