SIBU: Two tourists from Holland witnessed what they described as a ‘Little China’ experience at the Tua Pek Kong temple here as religious practices carried out thousands of years ago in mainland China unfolded before them.
The two in their 20s had not expected to see this in a land thousands of miles away from the mainland.
Ales and Annabelle said they had heard of the cultural colours in this part of the world, and had travelled together to Malaysia, with Borneo in mind.
They landed in Kuala Lumpur before travelling to Kuching, arriving in Sibu on the eve of the Chinese New Year.
“We know of this major festival in Asia, and we walked over to the temple for a glimpse, but found ourselves walking into a world of colour and sounds we have never seen before.”
Their first glimpse was of hundreds of worshippers entering the temple to light joss sticks.
“Out of curiosity, we followed them to see what they did. We also offered incense. We were thrilled.”
Temple committee member Soon Choon Kui, who met them at the temple’s main gate, welcomed the foreign tourists with open arms.
He said Tua Pek Kong Temple had attracted thousands of tourists for more than a century.
The colourful events handed down to them by their forefathers intrigued tourists who witnessed a culture well preserved outside China.
He said what the two Dutch tourists saw on the eve of Chinese New Year were offerings of roast pigs, fruits, drinks and other food, the burning of paper money and joss sticks and other ceremonial events.
Sitting on stone slabs outside the temple next to the main entrance under the trees, Ales and Annabelle looked skyward as smoke from thousands of burning joss sticks rose upwards.
Fireworks exploded overhead so they were also surrounded by the sounds of firecrackers.
The smoke was thick but it did not bother Ales and Annabelle although they got teary-eyed at times.
Ales clicked her phone camera to capture magical images of the large dragon joss sticks and worshippers offering incense.
The two visitors left Sibu yesterday, heading for Miri before going to Sabah.
The Borneo trip this Chinese New Year will be memorable for them.
Soon hopes they will return to be embraced in the warm friendship of Sibu folks.
He said more than 10,000 worshippers thronged Tua Pek Kong temple on the eve of Chinese New Year.
“This is based on the number of joss sticks we gave out to worshippers that day.”
Soon is happy more youths are coming to the temple, saying they are passing the cultural duties to them.
“In this way, thousand years old cultural practices will not die in our hands,” he added.
Among the joss sticks that caught the visitors’ attention were giant dragon ones outside the temple.
Rows and rows of them lined up the pavement, corridors and compound.
Soon said there were 280 of them surrounding the temple that night, as if they were guarding it.
“The joss sticks bear the names of the worshippers who have ordered them. We put up them on metal stands.
“They light joss sticks on this day as thanksgiving for blessings received in the Year of the Dragon.”
He said as the smoke rises skyward, the worshippers pray for blessings in the Snake Year.
He said for many people, size matters because those who offered the giant joss sticks did done well last year, so returned to offer the best of the best to Tua Pek Kong.
Soon said there were also small and medium sized joss sticks.
“The important factor is worshippers come with a heart for the god, and they will be blessed in their offerings.”