Friday, March 5, 2010

Offerings to Jade Emperor

Posted by Quinn at Friday, March 05, 2010

I'm very much a Hokkien. On the eighth day of the Lunar calendar, we do offerings in the middle of the night to celebrate someone's birthday. His name is Thnee Kong (Hokkien), Tin Kong (Cantonese), Tian Gong (Mandarin) or Jade Emperor (plain old English). Some called him Heavenly God too. The fact is, Heavenly God is a closer resemblance of Thnee Kong if you translate it word for word from Chinese to English. Thnee Kong's Birthday falls on the ninth day of the Lunar CNY. I would like to think of this day as the Hokkien's Thanksgiving Day.

This day is so grand to us that grandma kept reminding us that Thnee Kong's Birthday is grander than the first day of Chinese New Year (CNY) where everyone usher in the Year of Tiger. Old folks can be really true sometimes. I do hear more fireworks and firecrackers on this day compared to the Eve of CNY and any other day withint the 15 days of CNY. Bright sparks and loud booms filled up the dark night and it continuously goes on all night long till approximately 4am.

Thnee Kong Seh (Seh = Birthday in Hokkien) is traditionally only celebrated by the Hokkien community, However, over years, non-Hokkiens have took upon this Hokkien tradition and celebrate it too. The more the merrier, everyone pray for a better year ahead. This occurred due to the fact that some of them have noticed a steady growth in business rate and improvement in things for that particular year where they make offerings to Thnee Kong.

Lunar Calendar is a little different from the daily calendar we based on. 11pm signifies the border between the eighth day and the ninth day of Lunar CNY. So, most people would offer praying paraphernalia to Thnee Kong at 11pm on the eight day of Lunar CNY.

We bought most of the offering because everyone is so busy and occupied that we have no time to prepare things from scratch. And they don't come by cheap either. But being Hokkien and strong believer of worshiping God, my family is more than willing to splurge for this day in guarantee of good business, health and wealth blessings from Thnee Kong for the rest of the year.

Let's start off by talking about sugarcane. A pair of sugarcane is a must when celebrating Thnee Kong Seh. It will be propped up or leaned against the gate of your house. Some place it right next to the altar too. A typical version of the story from my mum and aunt, Hokkiens hide in sugarcane plantation when they were refugees, running away from bad armies. They manage to regain freedom on Thnee Kong's Birthday. Hence, they felt it was with Thnee Kong's help and protection from above that they manage to be free and safe. Thus, this explains why sugarcane plays a significant role on Thnee Kong Seh. The sugar cane head is burnt along when you burn the gold paper (Kim Jua in Hokkien) and the Thnee Kong house.

Kim Jua are very much like Origami foldings. I see gold ingots and many many interesting shape and the shapes all help promote a better burning. My dad says the Kim Jua has to be fully burnt in order from Thnee Kong to fully receive everything. My sister suggested why not burnt a long string as well. So Thnee Kong can collect all the 'money' and bundle them up easily, hehe.

The above is our series of vegan. From clockwise on starting with raw groundnuts, dried Shiitake mushrooms, raw Mee Sua bundled in red thread, rock or lump sugar, red dates or Ang Zho in Hokkien and dried beancurd sheet. The centre one is dried lily bulbs or Kim Chiam in Hokkien. It translate to Golden Needle in English.

Hard boiled red eggs and Mee Sua noodles are must have items as they are traditionally served during birthday. Grandma says Mee Sua signifies longevity and red eggs symbolizes prosperity and is auspicious looking.

The above is Thnee Kong kuih. It's actually fluffy cakes shaped in the shape of peach. We always buy half a dozen, I don't know if there's a reason for it.

Mum reached wet market at 5:30am and grab two largest pineapples she could get. It's the above. And did I mention all offerings must be placed in bowls that aren't chipped or cracked. Even the vegan series have their own bowl and are strictly used to hold vegan stuffs. It surprises mum how pineapples and a lot of other stuffs could cost during CNY. I'm not surprised though, it is CNY period that they manage to perk up their price like that.

Our tower of fruits. Bottom layer, Fuji Apple followed by large perfect sweet peaches and a bunch of grapes tops it all. It is finished off with a red ribbon to give it the auspicious look and just for colour contrast.

Our proud tower of Angkoo Kuih. Multiple colours, many shapes and varieties of filling ranging from peanut, mung bean and red bean filling. Mum always buy them this way, 10 yellow pineapple mung bean Angkoos, 10 pink red bean Angkoos, 10 orange peanut filling Angkoos and 2 orange peanut filling 'edible gold bars'.

