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KWAI CHAI HONG USHERS IN CNY WITH MAHJONG-INSPIRED INSTALLATION

06/02/2024 10:09 AM
From Soon Li Wei

Kwai Chai Hong, the iconic heritage laneway in the heart of the city, is set to usher in the Chinese New Year (CNY) with the ‘Rise of the Dragon’ installation, a tribute to the history of Mahjong, a tile-based game developed since the Qing Dynasty in the 19th century.

The arts exhibition is in collaboration with Johor Bahru-based artists,Wong Jia Min and Lee Chaer Shean from plus + plus Design Studio. The 28-year old duo, both architects, have also designed a centrepiece - a Mahjong game set in the heart of the cul-de-sac, surrounded by the silhouette of a dragon traversing above.

"In this year's theme, we are not emphasising the gambling aspect but rather the spirit of continuing the legacy of traditional Chinese games passed down through generations since the Qing Dynasty,” said Bai Chuan Management Sdn Bhd Managing Partner Zeen Chang.

"It also serves to showcase Chinese traditions to our visitors, especially among non-Chinese and foreign visitors, allowing them to learn more about our culture during the Chinese New Year," she told Bernama recently.

Chang said the company wanted to be different in a way that is elemental and game-changing given that most shopping complexes and tourist spots are already adorned with dragon-shaped installations to mark the upcoming Chinese zodiac Year of the Dragon.

 "Dragon themes are common and can be spotted anywhere during this festive season in addition to lanterns and Chinese calligraphy decorations. As such, we want to have something different by incorporating ideas from several other local artists,” she said.

 “Of the many ideas presented to us, we chose ‘Mahjong’ as the theme of our Chinese New Year celebration, without forgetting this year’s main character, the Dragon,” she added.


Bai Chuan Management Sdn Bhd's Managing Partner, Zeen Chang

 

TOURIST ATTRACTION

 

Come Chinese New Year to be celebrated on Feb 10 and Feb 11, Kwai Chai Hong continues to attract visitors from various races and has been an inspiration for artists and photography aficionados alike.

This writer, together with 19 media representatives and influencers had the opportunity to visit this lane in conjunction with the launch of the arts exhibition titled ‘Rise of the Dragon’ organised by Bai Chuan Management, which manages the restoration of Kwai Chai Hong.  

Kwai Chai Hong or ‘Little Ghost Lane’ in Cantonese, a 36-metre long heritage lane tucked between Jalan Petaling and Jalan Sultan, was a sight to behold.

Once you enter the area, you will be greeted by the colourful ‘love bridge’ with impressive murals that showcase characters  in ‘The House of 72 Tenants’, a film produced by Shaw Brothers and portray the daily life of the bygone era of the 1960s.

KWAI CHAI HONG BECKONS

Long neglected and in bad shape, the heritage lane has  been given a major makeover under a five-year restoration project undertaken by Bai Chuan Management since 2019.

From the entrance, a table with 144 cubes for a Mahjong game beckons visitors. What’s unique is the table is enhanced with a ‘staircase’ resembling the ‘Uno’ game.

Mahjong tiles are adorned with intricate designs and vibrant colours which hold deep meaning of Chinese tradition and folklore. Dragons hold significant symbolism in Chinese culture and are strongly associated with the Chinese New Year.

 Elaborating on the significance of Mahjong, Chang said, "Kwai Chai Hong emphasised the role of Mahjong as more than just a game for the Chinese community, akin to the significance of chess to the Western community. 

"Mahjong is known once upon a time as Chinese people’s favourite pastime. The symbolism of the game extends beyond our diverse Malaysian community, where unity strengthens our collective spirit.

“It is traditionally an activity fit for all ages and people, fostering the values of leisure and bonding, and even with known ties to cognitive improvement. 

"The intricate Mahjong game, requiring a various mix of tiles to form unique combinations, serves as a metaphor for our nation's strength in diversity and unity, something Kwai Chai Hong is always passionate about," she added. 


Mahjong tiles are adorned with intricate designs and vibrant colours which hold deep meaning of Chinese tradition and folklore.

 AWAKENING OF THE ‘DRAGON’

Chang said the 'Rise of the Dragon' is aptly named for its thematic installation to represent the beast which has hibernated long and has finally gathered enough strength to take on the new year with renewed vitality and power.

"Just like how each Mahjong game is played, the start of the game is where both our hands are mixing the tiles in fluid circular motions and rhythms, like the ascension of the Dragon’s spirit slithering awake from its slumber.

"Kwai Chai Hong is proud to embrace, preserve and revive cultural traditions, as much as the joy of sharing unique parts of history with other Malaysians,” she said. 

In harmony with the theme, plus + plus draws inspiration from the dynamic movement of reshuffling Mahjong tiles and the act of 'reshuffling' becomes symbolic of a fresh beginning, aligning with the essence of Chinese New Year, particularly significant in the Year of the Dragon.

Wong, one of the artists who came out with this idea, said the game of Mahjong played in rounds with reshuffling, mirrors the act of resetting the year, symbolising prosperity, union, harmony, and peace for the new year.


Johor Bahru-based artists, Wong Jia Min and Lee Chaer Shean from plus + plus Design Studio.

"The Mahjong panels and wire mesh collectively craft the silhouette of a Dragon, awakening from its long slumber as winter ends and soaring the skies, representing hope for a better and more prosperous beginning in the Year of the Dragon," she said. 

Lee said the Mahjong game, requiring a various mix of tiles to form unique combinations, also serves as a metaphor for a nation's strength in diversity and unity.

"This installation is more than an artistic display; it is a tangible representation of hope, inviting individuals to contemplate and embrace a new life chapter as they welcome the Year of the Dragon," she said. 


Kwai Chai Hong continues to attract visitors from various races and has been an inspiration for artists and photography aficionados alike.

With a maximum four players at a time, this highly social game - Mahjong celebrates unity and togetherness, and requires both luck and skill to win.

The loud clacking of the Mahjong tiles, which adds to the festive atmosphere, is said to mimic the sound of the firecrackers that are set off to drive away misfortune.

Kwai Chai Hong will be open to the public daily from 9am to midnight and 'The Rise of the Dragon' installation will be available from Jan 25 to March 3.

Edited and translated by Salbiah Said


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