Saturday, February 23, 2008

Wooden (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

After I put up my entry for last week's Photo Hunt, I went over to tnchick's site to see what would be this week's theme -- at which point, I got to realizing that quite a few of my Chi Lin Nunnery photos would have worked as well for this week's entry on account of its impressive main building being a predominantly, if not entirely, wooden structure! Still, rather than revisit that photo collection for this week's Photo Hunt entry, I'm putting up a couple of pictures of interesting traditional Chinese material culture that I took in Penang sometime last year instead.

First up is a close-up shot of two legs of old wooden furniture that can be found inside the Hainanese Temple on Muntri Street. In Imperial China, there was a strict social hierarchy that came to manifest itself even in such as individual pieces of furniture getting divided into three classes. For the record, those in my picture are recognizably second class furniture. How so? Because, their legs have been carved to resemble those of lions. Consequently, they are a class above the undecorated third class furniture but, at the same time, a class below those pieces of furniture whose higher status can be identified through their legs resembling those of those auspicious -- and mythical -- creatures known as dragons!

Next, and at the Penang Teochew Association's Ancestral Temple over in Chulia Street, generations worth of wooden ancestral tablets are on display at the alter in the building's inner most hall. At this juncture, I'd like to take the opportunity to debunk the widely-held (among Westerners) misconception that many people have that the Chinese worship their ancestors. To my mind, we don't. Rather, we venerate, honor and remember them instead. And should people think that our tradition of offering up food and drink to the ancestors is on the weird side, I'll offer up the following tale (involving an encounter that I could well imagine taking place in either Hong Kong or Penang):-

A Western man came across a Chinese man going about performing some grave-side rituals at a cemetery one day. After the Chinese man had finished laying out some food and drink in front of his ancestor's grave, the Western man went up and said, "Sir, I hope you can answer a question for me." "Certainly," replied the Chinese man, after which the Western man asked, "When is your ancestor coming up to eat the food and drink the drink?" Looking at the Western man, who had come complete to the cemetery with a bouquet of flowers, the Chinese man answered: "When your ancestor comes up to smell the flowers...!" ;b


jams o donnell said...

What a marvellous selection. THe ancestral temple shot is marvellous. Happy weekend

Bengbeng said...

yr photo collection is quite complete. i 'played' around Muntri Street for at least 5 years and I never saw these legs :)

i only regularly went to the Goddess of Mercy Temple at Pitt Street. Also the place where I had a traffic accident :(

ghee said...

The Temple`s shot is awesome!!

happy weekend!!
Mine`s up,too!


Dragonheart & Merlin said...

Those are very beautiful! The ancestral temple is wonderful! Thank you for sharing some information about each of the photos!

jmb said...

Good photos for the theme YTSL and a great comeback from the man in the cemetery. Too true.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Fabulous post, as usual, YTSL! Great pictures too. Have a great weekend!

napaboaniya said...

I didn't think of wooden ancestral tablets though there's one at home.
Very interesting write up on the places :P

Carver said...

Great post and photographs. Very interesting. I hope you have a happy weekend.

Hootin' Anni said...

These are amazing photos!!! I love the whole concept of the first one being a close up or a wooden leg. Great shots.

Happy Hunting, I hope you'll find time to drop by and visit with me too today.

JC said...

Wonderful shots and a terrific post!

YTSL said...

Hi jams o donnell and ghee --

Thanks and happy weekend to you too! :)

Hi bengbeng --

You had a traffic accident in Pitt Street (not INSIDE the Goddess of Mercy Temple, right)? If so, was it before or after they installed that seriously stupid paving on the road? :S

Hi Dragonheart & Merlin --

You're welcome and I do realize that I tend to write more than most Photo Hunters but, often times, it does seem like my photos do need some explanation and/or contextualization... ;S

Hi jmb, Snoopy the Goon, Carver and jc --

Much thanks for reading my writings as well as viewing my photos! :)

Hi napaboaniya --

Guess you're so used to the presence of the ancestral tablet that it doesn't immediately strike you as all that notable, right? ;b

Hi Hootin' Annie --

On a wood-associated note: Yeah, sometimes, it's easy to forget to see the trees rather than just the forest.

And not to worry, I do make a point to drop by the blogs of those who visit me (if I haven't already done so already!) :)

Anonymous said...

Great post! I love the idea of classes of furniture :) I have seen both second and third class but not, I think, first class. Beautiful photos.

Heather said...

Wonderful shots.

lotis said...

the furniture leg is cute. and so are the other pictures here.

Utah Mommy said...

You did great in taking these fascinating photos you have. Happy weekend!

Anonymous said...

Lol that was a great story! I never knew their was a difference in Chinese furniture. Does it only hold for antiques? Or does it continue today? Very informative. This is one of the reasons I love photo hunt.

Dragonstar said...

I agree with byrningbunny - I love photohunt because of how much I learn. Now I know the different classes of furniture, and I'd love something from the first class (Who says dragons are mythical? - LOL!)

pelfy said...

I usually do not take photographs of ancestral temples **(for the fear that they might recognise and hunt me) Hehehe.... Just too afraid even when I look at the photos (=

YTSL said...

Hi a. --

The higher the class, the rarer as well as more precious. So it makes sense that you've not seen the dragon legged stuff yet! :)

Hi Heather and Lotis --

Thanks. :)

Hi Utah Mommy --

Thanks, and happy weekend to you too! :)

Hi byrningbunny --

I know newer furniture that still gets made with decorated legs but the classification system is offically no longer in use.

Hi dragonstar --

Yes, I could see why someone with your moniker might like some dragon-legged furniture! BTW, not all dragons are mythical -- if you count komodo dragons as dragons, that is. ;b

Hi pelfy --

Like to think that ancestors are benign for the most part, especially if one appreciates what is part of theirs. ;b

andrée said...

The tablets are gorgeous, important and beautiful. Wonderful post.

the teach said...

YTSL, A Great post! So much interesting information and beautiful pictures! Thanks for sharing those! Happy PH! :D

Willow said...

haha. A good response (on the two men at the cemetary)!

My relatives eat the food they've just offered to their ancestors (when they don't leave it at the grave site). They don't eat it at the cemetary but take it home. Sometimes they ask us to take it home but I find we can't eat the goodies.

Liz said...

Imagine a lion only being sceond-class! Would you want to tell one that?!

That's a great story about the flowers and the food. I'd never thought of it like that. Makes complete sense - or nonsense of both traditions. I suppose, as you say, it's about honouring the memory.

YTSL said...

Hi Andree --

Am glad you like the post and, in particular, the photo of the ancestral tablets. :)

Hi "the teach" --

I'm glad that I'm able to share with people who can appreciate what I've sought to share! :)

Hi Willow --

Yeah, it's common practice in Malaysia to physically eat the food after the ancestors have spiritually consumed it (and in so doing, it's thought, effectively bless it). :b

Hi Liz --

Teehee re your lion comments! And glad you appreciate that story which shows how culture-bound we can be when it comes to thinking what's logical/usual vs what's not. ;)