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The Eve of the Jade Emperor’s Birthday

Malaysia is in the midst of an outbreak of Dengue. Dengue is endemic here. Last year in the first three weeks of January, there were around 1700 cases but this year within the same period, there were over 6000 reported cases. The government has been going around visiting various business sites especially construction areas to look for breeding grounds for mosquitoes but sometimes meeting with resistance. They are now instituting “fogging” with Bacillus Thuringiensis Israeliensis, a biological agent which affects the larvae and kills them. Having had Dengue last year, I just pray that I would not get infected this time around.

The birthday of the Jade Emperor is on the ninth day of the first Lunar Calendar but the Hokkien people on the island begin celebrating it on the eve of the birthday. It was said that a long time ago the Hokkiens were under the bondage of demonic forces. The Jade Emperor freed them as he fought with the forces while the people hid in a sugar cane plantation. Therefore sugar canes are an important part of the offerings on his birthday. On the island hundreds of people flocked to his temple to offer thanks on the eve of his birthday. All over Georgetown, there were parades and outdoor stage shows and of course no celebration is complete without the explosive firecrackers.

One of the more poignant stories surrounding the Emperor was regarding his daughter, Zhinü or weaver girl who was responsible for weaving the colorful clouds in heaven. She often donned a magical robe to descend to earth to bathe. On one occasion a cowherd Niu Lang, spotted her and stole her robe preventing her from returning to heaven. He took her home and in time she fell in love with him and they were married. However she missed her father and longed to go home to visit. She fortuitously discovered the box where her husband hid her magic robe and returned to her father but he in turn caused the Milky Way to flow across the sky rendering her unable to return to her husband. Eventually the Emperor felt sorry for them and allowed the young couple to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month of the Lunar calendar on a bridge over the river. Around August at the first quarter of the moon, the Milky Way is dimmer on the condition of the lighting of the sky. On this day the lovers are no longer separated by it. Zhinü is being represented by Vega in the constellation of Lyra east of the Milky Way and Niu Lang by Altair in the constellation of Aquila west of the Milky Way.

It is futile to star gaze in Penang where the lights abound. This is also a big change from whence I was small.

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