Tuesday, 11 February 2014

CNY2014 Day 3: Kuan Im Temple

This was more than just a normal day at the Kong Hock Keong (Kuan Im Temple) in Pitt Street, George Town. This was the third day of this year's Chinese New Year in Penang. 

However, it was rather strange that for the first time in my memory, devotees were not allowed to bring their joss sticks into the temple. All prayers had to be done outside.

There are both good and bad points about this new practice. The good, of course, is that the cleanliness of the interior is very much improved -- no smoky incense inside a confined space to burn your eyes, no risk of being poked with someone's burning joss stick because he did not hold them above his head -- but the bad must be the horrible makeshift shed right in front of the main door. It is totally out of place with the heritage value of the 200-years-old temple which was established in 1800.

The vagabonds, tramps, beggars, homeless people -- call them what you want -- are almost permanent squatters at the temple during the day and more would turn up during the Chinese festive periods such as the Chinese New Year. They'd be here to await the generosity of some devotees who would distribute angpow or foodstuff. Surprisingly, they would form an orderly queue whenever necessary and so, they are not totally without reason. Between such hand-outs, they would hang out on both sides of the main door, as can be seen from the picture above. You'd also notice the two signs on the gate which warn devotees against bringing their joss sticks inside. 

So what are the devotees to do? Pray in the courtyard outside the temple. You want to kneel down while you pray? There are two rows of dusty wooden platforms for that purpose. If the authorities can bring in foreign artisans to repair, renovate and spruce up the temple, why can't they build a reasonably traditional Chinese pavillion instead of the makeshift metal shed? The whole structure is such an eyesore. There's a long altar table set up with their five aluminium urns. I am rather sad that for a temple that is so steeped with history, the temple authorities - meaning the temple trustees - had not even bothered to source for some traditional-looking altar table or urns.  An in the meantime too, the temple authorities would rather prefer the devotees to be exposed to the elements while they pray.

Back to the issue of the temple authorities and their resident vagabonds. If the authorities can be so strict with the devotees' practices, why can't they impose simple regulations on the vagabonds as well? I am sure the vagabonds are not without self-respect that they cannot be told to observe cleanliness in the temple's compound. It was quite obvious to me that these empty angpow packets had been discarded by them. What does it take for the temple authorities to ask these people not to litter?

See what I mean? The inner and outer halls of the temple are clean and bright, but the main courtyard is in such a big mess. What an uneven use of priorities.

At least, the small joss stick stalls beside Stewart Lane had been left alone when the Kong Hock Keong underwent repairs and renovation work last year. These stalls have been here for decades and I hope they will continue operating here for yet some time to come.

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