Nine Emperor Gods Festival

Last month one of our friends told us that he would have vegetarian food during the Nine Emperor Gods Festival. This Taoist festival is yearly held during the first nine days of the ninth lunar month. The largest celebration takes place in Ampang, but there is also one in Taiping, which I had always wanted to see, but never had ๐Ÿ˜‰ .

I asked my Taiping friends about details, and they told me that the main procession would be held on Sunday 6 October, and the fire walking on the last evening, Monday 7 October. So I booked my usual hotel Furama and arrived by train Saturday 5 October afternoon.

Taiping has become a warm nest for me, friends were already waiting at the station, and before sending me to my hotel, we had lunch in restaurant YES.

After a short rest in my hotel, and in spite of the drizzle, I decided to have a look at the Nine Emperor Gods Temple. There are three Kew Ong Yah (Nine Emperor) temples in Taiping, the original one is in Tupai, on walking distance from my hotel.

A lot of activity was going on. Devotees were praying in the temple and having (free) vegetarian food. Many of them were wearing traditional white clothes.

In the temple compound I saw already the floats and chariots that were going to be used during the procession.

That evening I had dinner again with my friends, this time in restaurant 8383 in Pokok Assam. As I said, Taiping is a warm nest for me. The food was delicious and really value for money.

The next morning was the procession. The husband of my friend Bok Kin is a descendant of Ng Boo Bee, the famous tycoon. In April they had taken me to Ng Boo Bee’s tomb, click here for the report. Ng Boo Bee’s town house is in Kota Road., the procession is always passing by there and it is a tradition that the family prepares an offering table in front of the house. Bok Kin invited me to watch the parade from there and of course I accepted her invitation.

Before the procession started, I joined the family in burning joss sticks, not surprisingly nine sticks this time ๐Ÿ™‚

Many people were waiting for the arrival of the parade. The cream-colored building is Ng Boo Bee’s townhouse

Start of the procession. In the background the iconic Taiping clock tower.

When the chariots were close to the house and the offering table, they made a left turn and almost ran to the table, stopping just in time.

Many participants were carrying whips, using them to make a cracking sound. There were also quite a few devotees, dressed in tattered monk robes, a fan in one hand and often a bottle of beer in the other. They personify Ji Gong. Fascinating to watch.

Rocking the chariot is a common practice. I had seen it before at the Chengay festival in Johor Baru.

I kept taking pictures ๐Ÿ™‚ .

Most of the chariots were carried by men. This one was an exception.

This Ji Gong entered the house to pay his respect to the house altar and wrote something on a piece of paper before he continued.

Another Ji Gong. His robe is tattered. His cap is covering his eyes. Holding a bottle of beer in one hand and a fan in the other. The original Ji Gong (1130-1209) ate meat, drank alcohol and did not care about his clothing… ๐Ÿ™‚

The most fascinating part of the procession are the many men, often still teenagers, who have been piercing their cheeks, walk with hooks in their backs etc. They are called masong. Most piercing is done with long, thin, metal poles, but there were a few devotees who had used heavier stuff, like this guy who was using two swords, and the guy to the right, using a gun. Can not imagine how that can heal easily.

Here are more pictures. One guy using an umbrella, another one a tyre pump, even one carrying a ladder! Notice how all of them have one or two helpers, carrying a stool. Understandably, sometimes they have to sit down for a while ๐Ÿ™‚

An Indian drum band added to the festive atmosphere. My friends said that this year the procession was longer than before. Several temple are contributing, and also Indians take part in the parade.

Here is another way of self-mortification , similar to what I have seen at Thaipusam, where devotees pull a chariot with ropes attached by hooks to their back. No chariot here, but other boys, pulling back, while the masong are more or less hanging forward.

More piercing of cheeks.

The last part of the procession. Devotees are carrying kavadis. Both the kavadis and the piercing have their origin in the Hindu Thaipusam tradition. Actually, there is a Hindu festival, Navaratri, during the same nine days of the ninth lunar month, but not related.

