The poles, tall slender trees gilded with gold-coloured paper, were all raised at the auspicious time of 5:09pm, indicating that the nine-day festival was quietly underway. The prayers, rituals and blessing ceremonies will begin today.
As the rain fell, participants at the main Jui Tui Shrine in Phuket Town hoisted their Go Teng high into the sky, joined by a host of Phuket officials including Phuket Governor Narong Woonciew, Vice Governors Pichet Panapong and Piyapong Choowong, Phuket Provincial Administration Organisation (PPAO, or OrBorJor) President Raweat areerob, among others.
Instead of the maddening throngs taking part in the Go Teng ceremony as in years past, yesterday saw a much more subdued affair, with far fewer participants in attendance at the shrine.
The festival this year is to be held under tight COVID-19 restrictions, with limits on the number of people attending and taking part in the ceremonies and other COVID-prevention measures in force.
This year Ma Song spirit mediums taking part in the street processions will travel by vehicle, instead of walking the routes along the streets of Phuket Town.
Ma Song are also to “refrain from performing miracles”, such as fire walking, bladed-ladder climbing or any of the other acts performed that may be deemed as at risk of spreading COVID-19.
Attendees and participants must have their temperatures checked before being allowed into any shrine or take part in any ceremony, and they must observe social distancing and wear a face mask at all times.
The same is to apply to the ceremonies and street processions held by the smaller Chinese shrines across the island, including the Bang Neow Shrine, the Samkong Shrine and the Kathu Shrine, the spiritual home of the Phuket Vegetarian Festival.
Governor Narong and shrine administrators have warned that any shrine or festival event that results in 10% of the attendees contracting COVID-19 will be shut down for three days while the attendees are tested for the virus and the site is disinfected.
“If more than 20% of the participants are found to be infected in a continuous cluster, the event will be cancelled,” Governor Narong warned last week.
The administrators of Jui Tui Shrine this year have asked for no stalls selling food and other items be set up in front of the shrine along Ranong Rd as precaution against any cluster of infections from forming at the usual crowds that visit the stalls to enjoy the vegetarian fare available there.