In 1825, a travelling opera company from China came to the southern islands of Thailand to perform for chinese tin mine workers. Mysteriously the company fell ill and grew sick. They embraced an old ritual of a strict vegetarian diet in honor of the two emperor gods, Kiew Ong Tai Teh and Yok Ong Sone. Performing ritual ceremonies, specially ordained devotees called Mah Song , became the spirit horse for the Gods to manifest into the human realm. Harnessing supernatural powers, the Mah Song performed sacred rites of self-flagellation, such as body piercing to shift evil from other individuals onto themselves and in doing so purifying the community of its sins. Amazed by the self sacrifice and the quick recovery of the travelling Opera Company, the local people embraced this miracle of faith and belief still to this day. Under the full moon of the ninth house, people celebrate the ritual cleansing of sins by the Mah Song spirit horse.

A quirky look at the hustle and bustle of life down the back alleys and main roads of Chinatown in Bangkok, Thailand. 

Commissioned by Chinese temples around Thailand, Chinese opera troupes travel the country extensively from Bangkok to the far east and deep south. Each member of the troupe receives a salary. Depending on the amount of work they do, some will work late into the night and again early in the mornings. Senior performers can make up to $600 a month. Others will just arrive for the evening show, get into costume and leave again the same night. Most performers are not only part of the show but also manage the technical aspects, like the curtains and backdrops, and packing up when the troupe has to move to another town. The long hours are tiring and breaks are taken whenever possible in hammocks strung up under the stage or on rattan mats laid on the floor. There are about 30 or 40 different opera troupes working and travelling around Thailand. All of them are of varying sizes and, at times, two troupes will perform in close proximity of one another for the same temple. It is not so much competition as it is the temples that recruit the performers and not the spectators. When the audience is small, aged, or half-asleep, work is easier. After several days of performing in the same location the troupe will pack up and leave, generally on the night of their last show. The personal boxes containing each performer’s make-up, along with the stage props, backdrops, sound system and other equipment are piled onto the back of a truck. Personal items are loaded into the bus that will carry the performers to the next location. The group will then set-up the stage and start their performances again, and again, until the next time they have to pack up and travel again.