Image

Hungry Ghost Festival: When The Gates of Hell Open

Come straight home from college after class. Don’t loiter around until late at night.” 

Don’t stare and point at people by the road.” 

Wash your feet properly after coming home.” 

Back when I was younger, these were just some of the things my mother used to caution me about whenever the Hungry Ghost Festival approached. Celebrated in many parts of Asia, predominantly among Chinese communities, the festival proper falls on the 14th day of the 7th month according to the lunisolar calendar (August 22 this year) – but the entire 7th month is generally known as Ghost Month.

During this time, ghosts and spirits are believed to wander the earthly realm, so the living pay homage to their ancestors as well as lost spirits by burning offerings, as a form of merit making. The practice can be traced to the ancient Chinese practice of ancestor worship, but over the years, has evolved to absorb elements of Taoism and Buddhism as well.

Like many young people, I used to think superstitions associated with the Hungry Ghost Festival were a load of baloney – but I guess with age comes the wisdom of hindsight, and an understanding of how cultural beliefs are tied to our identity and our place in the world. These are practices that have been passed down through the generations, sometimes for thousands of years – and in a rapidly modernising world, there’s something to be said about keeping them alive, even though you might not believe in them per se.

While my family is not particularly traditional, we do observe some superstitions and practices which I think are quite fascinating, especially to people of other cultures. There are also differences between how it is celebrated and observed among Chinese diasporas around the world, such as in Malaysia, where I am from. So without further ado, here are some interesting facts and trivia about the Hungry Ghost Festival! 

OFFERINGS

During the Ghost Month, the gates of Hell are opened and spirits roam the earthly plane. Among them are ancestors whom the living forgot to pay tribute to, those who died without a proper send-off, and lost spirits. Because of this, they are ‘hungry’; hence the importance of providing them with food and entertainment so that they won’t cause harm or mischief.

ProjectManhattan, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Filial piety is an extremely important part of Chinese culture, so even after their death, you are expected to honour your ancestors with offerings of food, drink and material goods. It is common for people to burn paper effigies of items like houses, cars, servants, clothes and hell bank notes, in the belief that these can be enjoyed by the deceased in the afterlife.

There are also people who make offerings for lost souls: those who have no one to pray for them, or victims of suicide, murder or accidents. Aside from accumulating good karma, it is believed that it will appease these angry spirits and prevent them from harming the living. Prayers for lost souls are usually held at temples, or by the road – so if you see people huddling over a fire in the evenings with bowls of food and joss sticks, it is best not to point and stare because you might risk offending wandering spirits.

PAPER EFFIGIES

Paper effigies are an inseparable part of the Hungry Ghost Festival – but if you think they’re just rough, crudely shaped pieces of paper, then you’d be wrong. While I won’t deny that some are printed with machines, there are still effigy makers who make it the traditional way by hand. They are often commissioned to create items such as mansions, life-sized effigies of guardians, servants and deities, vehicles, even ‘designer’ clothes. These master craftsmen are artists in their own right, often creating incredibly intricate pieces that take months to complete. It’s crazy when you think about the amount of time and effort that goes into each piece, only to have them go up in flames in seconds.

Paper effigies are burnt in the belief that the deceased will receive them in the afterlife. As you can see, there can be some pretty quirky items – like gold watches, mobile phones and even dentures! Photo: Jorge Láscar from Australia, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The first time I took part in a paper effigy burning ceremony was when I was eight or nine, and I vividly recall the beautiful patterns on the paper samfoo (traditional Chinese clothing for women, usually with floral patterns) that was meant for my late grandmother. Over the years, paper effigies have become more and more creative (?), with items like mobile phones (what service provider do they use in hell, I wonder?), SIM cards, laptops and the like. My colleagues in Singapore even shared a photo of paper durians with me recently. Now, I definitely don’t subscribe to the idea of my grandparents operating mobile phones and texting each other in the afterlife, but it’s certainly a unique part of the celebration.

GETAI

IMG_6977
Chinese opera was the main form of entertainment during the Hungry Ghost Festival, but these have since been replaced with more modern performances. Photo: grungemann/Flickr

In the old days, villages and towns would host large open-air stages, and a troupe would put on a show in the evenings. The benches at the front were always left empty, as they were meant for unseen guests. Over the years, traditional opera fell out of popularity, but the practice of hosting entertainment for the dead did not – instead, it evolved into Getai, or literally ‘song stage’. I’m not sure how it is celebrated in China as I wasn’t able to find references on the net, but in Malaysia and Singapore they are quirky, lively affairs.

Tents are set up in fields or commercial spaces (where I live, there’s one every year in front of a food court). There would be live auctions and a dinner (proceeds usually go to charity). Sometimes there are still traditional opera performances, but you’ll also get stand-up comedy, entertainers singing pop songs or oldies, and even women dressed in skimpy clothing dancing to modern numbers. This aspect might seem blasphemous to some, but I find it very unique because it goes to show how adaptable Chinese culture can be – you gotta move with the times. In Singapore, where 76% of the population is ethnic Chinese, the getai culture is even bigger; shows are broadcast on national TV.

