Rule number 5 for writing fiction, according to the late Kurt Vonnegut, is to start as close to the end as possible..
I’m not sure if I can get closer to the end than this, considering today’s story begins in a cemetery.
But then again, this is not a piece of fiction.
Or maybe it is.
I’m not sure what it is you accept as the truth regarding life after death.
Today’s story is about chingming, a tradition celebrated in my Chinese tradition.
Okay, maybe not “celebrate”, but “return to our ancestral burial grounds to clean stuff and pay respect”… something I haven’t done in many years.
My dad usually represents me. He gets excited about cleaning things. It’s 5am and he’s already got his hands on the wheel.
It’s a long drive back to the village.
We arrive at dawn, and pay respect to the lord of the cemetery, by offering him a feast of sorts.
My relatives have their own belief system, their own small gods, symbols, and traditions… their own way of expressing values like gratitude and humility.
On the surface I find the practices unfamiliar and almost ancient. But underneath it all, I’m here with my family for the same reasons. Gratitude.
Then we get busy cleaning up the grave, and touching up the artwork.
Good Job! I wish I knew what the words meant.
This is my uncle and his bunch of jossticks, ready to receive blessings from our late forefathers.
It’s hard to say if the amount of blessing is correlated to the number of joysticks one can hold. My dad had a whole bouquet for some reason.
He wishes for safety and prosperity for the family.
By the way, the above is my great grandmother’s grave.
My grandparents, like many Malaysian Chinese families, came on a boat of sorts all the way from China, lending themselves to stories of poverty and hardship just so I can blog about it on my snazzy laptop, 22inch LCD screen, in my air-conditioned room…
After the kneeling and the jossticks, symbolism goes a step further, with the customary burning of “Hell Money”.
My cousin feeds the fire.
But no one can beat the 6th aunt!
In spite of 6th aunt’s smoke bomb, I still try to do my bit.
Some nephews I have never met look on.
I wondered what was on their minds. Did we share the same questions?
- What happens after the “Hell Money” is burnt?
- Why is it called “Hell Money”? Whatever happened to heaven?
- Are we done? =P
Not yet. We have my grandfather up next.
His grave is guarded by some cool statues!
I want a 100 of these lion statues to guard my grave! It’s a great alternative to donating your body to science.
While I admire the lion statues, my uncles begin with the lord of the cemetery again… another feast!
This dude is in charge of the booze.
I made it my duty to paint the magificent lion statues.
And the second round of burning begins. This time we get more literal, burning shoes and shirts.
I wonder what the exchange rate is.
I used to have so much fun doing this as a kid. I mean, how often do you get to burn stuff? It didn’t need some profound reason. I just did it.
Here I am again. Burning stuff.
Yellow paper danced with the wind, and burnt with the flames.
It’s a good thing I captured this tradition digitally, coz it may not survive the future generations.
If my descendants want to feel grateful to me, cool bananas. But I’m coming up with my own customs!
They must make a blog post once a year, about gratitude. I will then read the RSS feed from my Heavenly RSS reader and make an invisible comment on their blog post =P
If they prefer to burn me some “Hell Money” too, that’s fine. Maybe their kids like burning stuff as much as I do.
It’s up to them.
The last thing they need is yet another person telling them what to believe in. Especially a dead person.
Choosing our own beliefs is a task in itself… which become a chore when other people impose their beliefs onto us.
I’m glad I grew up with the freedom to explore, and make decisions for myself.
And that’s a pretty good reason to be thankful.
THE END (for now)
Riddle of the day… what is this contraption doing in the cemetery?