Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Random Asianess: Walking the god

(Click on images to enlarge.)

Yesterday, the gods went for a walk through our neighborhood. This is done after Chinese New Years, and other times to rid the homes in the neighborhood of evil spirits. It is an interesting and noisy process.

Beginning early in the morning we began to hear the retorts of firecrackers. Not just a few individual bangs. Do you remember those times where you would light the fuse of an entire package of Black Cat Firecrackers and thirty-two firecrackers would blast one after another in rapid-fire succession? B-r-r-r-r-aaap. Take that sound and multiply by about three thousand blasts every two hours beginning at midnight.

Then we started hearing the music. It sounds eerie, like bagpipes with drums and cymbals. The group begins to walk through the neighborhood. The firecrackers serve two purposes the first is to arouse the evil spirits and the second is to let the neighborhood know that this is taking place.
The neighbors began to bring incense burners, and small incinerators out to the street. These are used to make offerings to their dead ancestors. They burn money purchased from the temple, small paper clothing and other things that their ancestors would need as they wait in hell to be reincarnated. I’m not using hell in a derogatory way here. The belief is that everyone dies and unless they have become an ascended master who has arrived at nirvana, they go to hell to await reincarnation.

But while they are in hell they have the same material needs that they would have on earth. This is why when they are buried there are the stacks of beers, or offerings of a favorite food. They have a need for money, clothing and food and they believe that the incinerator is the portal or doorway to their ancestor’s soul. So the items are burned and the smoke carries the essence of the thing to the ancestor. In fact, every year there is a month called Ghost Month where the people believe that their ancestor’s ghost is released from hell to wander the earth. So they prepare meals for the ghosts and place them outside the door of the house for them to eat.

Because of these beliefs it is important to teach the children to “provide for the ghosts” of their ancestors. The worst thing that can happen to a person is that they become a “hungry ghost” doomed to wander the spirit realm without provision. So children are taught respect for ancestors and threatened with curses and evil spirits if they don’t provide for them. People are deathly afraid of ghosts in Taiwan. The problem for them is that they are always afraid that they haven’t been faithful enough in providing for the ancestors.

Which brings us back to the walking of the gods. The purpose of the walk is to free the neighborhood homes of evil spirits. So as the gods stroll through the neighborhood, every home where there is an incense burner or incinerator the parade stops there and the lions go into that house and frighten away the evil spirits.

In the parade are lions, walking characterizations of the gods of hell. Musicians, drummers, an ark carried by four men and a singer. The musicians and singer provide a background of worship and honor for the gods.

At the head of the parade are firecrackers and fireworks; these are lit to frighten the evil spirits. After the fireworks come the horn players and the singer. Then come the lions, these are sent into the homes to chase out the evil spirits to the gods waiting in the streets.
The ark follows all of this. The ark is a portable altar. It is used to hold offerings to the gods and perhaps as a holding facility for the evil spirits. The parade is ends with people following the ark and burning incense.

The music sounds like ancient Chinese music or the music of India. Buddhism has its roots in India as the founder of Buddhism, the Buddha himself, was an East Indian man named Siddhartha Guatama who lived in 598 BC.

When your home is rid of spirits it is expected that you will give the temple a Hong Bao (red packet). A donation placed in a red packet is offered to the temple for this service.

Other posts you may be interested in:

Local Color:  The Temples of Taoyuan City
Taiwanese Traditions:  Ghost Month

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Random Asianess: Chinese New Years

Chinese New Year items for sale downtown.

New Year's decorations.

People hanging out, downtown.

Downtown traffic during the week before Chinese New Years.

These traffic pictures may not seem too incredible except that it's 10:30pm.

Other psosts you may be interested in:

Taiwanese Traditions:  Chinese New Year:  The Legend of Nian
Taiwanese Traditions:  Xin Nian Kuai le
Eating My Way Through Taiwan:  Buddha Jumps Over the Wall
Random Asianess:  Oh Sure, Now We Decorate

Taiwanese Traditions: Xin Nian Kuai le

Happy New Year
(click on images to enlarge)

Chinese New Year

Exodus 12:23
“For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to strike you.

