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How shall we organize a traditional Nyonya wedding?  As we love to combine old traditions to present day society and culture, we share some thoughts of some points we consider while preparing the mixed cultural wedding.

You have probably heard the popular wedding tradition saying before, but not every bride to be knows exactly where it originated from or what the meaning behind the saying is. It is a darling saying and is one of the only wedding traditions in today’s society which makes some sense. It is a cute tradition – one which is performed to bring good luck to the newlywed couple.

The traditional saying is: Something old, something new, Something borrowed, something blue. And a silver sixpence in her shoe.

So following the tradition of having something old, my daughter choose to wear a hundred years old Nyonya red gown for her mixed cultural wedding, kind of like a link to the mother who she loves.  There are many things you can use as theme to rekindle “something old for your wedding.

And for something new, which means optimism and hope for the future. It sends the message that both the newly weds are creating a new union that will endure the test of time. Many brides choose to use a red wedding sari or bridal gown, flowers or rings to symbolize the “something new” in this tradition.

Something Borrowed, for that if you borrow an item from your happily married grandmother or mother, you can fulfill both of these meanings. Uvaraani chooses an hundred’s years old Sapu tangan Nyonya (Nyonya handkerchief) to wrap around the coconut she took to her new house on her wedding day. Doing this lets your parents (or grandparents) know that you admire their marriage and the respect they have for each other and that you hope to have an equally happy marriage.

Something Blue: The color blue has been connected to weddings for centuries as a symbol of love, modesty, fidelity, good luck, purity and loyalty. Many brides incorporate this color into their clothing, by either wearing a blue stoned jewelry item or wearing a blue garter. However for a modern spin, you could use blue toe nail polish, blue eye shadow, a blue ribbon tied into your flowers, blue underwear, even wear light blue shoes! The possibilities are endless and limited only by your imagination.

A Lucky Sixpence: A sixpence in the bride’s shoe represents wealth and financial security. For optimum fortune, the sixpence should be worn in the left shoe. What I did as her mother, without her knowing was places an old coin in her coconut she carries. An old wives tale mention that both couple wont hide their wealth from each other.

As for Jivan and Uvaraani, honoring the something old, new borrowed, blue tradition by having a Muhibbah Nyonya and Indian Wedding seems an unforgettable day. Although some items are supposed to bring good luck to the bride, they are

following this tradition to honor people close to them on their wedding day.

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A week after the Nine Emperor Gods festival, we were invited to attend a dinner celebration for the devotees of Tow Boo Kong Taoist Temple in Butterworth.

Chandra and I thought, it must a kind of thanksgiving dinner for the devotees, the committee members and the organizing members of the Nine Emperor Gods celebration. Since it was a saturday night and our legs were itching to get out off the house, we went.

Thanksgiving Dinner at Tow Boo Kong Temple

And off we went, dressed up for a dinner party in the Tow Boo Kong temple ground. We arrive to see a different scenario.

Nine Emperor Gods Deputies Birthday in Tow Boo Kong

9 Emperor God Deputies Birthday Celebration

Curious, we walked to the temple ground after parking the car which I have made a dent when reversing. I was not in a happy mood after denting the car but still made myself presentable. Anyway, it looked like another big celebration going on. We saw devotees bringing food stuffs, sweets for children, birthday cakes and big bottles of sweets in a PACIFER bottles!

Goodies for the Deputies in Butterworth

Goodies for the Baby Gods or Deputies of Nine Emperor Gods

Was I going to laugh or keep quiet. Being inquisitive, I asked around and was told. It was a double celebration. The dinner together with offering thanksgiving prayers for the deputies who worked so hard during the Nine Emperor Gods festivals. The deputies or Siam Tai Chu or baby gods entertained us with their mights in sword play, throwing of the spikey ball, firewalking, playing with oil and spear skewering.

Outside the temple, cooks were getting the course dinner ready for the diners.

