As mentioned, Penang is a wonderful mix of cultures and one of the predominant ones is Chinese. Where Islam is ever-present with the call to prayer throughout the day, or the lack of most things pork, the Chinese culture feels more subtle but then bursts through with sound and color.
Firecrackers or fireworks are heard no less than weekly and often times daily. When we arrived near Chinese New Year, every night, we heard firecrackers. Back then, fireworks also lit the sky continuously once dark. We would look down and see the gentle arcs of roman candles followed by their loud distinct pop or in the distance, more colorful displays blooming in the sky.
I’ve learned that firecrackers are also used for a lot of ceremonies, like store openings. An opening for a set of new shops at a local mall, had three long strands of firecrackers suspended on a wire. When lit, the resulting cacophony and smoke was fantastic! I rushed in for pictures where others were less intrigued and sensibly covering their ears.
The opening also had a troupe of drummers and Lion Dancers. In my quest for “good” pictures, I’d run home to get my SLR and conveniently missed most of it. We did get to see the drummers warming up though. In synchronized movement they beat on their drums and swung their leg over in a practiced movement. Their warm-up had filled the floor with sound. As I later ran next door, I could hear the drums echoing through my building.
The Lion Dancing was accompanied by a different set of drums and cymbals at decibel that caused your body to vibrate as they lead the VIPs through the shops. The Lion dancing is done to bring good luck and fortune to a business. Our friend laughed at my excitement for they apparently happen frequently in the mall.
It was only my second viewing though so I was excited for all of the noise and ceremony. Their troupe was composed of two Lions (manipulated by four people) and two human masks. The “humans” joked and lead the VIPs through the stores, who seemed amused by the process.
This procession also had other “characters”, of who I cannot name, with decorated faces and detailed costumes. They appeared to be elders, representing an older Dynasty with elaborate costumes, some with flags hanging off their back or long trailing feathers. Their wooden clogs also drew my attention as a few of the tall actors towered over me. This opening was also interesting to me for it did not seem to be advertised. Perhaps it was a soft opening but no other signs had alerted us to this opening in the mall.
In contrast, our second grand opening, three days later (in the same mall), announced itself with rows of flower stands that lined the outside of the shop. The store had an archway of balloons and overly loud music but the flowers beckoned me to investigate. I found the huge stands all had cards congratulating the business. Unusual to me, for I typically associate these with funerals, here they were beautifully being offered in support of this store’s opening and making the air fragrant. I, however, was still a bit sad for surely I’d missed seeing a Lion Dance.