ALOR GAJAH: Lubok China may sound like a place where noisy celebrations echo through the streets every Chinese New Year.
But these days the sleepy township not too far from Melaka is home to very few Chinese families.
Instead, it is at the school, SJK (C) Sin Min, where the festivities come alive, thanks to the spirited teachers and 51 students, most of whom are Malay.
The school, founded in 1931, is one of a handful of Chinese vernacular schools in the country to have more non-Chinese than Chinese students.
“We have 38 Malay, 10 Chinese and three Indian students here, in Year 1 to 6,” Sin Min principal, Goh Seng Hua told FMT.
There are 10 teachers at the school: eight Chinese, and two Malay who teach Bahasa Melayu and Islamic Studies.
Goh said most parents who send their children to Sin Min want them to pick up Mandarin, but that’s no easy task as the children in the area have no Chinese basics when they enter Year 1.
This is because there is no Chinese kindergarten in the area, meaning even Chinese students struggle with the language and prefer speaking Bahasa Melayu.
“But our students really make an effort and every Chinese New Year they take part and enjoy the activities,” she said.
The school, despite its limited budget, also organises Hari Raya and other celebrations.
On the last day of school before the Chinese New Year break, art and calligraphy activities are held, along with performances by the students.
The school’s Parent Teacher Association hands out oranges and ang pows to the students and teachers.
The highlight is the tossing of Yee Sang or Prosperity Toss salad, made with an assortment of fresh vegetables, which the children gobble down with keropok crackers and mayonnaise.
That may not be a typical Yee Sang salad but the kids love it.
Teacher Ong Sook Hui, herself a former student at the school, told FMT it is heartening to see how enthusiastic the parents and students are to celebrate Chinese New Year.
“We usually ask the students to wear red for the celebrations, and some of the Malay parents actually go and buy traditional Chinese costumes for their kids.”
Best friends Sow Yong Kang and Qalif Mohd Norfirdaus, both in primary 4, look forward to a day filled with laughter and play.
“I love it here, I have so many friends,” said Sow, who travels back to his father’s hometown of Rompin, Negeri Sembilan, for the holiday.
When asked what their favourite part of Chinese New Year is, the two buddies glanced at each other; “Receiving ang pows!” they chorused without hesitation.
Another student, 12-year-old Ponthi Sunthar said his Chinese friends all go back to their hometowns for the festivities.
“I hope one day I can have a Chinese New Year open house outside of school with my friends,” he said.
Ten-year-old student Nuryana Balqis Rustam saw a lion dance in the flesh for the first time at last year’s festivities.
She told us that celebrating Chinese New Year always comes alive for her when they decorate their small classrooms, and sing and dance along to festive songs.
And since last year she has a new ambition.
“Now I’m really looking forward to the lion dancing. I hope I’ll be able to perform it myself one day.”