Guest for Birthday Dinner in Butterworth

Devotees at the Birthday celebration of Siam Tai Chu Tow Boo Kong Temple

In the compound, where we saw fire-walking, fort crossing, hot oil being played, now in place were tables lined with red cloth. No longer yellow cloth, no more vegetarian food in sight. On the ground now, were temporary shed for the Siam Tai Chu (Nine Emperor Gods Deputies) tables of food offering.

Puppet Show in Tow Boo Kong Temple Butterworth

Puppets show for the Birthday celebration of Nine Emperor Gods Deputies, The Siam Tai Chus’

Puppets show was shown to the delights of the crowd. Gosh how long ago was this? Puppet show or “Char Kar Lay” after the Chinese opera all in one month. It really makes me miss my childhood. We used to bring our own stools to the market place during these types of festivals, like Hungry Ghost or Nine Emperor Gods. It was real fun, no worries and escape dad strict watch out. Girls cannot stay out till late at night, but for these kind of festivals, he relaxes his rules.

Girlie came and we got to the table. This lady LOR CHU was very popular after having performed all the roles and responsibility without any hinges. The devotees smiled and shook her hands. Standing beside her, Chandra and I felt very happy for her.

Her two assistant Lor Chu were supportive, her 36 managers crowded around the table where we sat. Fun, chats and jokes were cracked happily. Chandra and I were formerly introduced to the group but we have seen them during the Nine Emperor Gods festival.

Girlie Karaoke to the delight of the crowd

The main temple committee Chairman and some important community leaders made speeches. For entertainment, karaoke was the common event to have during Chinese dinner. So who do you think was called to sing? Your guess is as good as mine. By popular request, the Presiding LOR CHU sang three numbers, an english old song and two mandarin oldies.

Bidding for the biggest Yellow sack

Girlie and her managers auctioning for the biggest yellow sack

Then there was an auction of the yellow Sack which were money or donation collected during the various events of the Nine Emperor Gods festivals. There were more then five auctions done that night.This yellow sack of price money are considered pure money from the devotees. And having being blessed by the Gods, every bussiness man wants to have this precious gift.

Winners of the highest auction

The highest bid was Rm12888 and equally shared by five people. The bid started off by one person but when it got higher, more friends joined in to contribute to make the bid higher. You should see the fun they had, shouting to raise the bid, some backing off. When it reaches over RM10,000, five people decided to make one last attempt to close it at RM11,999 but was toppled. And they bid again so they could get the highest. The highest finally went to Girlie and her managers at RM12888. Easily that night, they collected over RM60,000.

Yam Seng, Chinese ways of good times

David, Girly’s brother (3rd from left) joined by his mates cheered after Girly won the auction. Any chance for drinking, they will drink, dance and merry making. While they challenged each other to drink, I cant helped but be amused by ladies challenging man to DRINK!

The Nine Emperor God Deputies

The drinking and merry making would not have stopped if the gongs and cymbals for the arrival of the Nine Emperor Gods is not sounded. No one would run to the other part of the temple.

I went over to witness, as one by one of the deputies getting into trance like state. Ooh aren’t they happy when they arrived. Pacifiers in their mouth, hair tied up in hill like style. Seeing all the food and goodies on the table, they started to get excited. Instead of eating, the devotees tease them to give the goodies to them.

The Deputies giving away goodies in Tow Boo Kong Temple Butterworth

Right in front of my eyes, they climbed up the table and started to distribute to the shouts of the crowds. It was so funny seeing the deputies teasing the devotees back. Some devotees were lucky to receive big packets of goodies, some just got a sweet. Within half an hour, all the food, fruit, cakes and sweets were thrown and distributed by the deputies.

On the same night, the following year teams of managers were drawn through lucky draw were chosen. About 200 over names were placed and volunteered by devotees or surrounding communities people. Those chosen will be next year deputies “manager”, the human guardian for the deputies.

Approving the Yellow Sack winning in Butterworth

Before midnight, all the yellow sack must be blessed by the Siam Tai Chu before taking home. So I followed them to the altar and observed the whole process of signing and blessing the yellow sack.

