February 17, 2010

Of General Guan Yu and Star Wars


I am now reading the great Chinese novel "Romance of The Three Kingdoms" (actually reading it again … I have read it a few times already). I love this novel with its colourful historical characters of ancient generals, heroes and villains such as Liu Bei, Zhang Fei, Zhou Yu, Chao Tzu Lung, Zhuge Liang, Cao Cao and of course Guan Yu (picture-left), a Han general who is the subject of this article. Guan Yu is very much respected until today for his righteousness and loyalty. The Chinese called him “Kuan Kung” or "Kuan Yee Kor" (in Cantonese). He is the fierce looking guy with long beard and armed with a halberd (a type of ancient sword with a long handle) that you see in many Chinese temples. Some people even install the deity of General Guan Yu in their homes. Even though he is not a god, he is very much respected and treated like one.

So what does General Guan Yu have to do with Star Wars?

The story goes like this … once I was visiting a temple and in this temple there was a very nice deity of General Guan Yu. I was just hanging around and was admiring the beautiful statue of General Guan Yu when I noticed that the temple does not use wax candles anymore. The wax candles were replaced by those plastic electric candles … I am sure you must have seen them before … those candle look-a-like with a light bulb that lights up when you switch on the electricity. They will flicker mimicking a burning candle.

At the same time the caretaker of the temple was walking by me and I commented that I don’t see many temples using these electric candles. Honestly, I commented innocently but I don’t know why the caretaker was a bit disturbed by my comment. I could see he was quite agitated and he shot back at me with a tone and manner full of hostility. He said “Eh “how sang chai (young man) … lei tou ng sik yeh, hou lok how (you don’t know anything, very backwards)” … and he went on (in Cantonese) saying that things are very advance now and we must keep in pace with progress and development of new ideas, new things and a full load of related stuffs. Phew! I must have stood there listening to him for quite awhile. Then I thought I better leave, he must have got up on the wrong side of the bed that morning.

But as I was leaving he said something which hit me on a wrong spot … he said “Lei kang hai mo tok kor shee ... sai kai how chun po chor. Lei mo tai kor Star Wars meh? Translated, those words mean “You must be uneducated. The world is very advance already. You never watch Star Wars before?"

Now those words heated me up a bit and I shot back with my acerbic tongue (in Cantonese) something to this effect … I said “Hello, if you are talking about advance and progress … then why only change the candles? Why is General Guan Yu still wearing an ancient headgear and holding an ancient sword? He should also progress right? And speaking of Star Wars, then our good General Guan Yu should be wearing a Darth Vader’s mask and holding a bloody light sabre (picture-right) … and when you switch on the electric it should go “zzzrrrrrrmmmmm’ and will light up menacingly … and those words (there were a few Chinese words written on the wall nearby) should change too. They should read “May the force be with you” right?

When I finished, the caretaker jaw dropped and before anything happens I walked out of the temple quite satisfied with myself.

Now don’t get me wrong … I am not against using electric candles. They do serve their purpose in keeping the place clean and reduce pollution. But then again, I think some things should be left as they were originally... I mean both the candles and the good old General Guan Yu.


Karen Theseira said...

I'm with you on this one. Traditional candles convey a more personal nuance than electrical ones.
Maybe we're just simply old-fashioned at heart, meh? :-)

Victoria Dixon said...

Oh, just the idea of Guan Yu with a lightsaber is enough to make me laugh! Maybe a soundtrack of him breathing?

I agree, the candles and incense are much more effective and meaningful in the context of worship.

Anonymous said...

hehe..did u tempered d guan yu pic? if d face is dark vader, he would b an evil instead of a goddess.

i dun pray in temples but i do treasure culture. i remember when v were small, there used to be live opera shows in conjuction wt d deity's bday at temples where there was temporary set up of theatre stage, something happening esp in small village n town. nowadays v dun c tat much anymore, esp in bog town n cities n if there is, mainly only singing performance than opera shows.

i hv a mixed feeling abt tat. i understand v hv to catch up wt development n these days youngsters will prefer something online or opera is so called outdated. but i think if there is n emphasis to preserve d opera through modernisation like 'circus de soile', d high end circus in US tat replaces d traditonal circus, it will b something to treasure, like d chinese opera in china.

wll, tat's just my opinion..