Friday, March 23, 2012

Weekend Reflections: An old Chinese custom

This is a story of the country of my birth. This photo was taken when I last visited sarawak. This was at Mulu Caves.

While Christians, especially the Roman Catholics, visit the graves of their departed love ones, the Chinese do this on Ching Ming Festival, the 15th day from Northern Spring Equinox which will fall on the 5th of April this year.

Ching Ming or Qingming, is literally translated as Ming for being bright, and Ching as clear. My two daughters are called Ming and Ching and friends asked me why? Actually I have no idea. My father-in-law gave us a few names to choose from, and I just chose this.

Ching Ming is the day for mourning the dead, a day for Chinese families to visit our ancestors graves. We used to call it "sweep the graves" or clear the graves in the case of when I was growing up. My uncle's grave wasn't concreted so a lot of sharp lalang weeds cover the tomb, and we had to use changkos aka hoes, and parangs aka machetes to clear the obnoxious weed.

Whilst most people regard this day as visiting ancestors' graves, people forget that there are many parents who are bereaved. My grand dad took us every year to clean my 4th uncle's grave. Poor 4th Uncle drowned when he was 4 years old, swimming in the Rejang River.

This month, 3 Campomelic babies died. Oh Death, how cruel you are.

I know of a mum who would be sweeping the grave of her teenage son. She would most probably be lamenting that her deceased son would not be attending a special function which her husband and her older boy will be going to.

Their School Alumni Association and Board are jointly organizing the 40th Anniversary celebration (of the Alumni Association) and 110th Anniversary celebration of School on 30th March 2012, in Sibu.

Whenever I see an old fashion Vespa scooter, be it green or blue or yellow, I do a double take. I would love to see a white one, because it belonged to a friend. My heart misses a beat. It reminds me of an excruciating painful story. I stand to correct myself, not a story but a reality case.

When I was in senior high school, he was in middle school. He was this big fella. I think he was interested in one of us girls, I am not sure, but it certainly wasn't me. He always came to our class and gave us sweets. He was this big incredible hulk and rode a white Vespa. Very few students had vespas then. We just treated him as a young kid.

One day, we were called to a special assembly. Apparently, he did something, and threatened to beat up the principal. The principal was afraid and locked himself inside the office. He bashed a hole in the wooden door.

His dad, a professional person, held with high regards in the society, made him apologise to the principal in front of all the kids. Hence, the special assembly. We felt so sad, he was to us, a gentle giant. To this day, I never knew what he did that warranted such drastic punishment.

Of course, he left the school and town. We were very sad.

Fast forward about a year or two, some of us girls went to study in that town to be trained as teachers. He knew we were there. He arranged for us to have a nice evening at a very famous hotel. The chauffeur came and took us.

It was the first time for me, a country pumpkin, to dine in a very posh restaurant. I was surprised to see old men, and women dressed to their finest, dining and wining and dancing. For me, coming from a mission school, and a town threatened by the communist's rife warning against yellow culture, I was very surprised at this decadent lifestyle of the rich and famous.

He treated us to a meal of steak. He knew we never had steak before. I had T bone steak, medium rare, for the first time in my life. I still love T bone steak, medium rare.

Then I left for Canada.

I came back from Canada a few years later, someone told me he crashed his bike and died. I CRIED. I told my Dad I hold Principal responsible. Such public humiliation.

His death affected me. I became the champion for the under dogs, for justice. Years later, when I became a mum, I was lucky to be a faculty wife, living among like minded women in the university in Singapore. We sort of adopted a neighbourhood school. The principal was very glad to have us. Our kids excelled in all aspects.

One day, the principal didn't like us, in fact I think she hated us for meddling in her affairs. It was my memory of my friend that got me so mad. I wrote to her and requested an appointment. I threatened to go to the media.

She had caned a 7 year old boy in the assembly, rightly or wrongly, I and my girlfriends disagreed.

The principal listened to us and apologized. I hope I had averted a scenario of my poor friend. Later, she told us it was just an minor offense. His parents of a lower strata in society thanked us, they would never had dared to challenge the school.

This post below was done when I first started blogging in 1978. I think this is interesting to you, a very different culture of a different era.

This is a very old Chinese Grave found next the Sarawak Museum in Kuching. You don't find many of these big graves today especially in land scarce Singapore and Hongkong. In these two countries, the dead are exhumed to make way for the living.

These graves are called armchairs, It looks like a sofa seat. It is a very important official of the king's court. It is commonly believed that when a man is alive, he may be lowly peasant, but when he dies he can still be an official of the king. Therefore, no expense is spared to build the grave.

The other reason is the Chinese used to ( they still do) worship their ancestors, and pray to them to look after them and bless them. My Grandfather used to tell us, when a disaster had been avoided, it is because our ancestors have been seated high up, so he could see afar and take care of us. The dead doesn't sleep, or he is not allowed to. So he is seated, awake 24/7 in the arm chair. If he was sleeping, he could not be taking care of us. A good grave site is high up the slopes of the hills.



MadSnapper said...

I like the scooter. that was a mean and dangerous thing your BIL did you your sister with the fake snake. Bob only played one practical joke on me, the first year we were married, no snakes but it scared me so bad and i got so mad he never did it again. i do not like practical jokes or think they are funny.

TexWisGirl said...

thank you for this interesting look at your culture and traditions. public humiliation can be very potent.

Ginny Hartzler said...

We do not have a grave day like this here, but it is such a good idea. Such memories for you!!!! The Vespa friend....when you had the steak much later with him, did you ever ask him what had happened in the principal's office? Will it always be a mystery? It reminds me of Fonzie on the show "Happy Days", he looked wild but had a heart of gold. I am so very sorry to hear that he died, what a really touching story.

Gattina said...

To honor the death we have the "All Saints" day here on 1st of November, looks very much the same.
Mr. G also had a Vespa when he was "girl" hunting, lol ! and my friend's son has a Vespa shop and makes good business with it ! You see quiet a lot of them here.

Ebie said...

Ann, this post is really very informative. Though my father (Chinese) never showed us any tradition or beliefs, that I could remember.

It is good to know the Ching Ming Festival.

Francisca said...

Wow, this is a long post, Ann! So many stories in one! Oh, and I correct you: life is full of stories... history used to be passed trhough story-telling. It does not mean it is made up. :-)

My favorite part of your post today is about the armchair grave! I didn't know it was called that!