Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Tesagan Gin Je Festival (The Phuket Vegetarian Festival)

The Tesagan Gin Je Festival is an annual celebration in honour of the Nine Emperor Gods, deities who control people’s destinies, according to some Thai Chinese Buddhist. The festival is commonly known as the Vegetarian Festival, and is celebrated in elaborately by the Thai-Chinese in Phuket, and other areas in Thailand that have significant Thai-Chinese populations. The festival attracts participants and voyeurs from around the world. 

The origins of this Festival are shrouded in mystery. According to popular myths, the Tesagan Gin Je Festival in Phuket began in the middle of the nineteenth century. During this time there was a large Chinese population on the island residing in a town named Kathu, most of who had migrated to Phuket to work in tin mines.

Due to their expatriate lifestyle, the Chinese mine workers in Kathu were well-to-do and were in need of entertainment. A travelling Chinese theatre group visited the mining town and were well received. The troupe stayed in the Kathu for several months entertaining the mine workers. One day, all of the members of the troupe fell ill due to a mysterious illness. The members of the troupe believed that the illness was due to their lackadaisical attitude towards the observance of traditional Chinese cultural practices since their arrival in Phuket. 

The members of the theatre group decided to engage in ritual vegetarianism and other traditional Chinese ceremonies in an attempt to appease their Gods and alleviate the symptoms of their illness. The members of the troupe were quickly and miraculously cured of their illness, to the surprise of their hosts. The Chinese inhabitants of the town performed the rites and rituals the following year, and found that the rituals had a positive effect upon their health and general well-being.

However, one resident of the town noticed that the rites and rituals were not being practiced exactly as tradition mandated, and volunteered to return to Kansai, China to acquire sacred items that would essentially persuade revered deities to inhabit their city. The townsfolk donated money for his journey, and the emissary departed. He returned a year later to a nearby pier with numerous sacred items in his possession, all to be placed within Kathu’s shrine; a large group of townsfolk greeted him at the pier and formed a procession, escorting the emissary back into Kathu, establishing the foundations of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival

This origin story is lore, and possible discrepancies exits, however the fact is that this festival is celebrated by thousands of faithful with a level devotion that, in some cases, seems supernatural.  The Phuket Vegetarian Festival that exists today is definitely not for the faint-hearted. 

In order to mentally and physically prepare for participation in the festival’s various ceremonies, devotees must:

1. Abstain from killing any living creature.
2. Abstain from eating meat.
3. Abstain from committing theft.
4. Abstain from causing anyone physical or mental harm.
5. Abstain from deceiving people, and abstain from using obscene language. 
6. Abstain from engaging in sexual intercourse or any flirtatious behaviour.
7. Abstain from consuming narcotics or alcohol.
8. Abstain from wearing fashion accessories made from metal or leather.
9. Abstain from gambling.
10. Not use the kitchen utensils or food containers of or have any meals with anyone not participating in the Vegetarian Festival ceremonies.

The festival features many sights and attractions, and can be a bit chaotic at times. Below is a list of some of the highlights of the festival:

1. In Phuket Town, a procession of possessed people will walk down the main street. The processions will include people in a trance-like state who have piercings through their faces of a variety of sizes, people who are skipping though the streets bearing gifts and sucking on baby bottles, people engaged in self-flagellation, and people who have various object sewn to their bodies. 

2. Within this procession will be people carrying Chinese alters adorned with various deities. Spectators on the sides of the roads will throw fire-crackers at the procession.

3. In the morning the Chinese temples in the area are full of people being coaxed into a trance then pierced with objects that vary in size. This is referred to as a banishment ritual and is repeated any number of times.

4. In other areas of the town, people will run over strips of the street paved with hot coals. Others will bathe in hot oil, and others will climb up ladders with rungs made of knives.

All along the procession route will be spectators waiting to receive a blessing from one of the possessed. 

The last night of the festival features a final procession through Phuket Town. The streets will be lined with hundreds of people who throw fireworks at the procession for nearly 6 hours. The procession will finish at Sapan Hin; after the head Mah Song (an unmarried person with no family whom invites spirits of the Gods to possess their bodies) leads the festival’s primary alter into the water, signifying the departure of the spirits of the Gods from the festivities.

The Cape Panwa Hotel provides vegetarian food in all of its restaurants, if you wish to participate. For a greater understanding of this Festival, we recommend reading ‘The Chinese Vegetarian Festival in Phuket’ by Erik Cohen

Our Guest Relations Agent ‘TiminPhuket’ loves to visit cultural events in Phuket, so if you are staying at Cape Panwa Hotel and Spa feel free to ask him any questions you have about the island of Phuket. 