SUPERSTITION

Every culture has superstitions, but the Chinese in particular have many. Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to cut my nails or whistle at night, because it might attract bad spirits. In retrospect, I think there was a hint of logic behind them: electricity (and nail clippers) did not exist in the old days, so it was dangerous to cut your nails in the dark. Also whistling at night would disturb the peace. But because we often parrot what our elders tell us, we continue handing these superstitions down even in modern times when we can turn on the light with the flip of a switch.
As for Ghost Month, here are just some of the common beliefs:

  1. Don’t stay out late. – Night is when the spirits are at their strongest, so to avoid anything untoward, avoid staying out after dark.
  2. Don’t go swimming – Angry water spirits might try to drown you.
  3. Don’t swear – you don’t know when a spirit might be lurking around and feel offended.
  4. Don’t wear red – apparently spirits are attracted to the colour red, and might follow you home.
  5. Wash your feet when you get home – to get rid of unwanted bad energy.
  6. Don’t hang your clothes out at night – you might just have an extra guest coming into your house when you collect them
  7. Don’t tap someone on the shoulder – it is believed that a person has three ‘lights’ – one on their head and one on each shoulder, which ward off evil spirits. By tapping them, you’re essentially extinguishing the light.
  8. Avoid killing insects – the Chinese have a belief that spirits might be reincarnated as insects like butterflies and moths. They could be visiting relatives, so if you just smacked that moth flat, you might have killed grandma.
  9. Be wary of offerings. – Sometimes people leave offerings out by the side of the road (especially in Malaysia) so it’s best to keep an eye out. You wouldn’t like it if someone stepped all over your food now, would you?
  10. Don’t take photos – The idea of photographs and how they can capture spirits is not unique to Chinese culture. So it’s best not to snap any, especially of offerings. I’m sure you’ve watched Shutter.

As the world grows ever modernised and practices that are deemed old-fashioned and superstitious are abandoned by the younger generation, it is heartening to see that The Hungry Ghost Festival still has its proponents. It’s a case study of how culture is fluid and ever changing; where tradition is valued but also adapts to the times.

Image

Why You Should Watch Netflix’s New Filipino-Themed Anime, Trese

Based on the critically-acclaimed comics by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo, Trese is an original Netflix animated series that follows the story of Alexandra Trese, an occult investigator with magical powers. She is also the resident lakan/babaylan, aka warrior/healer; one who upholds the balance between the mortal and the spiritual world.

While the concept may not be 100% original (think Hellboy, John Constantine), what makes Trese unique is its Filipino setting: the story happens in the bustling city of Manila, and features many characters and creatures from Filipino mythology. 

When it comes to the fantasy genre, we’ve had plenty of stories revolving around Western, Egyptian, Roman and even Greek mythology, but very little on Southeast Asian culture – which is why the hype was massive (especially in the Philippines) leading up to Trese’s release. 

And I’m happy to say that it does not disappoint. 

Synopsis: 

Mysterious crimes are happening all across Manila, and they seem to be from supernatural causes. At their wits end, local police enlist the help of Alexandra Trese. Alexandra’s family has long acted as a bridge between worlds –  her father Anton was once the laban, while her mother was a babaylan (shaman) – so ever since she was born, Alexandra has had a strong connection to the spirit world. In the course of the series our heroine, together with her twin bodyguards Crispin and Basilio, investigate a string of murders and disturbances – culminating in encounters with beings such as aswangs (man-eating vampiric ghouls), duwendes (goblins), tikbalang (horse-like creatures), zombies and tiyanaks (baby vampires). The events are not isolated, and indicate that something catastrophic is coming – which would involve the destruction of both the human and the spirit world. 

Why You Should Watch It 

Trese’s Filipino touch makes for a unique and refreshing take on the fantasy genre. I mean, it’s not everyday that you get an animated series based on Southeast Asian mythology – which is a shame, because the culture is so rich with amazing stories, symbols and characters. The fact that it’s on Netflix is a great step in the right direction (especially in today’s climate where companies are looking to champion diversity), because it appeals to a modern audience of young Filipinos to reconnect with their roots, and at the same time, introduce the culture to an international audience. 

While the creatures are fascinating, you also get Filipino references in things such as Alexandra’s weapon (a kalis, which looks very similar to a Malay/Indonesian dagger called the keris). Another example would be Alexandra’s bodyguards Crispin and Basilio, who were named after characters in Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere. In the first episode, Alexandra investigates the apparent murder of the ghost of the White Lady of Balete Drive – a Filipino urban legend that is as popular as Bloody Mary might be to the British. 

And then you have a plethora of pop-culture references to spot: in one episode, a movie studio where Alexandra and her team investigates has a sign saying ‘ABC-ZNN’, a cheeky play on ABS-CBN, the now-defunct major TV news network that was embroiled in a licensing controversy last year. You also get glimpses of everyday Filipino life: commutes in jeepneys and packed trains, a neon-lit skyline – all captured through a pretty art style that perfectly showcases Manila’s chaotic beauty.

Granted, I think sometimes these references might be lost on non-Filipino audiences (I only knew about Crispin and Basilio because the hubs and I were discussing about Philippine Independence Day – I initially thought Crispin was from St Crispin and Crispinian), but even if you’re non-Filipino, it’s not crucial to the plot, and doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the story. They’re more like hidden Easter eggs that those in the know will find satisfaction in spotting. 

But what I like the most about Trese which sets it apart from others is that it does not shy away from shining the spotlight on real Filipino issues such as police brutality, the drug war and abortion, in a country that is highly religious and predominantly Catholic. Which to me shows that care has been taken to ensure the show is as culturally accurate and as relevant as possible. It’s not just one of those ‘feel-good, show only the best side’ kind of stories. 

Alexandra’s character, despite her grim demeanour, is likeable and well-developed. You feel for her doubts and her struggles, living in her father’s shadow, constantly being told that she is ‘just like him’, but yet feeling inferior that she might not live up to people’s expectations of what she should be. But at the end of the day, I like that she finds her own strength – and the message that one can trust to someone they look up to to guide their actions, but not need to be exactly like them.

My only peeve with Trese? The pacing is good in the beginning but feels extremely rushed towards the end – as is common with many animated series. 

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Trese, and I think it’s worth a watch for fans of animation and fantasy stories alike. First Raya, then Trese – maybe this will be the start of the rise of Southeast Asian-themed shows. I’d love to see one with Malaysian mythological characters like Badang (not like the shit that starred Aliff Syukri, I mean a proper one), Mahsuri and Hang Tuah. 

Now, tabi-tabi po. Time to go catch up on some Trese!