Contrary to what people think, this Tow Boo Kong is not a rich man’s temple. It is the ordinary community people or traders temple. Why, because to built this temple, the ordinary people donated freely towards the funds and present day maintenance. Each time, there is a festival, earnings through collection were auction off.

That is one method they collected the donation. The other obvious method is donation through buying joss stick or oil. The bigger method would be offering to build pillars or foundations in parts for the temple. In that, one has to approached the few man sitting outside the temple whenever you visit the temple.

Well, if you want to be remembered for your kind deeds, your chinese name will be engraved if you offer a certain amount, I can’t remember how much.

Cheers

 

 

Nestled on the Paya Terubong Hills, in some quiet little spot sits a very old 130 Taoist temple called Cheng Kon Sze.

Peaceful Cheng Kon Sze Temple Penang

Junnie reaching the 1002 Steps Temple

A simple untapped temple worshiped by the silent or quiet few Taoist devout devotees. During the Nine Emperor Gods Festival, Catherine rang me to inquire whether I would be interested to go up to 1002 Steps Temple or locals called it, Cheng Ji Chan.

1002 Steps Temple Penang

Peter (half body) and Junnie (half face) and Chandra looking down,wishing he gets permission to walk more as he waited for us. Sorry guys!

What do you think, I jumped with joy as I have not yet gone up to Cheng Jee Chan or Cheng Kon Sze in my life.With Peter (pulau-pangkor.com) as our guest as he wanted to learn more about Chinese custom and traditions, he gladly tagged along.

Central Penang view from 1002 Steps

Beautiful Penang, view from 1002 Steps Temple (look how far Komtar seems to be)

For Chandra’s sake as he is recuperating from a recent heart attack, all of us took the super cool van up the temple. So Catherine, Catherine’s mum, Steffi, Chandra,Ben Khaw ( not in any pictures as he wanders off to take his own), my sister Junnie and me, the ever happy to go anywhere person and not forgetting the crazy white man from Holland ( the web master of pulau-pangkor.com) got up to Cheng Kon Sze. Just joking, he is actually funny guy!

Hilltop in Cheng Kon Sze Temple

Hill top view at the greenery and natural vegetation of Cheng Kon Sze Temple

How pleased and thrilled we were when the van driver stopped to let us take this awesome shot of Penang. It was a good drive up the Cheng Kon Sze Temple, horning loudly all the way up as if we were some important VIP. But more because the hikers were making their way up on foot.

Apple Custard or Nona in Cheng Kon Sze Temple Penang

Have you seen this fruit, apple custard or locals called them Nona?

On the way up by foot to 1002 steps temple, my dad used to tell us, never to complain. Never utter the word, “why so far” or “why still have not reached the temple”.

Multi colors cactus plant in Cheng Kon Sze Penang

We see yellow, purple, red and green flower all over this cactus plan t in Cheng Kon Sze Temple, how awesome!

 

But two ladies have no one to tell them and as they complained, they got tired and waved our van driver for help.Seeing how tired and broken these two old ladies were, all of us squeezed tighter into the van to allow both of them in. Despite having a seat, both never stop talking about how far or how tired they were. No wonder..I thought.

Baba pukul Nyonya Plant in Cheng Kon Sze

Baba pukul Nyonya Plant in Cheng Kon Sze Temple

Baba pukul Nyonya plant is a delightful plant, did you know that? It blooms in the early morning in white. By mid afternoon, it turns pink. And in the evening, it is almost purplish. Such a refreshing plant, almost magical.

Taking a breath of fresh air

The Happy Trio taking a breath of FRESH AIR! Sitting on the granite slab, such bliss!

The natural vegetation, the multiple shades of green is a feast for our sore eyes. The fruits tree, flower plants, those I see when I was young makes me feel at home and child like. Huge galangal plant are everywhere. Galangal is still around in my neighborhood but I hardly see Baba pukul Nyonya Plant anymore.

Huge Yellow Candles in Cheng Kon Sze

Catherine praying in Cheng Kon Sze Temple Penang

Reaching the temple vicinity, we were surprised to see a fair amount of devotees praying, shaking the fortune stick for health or wealth.

