I just read about the Breast-Touching Festival. Isn’t it laughable that in our modern world, such superstitions still exist? Superstition really drives people to do many wacky things!

The seventh month of the Chinese Lunar calendar, known as the Hungry Ghost month, began on July 31 this year.

During the Hungry Ghost month, many superstitious Chinese believe ghosts return to the human realm as the Hell Gate is open throughout the month. While the Buddhists and Taoists prepare offerings for the homeless ghosts, a minority tribe in China has their own interesting celebration.

The still single Yi people in Ejia town of Yunnan province will head to the streets for Breast-Touching Festival (Monai Jie) on the 14th, 15th and 16th days of the month. On these days, the men are welcome to touch the women’s breasts without fear of facing molestation charges.

Breast Touching Festival celebrated by Yi tribe in Yunnan Province in China

Legend has it that the festival began around the Sui Dynasty (AD 581 – 619) when most of the teenagers of the Yi tribe were forced into the army and died in wars.

The people then carried out prayers to commemorate the dead, and it happened that the ceremony was held in the seventh month. According to the myths, the restless spirits of the young men who had died before they had the chance to touch a woman would claim 10 pure and untouched ladies during this ‘Hungry Ghost Month’ to accompany them in the afterworld.

In a move to prevent them from being chosen, the single women – aged 15 and above – then asked the men to touch their breasts, and the custom is past down for generations.

Touch my breasts....I don't wanna go to hell

Maybe the Chinese government should promote the Breast-Touching Festival. If they do that, I won’t be surprised that the town of Ejia would be crowded with male tourists during this festival.

If you are faced with the choice – be touched by unseen forces or by a real live man – which is the lesser of two evils for you?”

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Today is that most magical and ironical time of the year. It is the happiest and saddest of times, the most divine yet the most commercial. It is the spell when love or loneliness thrives or consumes. What is it about Christmas that opens up the heart of hearts and makes it more vulnerable?

Interestingly, the history of this holiday is in itself a paradox. Most Christians believe that December 25 is the actual day that Jesus was born, calculated nine months after the Annunciation when the Blessed Virgin Mary was singled out to be the Mother of Christ. Some scholars have challenged this notion. They submit that in the 4th century, the Roman Church chose the day that coincided with the winter solstice, supposedly the “birthday” of Sol Invictus. They allege that the assignment of December 25 as Christmas day was a clever ruse to replace the pagan celebration called “Bruma”.

The universal theme remains the same whatever faith or country one belongs to. It is the ardent universal hope that the coming year will be better than the one gone by. The wish is backed by resolve to do whatever it takes to achieve one’s definition of “better”, hence the ubiquitous New Year’s Resolutions.

As you celebrate this festive occasion, spare a thought for those who are unable to do so.  If you can , reach out and touch their lives in some way, no matter how small it may appear to be.  It is the thoughts that count.  And remember them in your prayers.

I wish all of you a very wonderful and blessed Christmas. Remember, it’s your choice!

A Christmas tree is pictured before the Capitol Hill dome in Washington DC, USA

City Hall and the Freedom Monument are illuminated with Christmas decorations on the main square in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Lighted Christmas tree on the Singapore Flyer in Singapore.

Christmas lights across the street at Orchard Road in Singapore.

People visit Christmas fair in Alexandrovskiy Garden in SAINT PETERSBURG, Russia.

Fireworks explode from a Christmas tree during the lighting ceremony at Rodrigo de Freitas Lake in RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil.

A Christmas tree is illuminated as the traditional Christmas market opens at the Old Town Square in PRAGUE, Czech Republic.

The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree is lit in NEW YORK CITY, USA.

Fireworks light up the sky near the 120 feet-high Christmas tree display at the Baywalk in PALAWAN, Philippines.

A shopping mall is lit up with Christmas lights in HONG KONG, China.

A tram decorated with Christmas lights travels in the centre of BUDAPEST, Hungary.

