Friday, September 30, 2011

God or ghost?? Nay it is just dust...dust...anyone?

Some people have gotten ghostly blobs appearing in their photos when they took shots of temple fairs or hungry ghost festivals (read here - paranormal ghost stories) and also my post on the second day of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival). The first reaction is, hey did I capture something that was invisible?? Then they may think it is a defect in the lenses or dirt on their lenses, but wiping the lens proved that it was clean and a test at a later time indicate that their lenses were fine. And if two or more photographers in a group had obtained similar shots of the ghostly apparitions using two different cameras, then they are bound to think that they have seen something from 'the other side'.

Actually those blobs are light, usually from an intense source, bouncing off dust particles. That comes from the use of flash photography, whether in slow sync mode or fill mode flash. Also the particle must be big enough and high enough in numbers to be captured by a photographer, hence the usual occurrence inside smoky temples during festivals. I have personally experienced this before when taking photos inside temples and was desperate enough to use flash to fill in the dark interiors.

A good place to try it out is during Guan Yin celebration or during the Nine Emperor Gods Festival or the worst place to scare the shit out of yourself, the Hungry Ghost Festival. The blobs mar the photos, although small ones can be Photoshopped away, it takes time and therefore I usually discard it. If you want to try this, do remember the magic phrase to invoke them - Om! Anybody Home!... Just kidding, it is flash photography (Say cheese!).
Om! Anybody Home?! I can summon the gods to appear in my photograph (click to enlarge the pic and see the ghostly blobs that I have labeled with orange arrows). Shot with a weak fill flash at 1/40 of a second.
And make them go away. Shot at 1/13 of a second with no flash.
At this moment you can only see smoke rising in the air. Just wait and let me summon them; Om! Anybody Home!!!! And....
'Yes we are here!' What, you're not offering us any joss sticks?! Damn!' Notice the blobs - flash was used for this shot.

The reason which triggered me to write this article was due to the fact that I was quite pissed off with one of the 'big boys' photographers (people with big DSLRs and acting like 'very pro') today at the Nine Emperor Gods Temple in Ampang. I was trying to capture the candles and was using very slow shutter speed with my point-and-shoot. I needed the table to brace for the shot, and he suddenly came in and kept pushing me off just so that he can get the shot. Well, it was fair game for any photographer to try and grab the shot, but he then did a dumb thing that really got me pissed; he used his flash and at quite a high output, which means I must also time my long exposure shots way off of his so that I will not inadvertently capture those blobs. It was only self restraint that kept me from uttering a prayer to the gods to jinx him so that all his shots turn out bad for nine continuous days (me very bad, thinking about it). Anyhow, I think he could not get the good shot he so desired, for he left 5 minutes later after numerous clicking and flashing (the light, not his body..ewww) whilst muttering something under his breath. Perhaps the gods did read my mind...hahahaha.

Fourth Day of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival 2011(九皇大帝) at Ampang (Day 4)

I suddenly woke up at 3.11am in the morning and I can hear strains of 'It's A Small World' and 'Rasa Sayang' being played on what sounds like an Erhu (Chinese two stringed violin) from the temple. The sales pitch by the feng shui decorative auction can still be heard going at a feverish pace at this hour (36 ringgit, now at 36 ringgit...38 ringgit anyone? Anyone?).

Obviously the poor guy is trying hard to make a sales pitch. That or his sales is so good that he had to keep on going till the wee hours of the morning. Hmm, it is the fourth day of the festival (30th September 2011) and I seemed to be out of ideas of what to focus on for the day. I hope it is not writer's block.
People are still walking to the temple (安邦南天宮) at 3.16am in the morning. This is definitely a different kind of nightlife!
Past daybreak and they are still going on and on and on...Energizer bunny stall owners.

At 5am in the morning, the familiar sounds of bells and hand held cymbals could be heard emanating from the temple. It must be the time for the morning prayers. Then I realised that some of the stalls are still open. And remained open even past daybreak - a 24 shift perhaps.
6.47am - some of the stalls were still open.

Now, to reveal the focus of today's entry - Offerings (i.e. the stuff that you bring for the gods).
There are a few common items that devotees offer to the gods, perhaps as thanksgiving or perhaps to obtain a boon from the deities. The basic items are incense (joss sticks and sandalwood), light (candles and oil for lamps), money (joss paper and noble people joss paper 貴人符/贵人符), flowers, food (uncooked stuff like vermicelli and rice, fruits or specially prepared and decorated cakes), tea (yes as tea leaves) and the most important one...heart.

