Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ghost Festival in Chinatown - Zhong Yuan Jie 中元节

Chinatown used to have many activities during the 7th Month or what is known to the English speaking world as Ghost Festival. And it would happen at various spots in Chinatown. Chinatown is known to most Singaporeans, and probably the world, to be from Sago Street to Temple Street, where the streets are interlinked by Trengganu St. These days, the ghost festival activities are somewhat concentrated in the still available free space next to the Tooth Relic Temple. But then, the activities are getting bigger and when there is a getai (variety show) on the street, then it would be jam packed.

I went to the Kreta Ayer Square (next to Chinatown Complex, which houses the wet market, small shops and a food court) where there is a stage and a free space. On the opposite end are the "dum" and chess tables which  seem to be forever occupied no matter what time I was there. A favourite gathering place of the older men who exercise their brain over the strategy games.

This year, apart from the exhibition on Taoism, organised by the Youth Group of the Taoist Federation (the exhibition was enlarged compared to the last year), there was also a talk show conducted by Master Leong from HongKong who spoke in Cantonese and translated by Wei Yi, the General Secretary of the Youth Group. It was a very interesting presentation and if only more people were there. Many of the older people even stood right to the end to follow the explanation followed by short demonstrations by the Taoist Priests. Suddenly it seemed somewhat clearer to me as I listened to the explanation and then, the demonstration. I wish there are such narrations that could be put on slides that could be placed next to the event when the Taoist Priests are performing the rituals. Our command of the language, be it Cantonese, Hokkien, Mandarin or any dialect in which the priests are conducting are not enough to comprehend, not to mention understanding the intentions and objectives of the rituals. It was a good start. If the video taken of the event could be put into youtube, more people could learn. (^^)

While this was going on, another group of Taoist Priests were walking along the streets. I traced them to the tentage nearby where they were conducting the Zhong Yuan Jie. I was to learn later on that under this tentage, over two weeks, there were actually two Zhong Yuan Jie being conducted. On the first night I was there, it was organised by the occupants of the Chinatown Complex - probably from the wet market stallholders to the Food Court stallholders.

In the following week when I was there again, it was organised by the Chinatown Business Association. In conjunction with the Zhong Yuan Jie 中元节, Chinatown Business Association also works with Singapore Tourist Board to offer tours for tourists and Singaporeans to better understand Zhong Yuan Jie and getting to visit various interesting parts of Chinatown, led by two very knowledgeable Heritage Guides, Diana and Charlotte. On one tour, the participants even got to join in the grand dinner to experience a typical Zhong Yuan Jie dinner that comes with auctions.

14th evening of the 7th month is said to be the day when Cantonese would make their offerings to the "Good Brothers", a polite term used for the wandering souls. For the Hokkien, it would be 15th as well as the 1st and last day of the 7th month, when they would be receiving them with offerings and sending off with offerings as well. The 7th month is a reminder to the Chinese about their ancestors. Many would make offerings at home to their ancestors. For many who these days have the ancestor tablets in clan associations or temples, families would make a trip there. On the 15th day, Taoists would pay respect to the "Earth Official" known as Di Guan 地官.

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