The trees on Berlin's Unter der Linden boulevard are lit up for the Christmas season.

People view a fibre-optic lit Christmas tree decoration in front of an office building in BEIJING, China.

The Christmas tree of Dortmund in Germany is the largest in the world and is built with a scaffold, covered with 1,700 Norway spruces, 40,000 lights and is 45m high.

Cars pass under hanging Christmas lights in a street in MADRID, Spain.

Shoppers walk under Christmas lights in West End in LONDON, England.

Fireworks explode as a giant Christmas tree and an old building in Beirut are illuminated during the launch of Beirut Celebrates 2010 at a Christmas parade in downtown Beirut.

People gather to watch the lighting of the Christmas tree in front of the Royal Castle in WARSAW, Poland.

Christmas lights illuminate Vienna's city centre in VIENNA, Austria.

A couple walks towards a Christmas tree at a shopping mall in Tokyo, Japan.

People walk on a snow-covered street on the square around the giant Christmas tree in STRASBOURG, France.

Pedestrians walk past Christmas lights in downtown Stockholm, Sweden.

Fireworks light up in the sky during the lighting ceremony of a Christmas tree in SOFIA, Bulgaria.

Fireworks explode during the illumination of Christmas lighing for the Children's Museum in SAN JOSE, Costa Rica. More than five thousand lights illuminate the museum during the Christmas season.

Christmas lights in the form of the Eiffel Tower are displayed near the actual city landmark on the Rue Saint Charles in the 15th arrondissement of Paris, France.

A girl poses for a picture in a street illuminated with Christmas lights in MEDELLIN, Colombia.

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Tomorrow is Zhong Qiu Jie . Zhong Qiu Jie is also known as Harvest Moon, Mid-Autumn Festival, Moon Festival and Moon Cake Festival  and in Vietnamese “Tet Trung Thu”. It is a day of family reunions much like a Western Thanksgiving. Chinese people believe that on that day, the moon is the roundest and brightest signaling a time of completeness and abundance. During the Mid-Autumn Festival, children delight in parading multi-colored lanterns as families take to the streets to moon-gaze.

The festival, celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar, has no fixed date in the Western calendar, but the day always coincides with a full moon.

Descriptions of the “Mid-Autumn” first appeared in “Rites of the Zhou”, a collection of ritual matters of the Western Zhou Dynasty some 3,000 years ago. It described the eighth lunar month, the second month of autumn, as “zhong qiu” (meaning mid autumn).

The Chinese began celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival in the early Tang Dynasty (618 – 907), a period of material abundance and cultural blossoming. The Chinese worshipped the moon by offering liquor, fruit and snacks outdoors, expressing thanks for bumper harvest and praying for the god of the moon to bring good luck.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is characterized by:

Mooncakes: A legend goes that mooncakes were first made in the 14th Century, when people exchanged pancakes that were stuck with slips of paper reading “Kill the Mongols on the 15th day of the eighth month”. It was said to be a secret message from rebel leader Zhu Yuanzhang calling on the Chinese to overthrow the Mongolian rulers of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368)

Lord Rabbit: Known as Tu’er Ye in Chinese, the Lord Rabbit is a traditional icon of the festival. It has a human body, but a rabbit’s ears and mouth.

Matchmaking: The Chinese believe the god of the moon is a highly efficient matchmaker. In some parts of China, masquerades are held on the Mid-Autumn Festival for young men and women to find partners. One by one, young women are encouraged to throw their handkerchiefs to the crowd. The young man who catches and returns the handkerchief has a chance of romance. It is also a romantic night for lovers, who sit holding hands on hilltops, riverbanks and park benches, captivated by the brightest moon of the year!

Lanterns and dragon dances: These are traditional activities during the holiday, but are popular mainly in south China, particularly in Guangdong Province and Hong Kong.

