Leader Board

Single and searching

Words: Olga Fontanellaz
Photographs: Olga Fontanellaz
Jan 04, 2020

Single and searching

Words: Olga Fontanellaz
Photographs: Olga Fontanellaz
Jan 04, 2020

Who says romance is dead? Single ladies in some of parts of Malaysia leave the dating game up to chance.

A large crowd gathers on the shores of Taman Jaya Lake in Petaling Jaya, a small town near Kuala Lumpur.

The Chinese New Year in Malaysia is celebrated with an exuberance and a big pomp for almost two weeks. But all wonderful things eventually come to an end. However, the climax of the festivities is yet to come. Similar to the Chinese New Year’s Eve, the last day is a grand affair too.

Hundreds of men with long fishing poles and women with bags full of oranges hang out by the lake to find love.

Early evening, when the sky is slowly turning dark, a large crowd gathers on the shores of Taman Jaya Lake in Petaling Jaya, a small town located near Kuala Lumpur. There are hundreds of men with long fishing poles and women with bags full of oranges and marker pens in hand. They did not come for a picnic or fishing – they are here to find love. 

Red envelopes containing money called ang pow, are an important part of the Chinese New Year celebration. Red is the symbol of good luck, prosperity and protection from evil spirits.

Dumplings are very popular during the Chinese New Year celebration, and Chap Goh Meh is no exception.

Today is Chap Goh Meh, which means “the 15th night of Chinese New Year” in the southern Hokkien dialect. On this auspicious night, the final day of Chinese New Year, which also coincides with the first full moon of the New Year, single women carry on the tradition of throwing oranges into the water in search of a boyfriend or husband. 

Men getting ready for a traditional cultural performance, the famous lion dance.

It’s easy to assume that this tradition has come to Malaysia from China. But this practice originated on the Malaysian island of Penang at the end of the 19th century. In the past, Chap Goh Mei was a night of courtship. It was the only day in the year, when young women were allowed to head out to the streets, although accompanied by their aunts and servants. They would throw oranges into the water asking for blessings to find a good husband. Those women, whose oranges were scooped up by men, were believed to meet their love soon.

The lion dance is the most common performance of the Chinese New Year. Two dancers stand inside a stylised lion’s costume with the giant head and skilfully imitate the lion’s movements.

Today, old traditions and new technologies are now blended together, and the Chap Goh Meh has undergone some modern developments. Women still throw oranges into the water wishing for the right man to pick them up. But today, equipped with marker pens, they write their names and mobile phone numbers on oranges. While some prefer to be connected via WhatsApp, some provide their e-mails or Facebook addressees.

Fishing poles used by men to scoop up the floating oranges that women throw into the water.

Oranges with women’s names, mobile phone numbers, email or Facebook addresses.

Using marker pens, women write their personal details on the oranges.
Catch of the day! An orange with a girl’s contact details.

While the women toss their oranges into the lake, the men enthusiastically move along the lakeshore and fish out the floating oranges using a home-made fishing pole, a sift attached to the end of a long stick. Also hoping for some romance, they try to scoop up as many oranges as possible. Not everyone has the courage to approach a girl, and the tradition of throwing oranges on Chap Goh Meh gives more chances to the less brave ones.

An enthusiastic young man tries to scoop up oranges with girls’ phone numbers, Facebook or email addresses on them.

Although many come looking for love, for others, it’s an occasion to meet friends and see the traditional cultural performance, including lion and dragon dances. 

Some men throw bananas into the water hoping for the right girl to pick it up.

In a modern world powered by the Internet, smartphones and dating apps, there’s hardly any need to throw oranges in the water to find a partner. But in Malaysia, the quaint Chap Goh Meh tradition is still alive and well. Who says romance is dead?
The ambitious ones sometimes resort to home-made fishing poles to net their prize.

RELATED

Icons made by Gregor Cresnar from www.flaticon.com is licensed by CC 3.0 BY