Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Hungry Ghost Festival Celebrations

hungry ghost festivalTeochew opera is staged on Ubin every year for the 7th month of the lunar calender, also known as the Hungry Ghost Festival or Zhong Yuan Jie in Mandarin Chinese. Pulau Ubin has one of the few rare freestanding wayang stage left in Singapore. In fact, there is probably only 1 left on mainland Singapore (at Balestier) which would make this 1 of 2 in the whole of Singapore.

These days, the stage is only used twice a year, once during the 7th month of the lunar calendar, and once in the 4th lunar month. One of the groccery shopkeepers divulged to me that the latter is also for the Tua Pek Gong temple that is facing the wayang stage.

This year's 7th month celebration is held on the 15th and 16th day of the lunar month which is effectively 8th and 9th August 2006 (Tuesday and Wednesday). Despite it being a public holiday eve, when I arrived on the island at 1pm, the island was relatively quiet. As Adelle who was there last year confided that last year there were many more people. Perhaps people are away on holiday already! Hopefully tomorrow there would be more people.

wayang stage

The stage was set up by the troupe on Monday, the day before the actual performance. Even as I arrived, much activities were bustling backstage and on stage. Mic tests and what nots. Yes, it comes with a full sound system. The troupe was the same as last year according to Adelle. Many photographers were also sighted on the island. 2 ladies were busy backstage taking photos. Meanwhile there was a gentleman that came equipped with camera, tripod and all. I heard through the grapevine that he is like me, the descendant of an ex-islander. Sadly, I was unable to cajole my parents to join me today.

praying for 4dguards
Part of the ceremony involves 'praying' for 4D numbers, drawing numbers randomly out of a canister [photo on the left]. In case you are interested, the number drawn was 9102. See the gleeful smiles of the actors as they draw the numbers. In the photo on the right, demoted guards from last year's generals.

Around 2.30pm, activities started first with a cast line up and paying respect to the gods. I am not sure who the main characters were dressed up as but Victor has a brief account from last year's ceremony which is almost exactly similar. The only difference was the obviously diminished offerings. There was definitely no freshly slaughtered pig as Victor reports. Also the generals have been demoted to mere guards. Instead of televisions for the auction, there were 2 new bicycles up for grabs! Of course the usual gold 'trophies' seen in hungry ghost festival auctions. The auction will be held tomorrow night so if you miss the action today, feel free to go join in the bustle tomorrow.

Highly diminished numbers in the ubin population reflected in the small number of 'goodie bags' distributed to the contributing members of the celebration - usually the majority of the members of the community. Adelle confides that there are less than 50 residents on the island now.

View from the stage

With the opera troupe momentarily installed at the stage, the entire Ubin Town seems to come alive, even for a tuesday public holiday eve. I have never seen the stage opened up or even visited backstage before but I got a treat today and fully covered the 4 corners of the structure like an excited fan who suddenly got backstage pass at the sydney opera house. In fact, I also spotted a few celebrities during my backstage tour. One of the visitors to the island observing the celerbations looked very much like Dr Julian Davison, the host of Site and Sound. Perhaps it was really him!

by the seaadverts
Backdoor leads out to the sea [photo on left] while adverts hangs at the side of the stage. Phone number for the troupe at the bottom. [photo on right]

Unfortunately, I did not stay on till the end of the day. Perhaps those who went at night or stayed on could leave a comment as to whether the crowd got bigger after the sun set.

backstage peekDog at the Wayang Stage
It's definitely not quiet anymore! Not for now anyways...

I was planning to stay and thus while waiting, I visited the 'new' butterfly hill, had a tour of the NParks facilities courtesy of Adelle and had the most fascinating conversations with Adelle and Angie from NSS. When the ladies decided to go home before sun sets, this monkey was persuaded to leave as well.

troupe kidmusicians
Musicians warming up

It was lucky I decided to leave then since I managed to capture some wonderful photos of the setting sun.

What a way to end the day

For more photos, please refer to my flickr account.

If you would like to share your experience of this year's hungry ghost festival celebrations on Pulau Ubin, leave your blog link in the comments section or email me your account.

Related articles
  • Sons of Ubin keep tradition alive
  • Account of wayang performances on other occasions on Ubin
  • Pulau Ubin Zhong Yuan Hui by Victor Yue

    pinto said...

    Thanks for the post. A pity that you couldn't convince your parents to go. Unfortunately, I have a family gathering this evening, so I won't be going to Ubin today.

    Sarah Jo said...

    The Hungry Ghost Festival is the most important festival or celebration of the year beside the Chinese New Year. The Chinese believed that during the seventh month, the Gates of Hell are opened. Ghost are free to wander in search for food.