Huge Joos Stick in Cheng Kon Sze Temple Penang

Huge Joss Stick, a common sight in Taoist culture in Penang, Malaysia and Asia

Nice, and I look at the monk sitting on the tiger reminds me of my childhood. This priest or abbot must be Thai Siong Lok Kun, the healer or caretaker of many healer temples. There is even a road along Air Itam market place named after him.

130 year old Bronze urn in Cheng Kon Sze Temple Penang

The Bronze Urn and Huge Lantern are as old as the temple.

This is the town I grew up. My sister and me used to walk to the market from our home. I remember when we were young, we hated walking for 20 to 30 mins to the market. I do understand why there is a need for modern facilities. I only wish there will be some heritage buildings left to see. But it is going away too fast. This is the very reason I have now over 10,000 pictures. Amateur I may be, still they are my own hard work.Some locals having gone to China now understand that our own hometown Penang is far richer in heritage then China. Every street or town has a story to tell. And I have lots of story to tell as my dad and uncles told us lots when we were young.

God of Education in Cheng Kon Sze Temple Penang

Observed the statue just behind the joss stick, that is the God of Education, bowed down my humble devotees, says he

As we prayed and watched others, everyone seems so solemn and quietly talking to Nine Emperor God, Dao Mo the mother of Nine Emperor Gods . MMm..there is even the God of Education, so if you want your kids to be intellectuality inclined, come and offer prayer to this God. There are boxes of pencils. What they do is this. Take two pencils, make a prayer then next year come back to return 2 pencils too. But I saw devotees returning more, two boxes or placing cash or kind if they know they wont be returning.

One ticket of fortune Please, in Cheng Kon Sze Temple Penang

What is my fate or fortune, Uncle?

After prayers, most will seek some spiritual guidance. Tai Siong Lok Kun, according to my late father, is revered for answering or granting wishes. This one thousand and two hundred steps, supposedly should be one thousand and two steps. Not two hundred but somehow along the way, pronunciation or translation got lost.Seeking spiritual guidanceOn the table near the ticket giver, one can find a round container with fortune or fate stick. No idea what it is called, ( I dont claim I know everything, ok?) Anyway, taking that round container with stick, the devotee will bowed in front of the gods and virtually mutter for guidance. Then shaking the stick and till it jumps out, that is your answer. Take the fortune stick that jumped out to the counter.

Translation of the fortune sheet in Cheng Kon Sze Penang

The all knowing one,Translation of the fortune sheet

Take it to the corner of the temple, claim your fate sheet and look for someone who knows how to read to you. It is written in mythological mandarin so one must understand some chinese legends or myth. With that, the all knowing one will share with you in story form what is in store for you. up to you to translate the result, how about that?

Por Oon Shrine

Por Oon Shrine,(Prays for better luck or fortune from this shrine), funny though i though, letter 5 in chinese character is missing). (But as was advised, it was done purposely long time ago), FENG SHUI I suppose

But sometimes, if they felt it is not a good fate, you will be guided to pray for better fate or luck.

Blessed Meal in Cheng Kon Sze

Great fried Vermiceli, porridge and dessert. A real treat!

What a bliss, it is a small temple. We should be able to come down by half hour, right. But no we were there for a few hours, why. So much to see and while feasting our eyes of the greenery, we had a blessed meal then washed our own plates, chopstick and cups. Again Coffee is BEST!And Cheng Kon Sze Temple, we will come back and soon before someone decide to vacate you too!Remember besides Thaipusam in January or February, in October Nine Emperor Gods festival is celebrated vastly in Penang Butterworth, all of Malaysia and world wide. cheers

The Nine Emperor Gods Festivals, so far is for me an amazing, and out of this world’s experience. You have to be in Penang or Butterworth to witness the ever devout devotees keeping the nine days vegetarian diet. The daily rites and rituals performed by the mediums are unimaginable.

Believe you me, it is REAL! But I am glad it isn’t that extreme then the ones performed in Phuket.

