KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters Life!) - Thousands of Malaysians gathered in a park in the capital to toss tangerines into water, hoping the fruits would be picked up by a potential romantic partner.
The decades-old custom, still observed among Malaysians of Chinese descent in this majority Muslim nation, takes place on the final night of the 15-day Lunar New Year celebration, widely celebrated as the Chinese Valentine's Day.
According to the custom begun in northern Malaysia, unmarried women tossed tangerines into the sea, hoping the fruits would be picked up by young men who could become their future husband.
"Women in the ancient times could only be friends when men when they came out from their confined rooms once in a year," said Amelia Yap Chooi Hua, an organizer of the Chap Goh Meh, or Fifteenth Night, event in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday.
"They joined activities like lantern riddles, released sky lanterns or tossed tangerines -- these were the only way to befriend a man."
Nowadays, however, most of the women who took part were seeking mainly to expand their circle of friends. Even some couples participated.
"We are confident with each other, so we come here just to make new friends," said Sanny Tang Yin Loi, who came with her boyfriend.
But she joked: "If we could find someone who is better than our partner, I think we should consider."
Women write their names, telephone numbers and emails on the skins of the tangerines. If a man is interested in a woman, he hands over a banana with his details on it -- a modern adaptation to allow men to take part as well.
After a few rounds of scrambling to pick fruits from the pool, men settled down to jot down the details scribbled on the tangerine skins. Some made phone calls immediately.
Cheam Heng Soon, 28 and taking part for the first time, said he planned to date the woman whose tangerine he picked.
"We can come out and have tea, chat... If it's right, then we have good chemistry, then we can go on a bit," Cheam said.
"If not, I have a new friend. Nothing to lose anyway."
Reporting by Angie Teo; editing by Elaine Lies