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Teochew puppet family

 
As Hungry Ghost Festival winds down, and the last God of Hell effigies burn to ash in the street, Mark & I chanced upon a local Teochew Puppet Show at the Anson Road Market.  A family of three generations worked as a team to bring the puppets to life through traditional music and stories.  
Sadly, no one was there to catch this unique performing art. However, the family seemed content with us and a handful of ghosts, as they put on a lively show.   
We couldn't understand a word of the singing but we were hooked! It was touching to observe the grandpa sitting in the back playing the large gong, while his youngest granddaughter sat by his feet hitting her smaller gong right on cue and even singing in her cute, high-pitch voice. 

We watched as puppet after puppet took the stage with every family member joining in to play instruments and sing a part. The entire family's synergy became part of the show. 

After an hour of taking pictures and admiring the show, we noticed not one family member took a drink of water or even moved from their spot.  The show lasted over two hours without a break, but part of the fun was observing the interaction between them as they made faces at each other and egged each other on. It makes us wonder how the little girls show such a degree of discipline and natural passion for their family’s art. 
The Kim Gaik Low Choon Puppet Show (金玉楼春潮州木偶) runs for one more night (September 7th) at the Anson Road Market.  I’m sure the ghosts will save you a seat…

For those who are not able to join them, we have recorded some short clips here for you to see:

Hungry Ghost Festival - When the gates of hell open...the spirits roam


I asked my mom about Hungry Ghost Festival this morning, but she quickly stopped me. "Don't say ghost."  Mark was in the other room and didn't hear her scold me.  So twenty minutes later, when a bedroom door slammed from the wind, Mark yelled out 'Ghost'! 

I didn't mention to my superstitious mom that I would be writing ghost all over my blog today...
In Penang, Hungry Ghost Festival is observed by the Chinese Buddhists and Taoists, who believe that the restless spirits of their ancestors roam the earth for the month that the gates of hell open.  Since the nights are for the wandering spirits, people come home early every night during the month.  Food offerings are placed on the sidewalk in front of homes, so that the 'hungry' ghosts eat outside instead of entering the home for food.  This is especially important if you think an angry spirit is coming back for revenge!

You can hear Chinese mothers and grandmothers asking the younger people to avoid going near to the pool or ocean, since the ghosts can drag you into the water.  Even more hair-raising is the legend that the King of Hell once ate a baby who was placed at the alter table accidentally by the mother. So the believers would warn you not to place anything other than food on the altar table. As if there aren’t enough spooky tales around during Hungry Ghost Festival, the TV networks also screen ghost movies to heighten the drama.

Despite its superstitious culture, the festival is about fostering a closer relationship between human and spirits.  Followers will burn giant incense sticks in front of their homes and offer prayers to appease the gods and spirits. The Chinese people will also perform ceremonies to cleanse and reconcile the souls of all beings. 

At night, modern staged concerts (ko tai), Chinese Opera, and puppet shows are organised to entertain the ghosts. Just don’t sit in the first row of chairs when watching a show as they are reserved for the visiting spirits.

To experience Hungry Ghost Festival, Penang is definitely the place to be.

I was impressed to see that the traditional Chinese opera has now gone up a notch with the use of technology to translate the dialect to Mandarin subtitles to appeal to a younger audience.
Huge effigy of King of Hell sits at the main table of the altar where food offering is placed. Packaged foods are used these days.

Hungry ghosts returning to hell

 Burning of the King of Hell & lots of paper money

Food offering at a large altar
One of the guards from hell
Fancy ornament that donned the King of Hell
Part of the action of a large procession organised by the Jetty people

Island of Festivals: Hungry Ghost & Ramadan

If you are in Penang this month, you are in for a treat!  Two major festivals: Hungry Ghost and Ramadan.

The Chinese are celebrating the Hungry Ghost Festival where the Gates of Hell are opened. During the seventh month of the Chinese Lunar calendar, it is believed that all spirits (or ghosts) are given one month vacation to roam the earth in search for food and to visit their relatives.

The Muslims are observing the holiest of months, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. It is the month which the Qur’an was revealed. Also known as the fasting month, Muslims are refrained from eating or drinking from dawn till dusk.

Two very different traditions but both can be seen and experienced widely throughout the island.

Having lived outside of Penang for the past six years, I’ve missed the lively atmosphere of these festivities. For the first time, I am not complaining about the noise made from the outdoor concerts from the Chinese neighbourhoods as part of the Hungry Ghost celebration. And I considered fasting for a day to give support to my Muslim friends, but my toleration for hunger is too weak that I know I’d fail miserably.

Two nights ago, Mark & I headed over to the nearest Ramadan bazaar at Queen Street. A stretch of stalls occupying both sides of the street, selling an assortment of Malaysian delicacies to feast upon for buka puasa (breaking of fast).

Watch how Roti Jala (literally means "net bread" because of the shape) is made right in front of you. If you ever get tempted, don’t stop yourself.
Colorful kuih-muih (Malay desserts) to satisfy your sweet tooth. We had ondeh-ondeh, a pandan flavoured green glutinous rice ball filled with melted gula melaka (palm sugar). Yum!
 The street was buzzing, so I did a sketch to capture the scene of buka puasa.
After feasting, we walked a few minutes over to Chulia Street for a Chinese Opera performance that is staged at night to entertain roaming spirits during the Hungry Ghost month.

To be continued...