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Where you can find Dim Sum in Phuket?

There is a history of the Chinese in Phuket and subsequently there was a growth of the small, usually family owned and run restaurants. This is our selection.

To experience the best Dim Sum you must get up early because the better the dim sum is the quicker it runs out!

This restaurant is currently run by the 4th generation of an original Chinese family. The first restaurant is on Bangkok Road and is still very popular – try the steamed stuffed buns  (or salapao) here. Boonrat proved to be so popular that are now actually 2 more branches; Tilok-U-Thit 2 Road and opposite Dowroongwittaya School on Chao Fa East Road.

This restaurant is a little different because if you arrive with people who would like to eat local Thai food then there is that option. This is a wonderful place to visit and please do not be put off by the steel table and the noise. Here just choose a large tray with a selection of dishes and have a bite of each different thing!

This is certainly one to visit early in the morning – I hear that Tim stops here before he plays a round of golf. Here you must request to have a pot of fresh Chinese Tea as it is bursting with flavour. Then you must try the deep fried fish balls.

There is a very big selection of the Dim Sum here but you must try the dim sum that is stuffed with fresh shrimp. I am told that if you arrive early enough you are able to watch the chef roll them – fascinating.

Somjai Dim Sum  

This is a small restaurant that is near to the Bus Station in Phuket Town. Here is the one of the few Dim Sum restaurants that is open in the evening – until 11pm. The steamed stuffed buns are wonderful and available with 8 different fillings.

Laan Dim Sum

This is a small restaurant that is relatively new in Phuket, it was established in 1999. The dishes here are many but one that you must try is the chicken feet served with a spicy sauce (I was not sure to begin with but only for the adventurous). There is also a traditional Thai noodle station for those who would like Thai food as well.

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For many of the travellers to Thailand this is not an exhaustive list to the plethora of Dim Sum Restaurants in Phuket but if you just want to have a try you do not need to leave early because there are steamed stuffed buns and Dim Sum served at the International breakfast at Cape Panwa Hotel.


View Dim Sum restaurants in Phuket in a larger map

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Hongsyok Family and the tradition of the BaBa Weddings of Phuket Island

A procession of men and women saunter down the streets of Phuket Town, all dressed in the finest clothing of 19th century Asia; the men clad in white western suites pressed to perfection, the women in immaculate silk dresses embroidered with floral patterns, cranes golden crests that shimmer in the mid day sunlight.  The procession, an annual parade known as the BaBa Wedding, snakes by, led by a marching band and flanked by spectators also dressed in immaculate suits and dresses.  

The annual parade is a celebration of matrimony by the Chinese community in Phuket, where children walk hand in hand with their parents, as their infectious smiles warm the hearts of all spectators, their free hands throw flower petals and confetti, or grip their favourite tattered stuffed toy.  The serpentine column passes the facade of the Hongsyok House, a residence with history as long and fascinating as the parade that passes by.

The Hongsyok house was built in the 1930’s by Chin Guan, a man of Chinese and Thai heritage.  His was one of six children, born on November 4, 1888.  At the age of 14, Guan’s family sent him to China to learn his father’s mother tongue.  Upon his return he worked in Phuket’s then thriving tin mining industry.  He eventually acquired enough skills and expertise to start his own mining company.  After several setbacks, his ingenuity and perseverance paid off and his mining business eventually amassed great wealth.  As his wealth increased, Guan embarked on several philanthropic endeavours, eventually gaining the attention of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who bestowed the Royal Thai Decoration of companion of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant upon Guan in 1953.

Being a man of vision, Chin Guan built a family mansion – The Hongsyok House – to provide a home for all future generations of his family.  The mansion stands to this day, and is still inhabited by members of his family.  

The Hongsyok House serves as the site of the tea ceremony for the annual BaBa Weddings.  
Several newlywed couples sit within the European Colonial-style mansion, underneath the intricate tile mosaics, underneath the grand arch that stands over the entrance to the magnificent structure. 

The ceremony ends with the couples parading in front of revellers in the street, who have waited for the couples to emerge and rejoin the procession which ends at the Thai Hua Museum, a marvellous colonial building housing materials pertaining to the rich history of the tin mining industry in Phuket.

The BaBa Wedding is a beautiful ceremony not to be missed by anyone wanting to witness a view into the traditions of the inhabitants of Phuket.