Monday, February 06, 2006

Pai Ti Kong 拜天公

Today is the 9th day of the Lunar New Year. It is the birthday of the Jade Emperor, more popularly known to the Hokkien (Fujian) people as Ti Kong (Tian Gong in Mandarin). It is probably the single most important day for the Hokkien Taoists. As in the Chinese way of counting time, the first hour of the new day starts on the night before (in modern clock time) from 11pm. And so, the Hokkien would start their prayers from last night at 11pm, and well, depending on the throwing of the pua-puay (sheng-bei - the kidney shape wooden blocks that the Chinese Taoists use to communicate with the Deities or even the ancestors), the prayer could well end as late at 2am.

In the old days when I was living in a Peranakan house (our family rented a room) in Chinatown, it was a grand communal affair where all the tenants joined the landlady in offering the prayers. The main hall on the ground floor was arranged beautifully with all the praying paraphernalia, which included big red candles that were pushed into the sharp pointed brass candle holders (all polished for the Chinese New Year and this night), big joss papers known as Ti-Kong-Kim, most of them being folded into elaborate shapes, including those that looked like the ancient gold and silver ingots, and sugar canes.

A pair of sugar canes was and is still a must. According to stories heard, it was said once the Hokkien were being attacked (not sure if they were the mongols or bandits) and they went to hide in the sugar cane field. The sugar cane saved their lived. And so, when they came out alive, in gratitude the prayed to Ti Kong with the sugar canes, probably reminding them of how their lives were saved.

It was a night of grand offerings from roast pig to roast chicken and ducks, all kinds of Chinese kueh - like Huat Kueh and Kue-Nern-Ko (Egg cake pretty close to Castania), and yes, the Ti-Kong Pia (Cookies that the poor Hokkien made as a varied offering), fruits of all sorts, dried vegetarian dishes, and whatever the kitchen could produce. In our Peranakan House, it was a night of gathering as well, when all the tenants sat together, folded the Joss Papers and chatted. It was a night when children were allowed (almost forced to) stay up late to pray to Ti Kong.

The excitement came when the leader, in this case, the landlady, would seek approval to burn the joss papers. When this was granted, in unison, the occupants of the house would carry the joss papers, including the big and well decorated boxes and the sugar cane leaves chopped from the sugar cane, to form a bonfire. In the 1950s, it was also a time for the biggest amount of fire-crackers. Most of these fire crackers would have strung up to the bamboo sticks hung from the highest floor. In our house, the highest was third storey. It was a night when neighbouring houses would try to outdo each other in the fire-crackers too.

The next morning, with beady eyes, we would have to wade through the ankle deep "what's-left-over-of the firecrackers" - red papers - to walk to school. But we were also reminded of good and hearty makan awaiting for us when we returned home. This was one of the moments, we poor kids were waiting for.

As I do not have a picture of what I had described, I have borrowed this picture from Ronni Pinsler who has taken this Pai Ti Kong scene in Penang last night. It is almost similar, including the house. (^^)

Update: Wah, I did not know that as I wrote, someone in the west was doing the same! Monkey's narrations give me hope that tradition lives, albeit in smaller numbers. (^^;

12 comments:

Monkey said...

Oh my gosh! Victor! i just posted about pai ti gong too!! on my blog!
leafmonkey dot blogspot
wow what a coincidence!!
I WROTE ABOUT THE SUGARCANE TOOO!O!O!O!O
*phew* i guess i didnt speculate too far off
ehehhe but thanks! i learnt a lot!
i see a lot of similarities in our stories
so i guess ... hehe i wasnt giving out false details
i included photos though
ehehhe dad asked if i was going to take photos and i was going to do it anyways :D

chinatownboy said...

Wise people think alike? (^^) Say, I will link your blog to mine.

chinatownboy said...

Er, can you tell me your blog name? Cannot find your profile le. (^^)

November said...

orh.. oops sorry
hehehe blog supposed to be private and confidential.. hehe
i'll email you
but erm can dont link?
-monkey

chinatownboy said...

No problem la. You archive for future reference OK? Pai Ti Kong, as you mentioned, is getting rarer. (^^)

Monkey said...

its just not the same doing it at temples...
no more fun stuff like staying up all night! :P

cat_aunty said...

Thank you for that. Our family does not pai ti kong but I am interested in the customs.

Lam Chun See said...

All those Hokkien terms sound familiar to me even tho I'm Cantonese. You see our kampong was mostly Hokkien.

What I remember most about the Chinese temple in our kampong was the gambling during CNY. I always remember this young lady in samfoo sweating profusely as she dealt the cards with a hankerchief stuffed between her blouse and left shoulder - like some of the Ah Bengs do with their cigarette packs.

chinatownboy said...

Ah, put two Chinese together, and they will gamble. CNY is one of the times when everyone jumps on the opportunity to gamble. (^^) Say, can you remember the name of the temple at your kampung?

Lam Chun See said...

I think I told u b4. Canoot accurately remember. Something like kong keng; 'kong' as in tua pek kong, and 'keng' is Hokkien for temple.

chinatownboy said...

I must have missed it. (^^; Does this ring a bell? Natoh Tua Pek Kong Keng? I am just trying to trace the history of this temple now at Tampines Rd. (^^) Thanks!

nicole said...

oh i just love it