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

BenarNews staff
Manila, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur

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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