Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Communicating with the dead


Inconspicuous: The Leong Hong Keong temple in Lorong Slim is tucked away among a row of zinc and wooden shacks
More offerings: Lai arranging prayer items


Medium's work: Lai, possessed by Tua Pek, Preparing a talisman for a family of devotees.


Special attire: Lai showing the Tua Pek robe he wears when he goes into a trance.


Relatives seek help of deity so that the souls of the deceased can be at peace

Dried-up lime coated in thick wax dangles on a long red string. Initially still, the fruits start swinging back and forth before moving in a circular motion.

Holding tightly on to the piece of string was the relative of a departed man.
The middle-aged woman was attempting to communicate with her dead uncle at the Leong Hong Keong temple in Lorong Slim, off Perak Road, in Penang.

Dedicated to the underworld deities Tua Pek (Grand Uncle) and Jee Pek (Second Uncle), the temple is tucked inconspicuously among a row of zinc and wooden shacks and is not easy to locate unless one is familiar with the area.

The temple is usually quiet except on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights, when medium Lai Seng Hee, 44, goes into a trance to help Tna Pek devotees communicate with the deity.

"I go into a trance from 9.30pm to 1 am when there are many people. I can't turn them away, especially during the Qing Ming month.

"Devotees come requesting Tua Pek to help them 'contact' their loved ones who are in the oetherworld. It is easier to communicate with spirits at this time of the year.

"Contrary to popular belief, those who come are not punters asking for numbers. They come because they are concerned about their relatives and want to know if there is anything that they can do to help alleviate the suffering of the souls.

"They normally ask if the deceased person needs anything. These, they will later bum at the graveyard as offerings," he said, adding that it was a devotee who held the string attached to the lime.

"As a medium, I only instruct them on what to do, I don't touch the lime so when it moves, they cannot say that it is my doing. However, before they can communicate with the deceased, they must get Tua Pek's permission," he explained.

Qing Ming fell on Friday as it is a leap year. Normally, it falls on April 5.

During Qing Ming, the Chinese visit the graves of deceased family members and ancestors to pay their respects. It can be done 10 days before and after the actual date of Qing Ming.The graves are weeded and cleaned, joss-paper is burnt and offerings are made.

"According to Taoist belief, everyone who passes on must meet Tua Pek because he is like the Angel of Death.

"I learnt to use the lime to communicate with the dead from a sifu (master) in Chieng Mai, Thailand, many years ago.

"The first time I used this method in Malaysia was when I helped Ooi Ying Ying's father, Eng Chew, to 'talk' to her," said Lai, a former electrician.

Since last year, the Leong Hung Keong temple has been in the news because of the gruesome murder of the three-year-old girl.

Seeking answers to the questions that lie behind the death of his only daughter, Eng Chew has been a regular visitor to the temple.

The murder also drew international media coverage when a Hung Kong production company filmed a seance between Ying Ying and her father for a documentary last year.

Lai has since been helping to "gather" fragments of Ying Ying's soul and conducting religious rituals to appease her soul.

The temple, which was "established more than 30 years ago, has been featured in television programmes on the supernatural.

"Actually, even before the temple was highlighted in the media, we used to have at least 40 devotees waiting to seek the deity's help every time I went into a trance.

"They come for various reasons - to help cure their illnesses, prolong the life of a sick loved one, end the suffering of a terminally-ill family member, keep evil spirits away and even help discipline naughty children.

"We don't charge a single sen, It is up to the individual if they feel like making a donation," he said, adding that the temple gave out about 80 canes per week to help discipline disobedient children.

"These canes are blessed by the deity and are to be placed in the house - not to hit the kids with!" he said with a laughed, adding that devotees came from Johor, Kuala Lumpnr and Kedah to seek the deity's help and blessing.

According to Lai, Tua Pek - the Chief Inspector of Hades - always carries a fan, while his assistant, Jee Pek, carries a chain,

Together, the brothers are known as Poh Tiao Pelt

Normally associated with the Hungry Ghost festival, Poh Tiao Pek are among the four assistants of the Phor Thor Kong or Tai Su Yah (known variously as the God of Hell, the Evil King, the King of the Underworld, and the King of the Hungry Ghosts).

His other two assistants are Phor Kua (Secretary of Hades), whose task is to record good and bad deeds, and Thor Tay Kong (Earth God).

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