This day is celebrated as the end of the summer harvesting season by farmers. Traditionally, to admire the bright mid-autumn harvest moon, Chinese family members and friends will gather on this day and under the moon, they eat moon cakes and pomelos. Besides this, putting pomelo rinds on one’s head, carrying brightly lit lanterns, burning incense in reverence to deities including Chang’e are included in additional cultural or regional customs. To celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival, barbecuing outdoors has become a widespread way.

Traditional foods for a Chinese Mid-Autumn feast are red — for good luck. Lobster and salmon are particular favorites along with apples, pomegranates, roasted peanuts, pomelo, chestnuts, fatt koh (sponge cakes) and moon cakes.

When the moon is supposedly at its fullest and roundest position, Moon Festival parallels the autumnal equinox of the solar calendar. Moon-cake is the traditional food of this festival, available in many different varieties with yummy ingredients, and sold everywhere in traditional flavors like lotus and egg yolk or exotic varieties like durian, chocolate, coffee and ice-cream.

Over the weekend, I was at Boulevard Shopping Complex and saw a wide variety of moon cakes and lanterns for sale. I could not resist taking some photos of the moon cakes and lanterns.

Kids love these lanterns

A giant fish lantern costing over RM100 (USD 30)

A wide variety of moon cakes for sale at Boulevard Hypermarket

And yesterday my best friend Ken in Brunei came down from Brunei and had lunch with me. He also gave me a beautiful box of moon cakes. The box is exquisite and my wife loves it. And the moon cakes were really nice. Thanks a lot, my friend!

The beautiful box of moon cakes given to me by my friend Ken...thanks Ken!

To all my friends and readers of this blog, I wish you all a very happy Zhong Qiu Jie!

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Thanksgiving is a holiday celebrated universally at different times of the year and in different ways. For Koreans, the traditional Thanksgiving Holiday is called Chuseok. This year it falls on September 21-23. Chuseok is in essence the Full Moon Harvest Festival. Today therefore marks the start of Chuseok.

Chuseok, originally known as Hangawi (from archaic Korean for “great middle”), is a major harvest festival and a three-day holiday in Korea celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. Like many other harvest festivals, it is held around the Autumn Equinox.

Historically and according to popular belief, Chuseok originates from Gabae. Gabae started during the reign of the third king of the kingdom of Silla (57 BC – AD 935), when it was a month-long weaving contest between two teams. Come the day of Gabae, the team that had woven more cloth had won and was treated to a feast by the losing team.

Many scholars also believe Chuseok may originate from ancient shamanistic celebrations of the harvest moon. New harvests are offered to local deities and ancestors, which means Chuseok may have originated as a worship ritual. In some areas, if there is no harvest, worship rituals are postponed, or in areas with no annual harvest, Chuseok is not celebrated.

In modern South Korea, on Chuseok there is a mass exodus of Koreans returning to their hometowns or villages to pay homage to their ancestors. Koreans wake up early on Chuseok morning to perform ancestor memorial services known as cha-rye.  It is a solemn ceremony, involving an elaborate layout of food offerings. After the service, family members gather to enjoy the food blessed by their ancestors. They also visit ancestral graves to trim plants and clean the area around the tomb, and offer food, drink, and crops to their ancestors. This is known as beol-cho and considered an expression of filial piety.

Ancestor memorial services known as cha-rye

Chuseok is a time to appreciate the bountiful harvests and the representative food for this festival is songpyeon, a crescent-shaped rice cake which is steamed upon pine needles. Songpyeon is made from glutinous rice flour kneaded into the perfect dough. The dough is filled with beans, sesame seeds, chestnuts and other ingredients before it is shaped into a crescent or half-moon. This is then steamed with some pine needles that will infuse the rice cake with a wonderful fragrance. Songpyeon is to Chuseok as pumpkin pie is to Thanksgiving.

On the eve of Chuseok, it is a tradition for families to make songpyon together under the bright moon. This helps to foster ties as family members come from far and wide to enjoy the moment.

Songpyeon

Other foods commonly prepared are jeon, japchae and bulgogi.

