Monday, October 30, 2006

Happy Halloween!

Today is October 31st; the day of the popularly celebrated Halloween's day where people get invited to costume parties, trick or treats from house to house, ghoulish make-ups and costumes, jack-o-lanterns, sweet candies, etc.
Most of the aforementioned will only be seen commonly in the West since this originated from the Celts in Ireland. It is not exactly a Christian observed festival although its roots seem to coincide with the Christians' celebration of the All Saints' Day. In fact it is derived from its original name "Hallowe'en" or "All Hallows Eve" as in the evening before "All Hallows Day"(aka All Saints Day). There are a number of variations of this festival among the Western countries which dates back to the origin of the All Saints day celebrated by the Catholics.
In certain parts of Ireland, Halloween is also called "Pooky Night" - in reference to 'puca', a mischievous spirit.
The festival itself is often viewed in association with the dark side or the occult. In fact, the Europeans traditionally believe that this is the time of the year where the spirits of the underworld can make contact with the living and the time when the dark magic dwells. There were also sources which mentioned that this would be the time when the spirits will come back to possess the living - in summary, this is definitely a festival of the dead - resembling the All Souls Day and also the
7th Month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar (The Festival of the Hungry Ghosts).
The Church did not impose any restriction on the celebration of the festival and denied that it is promoting any form of occult. In fact, it was even a good exposure to the younger generation on the difference between the living and the dead. Formerly viewed as a pagan festival, the Church does not interfere with the celebrations and view it as a time of fun and parties for everyone. However, the Protestants disagree and strongly protest against this festival, calling it some form of paganism and worshipping of the devil and dwelling in the occult.
The Christians observe the All Souls Day on Nov 2; a day after All Saints Day. Take note that only the Roman Catholic church observe the All Saints Day which is a day to honor all the saints.
Thus, Halloween is only a secular festival which is only celebration for the fun of the festival mood.
During this time of the year, if you observe our Western counterparts, they throw parties at their homes; usually costume parties where the guests are required to dress themselves up in various characters found in the books or ghoulish to symbolize the festival. The younger kids will, on the other hand, go from house to house; knocking on the doors, with the famous "Trick or treat" tagline, mainly eyeing for the sweets and candies which will be handed out by the generous folks. The kids will also dress themselves up in costumes as they make their rounds around their neighbourhood at night. It was said that some culture practise the sprinkling of salt on the children' hair to prevent the evil spirits from possessing them.
There is also the famous jack-o-lanterns which has its legend about a guy named Jack who was a drunkard and tricked the devil. Then the story went on that when he died, he was denied entry into Heaven due to his bad deeds and Hell also rejected him since he played a trick on the devil before. I forgot parts of the story... then the jack-o-lanterns came about.
Anyway, we do not really practise this festival here; but I do find it really interesting. As usual, we do have those people who idolize the West and try to emulate their ways - thus now the growing commercialization of this festival even in the East. personal opinion, sometimes we should just be proud of our unique Eastern culture and celebrate it in our own unique ways.
So, Happy Halloween......have fun, snuggle to sleep.....Trick or Treat!!!

Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods

Hokkien: Kow Ong Yeah
Cantonese: Kow Wong Yeh
Mandarin: Jiu Wang Ye

This is the common banner which you will see everywhere; especially in Penang which definitely notifies one of the arrival of the vegetarian period.
It is the time of the year again; where we start to see the yellow flags everywhere and also crowds at the vegetarian restaurants. I remembered this festival where my mum observes a vegetarian diet for nine days during a certain period every year. In tune with the festival; which is known as the Nine Emperor Gods, it is also celebrated in the ninth month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar every year; or rather the ninth moon and span for a period of 9 days.
I used to accompany mom to a temple in Ampang when I was a kid and waited with dad while mom makes her prayer offerings. (Dad and I are Catholics)
The significant part of this festival is the color; everything is yellow – you see the yellow flags and cloths hanging everywhere to announce the arrival of the festival.
This year, mom decided to come back to her hometown up north; Penang (Pearl of the Orient) to celebrate the festival; following her offertory prayers and worship to the deities and also to walk down the memory lane of the vegetarian food served here. Furthermore, this year, the festival coincides with the double festive occasions; Deepavali and Hari Raya Aidilfitri for the Indian and Muslim community and thus there is a week holiday.
As such, mom and dad sent me back to visit grandmother and at the same time, mom took this opportunity to celebrate the festival in her birthplace; since she left it more than 20 years ago following her marriage. I noticed a striking difference between the celebration in KL and Penang; with the latter being more vibrant and merrier with the vegetarian food fair and stalls set up everywhere in the little state. Also, the interesting thing here is that most of the vegetarian outlets hang little yellow cloths at their shops or stalls to signify the “cleanliness” of their food; as my mum puts it. The cloth is only hung on stalls which serve pure vegetarian food and is deemed suitable to be consumed by the strict followers and vegetarians of the festival for nine days. Interestingly, according to my mum, most of the vegetarians in Penang will only patronize shops which hang these yellow cloths which are declared “safe” to eat vegetarian outlets.
Mum also explained the reason they were particular about the food and locations where they dine in; following a superstition passed down by her paternal grandmother. It seems that the vegetarian diet during this month is more strict compared to the normal vegetarian diet observed by most devotees on every 1st and 15th of the month and thus strictly only pure vegetarian food is allowed. If you took food which are not pure vegetarian, the consumer will actually suffer from an immediate bout of stomach ache and diarrhea following the consumption of the food. This goes to show how clean and pure this festival is all about.
The festival commence on the eve of the ninth moon in the Lunar calendar and temples will start with their ceremonies to welcome the deities; the Nine Emperor Gods. Since the deities were believed to journey through the water, their arrival is anticipated and received through the processions held by temples which take place from the temple location to the sea-shore or river (any water passage). Also, most of the devotees will be dressed in white during this celebration to signify their purity and cleanliness in receiving the arrival of their Excellencies with joss sticks and candles in their hands. Thus, the vegetarian meals signify their fasting period and also cleansing themselves to participate in the celebration of the arrival of their deities. During this time also, most of the activities include the walking on burning coal and also the raising of the lanterns. I heard that you need to be clean and just to be able to walk on the hot burning coal to avoid hurt and injury on yourself as the holy devotees will not feel a thing when they walk on it; it’s a matter of believe it or not for you J
From most of the resources I read, the Nine Emperor Gods dwell in the stars in heaven under the reign Tou Mu, the mother of heaven and the ultimate owner of the Book of Life and Death. In another resource, they were also said to be the nine sons of the Thean Hou, the respectable mother of heaven. They were believed to be honorable warriors and also said to be the Robin Hood of the East; the Chinese version of the legendary just hero who robbed the rich to help the poor. Similarly, Jiu Wang Yeh (Nine Emperor Gods) also did the same during the Qing Dynasty and helped most of the poor. Legend has it that they were once at their wits’ end when they were cornered by the officials/soldiers at the sea side with no route for escape when a giant red turtle appeared and shipped them over to safety to the Tow Boo Keong Island.
Guess that explains the reason why we see the Ang Koo kueh and also the flour loaf in the form of a red turtle; Mee Koo which is the favourite among the Chinese/Hokkien community during festive celebrations. Furthermore, the turtle symbolizes longevity and health.
During these nine days, there will be vegetarian food stalls mushrooming everywhere as devotees professed their faith through their abstinence from meat and indulging in a 9-10 days of vegetarian diet. I must say the atmosphere of the festival differs according to states. Hailing from KL, I can see the contrasting difference between the celebration in KL and Penang with the latter in a more vibrant and merrier mode. Perhaps it is due to the large percentage of the Chinese community in Penang state. You should make a trip to the famous temple in Burma Road in Penang and at the same time; look at the vegetarian food fair lined up on the left side of the road. Mom said this used to be the most popular area for the wide selection of vegetarian food but now the focus has also dispersed to every area in Penang. In fact, there is also a few notable and merry carnival-like vegetarian fair in places like Taman Lip Sin in Gelugor, Macalister Road, Sungai Dua, Air Itam, etc.
Well, yesterday was the culmination of the nine-day period and there will be a float-like procession to send off the deities back to the sea and await their coming again the following year.
That’s the end of the Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods; I have been following mum on her vegetarian diet as well (mum says I am already a partial vegetarian even on my everyday diet:p ). Oh ya, it was supposed to rain during this period as well; remember, the deities are associated with water but this year, it rained only on the first few days and then there was the scorching sun for the rest of the period L My theory would be that the nine suns are shining and providing light to the Earth (if you remember from the Journey to the West, where they traveled to the state which had 9 suns) and also the famous legend of the Chang Er and Hou Yi the archer who shot the nine suns who happened to be the nine sons of Thean Hou; hmmm, wonder whether there is any association to this story..hehe…. (I am a Catholic by the way)
Anyway, if you missed the celebration this year, do remember to check it out next year! ~