Image

Who Is David Hockney and Why Is His Latest Work Getting Dragged by Londoners?

Up until this week, I had never heard of David Hockney.

“Preposterous,” I hear you huffing. “How can you not know one of the most influential British artists of modern times?”

Well, pardon me for being an uncultured swine, but while I like and appreciate art, it’s not exactly necessary knowledge for me to pay my bills. So yeah.

But I digress.

To the uninitiated, David Hockney is an English painter, widely considered to be one of Britain’s most celebrated living artists. His early works often featured swimming pools in Los Angeles — where he lived in the 1960s — and they were his signature for a long time. In 2018, a 1972 artwork dubbed “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” broke records at a Christie auction by selling for $90.3million (RM3.7bilion) — making it the highest price at auction for a work by a living artist.

To put it into perspective, the Selangor state government of Malaysia (where I’m staying) had a revenue of RM2.32billion in 2019. Which means that Hockney’s one piece surpasses the revenue that the richest state in Malaysia makes in an entire year. (**If you want to see how a $90.3 million painting looks like, click here.) In recent years, Hockney has transitioned to creating whimsical digital pieces using his iPad.

Over the years, there have been numerous debates on why Hockney’s works are so famous, and whether or not they’re worth the price they’re paid for. Now, I know that art is a very subjective thing — what you like may not be appealing to others. Personally, I do like some of Hockney’s works — they have a very Picasso/Matisse-esque quality to them. But I also know how the art world can be… biased in their way of valuing things (more on this later) — and there comes a point where as an ordinary person, you seriously question if some of these artists (and those in the art society) aren’t just… you know. Trolling the masses.

Recently, London’s mayor unveiled Hockney’s latest work at Piccadilly Circus as part of the #LetsDoLondon campaign, to revive domestic tourism and encourage Londoners to get out and support local businesses. It certainly got people buzzing — but not all of the noise was positive:

British people had a field day in the responses. (Swipe right for more)

While the majority took the mickey out of the painting, there were also those that thought it was a smart and provocative move. Yet others believed that people were making much ado about nothing.

Meanwhile, young artists have also joined the conversation, calling the entire campaign a ‘missed opportunity’ for the mayor’s office to not only help struggling artists and businesses, but also showcase London’s diversity. Some have shopped works of their own onto the space where Hockney’s works are currently being displayed. *Look up the hashtag #letsdolondonbetter — there are some seriously amazing artworks here!

While Hockney’s piece was apparently done for free, the mayor did spend £7million on the entire campaign — which no doubt included marketing and the engagement of an agency and what not to a) promote and b) put up the posters. Which, to many artists whose livelihoods have been affected by the pandemic, is a double slap to the face because Hockney has not lived in the UK for a long time (he’s based in the US). Perhaps the only possible good reason for choosing him over everyone else is the clout that Hockney has — so in a way I guess the work achieved its purpose to create conversations, because like I said: I didn’t know who Hockney was until recently.

This brings me to the next point which I mentioned earlier: how we value art today.

If you’ve ever watched the horror/thriller movie Velvet Buzzsaw starring Jake Gyllenhaal, it’s a brilliant satire of the art world today. In the film, Gyllenhaal plays a seemingly independent art critic, who gets pulled into the world of price fixing after his girlfriend — who works for a prominent art gallery owner — discovers cache of haunted paintings by a dead artist. They decided to display the paintings, to great success, but as greed and avarice take over, the trade off becomes deadly.

While the story’s plot is pretty outlandish, its portrayal of price fixing — and how critics, gallery owners, and buyers are basically complicit in ‘valuing’ how much an art piece is worth — is accurate imo. Take Mr Hockney’s latest piece for example, and this article. It is well written, full of praise like “a great piece of public art” and seemingly thought-provoking points like how public art usually adheres to ‘safe, sterile taste of private developers keen to bring artistic flair to artificially created public realms void of people or life’. And it makes you think, hey, maybe there IS more to this. They sound like valid points.

But I guess if you asked a child what they would see — without the pomp and flair and fancy words — they’d tell you like it is: it’s a doodle. One that they could probably make, given the right tools and materials. Eg: 5-year-old Rob makes a painting. Parent: “It shows how artistic he really is. Look at the composition. The brilliant pairing of colours. It’s sublime and it expresses the human condition.”

“Why’d you make this piece, Rob?”

5-year-old Rob: “I dunno. I just like it.”

Anyway, what this environment creates is a small, select group of ‘elite’ artists whose works are considered extremely valuable, and you have the rest of the artists — whose works by the way are no more or less than others — but are undervalued and taken advantage of. I personally know artist friends who struggle to make ends meet despite how talented they are, because there are clients who constantly want discounts, aren’t paying them fairly, and think that art isn’t ‘worth’ anything. These same clients would gladly pay thousands for a prestigious piece from an artist who somehow managed to market themselves better.

A sketch I made. Value: priceless.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, the art world as we know it today has lost its true meaning and purpose. When they say art can be anything, I didn’t think these people would literally take it to heart and spin in that way lol. There’s that artist Maurizio Catalan who duct taped a banana to a wall and someone paid $120,000 for it. There are also a series of paintings at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art that comprise of completely white pieces. According to SFMOMA’s website, the primary reason for the artist’s creation was to “create a painting that looked untouched by human hands”. The site later goes on to say that they have an important place in art history as precursors of Minimalism and Conceptualism.

Yeah… you keep telling yourself that, buddy.

Maybe I’m dumb. I’m not a professional artist or an art critic. But what I see are blank paintings, and a lot of ways to describe why they’re revolutionary, ground breaking, amazing. It reminds me of the story of the Emperor and his New Clothes, where everyone was too afraid to call out that the emperor was parading around naked; instead clapping and applauding because everyone around them was doing so. It took a child’s innocent eyes to call it for what it was.

