Celebrations to usher in the Year of the Ox will be different as compared to the usual splendour every Chinese New Year.
However, this has not dampened business for 83-year-old calligrapher Cheng Ho Chung.
Along Jalan Raya Kulai Besar in Johor, you will find this calligraphy master painting verses, encompassing wishes of prosperity and success, for his many customers. He first started his business in 1983.
Receiving hundreds of orders around this time of year, it is a huge task for Cheng to bear alone.
Two years ago, he met a friend who would soon become his pupil.
38-year-old Azizah Mokhsan, who works at an air-conditioning shop next to Cheng’s, used to watch him paint on calligraphy paper and tanglung (lanterns). Realising that she had an interest, the Chinese calligrapher asked her if she would like to learn from him.
“I saw that Uncle was receiving many orders during Chinese New Year so I helped out a little,” Azizah recalls when speaking to Bernama.
It was a challenge for Azizah, who did not speak Mandarin, to learn calligraphy. However, Cheng was an experienced teacher, having taught Chinese calligraphy at a few schools in Johor from 1988 to 2001.
He taught her everything she needed to know – from how to hold the brush right up to the actual calligraphy itself. Soon enough, Azizah had mastered the art form.
She explains that many customers are surprised to find that a Malay woman is interested in Chinese calligraphy.
Azizah has picked up a few Mandarin words whilst learning from Cheng but the young calligrapher is now taking Mandarin classes to hone her skills.
“Customers are often impressed because they say young people are not interested in keeping the art form alive,” Azizah added.
This young woman and her calligraphy master are clear representations of what it means to harmonise culture. They’ve moved past racial differences to simply enjoy their shared interest in this age old art form.
Ushering in the Year of the Ox will be a lot more cheerful and prosperous with people like Azizah and Uncle Cheng, upholding traditions, through these trying times.