Blogging from my Website!

If you are looking for information on the 2013 Nine Emperor Gods festival, please click HERE which will take you to the blog on my website.  See you there!

All the posts about the Nine Emperor Gods Festival can be found on my website.

All the posts about the Nine Emperor Gods Festival can be found on my website.

It’s Time Again for the Nine Emperor Gods!

The Nine Emperor Gods Festival begins on Oct 4th!  At Kau Ong Yah in Ampang they are already making preparations to the grounds and the dormitory rooms are selling quickly. I’ve updated the calendar for the Ampang Festival and you can see it to the left here. Activities vary between the temples but the invitation and send-off dates are the same for all.

Wherever we celebrate – Ampang, Penang, Johor, Kajang, Singapore, Hat Yai, Muar, Sg Petani, or any of the places in between – we can look forward to good friends enjoying the blessings of the Nine Emperor Gods together.  I’ll be posting from various locations so please follow along and share with your friends.

Worshipping the Sky Gods, Photography Exhibition, Hong Kong Street Georgetown Penang

The lantern pole on Jln Cheong Fatt Tze.

A special exhibit of my photos of the Nine Emperor Gods festival is part of Georgetown Festival 2013.  The photos are exhibited along Jalan Cheong Fatt Tze, Georgetown, Penang between June 15 and July 15.  Using the heritage buildings as a canvas, the exhibit highlights the transformation of everyday space into devotional arena as it occurs here each year. If you would like to know more about the exhibit, go to my website page.  You can also look back at earlier Nine Emperor Gods festival posts on my blog and browse back to some informational posts from Hong Kong Street Tow Boh Keong and Ampang Kow Ong Yah.  You can follow my website posts by clicking on the FOLLOW button at www.cheryljhoffmann.com

Here are a few more photos of the exhibit  It’s big and beautiful and has made the community proud!  Congratulations to the community on Hong Kong Street for making this happen!  If you can get to Penang please go by and see the exhibit. It’s open 24 hrs a day, on the street, and free for all.  Let me know what you think of it!ImageImageImageImageImage

Other Photographers Show Their Stuff

Oh how we pine for those bundles of Joss Sticks.  So, to help those of us still looking for a Nine Emps fix – I’m passing on some work by some other photographers.  The photojournalists (of course) were the first in.  But the other photographers have been busy for the past week, editing and posting.  The photos below are the property of the photographers and are copyrighted.  Thanks and kudos to them for giving me permission to post them here.

You can start with a visit to my favourite Nine Emperor Gods blogger, Sien Liew and his up-your-toot-blogspot.  I think his blog should be called “The Reverent Irreverent” or maybe the “Irreverent Reverent.”  He makes me smile.  Be sure to read the captions.  Sean’s blog combines entertainment, religion and photography.  Who could ask for more!?!

The next place you should go is to Rahman Roslan’s blog.  His work always knocks me right off my chair.  I love what he did in the few hours he was at the festival on the Ninth day.  Check out how he sees the light and how he captures the essence of the place.  He’s a photojournalist extraordinaire.  The B&W is quite effective at a festival that screams colour.  You can check out his work on his blog here: http://rahmanroslan.wordpress.com/2012/10/29/nine-emperor-gods/

Then check out Raja Indra Putra’s photos on his FB.  This is a photographer who really should have a blog. Ripi is a great street photographer, who is always insightful.  He sees a lot of things differently than most of us.  Gotta love this stuff.  He says this is his first trip to the Nine Emperor God Festival but it’s hard to believe that when you see his work.  He is wise beyond his years!  When you go to his albums here and here, be sure to tell him that he should have a blog!  I hope those albums are public.  If not, friend him and let him know he should have a blog. :) He’ll thank me for that!

I recommend that you have a look at Matt Brandon’s blog for some shots from Penang.  Matt thought I could embed his slideshow in my blog, but he doesn’t know me very well!!  And his blog/website is very upscale (read secure) in keeping with his photography, so I had to resort to grabbing an image. Matt is new to the world of the Nine Emperor’s so it is interesting to see how he applies his photography skills to the colour, lights and drama that is the festival in Penang.  I think you will get lost in a lot of his other portfolios when you open up his site. Exquisite work.

And if you are still hungry for images, go to Yee Loon’s Facebook album.  The dozen photos posted there leave us asking for more.He has been photographing at Ampang for awhile now, has developed some good access and personal relationships and you can see in his photos that he plans ahead and anticipates well.  That’s an important part of photographing something like this and Yee Loon does it well.