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Ghost Game

My good friend Nick was here for a weekend visit and I met up with him. Kinda wrong time for a visit due to the haze. He stayed with Liew who was unfortunately sick at the same time - so, what could have been a great gathering did not turn out that great with his absence.
Anyway, it is not that bad either - Nick, as usual was fun :)
We watched a movie and we were actually deciding between Rob-B-Hood and a horror movie. I saw there were 2 more screenings of the Thai horror movie, Ghost Game which I originally wanted to watch when I was in Genting Highlands with my dear friend :)
Anyway, the latter became our option due to the time as we would have to wait an hour later for the Rob-B-Hood screen time. Since Nick loves horror movies as well, we went for it after a quick lunch.
Understandably, we were seated in a smaller cinema since this movie is no longer on the demand movie list. Within minutes, the light dimmed and we were treated to the opening of the movie which started off with the newspapers clippings and readings on the massacre killing by the commando on this specific date; May 9th. (can't remember the name of the commander)
Then they showed a footage of a video recording of 3 friends who went to the war musuem or rather the site of the killings and was then found mysteriously dead under extreme shock situations.
Subsequently the scene cleverly moves to a Buddhist monk and a bunch of youngsters watching the video on the screen. It was actually a briefing session to these youngsters who were the 11 contestants bound for a reality game show which challenges them to spend the night on the site where the massacre took place and at the same time, incur the wrath of the spirits and to endure the fear whereby the person who can withstand the fear can walk away with the grand prize which is the highest amount ever given in a show; a whopping amount of 5 million Thai Baht. Among the 11 contestants will be 2 winners from the previous season (champion and the runner-up); Dao(Supatsiri Patomnupong) and Yuth(Pacharapon Jantieng).
The other contestants include a serious bespectacled pharmacist, Kate; Kwan, a chubby and arrogant university student; Jay, a photographer; Ant, a sassy model; Yot, whose dad is a medium; sisters Kung and Kang; Kemtid, a rich kid and a bookworm; and Mick an aspiring young actor. As in Survivor and other competitive reality game shows/series, these bunch must compete and outlaw each other in their attempt to emerge as the ultimate champion. Of course, in the process, there is always the suspicion and war-mode between these folks as they try to beat each other to the top and inevitably,the main prejudice was between the new contestants versus the previous champs which will be related later in this review.
They were then shipped; yeah, they had to travelled into this lush tropical forest by river to reach this deserted area (obviously no one would go to this place for vacation...duuuhhhh.....and it was even more isolated after the mysterious deaths of those 3 people)
They reached the war relic site soon after and slowly alighted the plank platform leading to the place; with the serene sounds of the nature and the ambient environment accompanying them as they head into the eerie place.
They were welcomed by the production crew ( cast for the game show) lined up on both sides and also by a medium (bomoh of some sort) standing in the middle. Behind him was the main entrance door into the massacre site. They were instructed to begin with a simple worshipping and cleansing session of the site for the purpose of the game. At this point, the medium was actually praying or rather, muttering in Thai and then used the blood from the wrung chicken to bless the skulls which mark the main entrance when he suddenly went berserk; sort of in possession mode and rushed towards them. Most of them were surprised as the crew mentioned it was not scripted but the contestants remained skeptical and tried to ward him off.
Screaming and pleading in Thai, the medium uttered these few words as he was led away by the crew, "Leave this place immediately, this place is cursed!!"
Ignoring what has just happened, the program manager (cannot remember his name either), spoke with a subtle tone to draw the attention from the contestants. They were supposed to remove any amulets they brought and also to be dressed in the outfits which were worn by the tormented/dead victims (sort of prisoner type of clothes) and their accommodation will be within the living quarters or rather the prison cells of each of the victim whereby each room had the history of killed/tortured tenant. Anyway, the whole place basically is full of all the dead since no one was spared during the massacre killing by the commander.
Ending his speech, he retreated out the door and Kwan, the chubby girl actually was horrified that they will be left on their own; under the close scrutiny of the CCTV placed in the site for the crew to govern them.
All of them put on a brave front and retreated silently to their assigned chamber respectively. It looked rather spooky to me and I'd NOT spend my night in such a place; no matter how much I am to be paid...
There were an occasional creaking here and there as they each tried to settle to sleep.
The scene focused on Dao who was fiddling with her ring pendant on the necklace which she dropped and rolled under the bed. The suspense was high there as she reached out her hand to the bottom of the bed to grab hold of the ring. As she withdrew her hand, the audience were treated to a scare when a hand grabbed up from the bottom of the floor and gave her hand a miss. However, poor Dao was not spared either as she soon saw the ghostly figure of a lady who tried to grab her and slept next to her. She screamed in terror and got everyone running to check out on her. The crew, who were looking at her through the CCTV could not see a thing.
Dao decided not to arouse/instill the fear among the others and bravely shook her head when she was asked.
Then there was Jay, who was rather skeptical and kept checking on the site to find any hidden props or settings which could be placed by the production crew to spook the contestants. However, Yuth actually saw the ghostly figure behind Jay when she checked on Dao. Anyway, Jay didn't have to wait long as she was the next to be spooked out of her wits when she went back to her room and then found this ghost looking at her and trying to grab her. She screamed and was traumatized by the event; thus making her the first to be removed from the competition.