This moment takes place in ancient Egypt. Israel has been in bondage as slaves in Israel for 400 years. Moses has been called by God to deliver the people of God. Nine of the plagues have already played out. The Nile had turned to blood. There had been plagues of frogs, lice and flies. Disease had killed the cattle. The people suffered from boils: Hail fire and thunder. There were locusts that destroyed the crops. Three days of darkness and now the scene was set for the most devastating of all; the death of the first born. So God called the people to prepare.

He gave them direction (Exodus 12:3-12) to prepare a special meal of lamb and bitter herbs: These things being symbolic of The Lamb of God and the bitterness of their bondage. They were to prepare to leave. And eat in haste. There was one final instruction in Exodus 12:22:

Exodus 12:22
22 “And you shall take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. And none of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning.

By now some of you think that I made a mistake. The title says “Chinese New Year,” why talk about Israel, the plagues and Passover.

There is an interesting tradition in Chinese New Year. Normally, when you greet a neighbor on the street you would say to them Ni hao (Knee How) or Zao an (dzow ahn) or just zao (dzow). Ni hao means hello, Zao or Zao an means Good morning. However, on the morning of Chinese Greeting the proper greeting is Gongshi (gong (o as in home) shee) gong shee. The word gongshi translates as congratulations. Why congratulate people? This is where the Passover comes in:

One of the traditions of the Chinese New Year, is the cleaning of the house. People clean their houses. It’s like the annual deep cleaning. What we call Spring Cleaning. The trash trucks came down our street twice a day for the last week as people brought a year’s accumulation down to the street to be disposed of. People were making preparations to leave their homes for nine days. The Bible tells us that God told the Israelis to prepare to travel.

Exodus 12:11
11 ‘And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’s Passover.

This is the biggest travel week of the year in China as people rush home to participate in the New Year’s Eve traditions with their families.

The second similarity between Chinese New Year and Passover is the blood on the doorway. God told the people to splash the blood of a lamb on the doorframe in the house: Across the top and on the sides of the doorway. This is a sign that the people are God’s people and the angel of death was to pass over those homes and not take the firstborn.

Exodus 12:22-23
22 “And you shall take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. And none of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning.23 “For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to strike you.

The tradition in China is to put red banners across the doorway: Across the top and on the sides, in the same way that the Israelis did in ancient Egypt.
This is the significance of those banners. The belief is that a monster roams throughout China on New Years Eve. The monster will come into your house and kill you UNLESS, there is a red banner because the monster is afraid of the color red. That’s why on New Year’s Day people greet each other with the word “gongshi”. Congratulations, the monster didn’t get you this year.

The third similarity has to do with the preparation of a meal. The Israelis ate Passover, in a meal designed by God to symbolize his deliverance. In China, a meal is prepared and a table set for the God of heaven.
This isn’t the God Christians and Jews worship, but he is called the creator and is the Governor of all the other Gods of Taoism. He controls the actions of the local deities and household gods. This meal is an offering.

The final similarity is the timing of Chinese New Year. It is the celebration of the new years on the Lunar Calendar. Passover is also celebrated on the lunar calendar but I believe it is the second month.

My personal take on Chinese New Year is that it is a festive week full of joy and hope for people. The atmosphere is much like the atmosphere we enjoy during Chanukkah and Christmas. Families are together, feasts are laid out; gifts are purchased and red packets are exchanged. (A red Packet is a gift of money from Children to parents, Parents to Children and Grandchildren.) The red packet is a wish of prosperity for the person to whom it is given.

Driving around the downtown area was interesting during this time as people were shopping and rushing and all of the things that were missing at Christmastime. Police were directing traffic at 10:30 at night as people shopped and played all over the downtown area. I was drawn to the place, but often regretted trying to ride my scooter down there once I got there.

