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Singkawang Trip

Budaya-Tionghoa.Net | Hi folks, This morning, at 6.30am, like excited schoolkids we were SMSing (text messaging) each other to check that we were indeed going to the right place. And so, by 6.45am, we were all ready to check into the departure lounge at Harbour Front. There was Margaret, Ronni, Tim, Aaron, Arthur and me .. the six of us, going into unknown land (as far as we are concerned). But with two veterans, we have no problems. One has the journalistic instinct and the other just has a nose for something interesting. And so, through many "misadventures" we got to learn a lot of things.

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By 12.15pm (Indonesian time .. it is one hour behind Singapore) we landed at Pontianak, after travelling over sea, land and air. Each of us had our impressions of how Pontainak will look like and I am sure each of us have to adjust our impression after bring met by the heat wave and the surroundings. The fluent Malay of Ronni and Margaret ensured that our trips to be smooth. Of course, we chipped in with our broken Mandarin and Teochew. Apparently, many of the Chinese in Pontianak are Teochew, whereas those in Singkawang are Hakka,

Ready to go on our hunt, the poor friendly guy at the Gajah Mada Hotel frontdesk kena grilled by us. The more we checked around, it seems that Pontianak does not see much foreigners! And so, Ronni caused quite a stir wherever he went, what with his Malay and Hokkien!

With so much to look for, we just went naturally into two groups, the research group and the hunter group. (^^) So, while Margaret, Tim and Arthur went to interview Pontianak Post (Chinese news paper), Ronni, Aaron and I decided to go for lunch first. We went a couple of steps away to have nasi padang. Not sure if the young SIngaporeans would eat, but we did and even has Bintang (beer) with 7UP in locally produced ice. Keeping our fingers crossed, we are still alive. (^^)

After lunch we went walking along Jln Gajah Mada, checking on Teo (Zhang) Association - they are linked to the world Teo Federation and there was a poster of recent world conference in SIngapore, And then, we stepped into a joss shop. Woaw, the Teochew Ah Nya were tickled pink by this Angmoh (caucasian) barging in asking about the kim-shin (statue) in Hokkien. And soon, we struck up a lively conversation with the ladies. Wah, they have quite a range of joss papers, which according to this lady, were imported from China via Kuching (Sarawak, Malaysia) has an important main trunk road linking to Pontianak.

Soon, we extracted the juicy tales such as why the Chap Goh Meh (15th day of Lunar New Year) celebrations was cancelled in Pontianak this year. Ah, on the surface, it was mentioned that there was an issue. From the streets, apparently, it is politics. And then, we learnt about tangki. There is one 84 year old tangki representing Guan Sheuy (Yuan Shuai) but they could not identify which Guan Sheuy.

Along the way, Ronni spotted one nice Hu (talisman) and asked to take pictures. Of course, the lady was intrigued and soon, she sent us through the local transport (pickup truck buses) to this Chinese temple near to
Tanjongpura. We just trusted her direction to the driver and were told to pay R2000 per person.

This temple is dedicated to Mazu, NaZha and GanTianDaDi, with other Deities. The temple was said to be old but seemed new. According to one guy there who was very friendly and offered much information, they had done some renovations recently. Gosh, instead of giant joss sticks, here in Pontianak, it is giant candles!! On thing for sure from what I learnt from Yeow Wee, I looked for that extra beam under the roof. It was there. (^^)

The guy sent us to the next temple dedicated to Guan Gong. But with no idea where we were going with his rapid Indonesian names, we walked and walked, exploring alleys and those wet market places that were history in Singapore. Ah, with an Angmoh, we became minor celebrities la .. everyone shouted Hi to Ronni .. wah, even girls in tudungs were waving vigorously at him to go to them. Not sure to buy food from them, for some proposals. (^^) So, far I have not seen a single angmoh! Maybe, we were in the wrong places. (^^)

And then, we saw a temple named Shuang Zhong Miao (Siang Tong Beo as told to us by the people there). Here, we could not recognise the Deities. So, we need Jave's comments. (^^) I will send pictures later. The courtyard was just filled with dozens of giant candles on both side of a narrow walkway as we walked into the temple! We could feel the heat as we walked in. The Deities were different from what we have seen, And the devotees were lining up lions (like those of lion dances), probably made of dough According to the temple person, the devotees, after the prayer, would bring them home.

So, Pontiananak indeed has its own traditions. More needs to be explored. (^^) As we walked back towards our hotel, we spotted a Cheng Huang Miao that was closed. Maybe, we could explore this temple before heading for
Singkawang with Ardian arrives from Jakarta.