The ghost that was trailing Dao everywhere...

The group then started to grow suspicious of Dao and thought it was her and Yuth (both old champs from the last season) trying to cook up a conspiracy to get them out of the game. Kate and Kwan started the cold war and gathered the others against Dao.
Moving on with the story, the activities commenced on the second night.....a brief summary, most of the games were pretty absurd and definitely invoking the spirits; man, they even had a prayer to challenge the spirit and to ward off God's presence...imagine that, some innovation to the normal prayers...sighhhhhh...
The games were as follows (not in any particular order):
1. Re-enacting how the people died/tortured - Ant, Yot, Kang (or was it Kung) was outcasted in this round as they were traumatized by the actual appearances which tried to kill or overpower them.
Due to one of the sisters' dismissal, the other sister wanted to leave but was prevented and was supported to stay on the show. The sister who was disqualified was due to her asthma background which was found by the crew immediately as she struggled with fear when she was tied facing down to those olden water container.
2. Challenging the areas marked with the red skulls (prohibited areas) - by entering them provocatively even during a rainy night
This is where Dao found out about the ghost who was actually Pai Lin who was killed by the commander and warned everyone of the madness.
3. Invoking the commander's chamber and the infamous/notorious torture chamber
The contestants finally came to terms as they realized that this game was leading them to fatality since the beginning as they found the diary of the commander who was born on May 9th and also chose the same day to commit the mass murder of all his subordinates(soldiers) and his captives and then dying on the same day himself. As they stared at the calendar flipping, they realized that they only had minutes to the cursed date itself. Dao, Kemtid and Yot tried to escape from the torture chamber. At the same time, the sisters also left, after a dispute with the 2 stubborn ladies and the rather arrogant Kwan who refused to leave and still thinks it is a plot to disqualify them from the competition.
They ran for their lives and realized that they were too late as the commander intended to kill anyone who walked into his grounds and they have done that right from the beginning.
Each of them died a horrifying death or watched the other die; Ant and Jay ran off to the boat but Ant had to flee back to the camp to retrieve the keys. However, none were spared as even the production crew were killed.
Seemingly Dao escaped and Kemtid was left behind, pleading for Dao to bring him along but she refused. When finally the boat turned back, we were treated to face reality that everyone died....
They ended with the rolling of the introduction of the contestants in the contest as some sort of prologue to the reality series and their expectations to win the prize....

