May all your prayers be not answered

Street festivals to celebrate the birthday of a local diety is a noisy, joyful occasion in any Chinese community, as illustrated in this Macau 2002 stamp. The highlight is the opera performance where actors play out scenes from Chinese folktales and legends. Worshippers would take the opportunity to ask for good health, monetary success, career advancement and good grades in studies – the four pillars of a happy life.

Not all that you wiish for, are good for you, though. In fact, according to my Grandma, it would be a catastrophe should God answered all your prayers!

It is a fact of life that people who seemed to get everything they desire, and not because of hard work, study and effort, often ended up in disaster, said Grandma, pointing to stories of individuals who won the national lottery and after running through all the jackpot money, became broke and suicidal.

You don't get anything for nothing, Grandma would remind me as she adjusted my little fingers to hold the incense sticks correctly and respectfully in front of the god. So, don't pray for lots of money or that one day you will marry a beautiful bride. Ask, instead, that you grow up strong in character, good in your studies, and caring towards your family and people in need. All other things don't matter.

It is more than a half-century ago when I heard Grandma uttering these words as I accompanied her to the many temple festivials she helped organise to celebrate the birthday of Guanyin Bodhisattva, but her warning still rings in my heart.

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The stamp depicts the birthday celebration of the Earth God, a district official handling the affairs of the local community.

Below: The opera character with his crimson visage and martial bearing looks like Guanyii  關羽 from the era of the Three Kingdoms, my Mom's favourite story theme. According to Mom, Guanyii was never defeated in personal combat although eventually someone lopped off his head. After his death, Guanyii was promoted to be the God of War.
Post Script: I once saw a six-foot replica of Guanyii's battle spear with the fearsome blade. It was on sale at a Chinese New Year street bazaar (2012) just outside my apartment block in Serangoon North. The hawker wanted S$600 for it, assuring me that this weapon will ward off evil influence in the home.

If you want to see a temple festival, with outdoor opera performance, drop by at Serangoon North. The tiny neighbourhood has two large temples adjacent to each other and almost every month, there would be some religious celebration going on.

Traditional trades in Hong Kong's Chinatown street scenes