Vegetarian Festival

“Pass by the house and get a piece of turtle cake” As soon as I heard that, I knew right away dad was selected to be a VP of the Southern Chinese Temple once again. Turtle cake is Chinese snack made out of corn flour and green beans in a shape of turtle. To Chinese, turtles represent longevity so it is appropriate that the cake is made into a big weird-looking reddish turtle. Red also represents prosperity. It is usually offered as a gift to the President and other two VPs for the upcoming Vegetarian Festival. The Gods and the committee would come to their houses after midnight of the 8th day to deliver the sacred cake. I’m not fond of the taste, but I had a bite, hoping for some good luck for my business. Each year, dad is very thrilled and always hopes to be a big part of the temple especially during the Vegetarian Festival time.

To me as a slight atheist, I don’t really practice nor do what the majority of Buddhists of Chinese ancestry would do. These nine days, those who believe give up the meat, sex and alcohol in the attempt to cleanse mind, body and soul. I’m fond of the festival since daddy is extra nice to me for 9 whole days. Besides daddy’s factor, I love watching the parade in the city. It reminds me of my childhood. When I was living in a small town of old Takuapa, Veggie Fest seemed to be the most significant event of the year. Playing with my friends, and running around searching for the leftover firecrackers were the most exhilarating moment. My grandma would give me 3 baht after school so I could go buy what I called “baby fireworks” and “garlic firecrackers”. The baby firework only lasted couple mins in my hands but the beautiful sparkling radiance remained in my mind till these days. On the contrary, the baby garlic which was only 2 baht at that time gave me joy for about 2 hours. I was quite stingy so I would save as many paper garlic cloves until the end of the night. BANG!, the frightening noise sort of scared people away, although it was not as powerful as a sound of firecrackers. I laughed, ran away and dropped my geeky glasses many times.

Most schools were generally closed during the festival so my daytime activities were either visiting the parade or hanging out by the house and waiting for “Prah Chine” or “Ma song” or “Chinese piercing Gods” to stop by, give blessings and fruits. These so called 9 gods carry the spiritual power which allows them to be able to take any pains. Consequently, you will see Prah Chine around town, piercing their face and body, torturing themselves, dancing around along with the rhythm of the ancient drums. They would come to any houses that been set up with a table full of fruits, flowers, Chinese tea, candles and incense sticks. Once they arrive, all of the family members must kneel and receive the blessings, sometimes the god splatters the water, sometime he or she hands the fruits on the tray to the family member. Big and heavy fruit like pineapple or papaya are usually presented to the leader like grandfather or father of the family, whereas grapes, oranges and guavas are given to little children. Once in a blue moon, a woman of my age will get something. FYI Last year I got an apple! Then the gods and their disciples would go inside the house, performing the evil spirit-chase away-ritual. Of course he still moves along the drum but he would whip his thrash in different rooms to frighten the spirit of the demon away. After leaving the house, we usually throw the firecrackers to “Gew”, a ceremonial carriage (or I call it a mobile spirit house) used for transportation of Deity. The more fortunate, the more boxes of firecrackers! So even though you don’t know who is the wealthy one or the VIP of the town, you can look in front of their house and see the leftover papers on the floor. Bigger piles of red, bigger money in their account! Some people make a deal with god, asking for something and if their wish has come true, they would offer firecrackers to the temple kinda like the way the Catholics light their candles I guess. Last year dad got what he was praying for(I still don’t know till today what it was) so we celebrated with 25 cartons of these small explosive devices in front of our house and another 25 in front of the main Shrine in Takuapa. It was 2 hours of boom bang noise. The streets were full of reddish paper and high adrenaline.

It has been 3 days I’ve given up meat , sex, milk, dairy products and wine. I really wanted to see the parade. I was longing for Chinese sticky lollipop. My friends from childhood were waiting. We planned to go to the farewell ceremony to Deities and the festival. Yet I ended up staying home with a big pile of work and a big glass of soy milk from the market, feeling so relaxed for some reasons. Reminiscing the old time in my old town, in our old ragged house, I applaud myself for being a part of this ancient ritual by following the rules even if it’s just for 3 days.

 

 *Note: This article was a personal memoir written few years ago by “twisted nook”

 

 

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