Above: 10 Hokkien Bak Chang or glutinous rice dumplings. It's glutinous rice with black bean, a large piece of fatty Bak or meat, salted duck yolk, chestnut and a large piece of black mushrooms, efficiently folded into a conical, pyramid shape. It's yummy and I love it. I'm weird though, I eat it dipped with castor sugar. What about you? It taste great plain though. It's well marinated with lotsa stuffs. I could taste strong 5-spice powder!

Ang Kuey Neng or Red hard boiled eggs. We're supposed to just offer 13 this year, we probably eta the rest. Why 13? I don't know, it changes every year and we watch TV shows to know. Funny?

Big large prawns, prefried to give it the golden red sheen. Prawns are so expensive during CNY that we always get Aaron to buy prawns back for us from Labuan. They are humongous and really juicy and succulent. Aaron's dad bought 5kg of it for us and trim them well, place them in plastic bags, deep freeze it and wrap them in layers of newspaper. When they arrive KL, they're still frozen. Yummy, love it!!!

What's CNY without beer??? Tonnes of Carlsberg and Guinness, and lotsa red wines and Martell for the night. They really seriously finish everything, can you imagine???

Chinese Steamed Cakes, made with lotsa eggs and flour. The one in pink is Huat Kueh. It's considered large for Huat Kueh as these Huat Kueh are usually made into muffin size and stacked in a group of five when offering for prayer.

A pyramid of mandarin oranges stacked for prayer.

Two whole yellow birds. Desexed chicken, very yellow skin and very tender meat. Don't ask me how they desex it because I don't know!

Pan-fried fish and yellow noodles. Fish, prawns and crabs are a must for prayers. The long strands of yellow noodles signifies longevity.

Crabs, they are steamed instead of being bathed with hot oil. If you bath them with hot oil, they don't taste so good when they are cold, though you can fry them again but we just prefer to use less oil.

Not in the picture, a can of longan and a can of lychee in syrup. Candies and sweet stuffs are a must to sweeten things up a little. The brown round thing is Nian Gao or sticky glutinous rice. Made with glutinous rice flour and gula melaka and steamed for a long long time to achieve such appearance. Two boxes of mee sua and a packet of candy completes it all.

These offerings are then arranged in a certain order on red tables facing the main gate and the main gate will usually be wide open to allow smooth flow of all the good things. And we have a whole roasted pig on the table for that night. Meet Mr. Porky below, he sacrificed himself for Thnee Kong and is 52kg in weight. We get the last round of roasted pig which finishes at 11pm. Then we have it delivered straight to our house and pray (not hastily though!) and have it chopped up and serve our guests. It's an open house, you can gate crash my house if you want. We used to serve mee sua with red hard boled eggs and the roasted pork. Over time, we've always take away more than a dozen of plain konloh wantan mee and serve them with pork. The particular store where we bough our wantan noodle taste pretty good.

Below is Thnee Kong house revealed. It's covered with a big piece of red paper until prayer time.

I admire the old man that makes our Thnee Kong house every year. The details are just so detailed. Even the fingers of the man holding the sword is complete. We love his workmanship and has been buying Thnee Kong house from him for the past twenty years and more. Prayer started and the candles and small and big joss sticks are lit. Each family members burn incense and say only good words and ask for Thnee Kong blessing for a better year ahead.

As midnight approached, things start to get burning. Its fire everywhere. We're among the not so civilized ones that meddled with fireworks and firecrackers. Here are a few shots of them just to test my point-and-shoot and my tripod in night mode. Add-on: Not in the picture, we have 6 small little red teacups; 3 cups are filled with Chinese tea and 3 cups are filled with rice wine vinegar.

I always have problem with fireworks and the wiring from lamp post to lamp post. They make the fireworks look horrible and those shown here are a few more decent ones.

I thought the fireworks look very much like a peacock's wing all flared open to attract the peahen, don't you agree?

Check out the flowers arrangement on the praying altar now. They are different once again and those withered flowers are replaced with new, fresh ones.

As the burning end, the tribute to Thnee Kong is completed and it is our turn to celebrate and serve our distinguished guests. The prawns, the whole roasted pork and practically anything edible on the red tables are served to our guests. I did helped cook a dish or two, shall go there later. As of now, I'm glad I finally got this posted. I have a BBQ farewell party to talk about and of course not missing out the blogger meet-up which has already been blogged by many. I'm in Labuan now, a small island off Sabah coast enjoying life and much goog goodness in life.