We rounded up the day with a grand dinner at one of the best restaurants in this stretch .. and recollect our encounters of the day. Of course, before we could reach the Gajah Mada Restoran (which has the best oo-ni that I have tasted - a Teochew dessert of yam paster and gingko nuts), we were "lured" (actually led by Ronni) into this Fire Station ( we found out that there are some 10 such voluntary fire-fighting teams in Pontianak) to find out that they actually have a dragon dance troupe which participated in the Chap Goh Meh in Pontianak since 2002. They have a 60m dragon requiring some 120 people (need 10 just to manage the head as it was very big) and has 17 poles!

MOre adventures await and I am sure I have missed out much too ... and so wil wait for the rest to add in their bit. (^^)

Victor in Pontianak, Kalimantan, Indonesia .. immediately under the Equator.


Hi folks, Alas, there was internet access problem when were in Pontianak hotel and in Singkawang, no internet access. So, I hope this gets through tonight. We are leaving for home tomorrow, or rather later this morning. (^^) What a trip!

Hi folks, It was another adventurous day. Alas, I could not give live update as our hotel in Sengkawang has no internet access.

We had a rather leisure morning, having breakfast at 9am Pontianak Time. As usual, we could continue discussing and talking until Ronni decided we should be doing the walking and not the talking. (^^)

We were still on the trail of the Guan Shuey mentioned to us. There were conflicting information. Margaret got from another source that they would be having consultations at 9am! When we finally found the temple which is at the alley facing Ligo Supermarkt, the people there were somewhat expecting us. Word must have gone around about a siow angmoh (crazy angmoh) looking for this Guan Sheuy.

We were welcomed warmly. Ah, the people of Pontianak are so warm and friendly. It is as if they were not "spoilt" by the commercialism of tourism. We were quickly introduced to the 84 year old medium. Soon,
we were being led to the three "halls" of the temple and even to the family history of the medium. He has a sister living in Singapore! He came to Pontianak with his father at the age of 15. His father brought the lao-yah
(statue of Xuan Tian Shang Di) from China to Pontianak. Since there, they also have on the second hall, the God of Medicine and on the front, Chao Gong Ming, i.e. the Teo Guan Shuey we were looking for. The locals only know him as Guan Shuey!

In Pontianak, instead of the praying to Tai Sui, of which it is part of it during the Chinese New Year, they actually have a table indicating which God to pray to depending on the year one was born. One of the common ones was the praying to the White Tiger (Bai Hu), Heavenly Dog (Tian Gou) and Wu Gui.

We were all over the place, with six of us talking to more than six of them! There was this lady who is probably the niece to the medium, who was giving me the testimonies of how the Teo Guan Shuey had treated the people and one of them stayed to become a volunteer in the temple.

Two of them were so kind as to guide us to our next destination, the Tua Pek Kong Temple. Margaret was told that this is the temple where most mediums would visit. The temple was very busy when we visited the place at almost 12noon. There were so many offerings – fresh meat, eggs and fish! I don't remember seeing fresh fish being offered in the Hokkien temples in Singapore.

The sky was turning dark and Ronni was intent on visiting the Cheng Huang Temple we saw last evening. So, we continued our journey, when we saw the Ming Shan Tan. We decided to pay a visit to this Buddhist looking temple. To our surprise, there was actually a mix of Deities. Taking the centre place was Yiao Ci Jin Mu (Ardian told us she is Xi Wang Sheng Mu) and above her was Tai Shan Lao Jun. On their left was Yu Huang and above him, three Buddhas, There was a very nice picture of Gui Shen. On the other side was Cai Sheng. This temple has communications with the Buddhist temples in Singapore.

We then carried on to the City God Temple. It was a small temple in a shophouse but it was crowded and everyone was waiting for his/her turn to seek petition to the City Gods. The City God and his wife (I think) looked like they must have been officials before, very much like what I saw in Shanghai, unlike those in Singapore who are more related to the Hades.

It was past 1pm and we rushed back to the hotel to prepare for checkout. Ardian and his wife, Mei have arrived, and together we went for lunch. Thereafter, Rudi joined us with more friends, Jack, Johnnie and Leong. With one more group, we were able to space out into two cars to Sengkawang.

It was a four hour drive along a two-way road from Pontianak to Sengkawang. The road reminded me of the roads in the eastern part of Peninsula Malaysia, except that the traffic is heavier.

