Friday, March 16, 2007

CNY 14th Nite at Wak Hai Cheng Beo

A tradition that has gone back decades, each 14th night of the Chinese Lunar New Year, devotees flocked to the Wak Hai Cheng Beo (Yue Hai Qing Miao) to offer their prayers to Xuan Tian Shang Di and Mazu and to exchange their old flags and /or lanterns.

This is one night that time stood still, and one could see the scene as could have been a few decades ago. The only difference could be the surrounding. Looking for the moon might not be as easy. Tall buildings surrounded this dwarfed temple.

Wak Hai Cheng Beo is a Teochew Temple but interestingly, on this night, it was almost like a Cantonese tradition. While the joss paper sets used inside the temple could be Teochew, those brought by devotees to offer their prayers and burn in the courtyard could well be Cantonese.

Many devotees have begun to form parties, meeting together before coming to the temple and offering their prayers together. Here, each member or family could bring along food as offering. Many have home made Chinese Huat Kueh (Fa Gao) which symbolises growth and prosperity. There were also Ang Ku (Hong Ku), a sticky and oily rice cake with bean stuffing, peanuts (Hua Shen, sounding like growth and bloom) and of course, sweets.

One party has an interesting idea where all the devotees, after prayers, they would have a kind of standing up picnic enjoying the food. I was fortunate to be invited to join in. Wow, the best huat kueh I have tasted in years. The group was told not to throw the peanut shells away but to burn them together. Reason, it is like renewing one's shell .. for a better life. What a great way to consider and there's less littering too.

Before this picnic, the group, grandparents, parents, and kids would have their joss sticks, trooped into the already crowded and smoky temple halls. They were greeted by the temple members .. ah, familiar figures as they are regulars. The children were guided to pay their respects to the various Deities.

At the hall of Mazu, one Cantonese Taoist Priest was conducting a ritual for some devotees. I saw him last year and this year too. And so, this must also be a regular service offered to the Cantonese devotees. He chanted in Cantonese.

Some devotees brought along a circular paper set, that the devotees would use to turn around (clockwise, I was told) as they faced towards the Deities. This is to turn their luck for the better, which is better described in Chinese as Zuan Yun.

As the night wore on, more people arrived. It was a night where devotees of some three or four generations gathered to offer their prayers. An old lady was supported by her son and an Indonesian maid. Another old lady sat in a wheelchair and the party had to negotiate with the door way to get her into the temple and out again.

This is probably the only temple where such a tradition has been carried on for decades. (Anyone knows when it started?) And I hope it will carry on for the next 100 years. (^^)