Saturday, February 16, 2008

Tian Kong

Election fever has gripped Malaysia, so I was pleasantly surprised this morning to see that the lead feature in the Metro section of The Star was not on some government MP or Minister handing out even more bri.., I mean, goodies, but on the Thni Kong See, the Hokkien community’s celebration of the Jade Emperor (Tian Kong)’s birthday.

As with many Hokkien families, we stayed up late on the 8th day of the Chinese New Year (Thursday, February 14) to wait for the stroke of midnight for the ceremonies to begin. Mum had done all the prep work and cooking earlier in the day, and it came down to assembling the table once the hour drew near. After dinner, Dad had taken all the fruits and carefully given them a wipe. The special bowls and cups used for prayers were also carefully washed.

The furniture in the living room is rearranged to open up a space at the main door, and the altar table is placed facing out.

A festive cloth adorns the table, and one by one, we bring out the ingredients carefully, making sure nothing drops onto floor, with Mum watching like a hawk.

The Thni Kong See is more festive than the eve of the New Year rituals in our household – note how we were almost running out of space on the table.

The Star article quotes an 80-year-old matriarch: “The food offerings are arranged in a certain order on tables placed facing the main gate - the entrance to the house,” before going on to expand on the placement of each detail. Unfortunately, the online version of the article does not have the picture that shows her household’s table – which is two tables joined together, with the back one holding the meat dishes – chicken, fish, pork and so on. I remember the second table from my younger days, but ever since Mum started embracing a purer version of Buddhism, she has let go of the meat elements of this ritual.

One more thing that needs to be done is placing red stickers, or auspicious red characters on the offerings. Once that is done, the table ends up looking like this…

Sis and hubby, H, turned up at 11-ish, and we all had a good time chatting away until midnight, when the family, starting with Dad…

… and Mum …

… lit joss sticks and made their prayers. From a nearby neighbourhood, fireworks were let off (they are illegal, but what the heck, it is election season, and which government officer wants to crack down on voters exercising their rights to practise their culture?) and we resumed our chit-chatting till 1 am, ignoring the fact that some of us had to work on Friday.