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Posted: 26 Nov 2013 11:41 AM PST
The old Taoist priest started from humble beginnings, operating a little shrine in my village that was 'Truly Asia'.
The old Taoist priest started from humble beginnings, operating a little shrine in my village that was 'Truly Asia'. His specialty was going into trances, slitting his tongue with a ceremonial sword and with it dripping red ink, wrote winning 4-digit numbers on yellow parchments. Lucky punters donated generously and now he operated from a new temple, as respectable as his new status. With new status came arrogance and a heightened, affected sensitivity. He received invitations to new year parties and was highly sought after by the rich and famous or infamous to perform rituals at the wakes of their dearly departed.
There were two recent incidences in his career that his sensitivity was put to the test.
1. The wake.
Just last weekend he had the opportunity to perform prayers and blessings at the wake of a grand old lady. For the benefit of non-Taoists, a little explanation about the custom practiced by Taoists is in order. Visitors who come to a wake to pay their last respect are expected to donate money, called 'pak kam' (white gold) in Cantonese, to be inserted through a slot on the top of a donation box. The money must be placed inside white envelopes as befitting the custom and sombre occasion.
During a break in his prayer chanting, the priest saw a gatecrasher, an unkempt man clutching a brown paper bag in which was concealed a bottle, paid respect to the deceased and then inserted a red envelope in the slot of the donation box. By now everyone's eyes were fixed on this stranger's action. This was an act of disrespect to the family of the departed. The priest was aghast at the callousness. However, he suspected that the man was drunk (which proved to be the case when the man produced the bottle of liquor from his brown paper bag and started loudly to propose a toast to the health of the dearly departed). Therefore, they forgave the scoundrel and summarily ushered him out.
2. The New Year Party.
During the Chinese new year open house at our village community hall the priest was one of the guests of honour. It was a typical multiracial, multianimal affair where political opportunists mingled freely with vagrants, gangsters, religionists, ahteists, LGBT, idiots, dogs, cats and rats.
The highlight of the party was the giving out of 'Ang Pow' by honoured guests. And that was the main reason the event attracted all sorts except the dogs, cats and rats. They only came for the food crumbs.
It was then that a wannabe MP committed a faux pas. He handed out the money contained in white envelops. Had he confused a new year celebration with a wake?
To the Taoists, new year celebrations are religious. The priest was offended, more so because the wannabe MP was from a rival political party. The virtual rocket that he secretly kept in his heart for decades exploded. He decided to make what was so fashionable these days, a police report for an insult to his religion.
At the police station the officer was polite and professional, for in his stereotyped thinking, since the priest was Chinese and Chinese diligently pay their taxes then he must be a loyal citizen. I began to admire the professionalism of that officer for his explanation to the aggrieved priest. He said "An Pek, I can understand your feelings and I symphatise with you. But the police department is under the authority of a secular government. Therefore we are not authorised to handle religious matters. You may wish to lodge your complaint to an appropriate body, like your Taoist Association."
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