The God of Wealth is here,
The God of Wealth has arrived at my main door …
These are the first two lines of a popular song that’s sung and played during Chinese New Year. The Chinese love this festive song about the popular deity aka Money God or Choy Sun Yeah (in Cantonese).
People sing about his arrival and call out his name, hoping to get lucky!
For Joe Liew, 46, who plays the God of Wealth, Chinese New Year is the busiest time of the year. Actually, he is a beverage supplier based in Kepong, Kuala Lumpur.
Eight years ago, his big break came when he portrayed the God of Wealth in a music video.
“Thereafter, God of Wealth has become my trademark,” he laughed.
“When I’m spotted in the streets, people who recognise me will yell, ‘Hey, Choy Sun Yeah!’”
“I’m also a part-time artiste,” he said.
Also eight years ago, he was the champion in a contest to impersonate Jack Lim, Astro MyFM! deejay as Ah Beng, the security guard.
Since then, he has appeared in TV sitcoms and dramas, and played the roles of a father, security guard, boss and mafia leader.
As the God of Wealth, he has also been hired to appear in ads for Listerine, Coway and Standard Chartered, among others. The corporate sector also loves to have him in their midst to spread cheer during the Lunar New Year.
“Once, I appeared together with Santa Claus,” Liew quipped. He explained that one company was in a celebratory mood during Christmas and, since Chinese New Year was just around the corner, the God of Wealth was invited to make a special appearance as well.
“I distributed ang pows with money or 4D tickets, mandarin oranges, sweets and chocolates,” said Liew, who weighs 130kg and stands 178cm tall. His size, stature and personality make him perfect for this role.
With puffy cheeks and wearing an oversized grand red robe with golden thread embroidery, he does look distinguished.
He has two robes – a simple robe and this elaborate one.
“The elaborate apparel costs RM2,000 and friends helped me to buy it from overseas,” he said.
Wearing the costume can be quite uncomfortable sometimes, especially if worn for a long time in warm weather.
Said Liew: “Sometimes, I make an entrance and need to be around for 10 minutes to half an hour. At other times, I may be standing for up to an hour.”
At The Star’s CNY photoshoot in Kuala Lumpur recently, he forgot his headband but later managed to buy one from Chinatown.
“Without the headband, the headdress of up to 1kg can hurt my forehead. The headdress is made with wires, metal strips and paper, among other things,” he said.
To prep for his role, he brought out a mirror and his make-up set.
“I need 30 minutes to do elaborate make-up, 10 to 20 minutes for a simple makeover,” said Liew.
Most importantly, he needed to add prominence to his looks with thick and long eyebrows, that he drew with an eyebrow pencil. Then, he put on a long black beard, which he stroked every now and then, to be in character.
His unforgettable memory was when he was hired by Carlsberg during one Chinese New Year.
It felt surreal for him to be next to a Golden Tree, a prop put up by the brewery.
Liew and the other Gods of Wealth also had fun during the nationwide roadshows that took them to Penang, Ipoh, Kuantan, Melaka and Johor.
In his line of work, he has made friends with other men portraying the God of Wealth.
“We give each other jobs,” he said, adding that it is impressive when a company hires eight Gods of Wealth to visit their clients and spread good tidings.
Liew obliged requests for photos but broke into laughter when he recalled how punters would ask him for 4D numbers.
He said: “I don’t know whether they strike or not. Once I gave a 4D number to this person but he heard it wrongly and bought the wrong number. But he won the bet.”
While Liew looks fearless, there are times when bad weather scares him – and gets him praying.
“Recently, during a 1km procession in Chinatown, it started to drizzle. I started to pray and when we began our walkabout, we only received light showers of blessing,” he recalled.
But the weather on the day of The Star’s CNY photoshoot was dramatic. He was at the God of War’s temple – Guan Di temple – in Jalan Tun H.S. Lee when it started to rain cats and dogs, and the wind was wild.
Liew prayed hard and, after a delay of two hours, the rain abated and the photoshoot could begin.
Not everyone can live up to the role of this deity.
“Well, for one, you need to look prosperous, which means one needs to be sizeable. Size does matter as the Chinese often joke that one is prosperous when one has put on weight,” he said.
While he said he is not superstitious, his fee includes the auspicious number 8 for prosperity.
“There are no taboos when I’m God of Wealth,” he said.
“However, I need to be respectful of my role and image as a deity. I can’t speak badly to others. Of course, I can’t utter harsh words or foul language, either.”
On his festive rounds, he blesses everyone with good luck and prosperity: “Kung Hei Fatt Choy!”