Kuda calendar popular with old folk

A traditional 'kuda' calendar

A FRIEND who knows that I use a corporate planner diary will give me one at the end of each year and last month he sent me one by post from Kuching where he lives. Many of us depend on diaries and calendars to manage our dates and appointments but if you own a sophisticated mobile phone that can store tonnes of information, you may dispense with "hardcopies" to organise your life. But if you are like me, preferring to see a whole page of dates in a month at a glance, you will probably be looking for new calendars and diaries just before the New Year.

One of the comments I hear around this time is the acute shortage of calendars and diaries. You may recall a time when there was such an abundant supply that we still received free copies even in the middle of the year. These days, however, only big corporations or banks issue them albeit in small quantities the simple diaries or calendars for limited distribution to loyal customers only.

How time flies. It was only 10 years ago on the eve of the new millennium that everyone was doing all they could to protect their computer systems against the dreaded Y2K bug. Thankfully, there was no major meltdown on New Year's Day in 2000.  And now we are on the brink of 2010 which marks the end of the first decade in the millennium. While it feels like an ordinary day to most of us, those who write cheques should pay closer attention when writing dates to avoid making a mistake with the year and incurring extra expenses on their accounts.

One of the joys of getting a new calendar is to check out the public holidays so that one can plan ahead for long and lazy weekends.  For people who depend on such breaks for holidays, it means a lot to be able to book early and enjoy the best deals.  Looking at the first two months of 2010, I'm glad to note that we celebrate the first day of the Gregorian calendar on Jan 1, Thaipusam on Jan 30 and the Lunar New Year on Feb 14 when the Chinese welcome the Year of the Tiger.

In China, the traditional calendar is known as the Farmer's or Agricultural Calendar because farmers used this calendar to determine when to plant crops. While China adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1912 for official and business purposes, the Lunar Calendar is still used to determine the dates of festivals like the Lunar New Year or Spring Festival and the Mid-Autumn Festival.  The Chinese also use this calendar to choose the most auspicious date for a wedding or for the opening of a business or inauguration of a building.

Tear-off-a-page-a-day calendar
While it's more convenient to remember significant dates such as birthdays using the Gregorian calendar, older generation of Chinese still prefer to remember birthdates using the days of the "moons" in the Lunar Calendar. For a while, I wondered what the "moons" stand for until my grandmother explained that moons are "months".  I remember she used a giant digit tear-off-a-page-a-day type of calendar. Come to think of it, she will be celebrating her 98th birthday on the 28th day of the 4th moon in 2010.

Today, many urban Chinese enjoy learning about their characteristics associated with animals in a 12-year cyclical zodiac in the order of the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep or goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig years.  Just as the Gregorian calendar adds an extra day in February for a leap year every four years, the 12-month Lunar Calendar has an occasional 13th or 14th leap month.

While the Lunar Calendar is mostly still used by traditional families to choose auspicious dates, elderly folks in Malaysia still live by the information and references in the familiar kuda calendar.

Kuda in Malay means "horse" and the kuda calendar earned its name from the pictorial illustrations of race horses on specific race days listed on the calendar.  It's essentially a Gregorian calendar with a month-by-month display of digits in a grid that used to be printed only in black and white but now is in full colour and with relevant information for everyone.  It has prominent pictures of jockeys on racehorses on race days that fall on weekends but weekday date boxes also have information for race days held in Ipoh, Penang and Singapore.

If you can get your hands on a kuda calendar, look closer and you will be amazed at the wealth of information in each grid box because this is truly a 1Malaysia or Muhibbah calendar. See how each box has dates and events according to the Gregorian, Lunar, Muslim and Indian calendars. In addition to major public holidays, there are highlights for special celebrations like City Day, sultan's and state governor's birthday; cultural celebrations like the Mid-Autumn Festival, Gawai Festival; and school-term breaks.

Like all types of diaries and calendars, the kuda calendar is also a rare item these days and probably only available from traditional provision shops and Chinese medical halls. For many, this calendar continues to be a must-have item at the start of each year simply because it's been a tradition for generations. So now that you know how useful it is, it's time to get a nostalgic kuda calendar of your own!

This article was first published in The New Straits Times, Johor Buzz on 1 January 2010

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