What do you think about Hockney’s work, and art today in general? I’d love to hear if you agree or disagree with my views, especially if you’re an artist. Let me know in the comments below!

Image

Celebrating Chinese New Year In The Middle Of A Pandemic

Chinese New Year, also called the Lunar New Year, is set to fall on 12 February this year. It marks the beginning of a new year according to the traditional lunar calendar, and heralds the arrival of spring. 

Here in Malaysia, Chinese New Year is a pretty big thing, since people of Chinese descent make up more than 20% of the population (about 6 million people). If this was any other year, CNY decor in malls would have already been up right after Christmas. There’d be cookie displays flooding bakery shelves; Padini/Uniqlo would be packed with shoppers buying new clothes on sale, and we’d all be subjected to the torture of loud, repetitive dong dong chiang music 24 hours a day, 7 days a week across all TV and radio channels. 

humphrey-muleba-dYqMMG6LdZs-unsplash

Unfortunately, we are in the middle of a pandemic – and like all the other people who made sacrifices last year for Christmas, Deepavali and Hari Raya, it is now our turn to give up the freedom that we often take for granted: the ability to travel home to see our loved ones.

On 13 January 2021, the Malaysian government implemented a second targeted Movement Control Order (MCO), restricting travel to and from red zone states. Workers in non-essential services are required to work from home, travel is restricted to a 10 kilometre radius to buy groceries and essentials, and eateries are only allowed to run on a take-away/delivery basis. Of course, celebrations of any kind are no longer allowed, as are things like weddings and other events. (Adding to the whole hullabaloo is the national Emergency which was declared by our King because of political in-fighting, but that’s for another entry lol.) 

The last time we had an MCO was back in March 2020, and it lasted for two months. Although the current MCO has only been announced for the next two weeks, many people are foreseeing an extension, at least for a further two weeks. With thousands of cases daily in Malaysia (at the time of this writing, there have been over 100 deaths in the last two weeks), most (sane) people understand that this is necessary to break the infection chain and ensure public health and safety. 

Since no events are allowed and travel is restricted, many of us will have to make do with a quiet celebration at home this year. While we won’t be able to observe certain traditions, I think that technology has allowed us to adapt (and innovate) in ways that would not have been possible 20 or 30 years ago – and we can use that to make CNY 2021 a memorable one. 

Reunion Dinner 

The reunion dinner on the eve of CNY is an integral part of CNY celebrations – some even consider it to be even more important than New Year’s Day.Traditionally, it’s when everyone gathers to feast and wish for a prosperous year ahead, whilst enjoying dishes with auspicious meanings (usually fish, pork, prawn and chicken – since back in the days meat was difficult to come by and would only be eaten on special occasions).

20180215_193719
Fam reunion dinner from 2018

The food for reunion dinners used to be prepared at home by the women folk. More than just preparing a meal, it was a way for people to bond. When my grandparents were still alive, the kitchen on CNY eve was a battlefield, and my grandma commandeered it like a general: slicing, dicing and supervising her helpers (my aunties). I kind of missed that after she passed away. In the last few years, eating out has become a trend, since nobody wants to go through the hassle of cooking and washing up for 20 people. Now that there are once again dine-in restrictions at restaurants, perhaps it’s time we went back to the drawing board and rediscover what it means to cook, and eat, together. 

For those who aren’t able to attend the reunion dinner night, I think it would be a good idea to set up some sort of Skype or Zoom call with family, so that you’d still be able to ‘eat’ together –  sort of like what I did with the hubs for our anniversary last year. It won’t replace being there in person, but in these unprecedented times, we have to make do with what we can – and it will hopefully stave off some of the loneliness that people who live away from home will undoubtedly feel during the festive season. 

Ang Pau Mali

Another tradition synonymous with CNY is the giving of red packets (ang pau) containing money to unmarried members of the family. As a kid, I was always super excited to receive ang paus (RM100 was a lot of money for a kid in the 90s). Funny thing though: at the end of each visit, the money would go to my mom, who’d keep it for ‘investment’…. And I’d never see it again lol. (Just kidding, I love you mom.) 

mae-mu-hPmwHHfizsk-unsplash

Now that I’m married, I’ll no longer be on the receiving end, sadly. Under normal circumstances, it’s understandable not to give an angpau if you’re not visiting a particular relative. Unfortunately for married folk, the emergence of e-wallet apps and e-angpaus means that some of us won’t be able to wriggle out of it with the in absentia excuse: your nephews and nieces will probably say, “Aiya auntie, send it through e-angpau lah!” 

In With The New 

People usually buy new things for CNY (especially clothes), as it signifies a fresh start. Many clothing retailers are not able to open their brick and mortar shops, so more have gone online to provide for their customers. You can also find nice clothes on platforms like Shopee and Lazada for super cheap.

pexels-leticia-ribeiro-2249248

There are pros and cons to shopping online. While it’s certainly more convenient and safer (no hour-long queue to get into the changing room, no fighting with another auntie for the same shirt you both have your eyes on at the sale rack), it can also be challenging for people with unusual body shapes/sizes, since they can’t see or feel the material/ cutting prior to their purchase. (Like yours truly. I have huge… shoulders. winkwink.) If you’re going to buy stuff online, best do it early to avoid disappointment, in case your item comes late in the mail. 

Chinese New Year foods in Malaysia

*Photo: evelynquek, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Buying gift hampers for associates, or cookies / treats for friends and family is another long standing CNY practice, and again, online shopping makes it convenient to have your items shipped directly to the doorstep of your recipient. As for treats for personal consumption, if you have the time, it might be a good idea to try your hand at baking/making your own. If you’re enterprising, you can even make a larger batch to sell and earn some extra money on the side. 