With a brief stopover for a cup of coffee while waiting for the other car to catching, we were on our way again. Ronni confessed that he wanted to ask the driver of his car to stop some 20 times! There were just so many beautiful temples to explore.

As we neared towards Sengkawang, about 15 minutes away, we stopped at this place called Yian Ting (Salt District) or Jam Thang in Hakka. Apparently, in the old days, this was the first place where the Hakkas lived upon arriving in Kalimantan and salt making was one of their early business. Rudi's friend, Eugenia, who is in Taiwan for some 10 years or so, has just come back for the Chap Goh Meh and she agreed to arrange for us to meet some tangki (known as Tatung here). The first stop is in this one street with two rows of terraced houses. Just as we were about to take off from the car, all 9 of us jammed in it as the other car has gone ahead to check into the hotel, the car could not start! So, we came down to push the car to get it started. That's one thing good about manual driven cars. We decided to walk in the light rain to this sintua,

Eugenia was our interpreter, from Malay or Mandarin to Hakka. The medium has been a medium some 30 years ago. When I asked how he got into trance, he said that it was one chap goh meh, as he was drinking coffee in a warong (kopitiam), he felt not well. He went home, and then, he got into trance and ran to the big Guan Gong Temple (Xie Tian Miao) just outside the stretch of houses. Now two of his sons are also mediums, one starting some 5 years ago and the other 3 years ago. The former being the medium for La Tok Kong (Datok Gong) and the other for Guan Yin. There was a fan on which the medium wrote in Arabic while in trance as a Datuk Kong!

As we took our leave, we spotted another temple where there was a huge sawfish saw. This got us interested and soon we were inside taking pictures. Unknown to us, the temple people were already preparing for the arrival of the tatung. Soon we got news from Eugenia and so we positioned ourselves in the best places to wait. The rhythm of the drum and gongs were different from those in Singapore. The way the tatung dance, it somehow reminded me of the Dayaks(?) in Sabah dance. He used his fan to hold the sheng bei (divining blocks) to seek approval from the Gods. Soon, he was in trance and climbed on to the special bladed sedan chair. After he had sought all the approvals, he went limp, when a waiting pair of hands was there to hold him while another one revived him.

It was 8.30pm when we left this place and we decided dinner. With Rudi as our guide, we went to this interesting roadside stall at Jln Kurau. For the young Singaporeans, I am not sure if they would eat here. I MMSed a picture to my daughter, and her remarks were that it looked like a market place than a restaurant. (^^) But boy, was the food shiok! With a fair number of dishes .. gingered fried pork, chicken in soya sauce, mapotafu, green vegetables, soup and drinks, it was Rp250,000 .. for 9 persons. In a couple of steps away, the procession was going on. Wow, the size and length of the dragons, especially the head, there is nothing in Singapore to compare! We were told that the huge one came from Kuching, Malaysia! Interestingly, after the
dragon passed, a heavy downpour followed. And just as soon, it disappeared, but that left Ronni wet! But he was elated.

After makan, we were ready to check in. Woaw, there was just not enough rooms for us! With Rudi's connections and skills, added by Ronni's angmoh charms, we managed to get three rooms in Hotel Restu. There was also one room in Mahkota. The rooms were spartan, but certainly better than no room.

Another exciting day lays ahead .. and Rudi and Eugenia have already planned for us from 8am right into the night!


Day 3: 20 Feb 2008 - Part 1
Preparations for Cap Go Meh

Even though there is no alarm clock in the room, and maybe no wake-up call service, we needed not worry. Rudi, out host extraordinaire was knocking on our doors giving us the wake up calls!. We could hear the soon to be ubiquitous rhythms of the drums and the gongs just outside our hotel. We were actually very near to where the action is, and many spilled over to the road outside the hotel.

The top floor of the hotel, Combo Cafe, was a great place for breakfast in the morning. There were calls - I supposed taped ones - of the birdnest swifts coming from the "swift hotels" next door. There could well be more "swift hotels" than human hotels. The swifts are not fussy and they make their own beds, for the long haul though.

Rudi brought a packet of interesting glutinous rice with red beans (I suppose this must be a Hakka dish) stuffed in a small cup-like leafy container. What could that plant be, offering such a dainty and suitable cup for the glutinous rice? With Tim, our Librarian and Nature enthusiast, it was quickly identified as a pitcher plant! Wow!
Now, I will need Tim to give us the actual name, be it in common English name or Latin. (^^) To me, the taste as heavenly and I suppose I must downed more than anyone else. I won't mind having that for breakfast everyday. Had transportation been easier and faster, I would have to open up another luggage to bring them back. Rudi, what was the name of this makanan again?