Actually, I kinda expected this movie to be another cheesy type of ouija or some silly type of game the youngsters play and then accidentally/intentionally invoked spirits to hang around them. I was also thinking they may pdabble around with black magic and probably provide us with some gory scenes.
However, I find this movie kinda intriguing....fresh idea and twist to modern horror stories which centralize on the recent fame of reality series. In fact, I think it is pretty interesting as well.
Not bad and I just recently found out that the cast (the 11 contestants) were actually first timers; being recruited from the Thai reality series; UBC Academy Fantasia and so this is also their debut/pilot movie to mark their presence in the entertainment industry. Thus, the acting skills can be forgiven but I should say that Dao, Yot and Kemtid gave a pretty solid performance with their natural expressions. Jay and Kwan would have overdone themselves.
At the same time, I heard that this movie incurred the wrath of their neighbour, Cambodia who were angered that they were actually depicting the story of the Khmer Rouge mass killings back then in Phnom Penh and the place was actually modeled after the actual site of the Toul Sleng, nicknamed as S21 and in the movie, I think they also called it S22 or Case 17 - talk about mock similarity.
In fact, the Cambodian Culture Minisry even mentioned that the production of this movie approached him earlier to seek permisison to film on the actual location itself but to no avail as they regarded the request as a disrespect to the innocent victims which included thousands of people; women and children alike who died during that time. It was said that the production took it back to Thailand and established a mock model of the site for the movie and established it down to every single detail. In fact, even the skulls and the writings on the walls were taken from the actual place itself.
Cambodians were angered as they treated the Thai movie as a huge sign of disrespect to their innocent victims. The production held a press conference and made a public apology to the Cambodian government who refused to dismiss the case and will take every action to ensure that the movie is banned from the country.
(I will do a bit more research and share on the Khmer Rouge story - I believe it is a sad story as there is even a memorial for visitors to go to and each of them were moved to tears when they depart from that place - according to sources from the Internet).

Not too bad a movie but perhaps the Thais should have been more sensitive to their neighbours' history. However, as in other horror movies, I do have my "I don't get it factors":
1. Why is that people never retreat when they sense something weird? I mean even for normal human beings, I am sure we will not explore further when it is dark and we are unsure of the forward direction
2. If you noticed, there's actually more female contestants compared to male...hahaha

There are also some interesting facts about this movie. It was said to have incurred the actual spirits as the boat which the crew travelled in capsized and overturned, leaving a couple of them injured. Also, the scene where the medium was conducting the exorcism process was actually real and it was not in the script.
One of the actresses also experienced something in her hotel room when her TV suddenly blasted.
The cast from the Thai Academy Fantasia replica show.
Eeeee.....spooky huh? If it was me, I'd never go for it no matter how attractive the prize is.
Quote from Nick, "Some things are better left unexplored"....

God bless...Amen...

St Anne in Bukit Mertajam

Each year; in the month of July - from the 24th till the end of the month, there is the observation of the famous saint who once made her appearance in her place of worship in Penang. Also the mother of our Holy Mother, St Anne is respected and honoured for her presence (note I used the word observation for the saint and not celebration).
The St Anne's Church in Bukit Mertajam is famous for the sighting of her miraculous appearance in the 70's or early 80's (I cannot remember in detail; let me know if anyone of you know about it) which brings the huge crowd from all over Peninsular and even foreigners flocking to this church. In fact, the fame of this Motherly saint is more evident in the East as compared to our Western counterparts. Reason is simple; Catholics do not pray/worship saints but rather, we seek for their intercession in prayers and pray THROUGH them; not TO them as contrary to most beliefs.
Being a Catholic myself, I do pray through the saints as well and observe their feast days (which relatively means the day they were canonized - a Catholic term for naming the saints which goes through a public acclaimation process and approved/recognized by the Bishops and also the Vatican; basically the adminstration of the Church). Yes, saints were mere mortals before they were proclaimed as saints after death and also reviewing their lives a number of years before they are nominated/canonized as a saint).
According to the Catholic Online, Pope John Paul II introduced a revolution whereby the observation towards the canonization begins after death; astray from the conventional practice which begins several years after death followed by the beatification, and finally the canonization.
The path of canonizing a holy person as a saint requires a lot of effort along the way which is why this process/the status given is usually infallible and indisputable.
However, that does not mean that every holy person will automatically be canonized as a saint - there's a lot of holy Catholics who were not canonized as well. To date, we have more than hundreds of saints in the Catholic Church.