Cleaning / Decorating the House

People often underestimate the importance of decorating one’s personal space to elevate the mood. I believe it’s crucial; not to show off, but to re-centre yourself and your frame of mind. It’s one of the reasons why I wear office clothes even while working from home, because it kicks my mind into ‘work mode’. Lounging in pyjamas all day is comfy, but it also makes me more inclined to go roll around on the bed every 10 minutes. Similarly, just because no one is visiting for CNY doesn’t mean your house shouldn’t be clean and tidy.  

Unfortunately, technology has not yet evolved to the point where I’m able to kick back with a nice cup of coffee and a book, while my robot assistant does everything for me. So, manual labour it is.

CNY in 2021 will certainly be different, but if you put it into perspective, it’s not all doom and gloom. Traditions are meant to be kept and preserved, but if that isn’t possible due to circumstances beyond our control, then perhaps it’s time to innovate some new traditions. 

That being said, McD’s Prosperity Burger is back on the menu. 

Some things just never change. 

If you enjoyed reading this post, consider giving me a figurative angpau. Contrary to popular belief, I do not make big moolah from writing – and this will go towards hosting fees and ensuring that I can continue to deliver authentic content for your reading pleasure. Thanks for stopping by!

One-Time
Monthly
Yearly

Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount

$1.00
$5.00
$10.00
$1.00
$5.00
$10.00
$12.00
$60.00
$100.00

Or enter a custom amount

$

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

Hilton Kuala Lumpur Celebrates The Mid-Autumn Festival with Royal Midnight Mooncake Series

The Mid-Autumn Festival is an important festival in Chinese culture. Also called the Mooncake Festival or the Lantern Festival, it is also celebrated in a few other East Asian countries, where it is known as Chuseok in Korea and Tsukimi in Japan. The festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th month according to the Chinese Lunar calendar, when the moon is believed to be at its fullest and brightest. Like the Lunar New Year and Winters Solstice, it is a time of reunion for families, where they gather to watch the moon. The moon’s round shape also symbolizes unity and togetherness, as no matter how far apart loved ones are from each other, they can gaze upon the same moon in the night sky.

Mooncakes are an integral part of the Mid-Autumn Festival. In Malaysia, malls are often chock full of stalls stacked high with mooncake boxes in the days leading up to the festival. Traditional flavours like lotus paste, red bean and black sesame are always popular, but there are also modern creations like tiramisu, chocolate, durian and many more.

Drawing inspiration from these stories, Hilton Kuala Lumpur’s mooncake series, “Royal Midnight”, appreciates the fine art of simplicity and serves as a tribute to the beauty of traditions. Featuring a lunar medallion and silver embroidered clouds on a navy blue sheen fabric, the luxurious mooncake box doubles as a jewellery case.

Royal Midnight

The box is so pretty – it’s a work of art on its own!

20200827_161719

Received a box from Hilton KL for work and shared it with colleagues. Brought home the traditional Baked White Lotus Paste. Its eerything a good mooncake should be – not too sweet or greasy, and definitely not cloying. But as with everything, eat in moderation – a baked mooncake can contain as much as 800 calories!

Chynna Special 2020

This year’s signature, the Bulgarian Blush (RM38 nett), comprises custard cream cheese, Bulgarian Rose petal Jam and pine nuts, enclosed in a delicate baby pink snow skin.

Traditional Baked

Enjoy the traditional season with our array of mouthwatering halal-baked mooncakes.

  • Baked White Lotus Paste – RM35 nett
  • Baked White Lotus Paste with Single Yolk – RM38 nett
  • Baked Lotus Paste with Single Yolk – RM35 nett
  • Baked Pandan Paste with Single Yolk – RM35 nett
  • Baked Red Bean Paste with Almond Flakes – RM35 nett
  • Traditional-Style with Five Nuts Mix – RM38 nett

Snow Skin

  • Heavenly Gold – Snow Skin with Pure Premium Musang King Durian – RM56 nett
  • Blue Moon – Snow Skin Amaretto Lotus Paste with Blueberry Cheese Feuillantine – RM35 nett
  • Flower Drum – Snow Skin Lotus Paste with Soft Custard Egg Yolk – RM35 nett

Gift Boxes

  • Royal Midnight Traditional Baked – RM258
  • Royal Midnight Snow Skin – RM268
  • Christy Ng’s Crimson Red/Royal Purple Traditional Baked – RM158
  • Christy Ng’s Crimson Red/Royal Purple Snow Skin – RM168
  • Lunar Charms Traditional Baked RM138
  • Lunar Charms Snow Skin– RM148
  • Heavenly Gold Package – RM318

2020 Mid-Autumn High-Tea at The Lounge

Royal Midnight_Mid-Autumn High-Tea at The Lounge

Indulge in a Mid-Autumn high-tea for two consisting of bite-sized Chinese delights by Chef Lam, and traditional and snow skin mooncakes, complemented by Dilmah’s Natural Rosehip with Hibiscus Tea. The high-tea is priced at RM236 nett for two and isa available from 18 July to 4 October, weekdays from 12.30PM to 5.30PM.

All mooncakes are available for purchase at the hotel lobby or online at www.takehome.hiltonkl.com from now until 4 October 2020. For more information, call +603 2264 2264.

*Photos not watermarked courtesy of Hilton KL.

**PS: I am now on Patreon! You can subscribe here. You can also follow me on other social media channels on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Your support would mean the world to me! 🙂

Stinky Tofu, Durian & Insects: Would You Try These ‘Exotic’ Foods?

Hey, guys!

Been meaning to blog more, but like the stereotypical millennial, I’ve been making poor life choices lately (like staying up until 3am every day. To play Witcher 3.)

But I digress. 

This post was inspired by a recent hotpot dinner, where I ordered century eggs. Whenever I have them, I’m reminded of a good friend of mine and how horrified he was when I sent him a picture of my “rotten” dinner (century eggs with porridge). This coming from a Finn, who eats blood cakes for lunch and enjoys salmiakki as a treat lol.

