This Lunar New Year, a very different scene at Chinese temples in Kuala Lumpur
Unlike previous years, Thean Hou Temple had much fewer visitors this Chinese New Year. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

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KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 25 — For the past year, Chinese temples — both Buddhist and Taoist — around the country have been quiet.

This is particularly evident during the Chinese New Year period where health and security SOPs have discouraged visitors who usually throng these places to pray for a better new year.

Several temples in the city centre and its surrounds — Kun Yam Thong on Jalan Ampang, the Guan Yin temple opposite Jalan Maharajalela, Liu Wang Gong Temple in Taman P. Ramlee and the Kuan Yin temple on Jalan Bukit Ceylon — were closed when Malay Mail visited.

A very quiet Cheok Beh Keing temple in Sentul despite the government allowing longer operating hours at the last minute. — Picture by Soo Wern Jun
A very quiet Cheok Beh Keing temple in Sentul despite the government allowing longer operating hours at the last minute. — Picture by Soo Wern Jun

“Actually, it has been quiet all year (2020) round. And even though it is Chinese New Year, there were only visitors (not many) during the eve and on the first two days. It has been quiet since,” said a hawker outside the Cheok Beh Keing Temple in Sentul.

There was nobody around on that day… and you could even hear the birds chirping.

The hawker said it is not surprising because people are afraid to come out. They also worry that they may be breaching standard operating procedures (SOPs) unknowingly as these have been rather unclear.

“I chose not to go to the temple this year because I was worried that there may be a crowd due to SOPs limiting opening hours and the number of people allowed in the temple.

“Who is not afraid of being fined RM1,000 (if you are caught travelling further then 10 kilometres from home)?

“I told myself, health and safety is more important and god will understand if I can’t make it to the temple this year,” the hawker explained.

The hawker added that perhaps part of the reason people have chosen to stay at home is also because of last minute announcements of SOPs, such as extended hours to perform prayers on the eve of the 9th day of Chinese New Year or Hokkien New Year, otherwise known as Pai Tien Kung.

“Good that the government extended time restrictions up to 2am, but it was too late for many of us.

“For prayers and especially special prayers, there are a lot of preparations that need to be done… some prayer items have to be ordered in advance and a two-day notice just wasn’t enough,” the hawker said.

Sin Size Si Ya Temple can only accommodate a small group of visitors this Chinese New Year. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
Sin Size Si Ya Temple can only accommodate a small group of visitors this Chinese New Year. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

Over at the Sin Sze Si Ya Temple on Jalan Tun H.S. Lee, it was relatively quiet compared to previous years, said temple caretaker Ranjit Kaur.

“Usually there will be a line up until the road side (Jalan Tun H.S. Lee).

“We don’t want too many people in the temple so we have limited the time for each visitor and the things that they can do while they are inside,” she explained.

According to Ranjit, the temple management took the initiative to put in place their own SOPs to minimise physical contact in the small temple compound.

“So we help with lighting up joss sticks, and performing special prayer requests.

To help move visitors along, Sin Size Si Ya Taoist temple staff assist visitors with prayer requests. This is part of the Taoist temple's own initiative to minimise visitors inside the temple. — Picture by Miera Zulyana
To help move visitors along, Sin Size Si Ya Taoist temple staff assist visitors with prayer requests. This is part of the Taoist temple’s own initiative to minimise visitors inside the temple. — Picture by Miera Zulyana

“We have also prepared an area where visitors can place their lit joss sticks instead of bringing them along with them into the main altar area… this saves time.

“Those who have special requests, they are to write them down and we have appointed a few temple staff to help perform these prayers,” she said.

No one is allowed to linger; Ranjit would politely ask if they have completed their prayers and proceed to request that they leave to make way for others.

For this historical temple which was built by Kapitan Cina Yap Ah Loy, time is crucial as they have opted to open for just one time slot — 6am to 2pm — due to lack of manpower. The temple actually only opens its doors at 7am to receive visitors.

In the government’s latest announcement, Chinese temples in states under the movement control order (MCO) are allowed to operate two shifts — 6am to 2pm and 4pm to 10pm — with no more than 30 visitors at any time.