Now before you conjure up the image of a blood thirsty god, let me 'rephrase' the last item to willingness of oneself to subjugate to the authority of another unseen being (hmmm, still sounds negative). Enough said, let the pictures roll...
A table of prosperity cake (發糕/发糕), tortoise buns and joss paper. O ye the unseen one, we bring you our offerings together with our pleas; grant us what we desire, lest we leave disheartened and will not return next year.

The must have item. When you buy a packet of joss sticks, you get candles, joss paper and also a packet of tea leaves. Joss sticks can come in different lengths and sizes, coiled like a pagoda to the towering dragon joss sticks that can be 9 feet long.
Dragon joss sticks and pagoda joss sticks. Take your pick.

So if you do not want to light a whole bunch of small ones, go for the pagoda incense or why stop at that, just get the biggest, most ferocious dragon incense and you will sure be noticed (hopefully by the Nine Emperor Gods).
Your friendly, one-stop, prayer item shop that open 24 hrs.

Candles are the mainstay of light offering. However, there are people who bring bottles of oil as an offering for the oil is to be used to keep the oil lamps lit.
Let there be light...and the devotees bring light. Notice the pile of joss paper and on top of that are packets of tea leaves.

Joss paper and tea leaves
The joss paper represent a plea for prosperity. Thus symbolically the devotees tell the deities to show them the money. The tea leaves in packets (白毛猴 label) are part of the offering. This is then used to brew the offering tea which will be served to devotees who offer joss sticks to the Nine Emperor Gods inside the temple.
Joss money, noble person joss paper (貴人符/贵人符) and candles strewn on the altar table. On top of the noble people joss paper is a packet of tea leaves.

Well, who can resist a bunch of fresh flowers. Chrysanthemums are usually offered to gods and to the dearly departed over here (I was quite surprised to see in Australia, they give Chrysanthemums to mothers on Mother's Day). Also on sale were tuberose (夜來香/夜来香 - fragrant at night), one of my favourite blooms. The Malay name for tuberose, is however, quite rude when translated literally (harum sundal malam - i.e. the fragrant night slut/whore - smelling that kind of fragrance at night is associated with the presence of a female vampire, the pontianak). They even sell small floral arrangements in bowls that you can buy and place on the altar.
Chrysanthemums and tuberose on sale.

Food stuff, cakes and buns
There are people who bring all sorts of vegetarian foodstuff as offerings. What is interesting are the tortoise buns and longevity peach buns. They are made into a vast array of every possible design and stacking arrangement, in bright colours with gold ingots or characters with good meaning written on the the top of the buns. This is a sure way of telling the god that you want longevity, or prosperity (especially with the prosperity cakes 發糕/发糕).
Tortoise buns and longevity peaches.
Golden characters of well wishes written on top of the tortoise buns (you can get the nice girl behind the stall to write your own custom wish if you like). There are also longevity peaches and small flower arrangements that you can buy as offering.
Longevity peach (壽桃/寿桃) buns in various sizes and colours. Even pineapple and tangerine shaped cakes are available and of course, the usual prosperity cake. I wanted to ask how much for the peach buns but stop short of doing so for I felt it was very inappropriate to ask a young girl how much do her buns cost and whether hers was still soft and fluffy after being left unclothed uncovered the whole day.

If cakes do not tickle your fancy (oops I mean the deities fancy - for what you have offered to the deity is usually take back for your own consumption so people tend to buy what they want to eat), try fresh fruits instead. Very much healthier and probably less sugar, there are stalls selling fruits on the temple compound. Apples and oranges to pineapples and dragon fruits.
Selling her apples and oranges...pineapples and dragon fruits too.

Last but not the least - your heart (or your soul)
A practicing Taoist devotee of the Nine Emperor Gods will after praying, shake the joss stick three times, kneel three times and bow their head till it touches the floor three times. This is done with pressing both palms together, kneeling with both feet by the side of one another, and touching the floor with the forehead. This supposedly represents the offering of prayers to the nine kings, nine emperors and the nine dynasty monarchs. So basically you hope that by doing so, you are under their watchful eyes.
Enter the light - the main door to the main prayer hall of the Ampang Nan Tian Gong (安邦 南天宫) temple.
Follow the leader. Just make sure that the leader isn't blind.

There isn't any food testing today (well, I just ate what I had tried the previous day), but there is another post on a photography tip here (God or Ghost??).

[Previous - Day 3] [Back to first post] [Next - Day 5]
[Sidebar story - God or Ghost??]