JB's unique Chingay parade

A dragon dance along Jalan Ngee Heng, Chingay 1968
Chinese New Year celebrations in Johor Baru are unique as it does not end with Chap Goh Meh, the fifteenth day of the first lunar month, but will culminate with the Johor Ancient Chinese Temple’s annual tradition of a 3-day religious ceremony. 

This celebration, which starts on the 20th day of the first month, is a 140-year old tradition that has been kept since the 1800’s without any interruption except in 1942 during the Japanese invasion.  The highlight of this celebration is the Chingay or street parade on the following evening with hundreds of people including Chinese Association members, devotees, lion dancers, dragon dancers, stilt-walkers, puppeteers, pugilistic troops, cultural dancers and brass bands, that will take about 7 hours to complete the city circuit.

In the morning of 20th day of the first lunar month, devotees will carry images of the gods of the five main Chinese dialect groups out of the temple on sedan chairs to Xing Gong, a temporary shrine at Jalan Ulu Ayer Molek.  It’s always a spectacle to watch the short but colourful procession that morning, escorted by lion and dragon dancers with their crashing cymbals and deafening drums.  The festive mood continues over the next three days as throngs of pilgrims and devotees converge at Xing Gong.  

Two days ahead of the street parade, a group of devotees will walk the streets sounding gongs in a symbolic ‘Street Washing’ ceremony in preparation for their temple gods’ annual city tour.  This ceremony somehow triggers off some rainfall as Nature cooperates to wash the streets with refreshing showers.  It is believed that the gods’ annual tour through Johor Baru will bless the city with peace, prosperity and harmony. 

Decorated float with girls on top, along Jalan Ngee Heng
I have vivid recollections of the Chingay parade because it used to pass Ah Kong’s (grandfather) house at Jalan Ngee Heng.  I remember the excitement, watching the parade attractions from the comfort of our upstairs windows.  I used to wave at the pretty girls dressed in traditional Chinese costumes, perched on gently-moving trucks that were decorated as colourful floats and would be so thrilled when the girls waved back! 

When I was tracking down photos of trishaws, I asked Uncle Victor who may have some in his collection because he took many photos as a member of his school’s Photography Society.  Uncle’s search reaped excellent results because he not only found some photos of trishaws in Johor Baru but also had a few shots of trishaws taken during the 1968 Chingay parade!  It was good to see that trishaw riders were doing a real service, ferrying props for the parade and devotees holding gigantic joss sticks!

When Ruby, my sister, saw the photos, she commented with nostalgia, “In those days, Policemen wore shorts!”  In the colonial era, khaki shorts (starched and ironed so stiff that they could stand up on its own,) were the preferred length of trousers in most uniforms probably due to our tropical weather.  Short trousers were very much in style then as many boys and men in the photo were also wearing them.

Trishaws ferrying devotees follow a sedan chair
bearing the image of one of the Chinese gods
Ruby and I reminisced about how afternoon school was always dismissed extra early and we would rush home to Ah Kong’s house to gulp down a quick meal before joining the throng of people to walk down to the nearby corner of Jalan Gereja.  This was because the parade route had changed and it no longer passed directly in front of our house but through Jalan Gereja to Jalan Trus.  It was also perfectly normal to carry our own collapsible chairs and wooden stools to sit at a strategic spot to watch the parade. 

I can never forget the way devotees carrying the gods’ sedan chairs, would suddenly go into a rocking motion and the terrible frenzy as spectators clambered over the crowd in an attempt to get closer and touch the chair.  At that time, it was just a frightening sight but now it’s no longer scary as I know that the uproar was just to gain good fortune! 

The stilt-walkers are one of my favourite segments of the parade.  Watching them from my kiddy height, it was simply mind-boggling to see how those artistes could keep their balance, walking the streets high up on towering stilts, dressed in traditional character costumes, complete with heavy make-up and head-gear.  I enjoyed the skillful stunts by stilt-walkers and dragon and lion dancers in the parade but the tai thow low or big-headed-men wearing painted big masks with extra-wide shoulders, were always terrifying as they would suddenly dash about blindly! 

The parades of bygone years may not be as colourful or full of slick shows but they were the most memorable highlight of Johor Baru’s Chinese New Year celebrations.  This year’s pulsating parade promises a similar carnival atmosphere filled with skillful stunt performances of dancing dragons and prancing lions and a host of exciting cultural and musical performances, both local and foreign.  I had a glimpse of a similar performance at Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk last June and am keen to see one of the foreign acts from China, the Yin Ge Wu or “Dance of Heroes from the Water Margins,” an energetic and captivating non-stop performance of drama, dance, songs and martial arts by a large group, traditionally of up to 108 young men!

Johor Baru’s Chingay parade is held on such a progressively grand scale that it’s now not only a tourist attraction but has also attracted foreign media coverage including being filmed as documentaries by the Teochew Broadcasting channel.  JB's Chingay parade was also recently proudly gazetted as a national heritage by our Prime Minister.  So don’t miss this spectacular show recognized as the Best Domestic Event in the 2009 Johor Tourism Awards and for the first time, the Chingay parade will be graced by our Prime Minister.  I don’t know about you but I’m marking off 12 February in my diary now.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 31 January 2012

Interesting Feedback:

Hi Peggy,

I just read some of your articles which are of interest to me. I believe you are related to Philip Ng Peng Chua. You see, Philip and me are old classmates when we were studying at St Joseph School in the 60s and 70s. I can still vividly remember the old corner house along Jalan Ngee Heng where many of your uncles including Philip and Sylvia played badminton there every night. I am sad to know that Uncle Roland (Philip's dad) was involved in an accident. I know them quite well and I also attended Philip's wedding many years ago. Philip always came to my house situated along Jalan Gereja (just beside the old coffee shop) almost every weekend during our school days. We were classmates since Std One till Form 3.

Cheers: DAVID
1 Feb 2012

Hi Peggy,

Hahaha...yes, I have indeed spotted my former old house on the photo that was published recently on NST.  I attach the photo for you to have a look and I have highlighted my house in red. I'm pretty sure Philip would be able to recognize it too.

I also attach a picture of Philip and me taken many decades ago. This pic was taken in that old corner house situated along Jalan Gereja just beside the coffee shop. Sigh...sad to see that all have been demolished now.

David Ng [Right] and my cousin, Philip Ng
Anyway, I have a youtube channel link here where you will be able to view me playing my guitar (minus my head of course...hahaha). Appreciate it if you could give this link to Philip. I am very sure Philip will remember that I used to play the guitar when we were in Standard 6.

Philip and I do not have any nick-names for each other. He calls me by this name, Teo Hwee. I remember I visited him when he was residing in Permas Jaya a very, very long time ago. I’m relieved to know that Uncle Roland is doing extremely well now. Despite being in hospital, I can see that he is very fit.

Cheers: DAVID
2 Feb 2012



  1. A very nice informational blog. Keep on making such important blog post. Your work is really being appreciated by someone.

  2. amazing story ... I do go to Chingay at Johor Bahru and I am really like the show .. but never do I know the heritage and the history of this stretch back so many years ago ... amazing.. keep on with this beautiful movement.. I would love to visit this every year.. thank you so much for sharing this