And here’s one last one, for now.  Fresh, enthusiastic, inspiring.  A young couple, traveling the world, had an incredible experience at the Nine Emperor Gods festival in Ampang.  Check out the post on their blog to see how much fun they had with red turtles.  Given the enthusiasm for exploring, it’s easy to think that they have many more rewarding adventures ahead.  Just another reason to love the Nine Emperor Gods festival.  And I love this because they had a look at my blog before they visited the festival and thanked me for the information!  Rewarding.

*Sweet* in JB

How much fun can you have with lollipops?!?It was truly a sweet moment. I looked around and lollipops were everywhere.  “Photo Op!!”

A short while earlier, the temple Sifu, Wee Ah Moi, was in trance as the young disciple of Guan Yin, Siang Chai Yah.  She was laughing and telling jokes and behaving like a 7 yr old.  When she had talked for awhile, she smiled at me and held out her hand to me.  The whole room gasped!  She was giving me the first lollipop and, not only that, she was giving me TWO!  Very blessed was I.  I thanked her and tucked them away quickly – the not-so-secret stash of a lollipop lover.  I didn’t realize until later just how sweet that moment was.

Devotees were approaching her, hands extended, asking her questions and enjoying her company…but really asking for a lollipop!

Hmmmmm, Siang Chai Yah would say, “I wonder if I should give you this lollipop?

They do look good…  Should I save one for myself?

After awhile, Siang Chai Yah stood up and threw the sweets towards the excited crowd. No use spending time asking questions!  All they really want after all is a sweet!

Within a few minutes, the Sifu had come out of trance and the crowd dispersed and that’s when I noticed!  I walked in to the temple office and saw this:

and this:

So I stepped back outside the office to have a look around and shot this:

and this:

and this!

How much fun we were all having!  Then I remembered what I had tucked in to my bag.  I had already chewed a little corner off the first one when I thought to photograph it.

Thank you dear Sifu, for helping us all to enjoy the simple and sweeter things in life. 

Awesome Johor Send Off for the Emperor

Nine has always been my number… In Johor, the Emperor who came to the temple this year was brother number Nine, You Bi Da Dao Xing Jun. He is the ninth star of the Big Dipper and one of the two stars invisible to the naked eye.  According to the Sifu, this is the first visit ever for this brother to Sam Siang Keng. So that was the pull for me to be there, I suspect.  The lure of the Invisible Nine.

See my earlier post on visiting Sam Siang Keng on the 2nd day of the festival for background on the festival as celebrated at this Johor Bahru temple.

Day Nine at Sam Siang Keng in Johor was an awesome experience for me.  The place is gentle. The Emperor is revered patiently and lovingly, the way a mother loves a son. I couldn’t help but compare it to the exhilarating chaos of Ampang, and the high-spirited way the Emperor is sent off with noisy, crowded ceremony and thousands of burning joss sticks.  At Sam Siang Keng it was calm in comparison, like someone said OMmmm over the proceedings before they happened.  There was time for reflection, both personal and communal and that was what made it so enjoyable.  Must be the Goddess of Mercy influence.

To say it was calm does not mean that the day lacked colour and action.  Not at all.  I have photos galore. With this post, I will give you an overview of the day, highlighting the important moments. Notice that all of these activities took place in the daylight.  It is interesting to be able to see what is happening and to be openly invited to join in each and every activity.

Upon arriving at about 10am, I joined the procession of devotees to cross the bridge. I know it looks like an all men activity from this photo but everyone was invited to cross the water and be cleansed.  Each person crossing is waved at 7 times with joss paper.  Here is my view as I was crossing with the temple member waving at me and the photographers documenting the moment.  The tall foreign lady was a novelty at first, but it didn’t take long until the photographers were more concerned with keeping me out of their photos!

The lovely and kind Sifu, Wee Ah Moi, was there overseeing the proceedings and she gave me a warm welcome when I returned.  Later on she gave me two lollipops – but we can save that story for another post!  What a charming woman and so loved by her community.

When the opera troupe came to the altar to perform, it was quite dramatic!  Actors from China, I understand.  I’ll try to find out more about this.

After the opera, there was an hour in which the public was invited to share in the temple talismans.  The talismans were removed from the mediums chair where they had been for 9 days under the protection of the Duomo.  Devotees were invited to take their turns (in very orderly fashion) asking the god for a talisman. If their toss of the pui-pui came up as a positive (yin/yang), they were given a talisman, said to be very powerful in curing sickness.