Heavy stuff, no wonder they sometimes have to sit down for some rest.

One of the last floats. Sprinkling (holy?) water on the crowd.

The whole parade took around 1.5 hour. After cleaning the offering table, the family invited me for lunch. Vegetarian of course ๐Ÿ™‚

The fire walking took place on the evening of the next day, so I had plenty of time to walk around in Taiping, meet other friends, enjoy (non-vegetarian) food, etc. I have written a separate post about it, Taiping, October 2019, and will continue here with the fire walking.

The next day around 7pm, my friend Yeap picked me up from my hotel and we found a parking place not too far from the Tupai temple, where the fire walking was going to take place. We were early, a big space had been cordoned off, and people were preparing the bed of ashes. It was shorter than I had seen in Sri Lanka, many years ago.

We had a look inside the temple, where Yeap introduced me to Ong Hean Hai, the caretaker. He is standing second from right, with his children . Later he invited us to his office, where he gave an explanation about the Nine Emperor Gods festival.

There were many food stalls in and around the temple compound. In one of them they were making Yeow Char Kwai, a favorite of mine, specially when freshly fried. The name translates as Oil Fried Devils and here is the explanation for that strange name ๐Ÿ™‚

As we were early, we had dinner there. Vegetarian curry mee, very nice. And black coffee with Yeow Char Kwai, delicious when you soak them in the coffee. In the meantime Bok Kin and Teng Hin had also joined.

Preparing for the fire walking, the devotees, dressed in white, perform several rituals. They enter the inner temple, where other people are not allowed. They walk back and forth several times to the fire walking compound, chanting.

The Nine Emperor Gods Festival is associated with rain, and this time was no exception. When the fire walking was beginning around 9pm, it had also started to rain. Maybe easier for the devotees to walk on the ashes? For us onlookers, we needed an umbrella.

The lighting was not very bright, so it was difficult to take good pictures. Here are two videos I took. The devotees are circling a few times around the ashes, before they walk.

It is interesting to watch the fire walkers. Some of them walk slowly, others almost run. Some carry a child or a bundle of clothes. Because of the rain, you could not see any glowing ashes, but it still must have been burning hot. After the first group of devotees, also others try. It is said that you can only do it if you have been vegetarian during the nine days of the festival , but I doubt if that is true

AFter the fire walking was finished, we went back to the restaurant, where also many of the fire walkers were enjoying a drink, food and company.

The festival was a memorable experience for me. I took many videos dring the procession and the fire walking. Here is a collage.

Will an asteroid hit Earth?

Roughly 66 million years ago the Chicxulub asteroid with an estimated diameter of 10 km struck Earth at the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. It caused an extinction of 75% of all plant and animal species, including the dinosaurs.

In 1908 the Tunguska meteorite exploded above a remote region in Russia, flattening about 2000 kmยฒ of forest. Ongoing discussion if it was a comet or an asteroid. Estimated size 30-80 m.

On 15 February 2013 an asteroid, size approximately 20 m, exploded at an altitude of ~ 30 km above the Chelyabinsk district in Russia. The shockwave caused substantial damage, many people were injured by broken glass.

And last few weeks there has been “alarming” news in the media about several “space rocks” threatening to collide with Earth and cause havoc. Foremost in this was the British tabloid Daily Express. Here are a few of its headlines (click on the image to see the corresponding article)

7 September:

Asteroid shock: NASA warns of โ€˜100 percentโ€™ chance of asteroid impact

27 September:

Asteroid alert: NASA tracks three space rocks heading past Earth at once โ€“ Will they hit?

2 October:

Asteroid warning: NASA panic as four killer space rocks avoid horror impact with Earth

NASA panics, warning of a โ€˜100 percentโ€™ chance of asteroid impact? Hm, time for a post about asteroids and their danger for Earth ๐Ÿ˜‰

Asteroids are “small” rocky objects, billions of them, orbiting the Sun, most of them in the (main) Asteroid Belt, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Small is relative, more than 150 million are larger than 100 meter and the largest asteroid, Ceres, has a diameter of 945 km! Notice the units, used in the picture below. One AU (Astronomical Unit) equals 150 million km, the average distance between Earth and Sun. This unit is often used for distances in the Solar System. For example, Mars orbits at a distance of ~ 1.5 AU around the Sun and the main Asteroid Belt is located between around 2.2 and 3.2 AU.