See you all in Adelaide soon with more new posts. I hope you guys are not sick yet in hearing about me and my life and the people revolving about my life. I know I can get pretty self-centred sometimes. I felt I'm very much tweeting about my daily activities here but I did include food for drool and a short little history every now and then when I wrote this post. Recipes will be back soon, muaks! I'm off for more seafood and beers now, it's a duty-free island, yum!

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14 comments on "Offerings to Jade Emperor"

Shirley @ Kokken69 on March 3, 2010 at 10:55 PM said...

Wow, this is really elaborate. I have mixed feelings for such rituals - I dread the preparation but at the same time, would really like to keep the custom alive. I have always thought to myself, the day I can convince my mother to hand the preparation to me, I am going to fill the table with things I love to eat! E.g. Curry Chicken instead of the boiled chicken! Did you all have to pray on the 15th day too?

petite nyonya on March 5, 2010 at 7:57 PM said...

Well done Sweetie, on this post! So detailed and what a fantastic way to share about the Hokkien culture with your readers! With an abundance of food offerings and prayers, I bet you & your family will be blessed for always!

zurin on March 6, 2010 at 1:12 AM said...

What an interesting post! I read every word...very well put and explained. Now I now ur culture better...desexed chickens sound intrguing! and teh angku...I diidnt know there were so many colours of angku!

wow...I enjoyed this post! Thanx for sharing your culture ^^

Ju (The Little Teochew) on March 6, 2010 at 1:50 AM said...

I could never tire of reading posts like this! It's a treat for the eyes, dearie!

pigpigscorner on March 6, 2010 at 2:54 AM said...

wow very informative, not a Hokkien and it's great to learn about the traditions.

cherry potato on March 6, 2010 at 2:09 PM said...

Wow, i have learn t new things from this post!

Joanna on March 6, 2010 at 9:33 PM said...

Wow, very informative indeed. I've only known bits and pieces about this 'Pai Tin Kong' occasion but never so detailed ! Thanks for sharing :)

Anonymous said...

A very nice and colourful post. It's a nice touch to bring the old tradition to the modern world.

Pei-Lin@Dodol and Mochi on March 10, 2010 at 11:55 PM said...

Thanks for sharing this with us!! It's such an informative post! I've never partook in any Hokkien-style CNY celebration. (A Cantonese here.) So, this has definitely been an eye opener.

Can't wait to hear more from you!

ICook4Fun on March 13, 2010 at 5:24 AM said...

Seeing this beautiful posting of yours brought back sweet memories of our Pai Tee Kong when my grandmother was around. We used to help her with preparations and cooking on the 8th day of CNY. Just the other day I told my sisters that I kind of miss seeing all this. I miss my grandmother :(

Quinn on March 15, 2010 at 3:23 AM said...

@Shirley: Thanks for dropping by Shirley! We dread the preparations too but being strong believer of Gods, we have to prepare it, not like we have a choice. But I guess having a maid around really helps. And we like how merry and joyful the house gets, so yeah, we do it. Nope, no preparation on the 15th. My mum's side did though, and they are Hakka. Never gotten around to ask them the history though :)

Joslynn: Thanks! Haha, you thought the preparation was long? Trust me, I've seen longer ones!

Zurin & Ju: Thanks a bunch and I am so so so happy you find it interesting! And desexed chicken, yes, they taste better, are sold outside at a lot more pricey price. But dad's friend sells chicken so we got it at a decent price :)

Ann & Cherry Potato : Thanks! Typical Hokkien prays like this on 8h day of CNY, like seriously!

Joanna: Glad you like the post and appreciate it. It took me a lot of time and effort really to have this detailed post up. Just for my own memory sake actually :)

Ellie: Thanks and couldn't agree with you more!

Pei Lin: Glad you find this interesting! Haha, no more, this is as detailed as I could get. My CNY is pretty boring, sorry!

Gert: Quinn wipe tears off your face.... Come my house and join my Pai Tee Kong, free food provided, don't sob alrighty? Muaks!

Su-yin on March 16, 2010 at 8:37 AM said...

Great post - I never knew there was a "house" offering as well, as my family never use that in our prayers. It's really interesting to see how different families "pai thee kong" in their own way. :)

Nicole Liew on March 23, 2011 at 6:39 AM said...

I love your observations of Chinese rituals and the symbolic objects and food which are so beautiful. I am glad there is someone who sees the beauty in what some might find mundane in the things we Chinese do in the name of luck and hope!

How often do you post?

Quinn on March 24, 2011 at 5:48 PM said...

Nicole, I have been very busy lately and will not post anything for the time being. I post at my leisure rather than make it a scheduled thing.


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