Jokes aside, I can see how food in some cultures can be viewed as gross to others. Before sushi was popularised in the West, many considered the idea of eating raw fish downright unhygienic / disgusting. But as with everything else, cultures and attitudes can change – and I think people are much more adventurous these days when it comes to food. So without further ado: here’s a fun list of ‘bizarre’ foods (I love that show, by the way) that I’ve tried. Let me know what you think and if you’d be willing to try them!

CENTURY EGGS

20200718_200305

For those who have never seen a century egg, it’s understandable to think it’s rotten – especially since the yolk is completely black and the albumen takes on a translucent, jelly-like appearance. A traditional delicacy in China, they are typically made from duck, chicken or quail eggs preserved in a mix of ash, clay, salt, quicklime and rice hulls for up to several months. The eggs have a pungent odour of hydrogen sulfide/ammonia, which comes from the preservative mix.In Malaysia where there is a large Chinese diaspora, century eggs are pretty common, and you can get them at the local market or Chinese grocers.

How it tastes: The jellied part tastes just like regular hard boiled egg but saltier, while the yolk has a rich and creamy consistency that is almost like avocado. Traditionally, century eggs are eaten together with slices of ginger (to cut through the pungency), but I like having it chopped up in porridge or served with noodles.

STINKY TOFU 

If there’s one food that epitomises the saying ‘its bark is worse than its bite’, it would be stinky tofu – a popular snack at night markets in China, Taiwan and Chinese-centric areas in Malaysia. As the name suggests, stinky tofu is, well, stinky. The best way I can describe it is if you mixed unwashed socks with the smell of wet dog and sewage, lol. The odour is a result of the tofu’s fermentation: traditionally, the tofu is marinated in a brine made from fermented milk, veggies and meat (recipes vary), and left to soak for several days to months. It is then served in soups, steamed or deep fried.

How it tastes: If you can get over the vulgar odour, stinky tofu is actually quite tasty, with a crispy exterior and light, fluffy insides. Here in Malaysia, it is usually served deep fried with a topping of chilli and various seasonings like soy sauce, which helps to mask the smell a little. It also has a somewhat… addictive quality. You know like how stinky feet is stinky but you’re still sort of drawn to it against your will ? …. or is that just me?

FERMENTED BEANCURD

广合腐乳
Victor-boy / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Yes, yes, we Chinese do love our preserved/ fermented food stuffs – but you have to understand that most of these were created in a time before refrigeration existed, so people had to come up with all sorts of ways to keep food edible for months, sometimes years. Fermented beancurd is commonly used as a condiment in Chinese cuisine, and there are several varieties, most of which have strong, pungent flavours (see a pattern here?). They are also nutritious, since tofu is very high in protein and contains virtually no cholesterol. Think of it as Chinese cheese.

How it tastes : Tofu on its own has no taste, so the beancurd takes on the flavour of whatever it is brined in. The most common type is the white one which has sugar, salt, chilli and rice wine. If you think about the culturing, it’s not unlike kombucha. Personally, I prefer the red fermented beancurd (nam yu) which incorporates red yeast rice. It has a pleasant, thick and rich aroma – great for deep fried pork ribs!

FROG FALLOPIAN TUBES (?) 

Sometimes I think this is why people say the Chinese eat all sorts of sh*t, lol. Officially it is called hasma (in Cantonese, we call it ‘suet kap’) – basically dried fatty tissue from the fallopian tubes of certain types of frogs, typically the Asiatic Grass Frog. It is whitish in appearance, has a slimy texture, and is used as an ingredient in dessert soups. Back in the day, it was a luxurious item that would only be served to emperors and nobles. When I was a kid, my mom would boil these because in traditional Chinese medicine, suet kap is believed to have multiple health benefits, such as being good for the skin and respiratory system. I guess if I was an adult and someone told me I was eating frog fallopian tubes, I’d be hesitant but since I literally grew up eating this it doesn’t seem so gross.

How it tastes : Like birds nest, hasma is tasteless on its own, and is usually flavoured with rock sugar in dessert soups.

DURIAN

Ah, the king of fruits. I’m not a diehard fan as some of my fellow Malaysians are – if you served me durian I’d probably eat it – but I wouldn’t go out of my way to look for it. Malaysians love durian though: we even have ‘durian buffets’ where you can eat to your hearts fill.

Durian has an extremely pungent smell. There have even been cases where buildings were evacuated due to ‘suspected gas leaks’ – turns out someone brought some durians on-site. Personally I don’t find the texture or flavour intolerable. BUT. I have been told that durians that have been shipped overseas taste gross, because of how it has been shipped / the durians are way past their prime. Then again, Andrew Zimmerns had a freshly opened durian in Asia, and he described it as having a ‘taste like completely rotten mushy onions’. So, if you ever get to try it, I’ll let you be the judge.

How it tastes : Heaven … or hell. There is no in between. For me, it has a texture and taste similar to sweet custard, but with a much stronger flavour.

ESCARGOTS

How to eat escargots
DanceWithNyanko / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0

Escargots are a good example of the powers of branding. How else can you explain why snails – something people usually see as slimy and icky – are considered a gourmet delicacy, served in fine dining restos and high-end establishments? Escargot is associated with French cuisine, but it is served in many parts of Europe. The snails are usually from the species Helix pomatia. Here in Malaysia, we have our own version, called balitong – small sea snails that are a pain to suck out of their shells and have a texture similar to a chewy clam, cooked in sambal/chilli.

How it tastes : I had escargot once, on my grad trip. It was cooked in garlic butter which made the dish very fragrant, and the snails had a bouncy texture which I enjoyed.

SALMIAKKI 

Halva - Väkevä Salmiakki
Tiia Monto / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0

Weird as some of the items on this list may seem, I enjoy most of them – with the exception of salmiakki. Also called salty liquorice, it is a common confectionery in Nordic countries. The candy is flavoured with salmiak salt (ammonium chloride), giving it a strong astringent and salty taste. These days, you can find salmiakki flavoured ice cream, chewing gum and even alcoholic beverages.