There are also asteroids outside the main asteroid belt, orbiting closer to the Sun. When their closest distance to the Sun (perihelion) is less than 1.3 AU , they are labelled Near Earth Asteroids (NEA’s). They are interesting for several reasons. One of them is the possibility of mining them in the future. Another is the possibility that a NEA could come so close to Earth that it might collide!

Starting in the 1990’s numerous surveys have been set up to discover and monitor NEA’s. During the last decade the Catalina Sky Survey and the Pan-STARRS surveys have discovered more than thousand NEA’s yearly and every day new ones are discovered. The basic technique is to compare pictures of the sky, taken on different dates and looking for “light points” that have moved, using automated software.

In the figure below the cumulative total is shown (October 2019), split according to the estimated size of the asteroid. Total: 21059 , Larger than 140 m: 8817, Larger than 1 km: 900 (10 October 2019).

Fortunately most of these NEA’s will never come so close to Earth that there is a risk of collision. A subcategory has been defined of Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHA), asteroids that come closer to Earth than 0.05 AU and are larger than 140 m. At the moment the number of PHA’s is about 2000. They are of course monitored more closely.

In the left graph the total number of PHA’s is given (from 1999 until September 2019. Each year ~ 100 new PHA”s are discovered. The right graph shows the number of PHA’s larger than 1 km. The last decade only a few more have been found.

Here is a graph showing the orbits of the ~ 1400 PHA’s known in 2013.

After this explanation about NEA’s and PHA’s, you might be a bit scared that the UK tabloids were right in their warnings about imminent asteroid collisions resulting in disasters.

Let’s have a look at Sentry, operated by CNEOS, the Center for Near Earth Object Studies (objects because both asteroids and comets are studied). It is a highly automated impact prediction system, that continually monitors the most current asteroid catalog for possibilities of future impact with Earth over the next 100+ years. At the moment of writing this post, it monitors 945 objects. The probability of impact and the impact energy result in a number on the Torino Scale, comparable with the Richter index for earthquakes.

Here is the reassuring result of Sentry: All the 945 objects have a Torino index 0 ! They form no risk for Earth in the next century.

A few comments

  1. Keep in mind that the Torino Scale is defined only for the next 100 years. There exists another scale, the Palermo scale, that is more sophisticated, with both negative and positive values. The result is the same: none of the objects have positive values.
  2. When a new NEA has been discovered, its orbit is not yet well defined. It happens quite regularly that temporarily such an object has a positive Torino/Palermo index. Subsequent observations reduce the index .
  3. Sentry monitors also NEA’s that are smaller than 140 m and therefore officially no PHA’s.
  4. Asteroids, smaller than ~ 20 meter, will disintegrate in the atmosphere, leaving a streak of light, a fireball.

Earth is continuously bombarded from outer space by rocky objects. Every year about 40.000 tonnes. Occasionally a small asteroid, more often remnants of a comet or an asteroid. They are called meteorites and will “burn” in the atmosphere. Here is a map of these fireballs, recorded between 1988 and present. Size and color of the circles indicate the energy of the impact. The large orange circle is the Chelyabinsk asteroid, mentioned in the introduction of this post.

So, what about the scaremongering articles in the media? Here are again the last two captions. In total seven space rocks, horror impacts, NASA panic.

NASA tracks three space rocks heading past Earth at once โ€“ Will they hit?
NASA panic as four killer space rocks avoid horror impact with Earth

Here are the 7 scoundrels: 2019 SH3, 2019 SN3, 2019 SP. 2019 SE8,
2019 SM8 , 2018 FK5 and 2019 SD8.

The last column gives the closest distance, expressed in the Lunar Distance (
384402 km) . The size is approximate (see appendix).