During this time, the altar of the Emperor was very peaceful.  Here one man found time and space to have a conversation.

At about 2:30, the boat was taken out into the courtyard in front to the temple. There was time for a photo or two before the serious business of sending off the Emperor began.

When the urn was removed from behind the curtain, the sifu, in trance, sang a beautiful lament as farewell to her Emperor son. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.  It was for me, the ultimate in romanticization of the Nine Emperor Gods festival.

As I commented in my earlier post, this Sifu is in her 80′s and is still guiding the temple through the Nine Emperor Gods festival, as she has for decades.  The small microphone is used now so that all the devotees, inside and outside the temple, can hear the words of the goddess Duomo as she says good bye and thanks her son for visiting.  To the banging of firecrackers to ward off any danger, the Duomo followed the urn outside where it was placed in the chariot and the procession began its journey to the sea.

We rode buses to Danga Bay.  I presume that is modern technology at its convenient best, just as Ampang Kow Ong Yah now uses the truck to go to the river. Everyone used to walk.  In this case, devotees are invited to the sea for the send off, many riding buses provided by the temple.  When we arrived, the yellow boat was in the sea, and the dragon, the lions and hundreds of devotees were there to pay their respects.  The urn was removed from its chariot and placed in the boat.

Once away from shore, the boat was set alight. Unlike in Penang where the yellow boat is circled three times and then left on its own, the boat here is watched carefully until it is completely submerged and no debris is left floating in the water.  I suppose there is fear of setting fire to Singapore and causing an international incident!

As the sun got lower in the sky, we watched the Emperor’s boat slowing burn away in to the water.  Yin and Yang, Water and Fire, the world in balance once again.  I have a lot more stories.  In closing – one more photo.  I am humbled by this woman’s wisdom, vision and guidance.  Thank you and God bless you too!

Of course, I can’t wait for next year already!!  So I will keep posting to make the time go faster.  Check in now and then for updates.  I’ve got stories of lollipops and more…  Cheryl

Oct 22 (Day 8 Bridge Crossing) and Oct 23 (Day 9 Firewalking) at Kow Ong Yah Ampang

If you thought Day 6 rocked at the Nine Emperor Gods Festival in Ampang, hold on to your hat as we head in to Day 8 and Day 9.  The next two days are all about bringing the cosmos back into balance through special ceremonies.

You might want to look at this post on my website instead.  If so, find it here: cheryljhoffmann.com

Check the schedule in the side bar for start times.  Photographers should come early.  These are photos that I took in 2010 of the festivities in Ampang.  They will give you an idea of what you will see there during the last two days of the festival.

DAY 8 – Bridge Crossing.  See my post from two years ago about Day 8. On Day 8 (Monday Oct 22) the bridge walking ceremony starts at 8pm – a time when the community can participate in a ritual of cleansing and blessing.  It is the day of bringing “yin”, our watery side, into balance.  Kow Ong Yah sits at the end of the bridge on a chair of nails and blesses the devotees as they cross.  I love this event, because Kow Ong Yah wears his beautiful yellow robes and  his hat with the long pheasant feathers and it looks really awesome.  It’s a great time, because everyone gets to participate, unlike the fire-walking that is restricted to men only, and then only some men as well.

Here is what it will look like this afternoon with the vendors moved out from in front of the temple:

If we are blessed with a clear sky tonight, photographers should watch for the lovely combination colours and silhouettes.

Tonight everyone can cross the bridge, even those who haven’t kept a strict vegetarian diet.  Don’t be shy!  It brings luck if you cross.  The mediums go first and bless the way.

DAY 9 A day of inspecting the grounds, feeding the army, Firewalking, and the glorious send-off procession. Today is about “Yang”, about balance and about the mediums acting on behalf of the community.  The gods show up and the day is action packed and packed with visitors.  See my post from 2010 on Day 9 at Kow Ong Yah in Ampang.

Preparation of the fire pit starts early.

The mediums are in full swing all day!  Here is Kow Ong Yah proving his worth.  I love this photo for the guys in the background, as well as for the energy! 

If you come early, you can watch the preparation of the fire pit. The area is fenced to keep people back as it gives off a lot of heat in the early stages of burning.

Sorry, no female photographers allowed inside the fence.  And also it takes press credentials to get inside for the fiery close ups.

Never mind though.  If you are inside the fence, you don’t get to photograph all that goes on outside the fence ie – the feathers again!

As I once heard Joe McNally say – Don’t complain about lack of access.  Make it work.  Be grateful for being there and the opportunity to make images. Of course he said it with a story and much more poetically!  From outside the fence, I shot this, and many more, in 2010. 