Jeon are savory pancakes made from various vegetables, sliced fish meat, minced pork or beef.

Korean jeon pancakes

Japchae (jabchae, chapchae) is a Korean dish made from cellophane noodles (called dangmyeon), stir fried in sesame oil with various vegetables (typically thinly-sliced carrots, onion, spinach, and mushrooms), sometimes served with beef, and flavoured with soy sauce, and sweetened with sugar. It is usually served garnished with sesame seeds and slivers of chili. It may be served either hot or cold.

Japchae

Bulgogi is a Korean dish that usually consists of thin slices of sirloin or other prime cuts of beef marinated with a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, garlic and other ingredients such as scallions, or mushrooms, especially white button mushrooms or shiitake. Bulgogi literally means “fire meat” in Korean, which refers to the cooking technique -over an open flame – rather than the dish’s spiciness. The term is also applied to variations such as dak bulgogi (made with chicken) or dwaeji bulgogi (made with pork), although the seasonings are different.

Bulgogi

A variety of folk games are played on Chuseok to celebrate the coming of Autumn and rich harvest. Village folk dress themselves to look like a cow or a turtle, and go from house to house along with a Nongak band playing music. Other common folk games played on Chuseok are tug of war, ssireum and archery. Folk games also vary from region to region. Ganggangsullae dance which is forming a circle under a moon is performed by women and children in southwestern coastal regions, and cockfight or bullfighting in the southern regions.

Nongak band playing music

Ssireum...Korean wrestling

Ganggang sullae dance

In Korea, during the days prior to the actually holiday, streets and stores are packed with shoppers buying food and gifts. Gift-giving is an important aspect of the holiday. Liquor is often given to colleagues and work supervisors.

As for travel, Chuseok is similar to the U.S. and Europe around the Christmas Holidays. Each year record numbers of Koreans jam the roads, rail lines, and airports with holiday traffic. In fact, most airline and train travel has been booked for months.

Korea’s rapid industrialization, urbanization, and globalization have changed the way of life in Korea but in the celebration of Chuseok, family remains the bedrock of Korean society. Chuseok underlines how – in the face of rapid industrialization and modernization – Korean culture still imbues family ties with great importance and tries to maintain continuity between older and younger generations.

To all Koreans, let me wish you all:

Chuseok jal ji nae sae yo

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Today is Hari Raya Aidilfitri. To all my Muslim friends and readers, I wish you Selamat Hari Raya. As for the kids, I hope you will receive lots of  “duit raya.”

Last night I was at Eastwood Valley Golf & Country Club’s Lakeview Terrace Coffeehouse with my family and some of my sister-in-laws and their families to try out the Ramadhan buffet promotion. We heard that the food was not bad and that at RM35 per adult, it was good value for your money.

Selamat Hari Raya greetings at the front counter of the hotel

The hotel lobby

As last night was the last day of fasting for the Muslims, there were not many patrons at the coffeehouse. We were given table number 18…what an auspicious number, haha! Apart from us, there were only 3 or 4 occupied tables. I took my time wandering around to take photos.

Table number 18....an auspicious number!

My hyper-active nephew Ah Nong

Lightings outside the coffehouse

A view of the hotel's compound

There was quite a wide range of food…..butter prawns, ginger chicken, black pepper beef, assam fish, barbecue prawns, barbecue chicken wings, barbecue sotong, satay, sambal eggs, ketupah, salad, coleslaw, barbecue lamb, and many more. I must say that the food was really not bad….better than the food that I had tasted at other hotel buffets.

Butter prawns

Sambal eggs

And for desserts, we were spoilt for choice. There were lots of traditional Malay kuih, cakes, ice creams, puddings, ice kacang, bubur caca and fruits. It was a great relaxing evening for us. By the time we left the hotel, we really felt full up.

