Tag Archives: Chinese Festival

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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.

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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

*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

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!

Nine Emperors in Johor Bahru

Words come easily to describe the Nine Emperor Gods Festival at Sam Siang Keng temple in Johor Bahru.  It is a place of gentle kindness and warm hospitality.  It is above all a feminine place, where the Goddess of Mercy reigns and women are her conduits into the community.  I was impressed with the simpleness and openness of the festival here.  There is no mention of secrets and mysteries.  They don’t even hold their special events at night.  It all takes place during the daylight hours!  It is well organized and visitors feel at home and comfortable in their prayers.  I was met by a whole team of volunteers who cheerfully showed me around, shared stories and photographs and answered my many questions.  Every five years a delegation from this temple goes to the temple in Ampang and brings back ash from the Emperor’s urn to JB.   Check out their Facebook page.

As many already know, the priestess of the temple is Wee Ah Moi, who is now in her eighties.   Her diety is Miaoshan who comes to her to help people who are suffering.   Her smile and gentle manner are magnetic.  I feel so fortunate to have met her and to have been graced by her calm presence.  Her mother was also a medium at this temple and it was when Ah Moi was 18 that she was chosen by the goddess to serve the community through her special abilities.

All those around her are nourished by her strength.  The people I met at Sam Siang Keng exemplify the kindness and compassion that are at the heart of both Guan Yin and Wee Ah Moi.  The priestess goes in to trance each afternoon during the Nine Emperor Gods festival, offering help to those in need of guidance and encouragement.

So, what did I see at Sam Siang Keng that caught my attention?  Well, the most exciting thing for me were the statues of the Nine Emperors that grace the main altar.  I was told that they are new this year!  It is so wonderful to see them represented and when it is quieter there I will go back and photograph them individually and learn about the qualities of each one.  I was also told that each year a different emperor brother comes to the temple for the festival.  According to the priestess, this year it is the Ninth brother who is there.  Here is the main altar.  Ninth brother is on the far left.

The Jade Emperor is in the middle at the back.  The Duomo sits in front of him.  The large statues at the back on the left and right are the dieties of the sun and the moon.  No yellow curtain in JB.  It’s all there for those to see.  The old, symbolic urn with the pomegranate leaves, that represents the Duomo is also in the open.  It sits outside the temple in a special place where she can watch over the boat that will transport her emperor son back to the heavens.

Notice the yellow flag in the hand of the man praying.  Here is a photo of people praying at the main altar. Because it is a Guan Yin temple, only those who do not eat any beef, ever, are allowed to kneel before the gods and ask for a flag. Only those granted a positive answer from the gods are given a flag.

So many things are done at the temple in a special way.

Here is the bridge of cleansing that sits at the temple entrance for the whole 9 days of the festival.  

People cross it and paper money is waved over them as they cross.

Of course yellow is important here too.  Here a man in the office notes donations of packets of rice and spices that will go in to the boat with the Emperor when he returns on the last day.  And below, a team makes the ribbon flowers and attaches them to the chairs that will hold the statues of the Nine Emperors and the Duomo during the procession on Saturday, Oct 20.

As I mentioned earlier, the special events during the festival at Sam Siang Keng take place during the day.  Wee Ah Moi goes in to trance in the afternoons.  The procession will take place on Saturday at noon and the return of the Emperor to the sea happens at 3pm on the last day, and not at night as is the usual in other temples.

One of my favourite things about Sam Siang Keng is an altar that doesn’t have too much to do with the Nine Emperors, but has always interested me.  This is the altar to the Datuk – that very Malaysian of Chinese dieties.  In this case, they worship Datuk Awang and his sister who sits beside him.  This is quite awesome and makes me want to photograph Datuk shrines all over Malaysia and do a book about them!

My visit to Sam Siang Keng was so pleasant because of my hosts there.  They sat with me and told me their stories, they showed me around the temple and blessed me with food and a coveted temple shirt, as well as a book on the history of the temple.  I will be back as soon as I can.  Maybe for the send off on Tuesday!

Tow Boh Keong, Hong Kong St, Georgetown, Penang

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Welcome to Hong Kong St. I met the team last night and we have a great festival planned. Tonight we invite the god. And for the next nine days there will be prayers and processions and good vegetarian food (we are in Penang after all!).
Here are some shots taken yesterday.

