Sunday, May 24, 2009

No Dragon Boat but we celebrate with an arsenic cocktail drink...

Although I did not associate dragon boat with the festival , I could vividly recall my mother always mixes realgar in water at mid- day and let family members take a sip of the concoction and children had them dabbed on their foreheads before spraying the rest in the four corners of the house. The realgar is said to be able to protect against poisonous insects and snakes. In the legendary folklore, Story of White Snake, Lady White drank this mixture, and thus changed during sleep into her original shape of a snake. Ancient Chinese believed realgar was an antidote for all poisons, and therefore most effective to drive away evil spirits and kill insects. This affirmation of the effect of realgar is such that it reached the level of superstition especially among the older generation of Taoist Singaporeans. Without a doubt, it had influenced my poor mother to form the custom of drinking realgar mixture on this feast day without knowing it was arsenic.

I am still reeling from shock, after I googled and learned that realgar is a mineral, comprised primarily of arsenic and sulphur. After being mined, any impurities are removed, after which it is ground into a fine powder for use. According to traditional Chinese medicine, it is used internally to kill intestinal parasites and treat sore throats, and is applied externally to treat swelling, abscesses, itching, rashes, and other skin disorders. Has modern science proven that this medicines is, in fact, quite beneficial to health? I hope it does.

I do not know whether some of these traditions still prevail in modern Singapore. But during my childhood, it was a common practice for Taoist families to hang a pair of calamus, an aquatic plant with sword shaped leaves on their front door to ward off and drive the devils away. On this day, children would wear necklaces or bracelets usually made of red, yellow, blue, white and black threads, to keep evils away from them. I am wondering where the young people of today, wearing plaited coloured- sting bracelets got their idea from. To be continued…


  1. no more already. i dun think i recall any...

  2. Ermm.. wrong generation :)

  3. Hi BY & HW,
    This is not only a makan blog but also oral history from old Uncle leh.