NameSizeClose approachDistancein LD
2019 SH3 ~ 27m 2019-Sep-30 01:371202.000 km3.1
2019 SN3 ~ 16m 2019-Sep-30 11:45845.000 km 2.2
2019 SP ~ 44m 2019-Sep-30 17:41 2540.000 km6.6
2019 SE8 ~ 5m 2019-Oct-01 13:56159.000 km 0.41
2019 SM8 ~ 15m 2019-Oct-01 15:12 1085.000 km2.8
2019 FK5 ~ 6m 2019-Oct-01 22:565094.000 km 13.3
2019 SD8 ~ 12m 2019-Oct-02 02:29 532.000 km 1.4

In an appendix of this post I will explain how you can extract these data from the invaluable CNEOS website. In case another alarmist article will published, you can check yourself if you have to get worried ๐Ÿ™‚

All seven asteroids are NEA’s, but none of them are Potentially Hazardous Asteroids and NASA will not have panicked at all. Actually these events are common, the past year around 2400 NEA’s have passed Earth, 73 of them even closer than the Moon (like 2019 SE8 in the table above). About 370 of them were PHA’s, but none of them came closer than 7.4 LD’s

Let’s have a look now at the first article

Asteroid shock: NASA warns of โ€˜100 percentโ€™ chance of asteroid impact

A ridiculous title but the content is much better. Although there are no PHA’s that will hit Earth in the next 100+ years, on a larger time scale it may happen, so humanity should be prepared for such a situation.

Here is a informative infographic created by ESA, the European equivalent of NASA. Notice in the bottom row, how many asteroids in the medium range (100-300 m) still have to be discovered: more than 80 %!

When a big PHA asteroid is discovered on collision course with Earth, there is basically only one realistic option to avoid a disaster: to deflect it. When you are able to do that (many) decades before its impact, a relatively small change in its course might be sufficient. Many ways to deflect an asteroid are described in this Wikipedia article: Asteroid impact avoidance . And bi-annually a Planetary Defence Conference is organized, the last one was held in May 2019, here is the report .

One section of this conference was dedicated to asteroid Apophis, of special interest to me, because I have published three blog posts about it in 2010-2012 ๐Ÿ˜‰ . For a while after its discovery in 2004, there was concern that this 370 m big rock might hit Earth in 2036, after a close encounter in 2029.
I wrote Will the Earth be hit by Apophis in 2036? followed by a (technical) post Again Apophis . In 2012 the winner of the yearly competition for students and young professionals Move an Asteroid had a winner who proposed to deflect Apophis by paintballing ๐Ÿ™‚ My report Paintballing Apophis! explains how he wanted to do it.

Apophis is not a PHA anymore, but will still pass Earth on 13 April 2029 at the VERY short distance of 31.000 km (less than 0.1 Lunar Distance!), so at the conference there were numerous suggestions how to make use of this opportunity.

Here is a fascinating animation of Apophis, passing Earth on 13-4-2029 (click on the image). All the blue dots are man-made objects, orbiting Earth! The red dot orbiting Earth is the International Space Station.

As in earlier conferences, part of the program is a tabletop exercise about a hypothetical asteroid threat. The participants have to discuss how to respond, which action to take, etc. Very realistic, it reads like a thriller. Scroll down to page 31 of the (pdf) report. Here are the “press releases” given daily to the participants.

In the exercise, the participants decided to deflect the asteroid by using Kinetic Impactors, heavy spacecraft that crashes with high speed into the asteroid. It is the most common way to deflect an asteroid.

THEORETICALLY! Because this technique has not yet been tested in a real situation. Quite amazing, and a source of concern for many scientists.

Finally there is now one space mission in progress to test this kinetic impactor technique and I will end this blog with a description of the Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) mission.

The mission is a cooperation between NASA and ESA and the original plan consisted of two spacecraft, a large NASA impactor called Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) and an ESA spacecraft , the Asteroid Impact Mission (AIM), that would watch DART crashing into the asteroid and observe the immediate effects of the impact.

