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April 25, 2012

Hokkien string puppet and Teochew iron stick puppet performances during Mazu's birthday

Mazu Festival
13 Apr 12 (3M23)
1445H – 1610H
Thian Hock Keng
After the Hainanese Tian Hou Gong, our little party headed for Thian Hock Keng in a taxi. Couldn’t believe that at this time in the day, it was a challenge to grab a taxi from Purvis St. Finally we managed. When we mentioned Thian Hock Keng to the taxi driver, who is probably in his 50s, there were some hesitation in his reaction. The data was probably hidden somewhere deep in his cells? Anyway, he knew his way.

At Thian Hock Keng, the Hokkien String Puppet show was on, with one or two persons watching. But since the puppet shows are for the Gods, there’s little concerns. In the old days, it was probably an attraction for the people who has no other forms of entertainment and a delight for the kids. These days, it was more of a necessity and an obligation to the Gods. We went into the temple. Apart from the side, the main hall had been restored (I was trying to look for the bats .. saw them flying but not hanging from the eaves) and the place was “barricaded”. Two officially looking guards (outsourced security guards) were on duty not allowing people to idle near to the main altar where the Birthday Offerings (ho siu in Hokkien) was being made, led by the Taoist Priests. The Buddhist monks had conducted the Buddhist rituals in the two days before. There were also many tourists trying to take pictures. The new house rule was that they could only take pictures from the courtyard.

Saw some familiar faces in the SHHK volunteers helping out in this event and so got to talk to them. No chance to capture the rituals but I think the official photographer has it. I must try to apply for a “permanent photographer” pass from THK for the next few events. 
In the din of the rituals and the constant flow of devotees and tourists, a few of us were engaged in deep discussions about the rituals, the practices, the beliefs and the consequences of short-cuts in the way we do things in modern times. If only I would tape them discussions and then voice over from the video clip, it would have been a wonderful collection.

It took us a while to re-gather to move to the next stop.
Wak Hai Cheng Beo
A short stroll along Telok Ayer St to Phillip St, we came to a much quieter Teochew Temple. It was already late afternoon and so, the crowd must have thinned out. The temple is under renovation and restoration and so, the activities were focussed on the courtyard which already had a temporary housing where the altar was set up. On the side was the Teochew Rod Puppet. Alas, the show was over by the time we went there and they would only perform at 7.30pm again.

In the small rather confined space, there was also a constant stream of devotees. Many of the devotees were known faces to the temple keepers who must have been managing this temple for generations.
As usual, each of us were in different directions, some in pay respects to Mazu, and others in chatting with the temple helpers and people there.

 We had a tipoff earlier to visit this Mazu temple in a Putian Association. And so, we thought we had better go as it was already 4pm. And so, off to the MRT station we went.

Hainanese rod puppet show at Hainan Association (Tian Hou Temple)

Fri 13 Apr 12
23rd of the 3rd Lunar Month
1230H – 2100H
Mazu Festival Templing
Hainan Association at Beach Rd – Tian Hou Gong

Two burning big candles and three big joss sticks (minute compared to the old days and to those currently in Malaysia and Indonesia) outside the Hainan Association belied what was happening inside. As I was taking pictures of the outside, Doris beckoned me in to look at the scene. Wow, it was like a kampong affair inside this big building (大厦 da sha as they would say in Mandarin or Dai Ha in Hokkien). There were many big round tables, laden with food. My eyes went to the Chicken .. but of course, Hainanese are famous for their chicken rice in Singapore, although Pang tells me the Wen Chang chicken in Hainan is times better. There were many old folks, enjoying the meal and chatting in Hainanese. As many would say, no offence, it was German to me. Never seen so many Hainanese in my life!
There was a huge Hainanese puppet stage next to the tables. Ah, finally I was able to see with my own eyes what Oikky Porky has been sharing with us. No show yet and so I walked into the temple. This is a very interesting complex. First there was the temple. And then, came the tall association building, and it blocked the temple completely from the front. The roofs of the temple could only be seen from the lane next to it. But from the main entrance of the building, the temple looked like the end of the long hall. There were three Taoist Priests, dressed in yellow, offering petitions for the devotees to Mazu. Something  I have yet to see in the temples of other dialects, the devotees were able to get a prayer set, with petitions written, and the Taoist Priest would read the petition through the ritual that took about 4 minutes. With three Taoist Priests, it was three at one go. There was quite a queue.

Apart from Mazu, there was Shui Wei Niang Niang and the ubiquitous 108 Brothers. And there was Tua Pek Kong too. Pang would be able to tell us more about this temple, include the lion and the chicken, I hope. We decided to go for Mutton Soup lunch at the Chin Chin restaurant around the corner along Purvis St. CC arrived just then. He was no stranger to this temple and so, we left him to observe while we went to “heal” our stomachs, as we would say in Hokkien. When we came back, we learnt that CC had lunch with the Taoist Priests and probably gathered more notes since his visit last year. 
The puppet show had started. Not really in the sense that it would do the 8 Immortal Blessings. The theme or story of the 8 Immortals going to the Empress’s Birthday is a very famous Taoist Story that many temples would re-enact the scene, often with songs … offering the respects and blessings to the Deity, in this case, Mazu, during her birthday. In Penang, at the Kunlun Kiong, there was the Hokkien troupe from Xiamen (Amoy) performing using the Hokkien opera style. The HengHwa has theirs using the string puppets (marionette). For the first time for me, I was seeing the Hainanese opera performing this. I was wondering who were the 8 heads in the puppet stage. With Pang’s commentary, I learnt that they were actually the 8 Immortals. Maybe Oikky Porky can tell me more about the lady (Empress?) who came out to sing, and then, followed by a scholar or official .. and then, the assistants who would then throw uncooked rice (mi in Mandarin, bi in Hokkien .. interestingly, I suppose, in Asian, there will be words for the rice in its uncooked form and cooked form. Is there such a differentiation in English words?) with coins. Ah, the old ladies were waiting for this moment!

Even though the coins were only  1 cent coins (ah that’s rare these days), they would rush for it and there were very few in each throw. There was this resourceful lady (probably from years of experience) who opened her umbrella and put it upside down to pick up the rice and coins. I suppose the rest of the ladies would be disadvantaged, resorting to see if any rolled onto the floor. Later another lady resorted to using her long dress, which was more of the Vietnamese Aodai, to try to catch the flying coins. Apparently, for every sponsor, you will see the name written on a long pink slip pasted in front of the puppet stage, the puppet troupe would announce the name of the sponsor, followed by the performance and the throwing of the rice and coins. There were quite a number of sponsors and so, it went on and on.
We thought we had to go on to the next temple and so I missed the actual Hainanese Puppet performance. Look at the eyes of the puppets. They move, almost life-like!
Till the next part .. enjoy

(Re-post of report by Chinatownboy)