Other posts you may be interested in:

Taiwanese Traditions:  Chinese New Year:  The Legend of Nian
Random Asianess:  Oh Sure, Now We Decorate
Eating My Way Through Taiwan:  Buddha Jumps Over the Wall

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Potter's House, Taoyuan: Coffee House Outreach

(Click on photos to enlarge)

We find ourselves as Americans living on foreign soil. We are referred to as expatriate Americans or ex-pats. They call us waiguoren (Why gwo ren) the word is literally translated as outside (wai4) country (guo2) person (ren2) or foreigner. But this is not as difficult a position as one might think. Americans are highly regarded in Taiwan as we have been their allies since almost the moment the country formed. In 1949, when Chaing Kai Shek and his nationalist army fled from Mao Tse Tung’s troops across the Taiwan Strait, they formed a democratic government under Taiwan’s first president Sun Yat Sen. America has stood with Taiwan as an ally ever since, providing the “muscle” when China threatens.

They have tied their economy to ours, in a sense, and have long traded with America. There are many American companies operating in Taiwan. Taiwanese people are eager to learn English and American customs. We are often stopped on the streets, so someone can practice their English or take a picture with us. So this is the environment we find ourselves.

So with that in mind one of the first things we have initiated in Taoyuan City is an English Language Coffee House outreach. Here is the idea in a nutshell. We provide an easy going and fun atmosphere where English is spoken and taught. We use the Bible as a text book. We have interpretation into Chinese to make sure that people understand what’s being taught.

Each Wednesday night we have munchies, usually coffee cakes that we buy from the local cake baker. This woman is our neighbor and has a cake business at her home. We also serve Coffee, Hot Apple Cider and Hot Chocolate.

The current lesson is on the miracles mentioned in the book of John and how they apply to our lives. I have taken it from a Bible Study by Greg Mitchell called Signs from Heaven. I chose this specific Bible Study because of John’s statement that he wrote this book so that we could believe. It was written primarily to Greeks so that they could understand who God is. The Greeks were a foreign culture to Israel and there are some similarities between Greek culture of the time and the Taiwanese culture.

This study has proven to be effective as we have seen participation increase, as well as many visitors coming to see what we’re teaching.

It has breathed life into the church.
There are young people who have come and joined the church. Its always fun to be in a church with a lot of young people. Many of them are excited about the possibilities of God moving in their lives.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Eating My way Through Taiwan: Hot Pot

Hot Pot (Huo3 guo1 [Hwuh gwuh])
(click on the photos to enlarge them)

Today’s meal is Hot Pot. I know I promised to discuss San Bei Tian Ji, but I changed my mind. San Bei Tian Ji is a recipe for cooked frog. The name literally translates as Three Cups Frog and it’s alright but it’s not high on my recommendation list. They make the same recipe with Chicken and it’s much better. So today I’m going to discuss Hot Pot.

Hot Pot is a favorite in Taiwan. It's really a do it yourself soup. The cost is around $200NTD (or $6.40 US).

Here’s how it works. In the table, in front of each diner is a burner and a pot of broth. The waiter will give you White Cabbage, Romaine Lettuce, Mushrooms, sometimes tomatoes, and assorted fish balls. These are balls made from a paste of cooked fish. They are very tasty. He will also bring you shrimp dumplings and a plate of thinly sliced beef, lamb or Pork, depending on your preference.

You turn on the burner and begin to heat the broth, as it is heating you tear the white cabbage into small pieces and toss them into the pot along with the mushrooms and some of the fish balls and dumplings. Hold the Romaine Lettuce until it is almost cooked or it gets too mushy. Then you add the meat and allow it to cook for a while.

Using your chopsticks remove the vegetables, fish and meat from the pot and dip them into a tasty and spicy sauce.
Then eat it. It is without a doubt one of my favorite things to eat here in Taiwan. The place for Hot Pot in Taoyuan City is Cash City. The price is $250 NTD for a filling meal.

Hot Pot is a favorite pastime in Taiwan. You often see large groups of Hot Potters gathered in these restaurants. They're fun, noisy places.
Many people have portable Hot Pot burners that they can take with them on picnics or wherever. We even had a Hot Pot fellowship at Christmas. Here's a group of happy Hot Potters.

Other posts you may be interested in:

Eating My Way Through Taiwan:  Japanese Barbeque
Eating My way Through Taiwan:  Pot Lucks
Eating My way Through Taiwan:  Bao zi