At any time of the day or night, the Nine Human Sovereigns (Tai Chu), will leapt into trance like behavior and accordingly the caretakers of the Tai Chu will clothed them. By the behavior and action of the trance, the caretakers were able to identify the arrival of Tianying, Tianren, Tianzhu, Tianxin, Tianqin, Tianfu, Tianchong, Tianrui and Tianpeng.

Besides that we get to see other so called friends of the Nine Emperors God, Na Cha or Chek Kong came and went. Some are healers so paper talisman will be given to those in deed of help.

Butterworth 9 Emperor Gods Festivals

Many of the rituals and performances does not require an understanding of legends and myth. Many devotees carry out the rituals and rites without knowing that it is related closely to the legends, myths and symbols.

Faith in the beliefs of their ancestors is more important, so as long as they have faith the myths is of little concern. Faith in the power of the Nine Emperor Gods to cure sickness and confer luck, wealth, and long life is sufficient o induce devotees to participate in the rituals. The fact that their ancestors believed and participated in the rituals is evidence enough of its authenticity and efficacy. Myth, therefore, is taken as a matter of faith rather than as a matter of fact.

I had the opportunity to follow the Raja Uda Nine Emperor Gods Temple Festivals closely and was able to understand some of the events that were performed yearly. It was great to hear the explanation in English as the presiding trustee(Lor Chu) was Girlie Chuah, the first English speaking lady. I felt truly blessed. Most times, in my quest to learn more about our cultures and tradition, not many were able to give a clear explanation as they could only explained about it in Mandarin.

During the nine days of the festivals, I saw some feats and performances which quite difficult to explain or comprehend.

Welcoming Ritual

Before the commencement of the 9 days events, there was the welcoming ritual. But first the five generals, their 30,000 to 90,000 armies need to be invited.

Installing the Five Generals

Then Lor Chu Girlie will be led holding the urn under a silken umbrella through a street procession. You wont get to see her holding the urn as she is inside or under the umbrella and 2 flags of the eight trigam by 2 disciples. It was indeed a sacred rituals as, when she moved out form the temple to the special float, all bowed in reverence. Gongs, cymbals and drums are sounded. Listening to it, one can feel the grandeur and style of the occasion.

Once reaching the seaside of Pantai Bersih, it was another night one cannot forget. 3 temple seniors went down to the sea to receive the Nine Emperor Gods. It was evident a moment all bowed down again as the Great One approached.

Welcoming rites at Pantai Bersih

Purification Rituals

Some of the purification rituals of these Taoist festival includes playing with hot oil. The “Tai Chus” in their trance like hour, lights up the fire by first drinking the oil in their mouth and blowing onto the fire. These was performed for a good vigorous hour. i was quite a distance away as the heat was so intense. At first I thought the oil was not hot or boiling. I moved to have a closer look and could not go closer. The heat is real intense. As the oil flows down their body, I see no scars neither on their hands nor body. I wont make any joke of it but seeing those young men earlier not in trance and now in trance completely amazed me. Eyes closed, hands keeps inserting in hot oil to scoop into their mouth, spitting the hot oil from the mouth like dragon spewing fire. An unbelievable hour but it did happen.

Playing with Hot Oil

Herbs and spices were later added to brew for a few hours. Once it cools down, devotees each purchased a bottle for use. It can be use to rub on your tired body or any other body problems. This is how strong the belief the devotees has. Remind me of the days my dad would use these so called oil on us when we were young.

Mediums in hook and spear rod in Nine Emperor Gods Festivals in Butterworth

The next event is even scarier then Thaipusam. If you think Thaipusam is scary, you cannot imagine this! Nine mediums waiting turns to skewered their mouth with a 9 feet spear rod. One even had both done on him, the 9 feet spear rod and 36 hooks on his back. It was really too much for me, I was so scared but am impressed. I remember years ago I did not want to witness this rituals as I was too scared.

Firewalking and crossing the fort is next. Anyway, all these rituals and ceremonies preformed during the Nine Emperor Gods are a kind of purification rituals. They involve the belief the devotees had in the spirit meduims, the Taoist priest and the deities too.

