At KMC Flats, a predominantly ethnic Chinese neighbourhood in the Kuching city centre, the air is thick with excitement as residents welcome the Lunar New Year.
It is one of the state government’s many public housing schemes, and the majority who live here are low-wage earners.
Among them is a family of four: an elderly couple, both wheelchair-bound, and their two children who have special needs.
For Tan Heng Eong, 71, and his wife Chang Ted Nyuk, Chinese New Year has always been a meaningful but simple affair.
Part of this is due to their condition – apart from being confined to his wheelchair, Tan also suffers from visual impairment and a serious skin disease which makes getting around even more difficult.
Thankfully their only daughter, Mei Ching, takes care of them both.
Last night, the family shared a simple reunion dinner to usher in the Year of the Ox.
“I prepared the meal for my family using anything that was available in the kitchen,” Mei Ching told MalaysiaNow.
This resourcefulness, born from years of making do with what they have, is a hallmark of poverty.
For a long time now, this is how Mei Ching has been cooking Chinese New Year meals for her family.
She is 34, but her scrawny physical build belies her true age.
Despite the hardships she faces every day, she is the picture of gratitude.
She only received formal schooling up to Standard 2. She struggled to communicate in Malay as she spoke to MalaysiaNow about her hope that the Year of the Ox will bring much joy for her and her family.
For her, the Covid-19 movement restrictions and the muted celebrations are a blessing in disguise as many of her neighbours won’t be leaving town to celebrate.
This means she and her family will get to share the food they bring.
Mei Ching spends her days taking care of her parents while her older brother, who has a speech disability, goes out to work. He is paid daily wages for doing menial jobs.
Recently, the family’s plight caught the attention of Hope Place, an NGO that has been helping the underprivileged community in Kuching, distributing food and medical supplies as well as helping during emergencies.
Mei Ching and her father also receive aid from the welfare department – RM250 and RM350 each every month.
But this is hardly enough to sustain a family of four in the city.
Mei Ching’s brother lost his fixed job during the movement control order last year.
“His take-home pay is not much, just about RM15 to RM20 each day. With that little money, he cannot afford to feed his family,” said Hope Place founder Kevin Wan, whose organisation is bent on helping the family.