Birthday Party!!!


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Jul 3, 2004
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Here N There
Not your typical birthday party though. It's inhuman! It's.... god's party! Ok by god I don't mean THE GOD, but in Chinese folk culture, there are many "divine spirits" that they refer to as "god". These spirits are considered a mutated form of Taoism(pretty much any belief is twisted somehow with time and generations). Anyways, this god protects the village where my grandparents live and every 15th June on the Lunar calendar, they celebrate his birthday.

First of all, every third birthday there will be a big celebration, but I missed that one last year. So this year's celebrate is the moderate one. The celebration begins with Taiwanese opera shows for the god days before and will go all the way till a few days after. Yes it's a live performance. It usually starts in the later part of the day and ends at 10pm, and villagers will come out to watch it too. Since this is what people refer to as "sunset industry", the shows aren't as authentic as before. They now have plots where people dress contemporary clothes and probably fusion plots.... I don't know, but it seems that the crowd enjoys it.

So take this as a blog entry and enjoy the story.


Well, the show isn't particular interesting to me. Like I said, it's not authentic anymore but I can't blame them for it. The profession of opera performers has been as "low-class" profession in the traditional sense. It's hard, and like a western circus, performers have to be trained since young. In the past, usually poor families who cannot afford to feed their kids will send them to join the opera. Jackie Chan was raised like that. Of course, things aren't like it used to be, but this is still a tough profession. It's not uncommon to see actors, in their full make-up and costume having to take care of their young kids back stage between acts.

The stage itself is temporary and moves with their truck. Technology has taken it's place with disco lights and LED displays.

What interests me was the crowd. Old folks staying up way past their bed time, or sacrifice their chance to catch their favorite soap operas on the tv (they run re-runs like 10x the next day) to watch these guys perform. The kids who ride their bicycles around and stop to see what's going on. The people who came on their scooters, but cannot decide if they are going to stay, so they just sat on their scooters while they watch. It's like those drive-in theaters in the US, but you get to pick what kind of ride you want to come in. Legs welcomed too!


Kids taking the front row seat.





Modernized plot!


All to himself.




The stage was set up in front of the temple and facing the temple, so the god can watch it.
Here's his view.

The birthday happened to be a Monday and I guess the god wants to make it more convenient for his followers, so the temple announced that worshippers can come the night before to join the ceremony.



The priest leads the ceremony, saying things that I don't really understand, but everyone seemed to know what's going on because they knew exactly when to bow. I just kept taking photos.





Here's how you write birthday cards to gods.

At the end, it's time to burn some paper money. The Chinese burn stuffs to the dead or divine gods as gifts and gratitude. The burning process is a form of transformation, a mailing action if you will, from one world to another. At the temple, they have a concrete tower for this. There's an opening at people's height and an opening on the top of the tower. So the heat forms a convection air flow that sucks in air from the lower opening. When it gets powerful enough, you can just place the paper money at the opening and it gets sucked in. No super natural power required!


The next morning, people are getting ready for the ceremony. They have their own spots at the tables where they place their offerings, usually flowers, fruits, some meat and snacks. These will be retrieved by themselves when the ceremony ends later in the day.



The furnace in the day.




I left before the ceremony started, but you can check here for the one that I documented back in 2007.
Cowing Around: Wilder than Paris Hilton's Party!

Aha sorry, just saw that you wrote about Chinese folk culture in the beginning ...

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