How it tastes: My Finnish friend sent me a box of these. I love you bud, but by god. Our friendship was tested that day. It was not only extremely salty to the point of being bitter, for some reason it also reminded me of burnt rubber tyres – like if someone tried to make that into a flavour, it would taste like salmiakki.

Never again.

You know shit is real when Japs, known for their extreme politeness, react this way lol.

INSECTS 

Cambodia 08 - 035 - insects for snacks at the market (3198822589)
McKay Savage from London, UK / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

Eating insects is considered taboo in the West, but here’s a fun fact: insects are eaten by about 80 percent of the world’s population, a practice known as entomophagy. In recent times, companies are trying to introduce insects into the Western diet as part of the sustainability movement, since they are extremely high in protein and available in abundance – making insect-eating much more environmentally friendly. For some countries, eating insects stems from a history of poverty; people had to make do with whatever they could catch. Deep fried insects, such as crickets and grasshoppers, are common street food snacks in countries such as Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.

20190412_180004

How it tastes : I don’t really like insects – how they look, how they crawl, etc. so it was difficult to get over that mental barrier of eating them. Took the plunge on a trip to Phuket. They didn’t taste bad or anything – it was just like eating crispy whitebait (I had crickets). The silkworms had a chewy exterior and crumbly insides, which I actually liked more than the crickets.

BALUT

Inside a Balut - Embryo and Yolk
Marshall Astor from San Pedro, United States / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

The idea of eating a developing duck/chicken embryo sounds abhorrent. But if you think about it, balut is really just that – an egg. With a baby duck in it. And feathers. lol.

Commonly sold on the streets in the Philippines, balut eggs are boiled and eaten from the shell, with the eggs incubated for a period between 14 to 21 days. You crack it open and suck out the broth, dip it into some vinegar or salt, and eat the yolk and the chick.

How it tastes : I first tried balut in LA’s Filipinotown. I consider myself a pretty adventurous eater, but even I couldn’t stop the involuntary churning in my stomach as I cracked the shell open and saw the half-formed chick inside. When I finally summoned up enough courage to eat it, I was… surprised. It just tasted like egg / chicken (I mean, duh). Still, not something for the faint-hearted.

 

What are some dishes in your culture that other people might see as weird / exotic? Share them with me in the comments below! 🙂 

What It’s Like To Date A Filipino

So.

You’ve got your eye on a cute guy from the beautiful country of the Philippines. But you’re worried about cultural differences, and how the relationship might work out.

Fret not – I’m here to share with you what it’s like to date a Filipino, and what you can expect. winkwink 

Now before we proceed, a disclaimer for the party poopers going “OMG Eris so you dated two Filipino guys, you married one and you have a bunch of Filipino friends – what gives you the right to generalise ? Smooth out your knickers, this is purely for fun. I mean, no one gets mad when people ‘generalise’ Virgos as perfectionists (entirely true, though).

Without further ado (but first a photo, coz we lookin’ cute): 

THEY’RE ROMANTIC

Be ready for some extremely corny (but not unpleasant) pick-up lines.

Courtship is a big thing in Filipino culture. Back in the day, a man who wished to woo a woman had to go through the proper steps, first expressing interest in a friendly and discreet manner. Traditional Filipino society was conservative, so the process was often done through a ‘bridge’, a friend who knows both families. The bachelor would visit the family, asking for permission to court the lady. There might be a series of chaperoned dates, lots of gift giving, romantic letters and cards, serenading (called harana) and the like. Oftentimes, the bachelor would have to ‘court’ the girl’s family as well  – gotta please the future in-laws lol. 

Perhaps this is why Filipinos still have a strong notion of romantic love (be it through gifts, love songs, writing, etc.). Coming from a Malaysian Chinese family, where love is rarely expressed in words, it is refreshing to date someone who tells you they love you and puts in the effort to keep things fresh and interesting. I don’t subscribe to the belief that once you’ve been in a relationship for a long time, it becomes drab and dull. It’s only boring if you make it so.

I know this is not the best example (seeing as how he’s gone down in history as a despot lol), but ex-President Marcos once said to Imelda, “Just love me now, and I’ll court you forever.” We all know how that went, but you can’t say the idea isn’t romantic!

THEY GET JEALOUS EASILY 

N and I had a huge fight early on in our relationship. I met up with an old friend from grade school, and since we hadn’t seen each other for so long, we got drinks after dinner and hung out until midnight. N was pissed because he said going out 1-on-1 with a guy constitutes a ‘date’ – despite how I tried to explain that we’re just friends. On my end, I felt insulted because it was clearly not a date and how about having a little bit of faith in me? I mean, even my super protective Asian parents didn’t give a shit, so why was he even mad? If the reverse applied, I wouldn’t mind if he went out with a female friend, because there’s this thing called trust. Long story short, he insisted I was wrong, I refused to apologise, and we made a compromise that I wouldn’t stay out past midnight with a guy (apparently a group of people is fine… I don’t get the logic). Now that we’re married though, he doesn’t seem to mind – so I guess it was a ‘we’re not really official yet so I’m worried someone might steal you away thing’ ?

PS: I know some people would call this a red flag – that if a man truly loves you they wouldn’t try to put a leash on you. But I think it goes both ways. If your significant other has made it clear that they’re uncomfortable about something and they’ve explained the reason behind it, weigh it against your own principles, and see if it’s something you can compromise in, in exchange for a more harmonious relationship.  If you’re okay with it, by all means. I feel that couples these days can get too caught up in the ‘he/she has to accommodate ME’ attitude.  End of the day, God gave you brains – use them to make rational decisions based on mutual respect

THEY ARE FAMILY ORIENTED

In general, Asian cultures are more family-oriented than Western ones, and it’s not uncommon to find many generations living together under the same roof. Filipinos are no exception, and they usually have big families. While marriage is between two people, if your beau is living with his fam, naturally, you’d have to get along with his family members. If you come from an individualistic culture, this might be difficult to adapt to. I’m fortunate as my in-laws are nice and reasonable people but then again, I don’t live with them – it might be an entirely different ball game. 😛 At the same time, coming from an Asian family myself, I understand the importance of family to him, so I’d never ask him to choose between us.

