Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Back Alley Opera

By Fiz
Photos: Kathleen Ahamed-Broadhurst

Sept 26 marked the first day of the Kin Jay Festival, the Chinese vegetarian festival.  The streets of Chinatown are overflowing with food carts vending everything from vegetarian pork buns (that tasted identical to the original), to tofu shrimp stir fry to whole potatoes, spiral cut, fried on a stick.

And I am sitting in my hostel with a bowl of cream of mushroom soup and a basket of French fries.  Though to be fair I did buy a taro root ‘pancake’ and a bowl of deep-fried orchids for lunch.  They were delicious!

On Monday, the first day of the festival we spent a good deal of the evening wandering around, getting handed free samples of God only knows what and loving all of it.  Each vendor jovially attempted to convey what they were handing us consisted of.

We walked for about an hour before our feet started to protest and our bellies were satiated.  We decided to walk through a couple of packed alleys before calling it a night. The first was filled with wholesale dried mushrooms of all sorts, curries, and buckets of tofu shrimp and salmon.  The second was all desserts. Then towards the middle the sounds of gongs and cymbals touched our ears.

Following our ears we wandered around a corner and the narrow alley got steadily more crowded, then we beheld a glorious sight.  A small stage tucked into the courtyard of a small temple. On the stage were the actors with the glamorous makeup and extravagant costumes of a Chinese Opera.

We were definitely the only farangs at the performance, and this did not go unnoticed in the crowd.  First we stood at the back of the audience, then we got ushered forward onto stools, then an older man who looked uncannily like my idea of the laughing Buddha with hair started talking to us. Asking where we were from, what we were doing in Thailand, if we knew what the festival was about.  He then described it for us in good detail with a thick accent.  Telling us it was a time when all the devotees gave up meat and ate like monks for nine days. One day for each of the Gods that come down from heaven to absolve the sins of the faithful.

The first act drew to a close, and all the actors, in costume walked through the audience and into the sanctuary of the temple, getting blessed with holy water on the way.  As each group of actors walked by we were told who they were, some were the Gods, others soldiers, concubines, and one was the Yellow Emperor.

Before they made their way back to the stage for act two he gestured for us to join him in the two empty seats next to him.  And while we waited he translated peoples questions, and our answers in return.  Contrary to the rest of Thailand, we found out, the Chinese hold Indians very close to their heart because India is where Buddha came from.  Which made me feel a bit better, the discrete racism here is becoming a bit grating.

When the curtain rose he began narrating to us the best he could what was happening.  Before he gave up learned that the scene was the Yellow Emperor being blessed by a small group of Gods with a son. We were then asked repeatedly if we had a son, and when we said no, were told to pray to the Gods of the Sky and Sun.  We were also assured he would do the same for us, so we could really be happy.

Thanks Sky God, we’ll take a rain check.

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