In COVID-19’s Shadow, Southeast Asians Ring in Year of the Ox

BenarNews staff
Manila, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur

Therry Sicat puts finishing touches on a dragon head at the Sicat family compound in Manila’s Chinatown, Feb. 10, 2021. [Jojo Rinoza/BenarNews]


A worker sanitizes an altar at the Tien Hou Kong Temple in Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia, in preparation for Chinese New Year prayers, Feb.10, 2021. [Budi Embong/BenarNews]


A Chinese Buddhist temple, Wat Mangkon Kamalawat or Leng Nei Yi, is a main destination for people in Bangkok to pray for blessings during the Chinese New Year, Feb. 11, 2021. [Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews]


People shop at stalls in Jakarta’s Chinatown on the eve of the Year of the Ox, Feb. 11, 2021. [AFP]


A worker at the Lim Jing Hiang shophouse in Bangkok’s Chinatown burns silver and gold paper in front of the shop, Feb. 11, 2021. [Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews]


The Hua Seng Heng Gold Shop draws customers in Bangkok’s Chinatown, Feb. 10, 2021 [Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews]


Members of the Sicat family prepare dragon and lion heads for display at their business in Manila’s Chinatown, Feb. 10, 2021. [Jojo Rinoza/BenarNews]


A man views red lanterns decorating the Thean Hou Temple in Kuala Lumpur, Feb.10, 2021. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]


A worker sanitizes a Chinese New Year’s ox decoration outside a shopping mall in Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur, Jan.13, 2021. [S. Mahfuz/BenarNews]


Therry Sicat gets a haircut while his brother, Obet, trims material for a lion head at the family compound in Manila’s Chinatown, Feb. 10, 2021. [Jojo Rinoza/BenarNews]

Chinese communities across Southeast Asia began ringing in the Year of the Ox on Friday, but the festivities lost some luster for business owners as people region-wide celebrate under the pall of a global pandemic.

China refers to the lunar event as the Spring Festival, which culminates on Feb. 26 this year. It marks the beginning of a new year on the traditional Chinese calendar.

Participants revive lion and dragon dances along with other traditions including distributing money in red packets – the color symbolizing good fortune – during family dinners.

In the Philippine capital, the Sicat family was creating dragons to usher in the new year in Binondo, a Manila district that is home to the world’s oldest Chinatown – established in 1594.

“Last year, we were just lucky we made just enough income during the celebration of the Chinese New Year, enough for us to survive the many months in lockdown,” Claire Sicat, the family’s 68-year-old matriarch, told BenarNews.

Eight Sicat family members are involved in the business and have specific roles in transforming papier mache into colorful serpentine heads.

This year, the family has little reason to celebrate.

“But when the COVID-19 lockdown started, everything was lost,” another member of the Sicat clan said.

In Thailand, the pandemic led Bangkok officials to announce there would be no major celebrations in the Chinatown of the Thai capital. That led many merchants to keep their shops closed while families plan smaller celebrations.

“Since the beginning of the New Year, we have not felt good for both business and work, so we came to pray and make boon (merit and donations). At the very least that makes us feel better mentally, Kunlanan Boonsoong told BenarNews. “This Chinese New Year, we don’t expect much, we just wish everything will be OK and we are all well.”

Jojo Rinoza in Manila, S. Mahfuz in Kuala Lumpur, Nontarat Phaicharoen in Thailand and Budi Embong in Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia, contributed to this report.


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