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Location: Penang, Malaysia

August 13, 2005

Fund raising the Chinese way - The all souls day

Last Thursday, on the seventh day of the seventh month of the Chinese agricultural calendar, I attended the Chinese all souls day celebration dinner at my place. Before we go into the details, here is some information about the Chinese all souls day. It is actually a special day dedicated to the wandering or hungry ghosts. They are known as "preta" in the Sanskrit language. Prayers and food will be offered to them. The Cantonese (Guangdong) people celebrate this festival on the fourteenth day of the seventh month, while the Hokkien (Fujian) and Teochew (Chaozhou) people do this a day later (the fifteenth day).

In any areas with significant number of Chinese people, they will form some kind of clubs or organizations. This has not changed much since the day Chinese immigrants were brought into Malaya by the British to work at tin mines. Thanks to the government who keep playing the racist card, marginalizing the Chinese. I am not going to discuss this here as it requires a whole new blog altogether. In order to take care of the needs of the Chinese staying in area far away from temples, the 盂兰胜会 (yu lan sheng hui) is formed.

The 盂兰胜会 at my place organized a pretty grand celebration this year. Of course, there is no forcing or compulsion. Anyone who wanted to participate could register with the organizaing committee. First of all, they collected money for buying the jumbo size "dragon" joss sticks. Next, was money for erecting multi-colour triangular flags. Then, a dinner for the occupants was organized and money was also collected for this purpose. Nothing is free, of course. From this "exercise", it was actually helping the economy where money was changing hand and jobs were created. At the same time, some kind of administration fees were taxed from the collections. This is fair enough, I think, as someone must be paid to do all these jobs.

The preparations were not without problem. There were people who believe there is no god but God protested to the management. These extremists do not believe other people have their rights to their own religion. Maybe their faith is so shallow that they are afraid of their own shadow. These fanatics failed as all these were done with proper approvals from the authority. Thanks to these people, it made the Chinese wanting to participate even more.

On the night of the dinner, local politicians were invitied. They arrived in their official car with their silky batik shirt on. It was some kind of message to people that this dinner was sanctioned by community leaders. It started with roasted pork as the first dish. The whole roasted pig was one of the offerings to the gods and souls during the prayer session in the morning.

Fund raising activities the Chinese way was being run throughout the dinner. First of all, they had a few persons carrying a dontaion box going from table to table. The attendees spontaneously dropped some money into the box. Since the whole procedure was done under the eyes of the public, most will not refrain from donating, to avoid "losing face". The next thing was auction. They started by announcing that the Laughing Buddha (Matreiya) had been auctioned at an unbelievable price. Everyone responded with a "Wow!". The went on with other items (symbols of good fortune). They managed to fetch a few times the original price of the items as they were blessed by the God, so they are priceless.

One more technique that really impressed me was "angpow borrowing". There were 50 red packets containing money in them. I don't want to disclose the amount of money in angpow. The master of ceremony announced that the angpows were blessed by the God. Take it home and keep it at the altar. It will bless the whole family with luck, good fortune and prosperity. Come back next year and pay back two packets to the God. What a great idea to make 100% per annum interest from the money you lend out?! One more thing to be sure, there will be at least 50 families participating next year.

There is also a "lor-choo" and "tau-keh" election process which is quite complicated to pen down now. I will share once I managed to obtain the full details someday.

It is really interesting to see people believing that if they can afford to burn expensive dragon joss stick, their family will be blessed. They also believe that they have a higher place in God's eye than others who can't afford to buy a flag, etc. I don't think such a materialistic god exist. Anyway, it is a good event to have people coming together, get to know each other, and have those rich people parting some of their wealth.

Happy All Souls Day!

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