Target of the mission is the asteroid Didymos, a PHA with a diameter of ~ 800 m, discovered in 1996 as 1996 GT . Don’t be surprised, but it has actually a “moon”, nicknamed Didymoon, diameter ~ 170 m, orbiting Didymos in about 12 hours.

This was the original plan: December 2020 AIM was to be launched, to arrive at Didymos in May 2022. It would go in orbit around the asteroid and study Didymos and Didymoon.

Dart would be launched in July 2021, arrive at Didymos October 2022 and crash into Didymoon, while AIM was watching! After the crash AIM would measure the change in Didymoon’s orbit, to see if this Kinetic Impactor technique is an effective way to deflect dangerous asteroids in the future.

Here is an artist impression of the mission.

And here is a very informative video, prepared by ESA in 2016 about AIM

But in December 2016, AIM was cancelled by ESA, after Germany withdrew the 60 million Euro funding for the project, to use the money instead for the ExoMars project. The Washington Post commented : Europe will send a rover to Mars but wonโ€™t protect Earth from an asteroid and a planetary scientist said “A cool project has been killed because of a lack of vision – even short term – and courage, and this is really sad

NASA decided to continue with the DART mission and measure the effects of the impact on Didymoon using earth-based telescopes instead. And ESA is planning to launch a much simpler spacecraft, named HERA, in 2023, after the crash of DART! After arrival at Didymos it would study the effects on Didymoon. But the decision to actually fly the mission still has to be taken, in November this year.

As an European I feel rather ashamed that Europe has acted this way.

x x x x x x x x x x x

Appendix

In this appendix I will explain how you can find reliable information about any asteroid, when you know its name.

First the naming convention for “minor planets” . The year of discovery is followed by two letters and (sometimes) a number. The first letter gives the half-month in which the object was first observed. The second letter stands for a number 1 until 25. (the I is left out to avoid confusion with the J) and counts the objects, discovered in that half-month. When the system was introduced, probably it was thought that there would not be more than 25 objects discovered in a half-month. But nowadays hundreds of objects are discovered every month! The number tells how many times you have to repeat the alphabet! Here is the coding table.

An example. Recently a NEO has been discovered: 2019 SP3. In the table we see that the S stands for 16-30 September and the P for 15. So this asteroid is the 3 x 25 + 15 = 90th object, discovered in the second half of September 2019.

To find the properties of this asteroid we go to the JPL Small-Body Database Browser. Enter the name 2019 SP3 (case sensitive) in the Search box.

Lots of information, mostly about the orbit (left table) and the discovery history (upper right table). Important for us are two numbers in the other tables, the MOID = 0.00252421 AU and the absolute magnitude H =26.98.

The minimal orbit intersection distance (MOID) tells us how close the orbits of 2019 SP3 and Earth can get. 0.00252421 AU = 378000 km. Less than the distance between Earth and Moon!

The absolute magnitude H indicates how bright the asteroid is. It gives us an indication about the size of the asteroid. A large asteroid will reflect more sunlight and therefore appear brighter. But this reflection also depends on the structure of the asteroid, is it coal black or more shining. This reflection property is given by the albedo , which can have a value between 0 (no reflected light) and 1 (perfect reflection).

The problem is that we have to guess what the albedo of our asteroid is. In general they are quite dark, with albedo between 0.3 and 0.05. Often a value of 0.15 is used.

Here is part of the conversion table :

Using the value of H =26.298, we find that the size of 2019 SP3 lies between 14 and 34 meter, with a probable value of 19 m.

Conclusion: with an estimated size of 19 m and a minimal distance to Earth of 378000 km, 2019 SP3 is NOT a PHA.

This is what the Daily Express reported:

Potentially hazardousโ€™ space rock to fly closer to Earth than Moon

Taiping Bandar Warisan

In 2013 I wrote a blog Shame on Taiping! about a few of Taiping’s heritage sites which were in a bad condition. Especially the former Perak Railway buildings and the Rest House, both along Station Road, opposite the King Edwards VII school

Since that time I have been visiting these buildings regularly when I visited Taiping, taking many pictures, both inside and outside. Here is a (large) collection. I have indicated the year that they were taken. Click on a picture to enlarge.

