Coming Together As One Big “Muhibah” Family

by Anne Das

More than 200 participants of all ages and ethnicities gathered this morning at Lorong Bijih Timah for the calligraphy writing of Festive Couplets to usher in the New Year. There was so much hype with the sounds of drums beating and people rushing to get their couplets done within the hour.

This yearly event is held in conjunction with the upcoming Chinese New Year 2023. The theme for this year is ‘Muhibbah’ which means, coming together in unity as a community or togetherness. It is funded by the community for the community and this initiative is the brainchild of Tan Kai Leck, founder of Tin Alley (a non-profit organisation and cultural curator space)

“I am so happy to see so many people from all walks of life here today. This is our mission, to bring everyone together to take our beautiful city to its fullest potential. Here today, you will see there are 20 ft couplets written in many languages, and all of them have almost the same meaning; to wish us all, a very abundant and peaceful year of the Rabbit 2023’

“We invite the public to come and view them, they will be there until the 15th day of Chinese New Year, and do not forget to share them with your friends and family all over the world,” said Tan proudly.

Also seen here at the event was City Secretary, Ahmad Munir Ishak and his lovely wife, CEO of Tourism Perak, Nurmalis Musa and Assistant Director for Perak State Education Department, Muhamad Huzairi bin Shukri and his family.

‘This program is endorsed by the state and we are very happy with this year’s outcome. This initiative allows us to preserve and promote our heritage and culture.’ Having activities such as these encourages family and community bonding and brings tourists to Ipoh.’ said Ahmad Munir Ishak.

It was really an amazing effort and a spectacular sight, once completed. The bright red couplets were hung on pillars of the two storey shophouses 20ft high, along the Bijih Timah Lane. People from all around the area, including tourists came to view the “hero” moment and try their hand at some calligraphy.

Besides Mandarin characters, there was also Japanese, Arabic, Korean, Swedish, Nepalese, Bangladeshi and many more spotted on the couplets, symbolising unity, and harmony for this coming New Year.

Story of the couplets

Spring couplets originated from inscriptions on wooden boards made from peach trees. According to a Zhou Dynasty legend, a golden rooster would perch on a huge peach tree near the entrance to the underworld at dawn and crow at dawn to recall wandering spirits to the realm of the dead. That entrance was said to be guarded by two benevolent demi-gods named Shen Tu and Yu Lei.

Every morning, the deities would check on the returning ghosts. Any spirit caught committing evil deeds the night before would be apprehended and subsequently fed to the tigers prowling the nearby woods. From that time onwards, the people began writing the names of the two deities on peach wood and hung them on either side of their doors to ward off evil spirits.

Nearly a millennia later, during the Song Dynasty, people began focusing on the more positive side of life. Wooden peach boards were replaced with red paper and forward thinking wishes for a brighter future became substitutes for the deity names. This custom became popular in the 15th century when a Ming Dynasty Emperor learnt about this cultural practice and liked the idea very much. From that day onwards, all households were ordered to paste the couplets during the Chinese New Year.

Tan Kai Leck putting up one of the many couplets.
Calligraphy Club Ipoh and their members

Drums by Ipoh Drums Academy
Hannah, UM business student who reads, writes and speaks Mandarin, with her ‘mini’ couplet.
Andrew Chen with his couplet written in Swedish standing with Kevin and wife from Singapore.
This is Moti who works at Happy 8, with his couplet written in Nepalese.
Carrie chan with her couplet written in Japanese. She reads, write and speaks the language.
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