Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Traditional Foochow Method of Ear Piercing

Earrings have been one of the most popular types of ancient and modern Chinese jewelry. And ear piercing amongst the Foochows in the past had always been done at home but a mother, or an aunt or a neighbour.

Although historical records in China were full of descriptions of scientific, cultural, engineering and architectural advances of the Chinese people, fashion and textile advancement had been pushed to the background. Much of the knowledge about Chinese wearing of earrings come from the artistic portrayal of great beauties and social and cultural customs. One of the most famous Chinese paintings from ancient times is the painting depicting a Hundred Beauties.

The Chinese women in history had worn drop-shaped earrings,rings,and studs, whereas men would only one earring.

The diversity of material used to make earrings suggest that earrings were a popular adornment in all levels of society, therefore archaeologists are able to uncover not only gold and silver earrings, but also bronze, brass, iron and copper.

For example, in Tulkhar burial earrings that resemble a bird in their shape were found alongside an earring with an amphora shaped pendant. The handles of the amphora are shaped as bent stylized dolphins. This once again notes the diversity of images used in adornments, especially earrings. The appearance of amphora and dolphins indicate the presence of Greek influence that spread on to the territory of Central Asia during II BC-I AD. These motifs became widely used in the first centuries AD. In a Ksirov’s burial (II BC), for example we’ll see the cockerel-shaped earrings with moonlike pendants were discovered, the other ones were “pepper”-shaped with pendant and gold disk.

Thus although our Chinese history is so rich in the culture of adorning the ears, the Foochows who immigrated to Sibu were very simple folks who had embraced Methodism. In their simplicity, they did not encourage their women to put on too much adornment on their hair, their face, ears and neck.

A simple token gold necklace would perhaps be enough.

Thus when we were just little girls we were told not to have our ears pierced for some unknown reasons. But my maternal grandmother did wear a lovely pair of earrings!

It took me several years to pursuade my mother to get my ears pierced. Finally my neighbour, and in fact a tenant of my mother's, decided to give me the traditional method of ear piercing.

Our Ah Mo had been a frequent visitor and each visit would be a sort of interactive session between my mother and her. I felt that this kind of visitation was very therapeutic for my mother who never went out of the house very much. Ah Moo, in her sixties, would remind us girls that if we did not have our ears pierced, we would turn into pigs when we died. She was definitely an atheist. She had no altar in her flat and she did not go to the temple. But in her simple ways, she would regale us with stories of ghosts, strange beliefs and even stranger incidences.

I was about 16 years old and on the day of the ear piercing, Ah Moo prepared slices of fresh ginger and placed my right ear lobe between two slices of ginger and slowly rubbed the lobe until it was very were very thin. I thought that the rubbing was very interesting because indeed my ear lobe became very thin, as if by miracle. When she found that the lobe was thin enough, she burnt a needle with a candle, to sterilize it and then simply poke through my lobe. I felt a little prick and then it was done. I had a red thread through my right lobe. The left lobe was pierced without any problem. The whole process of ear piercing must have taken about one and half hours. My heart was beating very fast throughout the process and my mother was nagging and complaining that I should not be vain "like other girls".

But Ah Moo was very comforting. She said that with outpain there would be no beauty. And furthermore it would not make us any less Christian.

After having both my ear lobes pierced, she rubbed them with a little mashed garlic and cooking oil. No blood was let and I was told to be careful not to eat prawns and belacan. I felt prettier after getting my ears pierced and each day I would wait for the new wound to heal. The best part was when my mother took me to see an uncle for a pair of personal earrings. My self esteem was really good on that day. Mother and daughter truly bonded.

Today, whenever I am sad I would just go out and buy a new pair of earrings. It is just such a good therapy for me. Each pair of earrings brings me a lot of happiness.

All my sisters later had their ears pierced by Ah Moo in the same traditional method.

When I had my own daughters, I took them to the ear piercing experts. No I did not threaten them with the belief that they would turn into pigs when they died if they did not have their ears pierced! But of course they knew the myth.

In retrospect, we must have neighbours like Ah Moo who was a convenient helper, sounding board,and care giver and someone who provided good company to a lonely widow. Modern day housewives would not have the time to entertain a lonely and poor lady like her. She would have been considered a nuisance even. But again, how much do we value neighbourliness today? Or what do we mean by neighbourliness today?

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