It is in this tableau of eligious ceremonialism that the Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods is
most vividly seen as a community rite of cosmic renewal or rebirth. The ritual leads the community from the state of yin to the state of yang, or as the temple authorities put it, to “birth beyond death.”

As a devotee, observing the vegetarian rituals is not difficult. If one does not cook at home, the temple serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper all free. One temple impresses me greatly as they served a 10 dishes lunch or dinner meal to their vegetarian devotees.

Some even said that they now felt reborn having witnessed the many rituals Nine Emperors and his sub gods have rid them off. Read some live event and explanation, here. As I wondered at the many blessings I too received. I felt truly blessed and revived.

With the preparation for the upcoming BIG Event in Malaysia, to celebrate our Independence Day, one cannot forget our forefathers, the Chinese Coolies.

Nothing to be a shame of really. And if you really learn your family Chinese ancestry and their humble beginning, you will find out that you either belong to the Hai San or Ghee Hin secret society.

The end of Qing Dynasty, the start of Taiping Rebellion and Opium War triggered the real rush of Chinese immigration by the mid 18th century. And the real big rush came in the 19th century lured by the lucrative tin mining concessions granted by the Malays rulers. This time around, the big in flux of Chinese coolies were from Guangdong and Fujian. And the Chinese coolies were running away from China due to the fighting of the Opium War in 1840. The western power used advanced warships and artillery to force open China’s doors.

In 1853, my great great great grand father Kee Lai Huat at 19, together with his younger brother who was much younger travelled in a tongkang over to Malaya and worked as coolies in a sugar plantation.

Recently my aunt told me stories of Chor Chor Kee Lai Huat. It was amusing yet sad. When he first arrived here, and with no one to care for them, they were very sickly and weak. Chor Chor Kee Lai Huat’s brother didn’t survived the hard living and died at the age of 19, a year after he arrived in Bukit Tambun.

But Chor Chor as you know, was damn hardworking and frugal. He worked hard until he gained the trust of the Bukit Tambun sugar tycoon and even married his only daughter Khaw Bee Gek.

One particular story, aunt told me was that one day when Chor Chor was resting by the riverside, some coolies called out that the Towkay was on the way to the river.

Chor Chor felt he was caught sleeping and was going to be scolded for sleeping on his job. In his fright, he stepped over and ran across the rivers full of crocodiles. Such was his fright for the towkay. He forgot about the crocodiles in the river.

The other times was when he was sermon by the towkay (boss). He did not know why he was sermoned and was so scared that he ran away to Parit Buntar and hid himself. The people had a hard time finding him and got him back to the boss. The reason for finding him was to ask him to marry the tycoon’s daughter.

Such was the respect they have for their bosses. It amazed me how we have changed.

Khaw Bee Gek was another story to tell. It seemed the she was engaged to her first suitor who died before they could get married. So it was believed that she was (the Chinese would say), “Tua Sieow” (a person with great potentials). And she would need a match or else suitor after suitor would have bad things happening to them.

And after their marriage, the sugar tycoon gave them a gift, that is a zinc house in Sungai Bakap. It was said that every month, the sugar tycoon would send a tin of spanish coins for the daughter to use. (If you can remember the cream crackers square tins). The sugar tycoon Khaw lau Hup of Batu Kawan, was none other then the father of Ghee Hin Leader Khaw Boo Aun.

Read about the Malaysian Chinese coolies humble beginning here.

Malaysian Chinese Coolies
Our Chinese Forefathers

Read more about the roles played by the Taochiews in the 14 years Larut Wars and how actually Khaw Boo Aun was involved in blocking water to Penang resulting in the third Larut War.

The Human Horse

Most Chinese of Malaysia comes from China. The migration of Chinese from China begins during the mid 1800’s when doors were open for Chinese coolies coming over here to work in the tin mines and sugar plantation. My ancestors were no different. Read about them and see how far we have come since the day of our ancestors and how proud I am to be born a Malaysian Chinese.

Kee Lai Huat & 6 sons

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