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I arrived to see them putting up the bamboo pole of invitation.
This next shot actually says it all about this place – they are a team!!!

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And up it goes at the end of Hong Kong St, marking the location of the festival. I understand that the place where they erected the pole has been exactly the same spot for more than 100 years.

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Because the temple is small, they can use their beautiful, old ornamentations without fear of them being damaged. If you visit you can see these handmade artifacts – painted glass, silk embroidery and more.

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Tonight we welcome the Emperor God! Stay tuned.

20110926-104941.jpg BTW, I’m trying these posts from my iPad. Excuse me while I sort it out. It is rather fun though!

A Day of Preparations at the Nine Emperor Gods Festival

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Saturday was the day that devotees could come to the Ampang temple and get their rooms and beds for this year’s festival dates. It was great to see some friends, observe the temple cleaned up and ready to go, and feel the energy as we get ready to invite the Emperor and his entourage on Monday night.

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There was quite a crowd gathered as the organizing committee worked hard to get the devotees their preferred spaces.

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Meanwhile, the vendors’ supplies were arriving and the mood was jovial.

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Here are members of the organizing committee and some volunteers discussing how it all happens, a little politics, and the value of a good cup of Chinese tea.

See you from the Hong Kong St Temple in Penang!

Firewalking Ceremony at the Nine Emperor Gods Festival Ampang

The firewalking ceremony at the Nine Emperor Gods Temple in Ampang is the culmination of the festival and brings the world into balance.  Huge crowds turn out to witness hundreds of men cross the firepit as this is the most mystical of the festival rituals. This year (2010) the firewalking will take place on the evening of October 16th and marks the ninth day of the ninth moon and the end of the festival.  Firewalking symbolizes the acceptance of Yang and is closely associated with the bridge crossing ceremony (Yin) of the eighth day.  It has been explained to me that this ritual signifies “sending off the bad luck and ushering in the good luck”.  The power of Fire keeps away evil and helps us to overcome our impurities.

The men (Note: no women allowed) have kept a strict vegetarian diet for the nine days of the festival, wear white clothing (no metal or leather) and yellow head scarves, and each carries a pennant of the Nine Emperor Gods to protect him from harm.  The men walk barefoot across the pit, carrying the temple deities and other ritual paraphernalia, as well as bundles of garments, dried tea leaves, and other precious objects that will benefit from the uplifting power of Yang.  The men act on behalf of all worshipers of the Nine Emperor Gods to bring Yin and Yang into balance.

The bed of coals is prepared beginning in the afternoon of the ninth day and is lit at dusk.  As the flames burn down to coals, the men pray individually to the Emperor and then form an orderly line between the altar and the firepit to await the order to begin walking quickly across the coals.  The procession across the firepit is led by the Taoist priests.  The spirit mediums, in trance, follow to open the way for the others. The crowd seems to get most excited when the chariots are carried quickly across the fire.

When all of the men have crossed the fire pit, the coals are doused with water and then bits of coal are passed out to worshipers.  Believers understand that this coal has been blessed by the emperor and has power to bring luck when taken home.

It is a real honor for these temple workers to represent the wider community.  It takes years of volunteering to be chosen to do this.  Below is a fun photo taken in the office at the temple.  The photo, which was shown to me, is of two organizing committee members crossing the firepit some years ago.  There was much story telling and camaraderie as the men anticipated this year’s ceremony.

If you plan to watch the event you must get there early to get a place along the fence from where you can see.  If you want to photograph the event, you must go earlier than early.  There are a limited number of press passes this year which can be obtained from the office for entry inside the fence.  Sorry ladies – it brings ill-luck to have our fertile “yin” presence inside the sacred area.

If you are early you can watch the spirit mediums bless the area of the firepit before the fire is lit.  As well, there are special ceremonies after the firewalking, including a special tribute to the Nine Emperor Gods by the opera troupe in front of the main altar. The temple is cleared out just before midnight and a final ceremony that I call the “Round and Round” is enacted by the male temple volunteers in which they pass ritual objects from person to person along lines formed between the main altars of the temple.

If you are still full of energy after a night of rejuvenating ritual, you can watch the procession to send off the Emperor.  It leaves the temple about 3AM on the morning of the tenth day – October 17, 2010.  See you there!