The festival quiets down a bit after the firewalking and the crowds disperse.  But a lot still happens after that and into the wee hours of the morning.  The opera troupe comes to perform important rituals at the altar in front of the temple at about midnight.

If you are really keen (and you should be!) stay around for the procession to send the Emperor back to the heavens.  It leaves the temple at about 2am.  Despite the late hour, this procession is attended by thousands and is RELA’s last chance of the festival to boss us around!

Everyone is pretty tired at the end of the nine days but the send off is a joyous celebration of blessings received, as the Emperor heads off into the night to return to the heavens.

I hope to see you there to share in all of the excitement!  Cheryl

Kajang Fire Walking Video on Sam’s blog

This is Sam’s photo of the fire pit during preparation for the firewalking. Sam has been blogging about the Nine Emperor Gods Festival in Sg. Chua in Kajang this year.  He recently posted a video clip of crossing the fire pit on the 3rd day.  The footage really picks up at about the 8 minute mark so start watching there.  Sounds are really great too!  Listen for Natcha jibbering away at one point.

Day 6 Rocks Ampang

From Kow Ong Yah swinging his sword about on the Opera stage to rituals of thanksgiving and dormitories full of loving friends, Day 6 at Kow Ong Yah temple in Ampang was a real feast for the senses.  There were gongs and fires and whistles and smoke.  There were traffic jams and lines for food.  A friend asked me the other day what I do in Ampang when I visit.  Well, yesterday was a great example of just how enriched my life is by this festival.  I chased the mediums through the temple grounds and tried to photograph birds being released to the heavens.  I talked to devotees and shot some portraits. I was inspired and challenged and exhausted and loved every minute of it.  I also liaised with many photographers and encouraged them to send me links to their photos.  We know that there are many ways to shoot this festival and all of you are welcome to post links to your own work here.  We can use this as a community portal – a digital version of the festival lantern pole that reaches to the skies.

So here are a few photos from yesterday.  There are many more I could share but will save them for a quieter day.

Let’s start with food.  Not only did the ladies in the kitchen prepare 3 meals for the hundreds of devotees at the temple, they also prepared 100 buckets of food to ceremonially feed the armies of the generals that protect the festival grounds.  The woks were full all day.

Members of the committee also chipped in.  Here my good friend Koh Ping and Mr Low Ching Poh help to serve food to devotees in the early morning.

Later in the day, I was treated to a delicious bowl of noodles mixed with some yummy black vinegar.

Is that enough about food?  But let’s not forget that other Malaysian passion – shopping!  

There was all that and more, including some important rituals throughout the day.  The mediums got started at the main altar with a show of strength and control.  The gods had arrived to inspect and protect the festival.

Kow Ong Yah made his way throughout the whole grounds, visiting the four corners, the altars, the kitchens and the dormitories.

 

This is an exciting time for the devotees who get to pay their personal respects to the Emperor and also receive his blessing. 

It didn’t rain all day in Ampang although we could hear the thunder booming.  The evening sky was as glorious as the colours of the festival. 

In one particularly joyous moment, members of the opera troupe brought their baby god to the main altar so that it could be part of the ritual ceremony of the evening.  

On the evenings of  days 3, 6 and 9, special prayer items are passed, person to person, from altar to altar in a ceremony that I like to call “the round and round”.  

As the crowds came back in to the temple after the ceremony, joss sticks and smoke filled the space, bringing tears to our eyes.  Meanwhile, the medium offered believers the advice of the god.

Late in to the night, crowds gathered to watch the opera performance.

It was quite a show of glitz and glamour!

And with that, I headed out in to the massive traffic jam, and drove the wrong way along the road marked “laluan sehala” just for the fun of it.  I could barely pull myself away.  Headed back up there now for more!

What to Expect on the 6th Day, October 20th

Let’s start by hoping for some blue sky for a little contrast!Saturday, October 20th is the 6th day of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival.  In Ampang at 2pm, the mediums will invite the gods to the temple to help perform the ritual ceremony of feeding the armies of the generals that are protecting the camp.  Buckets of food are prepared and presented, while hundreds of devotees watch over the proceedings.  Then Kow Ong Yah will inspect the grounds, starting with the 4 corners.  He will then make his rounds through the dormitories to the joy of the women staying there.

Here are a few photos from a couple of years ago, when I was there.

And here are two photos that I found while looking for these of Day 6.  Because they brought a smile to my heart, I wanted to share.