After breakfast and the usual animated discussions that could change topics at rapid speed, it was decided that it was time for action, walking and experiencing the town. The Central Tua Pek Kong Temple, called Fu Tak Chi in Hakka 福德词 (Fu De Chi) seemed to be where the actions were. Apparently, all temples were heading towards this temple today to pay their respects to Tua Pek Kong 大伯� � and the resident Deities. Chay Tiong, I spotted the name Kong Teik Chun Ong 广泽尊王 (Guang Ze Zun Wang), but I could not find the familiar statue of him with one leg crossed.

Some groups seemed to have two to three mediums or more, some with older mediums, and some with younger ones. Each team could well have more than 50 people. Interestingly, most of the team members were very young, from possibly 10 or below to those in their 30s. The young certainly overwhelmed the old. And amongst the spectators, there were many young mothers carrying their kids who could well be 6 months and
below. It was immersion into the culture in every step of their lives. These teams of sedan chair bearers with their drum (seated nicely on wheels) accompanied by gongs and cymbals kept coming in waves. And so did the drizzle that could come very fine and then heavy and disappeared completely. Like the fishes in the water, the crowd of spectators moved according to the rain and the onslaught of the team moving towards the temple. As if by some invisible coordination, when a team arrives, those who were there would start to move on.

The Fu Tak Chi was strategically positioned, overseeing some five roads(?) converging towards the temple. It was ren-shan-ren-hai 人山人 海(people mountain people sea, in other words sea of people) bobbling
on all roads converging towards the temple. The police (I cannot recognise if they are police, military or paramilitary) was everywhere, visible but almost invisible to the crowd, except to the vehicles.

There were just so many mediums that I could not identify them. And with so much attractions (or distractions?), it was almost impossible to try to figure out the name of the temple of the teams and the names
of the Deities represented by the mediums. I had to "recall" my art of moving with the crowd making sure that I won't be the cause of a stampede (which could easily happen when one falls).

Gilles, there was this child medium that you were asking Gilles who he represented. Alas, I checked my photos, nope, I did not capture any clue. There was one holding on to a milk bottle. Ah, could that be the young Lian Huay Sham Tai Tzu 莲花三太子 (Lian Hua San Tai Zi?) Later I was to learn that those sedans with the red leafed plants (Daun Sambas?) were clues that the mediums could be Dayaks and representing Dayak spirits. Interestingly, I was told that the Dayaks could represent the Chinese deities, but not the other way round. I wondered why.

Almost all the sedan chairs seemed to come from the same factory! There were the two blades on the arm rest, a few for standing on and a few for sitting on. And on the back, there is one blade pointing upwards on which the medium would sit on it or put his stomach on it and try suspending in the air. And on the front would be two weapons (like those used by Guan Gong) which the mediums would put their one foot on as they balanced with both hands standing on the two poles forming as part of the back of the sedan chair. It was like an acrobatic show, except that the blades are not unsharp!

And in the bobbling of the black heads with colourful bandanas, there was one rather light coloured one. It was easy to spot and certainly, a great distraction to the TV crew. Soon, we saw Ronni being the centre of attention as the TV interviewed him. Is there anyone who might have captured the video footage from the TV broadcast? (^^)

There was no need for crowd control (like the ChingGay in Singapore) and people just mingled around, in all directions. Fluttering flags accompanied by sharp whistles were moving in all directions. It was boggling just watching them .. and each team's direction of walking was dictated by the medium who would be standing on the sedan chair carried by his followers and waving his arms and hands. There was an atmosphere of carnival.

Had it not been the kind efforts of our hosts, we would probably be starving and watching. Ah, the great points of having hosts - incredibly hospitality I must say, something I missed for decades liao (already) - is we got to go places to taste great food! Trying to round up 6 of us was quite a tough job. When one was found, two went missing. There were just too many things happening to lead us astray. We came to this neat and rather clean coffeeshop styled restaurant (those in Singapore would be familiar with the format of an older kopitiam) where we had our brunch. There was Hakka Yong Tau Fu styled soup .. sedap! (delicious), chicken, braised pork - probably of the head - which was soft and sweet - and the meat rolls that Margaret declared very good. A food critic in her earlier days, writing on the Straits Times food column, when she said it was good, it must be! (^^)

And it was only like 10.30am .. we have only just begun.

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