THEY’RE RELIGIOUS 

A majority of Filipinos are Catholic and deeply religious. While they might not impose these beliefs on you, I think it’s important to respect the fact that religion plays an important part in their lives. N is Christian, and I’ve been to his church a couple of times to listen to sermons. Although he hopes that I will embrace Christianity some day, he has never forced me to accept his beliefs, and I’ve never insisted that he should be a Buddhist. When you come from different cultures and have different beliefs, respect is key. All too often, couples of different faiths have problems when they can’t find common ground, or dismiss the other person’s faith as lesser than one’s own.

YOU’LL NEVER GO HUNGRY

Filipinos are known for their hospitality and every time I’ve been to the Philippines for holidays, I always leave a couple of pounds heavier. His mom makes a killer nilaga, and his fam is always taking me out for good food whenever I visit. The Hubs likes to try new cuisine, which is great because Malaysians are big foodies as well. If you love food, marry a Filipino!

 

 

 

Registration of Marriage @ Thean Hou Temple, Kuala Lumpur

For non-Muslim Malaysian couples who wish to get married, there are a few places where you can get your marriage solemnized and registered; namely the National Registration Department, or a church, temple or association where they have an assistant registrar of marriages. In KL, Thean Hou Temple is a popular place for Chinese couples, as it is a beautiful venue that offers plenty of photo opportunities.

DSC_0706

My good friend Helen and her husband Hong initially planned to have their ROM here on May 20 (5/20 sounds like ‘wo ai ni’ / I love you – so it’s a very popular date! ) but due to the pandemic, it had to be postponed to July. Although the temple has reopened to the public, there are new SOPs in place – so be mindful of these when visiting for leisure, or if you’re attending someone’s ROM.

Note: This is a post on my experience attending an ROM as a guest, so I will not be including info on what documents you need / the procedure. Some useful links here and here. 

20200705_134928

Considered one of the most beautiful Chinese temples in KL, Thean Hou is eponymously named after its principal deity, the Heavenly Mother, aka Lady Mazu. Like many Chinese temples in Malaysia, the temple offers a blend of Buddhism, Taoism and cultural elements. Located atop a hill surrounded by lush greenery, the temple also has awesome views of the city and its surroundings, making it a popular tourist attraction.

To ensure health and safety, a canopy has been set up leading into the main building, with a clearly demarcated route – so you enter from one side and exit on another.

20200705_135140

The marriage registration office is located at the basement, where the temple’s food court and souvenir shops are. Before entering the premises, visitors will have to scan their details via QR code, and have their temperatures checked. Visitors are also required to wear face masks.

20200705_141414

The marriage registration office is divided into two sections. The front is a reception area of sorts – the couple gets a number, waits for it to be called, and then goes in to verify their details. Once that’s done, they can then proceed to rooms at the back where the actual solemnisation and signing takes place.

20200705_141401

Since ROMs are formal events, avoid wearing casual clothing like jeans, shorts or T-shirts and slippers.

20200705_141807

In light of the pandemic, only seven people are allowed into the room at any given time (including the couple). Helen had her sis/bro-in-law as witnesses, while Hong brought his parents and I was the +1 guest. So honoured to be part of their special day 🙂

In comparison to my own ROM at JPN (I got a rather chatty Assistant Registrar), Helen and Hong’s ceremony was quick and fuss-free. After signing some documents and exchanging rings, they were formally declared husband and wife in the eyes of the law, and given their marriage certificates. A life of wedded bliss awaits!

DSC_0615

 

20200705_145155

We made our way up to the shrine and the temple’s magnificent courtyard for some photos. It was a Saturday but the temple was quite empty, so observing social distancing was not a problem.

DSC_0635

 

20200705_150315

After the photo taking, the new couple left and I hung around abit more to explore/pray/snap more photos.

20200705_150629

 

20200705_151318

There are new SOPs to observe when entering the prayer hall. Temple volunteers are at hand to control visitor traffic, and there are clear indicators on the ground as to where you’re supposed to go – as much as possible, they want visitors to follow these marks when offering up prayers.

20200705_151347

Vivid painting of a ‘door guard’ – images of fierce general-gods that are meant to protect the temple and keep evil spirits away.

DSC_0700

The principal deity at Thean Hou Temple –  the Mother Goddess. She is flanked by two other goddesses, Goddess of Mercy (Gwanyin) and Waterfront Goddess (Swei Mei). There are deity statues seated at the bottom of the large golden ones, surrounded by tall prayer light towers. Walls are lined with pictures of Bodhisattvas, donated by devotees to accumulate merits (or karma). You can get joss sticks outside by making a small donation.

20200705_151759

One of my favourite architectural fixtures at Thean Hou is the ceiling dome, which is intricately carved with a stunning pattern. The effect is mesmerising.

20200705_151531

Gone are the days of the traditional ‘kau chim‘ (fortune telling) where you shake a bunch of sticks until one falls out and you get a reading from the resident monk or fortune teller. These days, you grab the sticks from a holder, bunch them up and toss them. You get the number from whichever stick is poking out above the rest, then look for the corresponding number from the drawer and get your fortune. Hand sanisiters are placed next to them so you can sanitise before and after.

20200705_151955

You don’t say. 2020 has been a shitty year for a lot of people. ha 

 

Note: Parking can be difficult to find in the area. If you are driving, the temple has a parking lot but a RM5 fee (channeled to the temple as a donation) applies.