Anyway, steering back to St Anne, she was the revered mother of the Virgin Mary and was honoured by most of the Catholics. In fact, in Peninsular Malaysia, there are only 2 St Anne's churches; one in Bukit Mertajam and the other down south, in Klang (Selangor - the state next to KL). However, the former seemed to be a more popular site for the reason stated above and each year, most of the churches (Catholic churches) organized pilgrimages tour for their parishes and interested devotees to pay homage to the Mother of our Lady.
This year, since my parents came over to visit me, we decided to go to St Anne's as well. To avoid the crowd, we left as early as 5am - it is actually a reasonable time since I am already staying in Penang and it takes about 45 minutes- an hour to reach the place. I drove my parents there and though we were early, it seemed that there is an earlier batch of congregation there (some of them even spent their nights sleeping there!! - how devoted they are)
As soon as I parked my car, we made our way towards the church, waiving the folks who were trying to sell their stuffs (ranging from newspapers, flowers, candles, food, etc) outside the church. There is the old church and the new church - the old church is located on the top and then there is a flight of steps leading you to the famous grotto of the saint atop the hill behind this church where St Anne's apparition was first sighted. The new church is located on the left side and is built on the flat land and had the sense of Malaysian touch to its architecture which was pretty evident from the Minangkabau styled roof and it is a huge and spacious church which is locked most of the time. However, you can see the caricature model of the Last Supper if you stand at the main entrance through the grilled door :)
We made our way to the old church which stood tall and it looks just like any olden churches.

From the main entrance leading towards the old church on top, we passed the newly built statues which marked the 7 stations of the cross for the Easter celebration. We noted that most of the statues were newly established; courtesy of the generous donations from the parish and the people who came to the church.

Then we proceeded to the back of the church to obtain some holy water from the taps provided and this year, we brought our own bottles - my parents bought a couple of St Anne modeled bottles each time and this time we decided to use our own bottles instead. The holy water here is sold at a pretty decent price; nicely packaged in the bottles.
Then we made our way to the staircase and in between they had those plateau stops which allowed you to rest and breathe; actually it is not that high up; just that you need to be watchful of your steps as the staircase could be a little slippery at times due to the overflowing or retained wax droppings on the floor.
We stopped at the first grotto which I did not manage to take photos as there were limited space and the settings did not turn out too nice.
After making my prayers and offering my petitions, we continued on the second half of the journey to the top of the hill for the main grotto where St Anne is built on and where she was reputed to have appeared. I reached the top and saw another statue a few metres in front of the grotto which held Jesus Christ on the cross- the famous depiction of his pre-crucifixion.
There were lighted candles in front of St Anne while it was more subtle at the area near this cross. As I prayed, I heard loud sobs from another middle-aged Indian lady behind me. She sound troubled and my heart went out to her; I believe she must have had something important to ask for and that it is bothering her inner heart. Whatever it is, I prayed for her as well and her family and hope that her wishes/prayers will be heard and fulfilled.
Another thing about this Church that brought its fame was the adage that most of the devotees' prayers will be fulfilled and thus the endless pilgrimages of eager devotees each year. Even non-Catholics and Singaporeans made their effort to pay this place a visit. A quick conversation revealed that most of them here came every year without fail.
By 7am, we were done and decided to make a move for breakfast. We saw another batch of pilgrims in a bus as we were leaving.
A few days later, I actually read in the news that some of the pilgrims were involved in a bus accident which resulted in a number of deaths. Distressing...I pray for their devotion and that they may find peace after death....also May all the saints pray for them and the Good Lord bless their surviving families....Amen.