First the Perak Railway Buildings. Here is a scan from Anuar Isa’s report Taiping’s Many Firsts, published by the Taiping Municipal Council (MPT) in 2013.

In 2016 I took this picture of the whole complex, the old timber structure (1885) in the foreground and the (newer) brick building to the left.

Front and side facade of the old timber structure (PWD 269)

Same for the two-storey brick building (PWD 267)

More pictures of the decaying front facade of PWD 269. Without comment, only the year I took the picture.

Between the two buildings there is a nice gate. Notice that sometimes there was an attempt to block the entrance, so that squatters etc could not enter.

This counter must be familiar to Taipingites ๐Ÿ™‚ Nowadays it is often occupied and the squatter living there does not always welcome your visit.

A few photos of the interior of PWD 267. Abandoned but still in reasonable condition. I could even venture to the first floor. Notice the nice iron columns.

The courtyards of the two buildings were taken over by jungle.

In 2017 there was some activity. My Taiping friends told me that one of the entrances had been widened, so a bulldozer could enter the courtyards. When I visited the building, I noticed of course that Donald Duck had disappeared ;-). The entrance had been professionally repaired. A good sign?

The courtyards had been thoroughly cleaned, shrubs and trees had been removed. Of course the ruined state of the buildings became more visible now.

Only later that year I had time to visit the interior of the buildings and I was shocked. The interior had been vandalised, the wooden floorboards had been removed! Was that the real reason for the earlier activity?

It was still possible to climb up (carefully!) to the first floor. The damage is even more clearly visible. Later I asked around, but I was not able to find out who was responsible for this destruction.

In July 2018 I only had a look at the courtyard, there was an unfriendly squatter, I didn’t want to get into an argument with him.

Not surprisingly the jungle is fighting back already.

In December I came again, this time I had no problem entering. Not much change. I am not an expert, but I think these two buildings are beyond repair.

Next to the Perak Railway Building is the Rest House, the Rumah Rehat. Here is what Anuar Isa’s report says about it.

I have been staying in the Rest House, many years ago. At that time it was called Lagenda Hotel. A budget hotel, but quite acceptable, nice colonial atmosphere.

Around 11 years ago the hotel was closed. In the beginning hardly any fencing, you could just walk in, and of course squatters did. Later there came haphazard fencing like in this picture. Still very easy to trespass.

Here two pictures of the iconic main facade, in 2009 and in 2018. Not too much deterioration. But that is only appearance.

In 2012 there was a fence, but very easy to enter. Some decay, mainly in the ceilings.

One year later, still a fence with gaps, main entrance still looks ok.

Inside the building there are signs that people are living here.

People were complaining about the lack of proper fencing and in 2015 a prominent fence was erected, promoting Taiping as heritage town !

A bit ironical in my opinion. Look at the right picture, with the Rumah Rehat as it was and as it is now.

Even with this new fencing it was still possible to sneak in. The entrance still looks quite good and the stairs to the first floor are solid. But walking around there are clear signs that people are living here, even making a fire!

A short visit in 2017. Some signs of decay.

In 2018 I visited Taiping several times. Not much was left of the “heritage” fence.

But a signboard still tells about the Rumah Rehat, one of the many Firsts of Taiping. And a heritage plaque has been attached to the facade.

There are more signs of decay, although it looks that some repair work has been done. These picture have been taken December 2018, less than one year ago.

As a laymen I think the Rest House can still be saved, but fast action is needed.

Here is a drone video of the two buildings, taken last year.

For a long time already I have been planning to write a blog post with a selection of the pictures I have collected during the past 7-8 years, but it didn’t materialise yet. Until today when my heritage friends pointed me to this article in the Harian Metro: Ikonik usang jejaskan imej Taiping . With these two pictures:

Finally the Perak Railway Building and the Rest House have been fenced off. Let’s hope that this is the start of a positive development!