PETALING JAYA: On Aug 21, 1951, the Jenjarom New Village was established as part of the Briggs Plan. Its mission: to defeat the Malayan National Liberation Army by cutting off their sources of support among the rural population.
It is said that at least 500,000 people were forced into concentration camps, or “new villages”, under the plan.
Tew Tee was living in nearby Sri Cheeding village with her husband when they had to move to the Jenjarom New Village, known today as Kampung Sungai Jarom. Over the decades, she has learnt to call the place home. She even has five generations of family living across the larger Jenjarom area.
Speaking with FMT Lifestyle, the 94-year-old shared her experience of celebrating Chinese New Year during the early days of the new village. She and her husband were coffee farmers who had 12 children. Although money was tight, they still ensured the celebrations remained festive.
Tew, whose mother was a Peranakan Chinese, enjoyed cooking and relished whipping up a storm for her family. Reunion dinners were particularly significant as they gathered to enjoy a meal on the threshold of the Lunar New Year.
“I would cook at least seven dishes; sea cucumber, chicken and pork are must-haves,” Tew recalled, adding that preparations typically began at least two days prior, and some of her children would help her in the kitchen.
Today, the tradition of gathering as a family remains precious to her. Tew’s family has grown to over 200 people and many travel to Jenjarom from throughout Malaysia.
“When everyone comes back, I am very happy,” Tew said.
This sentiment is echoed by her daughter-in-law Lim Moi, who married her eldest son. Lim said she has grown to enjoy the family coming together during the festive season.
“In the early days of my marriage, the family was smaller. It grew over the years and it got livelier,” said the 75-year-old, who has eight children and six grandchildren.
Apart from spending time with the family over good food, Lim also goes to the temple for prayers – a tradition she instils in her children and grandchildren.
Her youngest child, Yeoh Lay Yan, also looks forward to gathering with her extended family over Chinese New Year. The 44-year-old has fond memories of joining her cousins to play with firecrackers when she was younger.
And, of course, she cherishes the memories of receiving ang pows from Tew. Her grandmother, she shared with a smile, is known to be generous: even though Lay Yan is married with three children, Tew still blesses her with a red packet despite it being more customary for single adults to receive ang pows.
Lay Yan added that she also gives her grandmother an ang pow in return. It’s another tradition the family practises, alongside the custom of kneeling before the elderly and greeting them with well-wishes before receiving red packets.
For Lay Yan’s niece, Yeoh Pei Yu, there are several things she looks forward to during Chinese New Year.
“The food, especially Yee Sang!” the 16-year-old, who is the daughter of Lay Yan’s older brother, told FMT Lifestyle, adding that she also gets together with her friends during the festive season.
While she used to enjoy playing with firecrackers when she was younger, she admitted she is less excited about it now that she is “more grown up”.
Still, there are two traditions she particularly cherishes: “Collecting ang pow,” she said with a laugh, “and, like my great-grandmother said, being with family.
“Because without our family, how lonely we will be,” she concluded.