July 22, 2017

Goddess of Mercy temple, Penang

My wife is a Taoist devotee (but I am an Atheist, I don’t believe in God). No she doesn’t pray at home but, once a while, she’ll go to a temple to recharge her faith. Her usual request to the deities are usually for health, safety and happiness for the family. Maybe in between the requests, a blessing for our daughter to have a better life. Her favorite temple? Goddess of Mercy temple (GoMt) at Pitt Street, Penang.

I haven’t been to that place for ages. Must be close to 7 years. The last time I went there, was when my mom died. I was there to say some prayers out of filial obligations… until last week, when my wife wanted me to accompany her to the temple with our daughter, Regine. I obliged… because I missed the place. But that day turned out to be one of the saddest day of my life – to discover that the GoMt I knew is no longer there. It has changed into something different.

You see, GoMt is a very old temple. It was built in the 1700’s. My grandparents grew up praying in it, my mom grew up praying in it, and I grew up praying in it (that was before I decided to be a freethinker). There were pics of our family that stretched over a couple of generations taken inside that temple. That place had remained the same through the years. It was smoky, everything was dark in color from the years of incense burning. It was always crowded and the temple was a din of devotees going about their business. One would not come out of that temple without tears as it was smoky as the clouds in heaven (I can’t say ‘hell’). It was beautiful in its own way. As a kid, I used to gawk at its giant Taoist giant deity figures adorning the sticky walls, marveled at its intricate pillars, curious over the 3 little ‘white tigers’ at the end of the middle courtyard, and amazed by the ever effervescent figure of Guanyin herself. I was even there during the 60 year-once festival that contributed to the infamous Penang jetty tragedy in 1988. Brought back a lot of memories.

So what happened to the place? It was repainted with red and gold. Guanyin figure now has a tacky gold plated face. There’s no more smell of incense inside the temple because it’s prohibited now (HELLO!? It’s a temple!). Devotees are required to light their incense sticks at the al-fresco section of the temple, in an unflattering rectangular aluminum (or chrome plated) censer that resembled a giant kitty litter (instead of the original round brass type). Inside, it was all quiet like an abandoned place. There wasn’t anyone doing any prayers there that day (which was odd to me), and there were no people getting their fortunes checked. There were no kids requesting for divine blessing for their education. There were no housewives smacking miniature evil paper men with their platform shoes to turn their luck around. I went around to check the 3 little nasty ‘white tigers’ – there were no pork lard in their pet bowl. Even the stalls that sells the praying stuff were mostly abandoned (it used to be busy like a morning market). The place is now like one of those museums that has no life in it. I’ve never seen GoMt so quiet and sad before. Fucking hell. What the fuck happened to my beloved GoMt!?

I left the place feeling really sad. I knew it will not be long before some jackass decided to put up some LED deco and LCD animations in that temple – like some of those tacky Taiwanese Taoist temple. I wanted to savor the place that day to relive my old childhood moments – the time when I got lugged along by my late mother and late grandmother listening to Sam Hui in her junk car… but I was apparently, too late. GoMt is fucking gone now, along with my mom, grandma and childhood (my wife told me it has been like this for a few years already… I was a few years too late apparently…)

michaelooi  | rantings  | 

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