Monday, February 21, 2005

Nian Chu Yi, Pai Pai Qu: First Day of CNY
Chung Tian Temple, Gold Coast

Image Hosted by
♥ The Golden Rooster greeting us at the entrance of Chung Tian Temple
On the first day of Chinese New Year (CNY): nian chu yi, we rose early to the wake-up calls of the Golden Rooster. The first day of CNY is a day full of joy and festive celebration with homes becoming a buzz of activity. Back home in Brunei, we would woke to the loud but festive sound of the firecrackers. Firecrackers are lit not only to add to the festivity but it is also believed to drive away evil and non-propitious spirits. There was of course no firecrackers being lit in Gold Coast. It was quiet and the day began just like any other day.

As a kid (oh dear, I can't believe I am talking like an old woman now and starting to recite about my past!) , we would be so thrilled with CNY approaching not just because of the money we would be receiving in the red packets but also because we would have new clothes to wear. It is a tradition to put on new clothes for CNY with red as the lucky colour. With the convenience to resources today, it is unfortunate and sad that this tradition is slowly slipping away. It's just so easy to go and buy something new to put on whenever you feel like it these days. Anyhow, we tried our best to follow the tradition and included something new to wear on the day. We also decided to stick to the colour pink instead of red. :p

Apart from visiting door-to-door exchanging auspicious greetings to your relatives and neighbours, another important custom on the first day of CNY is offering ritual homage to one's ancestors. This is to be done first thing in the morning. It is also a custom to visit temple and pay your reverence and tribute to the Gods. So we headed to Chung Tian Buddhist Temple in Brisbane to attend the Traditional Buddhist Homage Ritual.

Image Hosted by
♥ Altar in the Bodhisattva Hall
The temple is one full of love and bliss. We were surrounded by a calm yet festive atmosphere the moment we stepped into the temple and were immediately greeted by many others with bright smiles and a happy tone.

We made our way to the Bodhisattva Hall for the homage ritual. The hall is brightly lit and is air-conditioned. Very different to the temples in Asia, usually with rather dim interior and full of incests fumes.

In the middle of the altar sits the statue of a much loved and adored Goddess: Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva (Qian Shou Kuan Yin: Thousand Arms Bodhisattva). On both sides of the altar are many candles lit by individuals as a prayer to the Buddha for a year of safety and prosperity to come. I think it is also the same with the two well-lit miniature pagodas.

Normally photos are not allowed in the temple. We didn't find out until we spotted the no camera sign at the entrance when we were about to leave! We did obtain permission from ShinChan's mum (she's a member of the temple) so I guess we were not too rude.

Image Hosted by
♥ The Traditional Buddhe Homage Ritual
Here you see the mass sitting on the kneeling pad, waiting for the ritual to start. The ritual was conducted in two stages and led by Master Yi-Lai, Abbess of Chung Tian Temple. In the first ritual, we praised every single Buddhas in the form of chanting Buddhist scriptures. I was not familiar with the scriptures so I was given a little scriptures booklet. Mine was in Chinese. I believe there is also an English version for non-Chinese readers.

In the second ritual, I think we prayed for safety and peacefulness for the year ahead of us. Even though I am able to read Chinese without much difficulty, I actually find it a little difficult to follow the chanting especially when there were many characters that I could not recognise.

Image Hosted by
♥ The Dining Hall
And then it was time for scrumptious vegetarian lunch (A$10 pp). I had been eagerly waiting for this moment to come!

In some families, it is a custom to become vegan for a day on the first day of CNY. It is also common to find buddhist who eats only vegan meals on the first and fifteenth day of the lunar months. Back home in Brunei, we would feast on the delicious vegan dish comprising of mung-bean noodles, black fungi, chinese mushrooms, dried beancurd sheets, gingko in a sauce of red fermented bean curd (dou fu ru). For the whole day we would feast on this delicious dish prepared by Granny.

Image Hosted by
♥ Vegan Lunch
Each of us were given a disposable plate and lining up for food, buffet-style except that there are people serving you. I had a bit of everything except the rice.

Clockwise from bottom right:
Fried hokkien noodles
Lightly braised Beancurd with peas and carrots
Stirfry of soy-meat and mushroom in light soysauce
Stirfry of assorted green vegetables
Radish Cake

Image Hosted by
Cai Tao Kueh - Panfried Radish Cakes
Radish is an auspicious root vegetable in Chinese Culture because the ponunciation of radish (cai tou) means to bring good omens.

Image Hosted by
Nian Gao - New Year Cakes
Chinese New Year won't be completed without the new year cake (nian gao) which relates to the Chinese proverbs bu bu gao sheng; meaning advancing towards higher/better positions and prosperity step by step.

The one on the left is the most common type you will find in the shop, made of glutinous rice flour, dark brown sugar and water. These particular one had been dipped in batter then deepfried - the most common way of enjoying the cakes. You can also sandwich then batter the cake between slicees of taro or sweet potato and deepfried.

The other one is red bean (or adzuki bean) nian gao.

Image Hosted by
♥ Chinese Herbal Soup
We also enjoyed a light and delicious chinese herbal soups. In my cup of soup, I found a bundle of treasures hidden under the slightly cloudy soup! Here you see dried beancurd sheets (fu zhu) and chinese mushroom. I have also found taro (yu tou), gingko (bai guo) and carrots inside.

Image Hosted by
Fa Gao - Steamed Cake
For desserts, there were fresh fruits and these pink steamed chinese cake called fa gao. It is said to make one more prosperous and rich (fa cai). The cakes here had been cut up into bite-size bits for sharing. Traditionally these cakes are baked in papercups. The addition of baking powder to the ground rice batter makes the cakes rise and split during steaming. It is believed that the wider the split on the cake, the more prosperous the coming year will be.

Image Hosted by
♥ Assorted Sweets
There was also many different sweets up for grabs. A favourite for the kids!

Image Hosted by
♥ Assorted Chinese Sweets
These chinese sweets were up for sale to raise fund for the extension of the temple.

From left to right:
Crunchy Rice-pops (Mee Pan in Hokkien)
Chewy Peanut Candies (Hua Sheng Tang)
Chewy White Sesame Seeds Slices (Zhi Ma Tang)
Chewy pepitas and peanuts slices

Image Hosted by
♥ The Temple's Bell
After a scrumptious lunch, many took their turn at chiming the Temple's bell. Each chimes striked is said to bring peace and good wishes for the new year.

Scriptures on the bell
On hearing the chimes of the bell,
Suffering is alleviated,
Wisdom is cultivated, and
Aspiration is built.
One can also be away from the bell and the
burning flame by hearing this chime,
In the meantime, I vow for attainment of
Buddhahood and savings of all sentient beings.