Traditional kuih

Cakes...cakes...and more cakes

A choice of different puddings

Bubur caca

Once again, Selamat Hari Raya! Enjoy the Hari Raya food and delicacies and use this occasion to foster closer racial harmony. God bless you all!

May the flame of racial harmony burn brightly!


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Today is Duan Wu Jie, also known as Dragon Boat Festival and Double Fifth Day. It falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month and is a widely celebrated festival among the Chinese.

Happy Duan Wu Jie

According to legend, the origin of the festival was to pay respect to Qu Yuan, a minister of the Chu kingdom. Qu Yuan was a wise and articulate man, much-loved by the common people. He fought against rampant corruption that plagued the courts, thereby incurring the jealousy and hate of many officials. When he advised the Emperor Zhou to avoid conflict with the Qin Kingdom, the jealous officials convinced the emperor to remove him from service.  In exile, he travelled for several years, writing and teaching. When he heard that Emperor Zhou had been defeated by the Qin, he threw himself into the Miluo River in despair and drowned. As he was so loved by the people, fishermen rushed out in long boats, beating drums to scare away fish and throwing zongzi (rice dumplings) into the water so that the fish would not eat Qu Yuan’s body.

Qu Yuan

Rice dumplings known as zongzi is the traditional food for the Dragon Boat Festival. These dumplings are made from glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. Here in Malaysia you can find a variety of fillings in the dumplings: pork, chicken, chestnut, salted egg, dried prawns, dried mushroom, peanuts, red bean paste and even curry.

Rice dumplings or zongzi

To all my Chinese friends, I wish you all a very happy Duan Wu Jie.

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Tomorrow is Gawai Dayak. This is a harvest festival celebrated by Sarawak’s largest ethnic group, the Dayaks, and the Bidayuhs. It is a time for family reunion, renewal of friendship and paying respects to the elders and the departed. The festival is rhapsody of non-stop dancing and merry-making as well as lavish offerings of traditional delicacies and tuak, a wine made from fermented rice, yeast and sugar.

This is how you make tuak. Glutinous rice is cooked and left to cool in a ‘tapan’ or any flat utensils. For every five kilograms of glutinous rice you will need five kilograms of round ‘ragi’ (yeast) and five pieces of thin slice ragi (round ragi for bitterness, slice ragi for sweetness). The yeast are pounded into powder and mixed with the rice after it has cooled. This mixture is then left to ferment in any clean container (jar) for a week or so. Cool, boiled water plus sugar is added to this mixture (10 kg sugar for 20 liters of water) . Depending on your taste, your tuak is now ready but the longer you keep it, the more potent it will be. Gawai Dayak would be less meaningful without the tuak. The tuak is a must, just like turkey is a must for Christmas. Bottoms up!

On Gawai Dayak, it is a ritual to give offerings to the dead through the miring ceremony, an elaborate and often colourful and noisy ceremony performed to appease the gods and the spirits and to ask for prosperity, good health and other blessings from them. The ceremony is performed by passing a live chicken above the food and drink, or other offerings, in a circular motion several times.

Gawai Dayak, particularly at the longhouses, is an unparalleled example of unity and harmony in the country. The longhouse folks welcome with open arms all guests irrespective of race, gender or religion. A visit to a Dayak longhouse during Gawai Dayak is a real eye-opener. The longhouse folks bring out their gongs and drums. Many of them wear hand-woven costumes lavishly decorated with antique beads and silver. Ladies and men in traditional costume perform ngajat which is a simple, rhythmic, strutting shuffle danced in rhythm to the beats of the gongs and drums. Visitors to the longhouses are often invited to join in.

A Dayak girl dancing

An Iban man performing the ngajat

A longhouse usually has dozens of families living in it so you will be invited to visit all the families. Be warned….if you cannot handle too much alcohol, you may end up very drunk as you will be served tuak by every family that you visit.

To all my Dayak friends, I wish you all Selamat Gawai Dayak……Gayu Guru Gerai Nyamai!

Gayu Guru Gerai Nyamai

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