Buddhism is usually thought of as a peaceful religion, although it’s not really a religion. Last year I revisited Wat Muang, home of Thailand’s biggest buddha to see the Thai version of a buddhist hell – not so gentle or peaceful! Misbehave and there is a particular punishment awaiting you: examples are – adultery means you will have to climb the cactus-like tree while birds attack from above and men with spears attack from below. Tell lies or gossip and you tongue will be cut out. You have been warned!
Chinese New Year: travelling in Penang, Malaysia, (a couple of years ago) temporary stages were all around the city during the days leading to the Chinese New Year. Large semi-solid structures are at temples or outside affluent establishments or homes where people have financially supported the theatre or opera that is about to be staged.
For a few days before New Year opera plays nightly. Outside a supermarket two colourful dragons cavort, their fluttering eyelashes making the dance look flirtatious. As in many warm climates, evenings are when places come alive in a different way to the daytime busy-ness. Locals wander the streets talking to neighbours, eating meals in noisy gaggles and now in the Chinese New Year, watch local theatre.
As with all travellers, I too watch the theatre of life that unfolds itself daily, hourly, minute by minute and as part of that kaleidoscope, watch the shows. To a Western ear the sounds are often discordant, loud, and too highly pitched. Each evening I wander the streets of Georgetown, watch the opera and gradually my ears become accustomed to the tone.
Men, often dressed as women, are in colourful clothes and the story usually seems to be about long-lost loves or love betrayed; well that’s how I, with no knowledge of any Chinese language, interpret them.
Four or five men, sitting behind screens, make up the orchestra, and during long speeches or songs from the stage, I could hear their conversations and watch as huge plumes of cigarette smoke drift from around the screens and out to the audience.
The audience emerges from the shadows of alleyways, shops and homes as the band tune their instruments. I am given a sheet of newspaper to sit on, others sat on their rickshaw, bike, or chair carried from home, while yet others sat on newspaper too. Most smoke. Adding to the pall of smoke is the token money burnt in temple grounds as people make offerings to their ancestors.
If you can, spend some time on the road early in the western-calendar year. Leave New Zealand ( or whatever country you live in) after your New Years eve party and picnic the next day, then start counting. Counting the celebrations you can indulge in. Chinese New Year is usually first, both it and Islam’s end of Ramadan, the next new year, aren’t fixed dates but are lunar events so check for the dates. Then finally, in mid April – the Buddhist New Year.
Four fabulous New Years in a short space of time, all celebrated in very different ways and all wonderful times to be travelling and learning more about how other cultures enjoy the change of year.
To the Chinese community – Have a happy New Year!
NOTE: See photos of the Chinese New Zealand in Christchurch elsewhere on this site