Last February 19, days after Chinese New Year, our team were invited to the company sponsored event which they call ‘Yee Sang.’ Before we go down the event venue, our boss asked the newly employed people, including me, and forced us to go to experience the Malaysian tradition. “You have tried I-Sang before?” my boss said. “No, haven’t tried I-Sang yet, what is it?” to which she replied “You should try it – it’ll be downstairs come with me on the table.” I was swamped at work but the boss made the call so who am I to disobey (and probably kill some time though). But she didn’t answer my question – what in the world is Yee-Sang?
Down to the Ground Floor together with my first-timer colleagues, we arrived at the venue where many oval tables are arranged on the building walkway. The floor was loaded with employees – some are socialising while others just want the buffet to start. Each tables were covered with a red fabric and to its center lies a big plate containing shredded ingredients with a variety of colors. Intrigued with the design, I inspected closely and found out salmon in the middle of the plate, buried on the the hued strips resembling some sort of a salad.
“What did boss say? Table what?” my colleague asked. “I think Table 10 ah.” I replied where we found a different group. “Excuse me, is this the table of <Boss Name>?” I asked to the one nearest us. Suddenly a familiar voice shouted at us “Hey you guys, we’re over here! Why you didn’t recognize my face lah!” We turned back to our boss and laughed with her about it. Then we sat down on the table with the familiar colorful salad I saw earlier.
Then one of the bosses asked me “It’s your first time Yee-Sang?” “Yeah, what is it by the way?” Then another one explained it to me:
“We call it ‘Yee-Sang’ or the Prosperity Toss. This is a special tradition in Malaysia especially for us Malay-Chinese and local Malaysians. Later, when they say ‘Lo Hei’ – you should toss it higher’ to give you good fortune or success or love.”
So I should toss it higher…with these chopsticks? I’m not good with using these two wooden sticks so I guess my fortune is done. I got so concerned with this tossing that I practiced using chopsticks in private before the Yee-Sang started. The noise from the crowd intensified as the hosts of the event got up to the stage and give a warm welcome to all of us. Then, there was a speech from a high-ranking executive from another country about a new beginning (trust me – it’s boring).
While I was busy practising my chopsticks, I noticed that the buffet on the other side is getting filled with lots of foods and drinks that I didn’t realize there was a commotion outside where lots of people are gathering around with cameras and smartphones. Feeling left out, I also walked and squeezed myself to the front to see two Chinese dragons – red and blue – dancing smoothly in the wind while roaring like hell.
Then everyone got back to their seats where the host said “Finally, it’s time for the Yee-Sang! When I say “Lo Hei” – everyone must toss the Yee-Sang higher!” Then we unwrap the plate and put other ingredients such as crackers and other condiments. “Ready? 1…2…3…Lo Hei!” the host shouted. “LO HEI!” we all shouted and my colleagues and bosses in the table began tossing the Yee-Sang dish. I did toss it higher but in the end the plate got messy and our hands sticky from the sweet sauce.
Everyone then lined-up to the buffet and each one can’t seem to wait to eat. Others just cut the line and also gave others their servings. However, it all ended well as I got two plates in my hands – one full of spaghetti and the other full of rice, fried drumstick chickens and saucy stuffs I don’t recognize. But we never ate the Yee-Sang and I tasted it once just to satisfy my curiousity. It’s super sweet and a little spicy and sour that I just went back chewing the chicken. By the way, the salmons were gone faster than I thought.
I researched the Yee-Sang dish and saw that I can buy packed ingredients on most groceries in Malaysia. The usual ingredients may include lime, fish strips, shredded red peppers, oil, carrot skins, green and white radishes, plum sauce, grinded peanuts and some crackers to comprise the colorful presentation.
If you happen to be in Malaysia on second week of February next year, don’t miss out this Yee-Sang tradition as it’s guaranteed to give you fun, bring you riches, success, youth or vitality and to see the Malaysian culture in a more colorful way. Cheers!
- The Coverage. “Malaysians Were The First To ‘Lo Hei’ ‘Yee Sang’ and The Symbolism Behind ‘Yee Sang’” 30 Jan 2016 (link)
- Nadia, K. “Yee Sang or Yu Sheng? The Story Behind this CNY Tradition” Pamper.MY, 29 Jan 2016 (link)