Friday, April 04, 2008

Lest we forget

On the Chinese lunar calendar, today is when we pay respect to our ancestors as well as other beloved family members who are no longer with us. Today is Qing Ming.

This year is the 5th year that I am not home to visit the graves of my great-grandparents. Also, I have never had the chance to be home during Qing Ming to pay my respects and 'say hi' to my grandparents.

I wonder how this day came about. Yes, yes, I could just Google and Wiki it but hey, I'm going to come up with my own 'assumptions' tonight - I'm going to see how well I can think after downing a bottle of Cruisers. Oh yes, I'm feeling heavy-headed already. You can so tell I can't drink! Hah!

Okay, back to the topic at hand. How did this day come about? To me, I think it is tied down with both cultural practice and ancient Chinese beliefs. Here, let me elaborate:

It is said that on this day, the doors to the realms of the other world are open, allowing the deceased to enter our world. How this differs to the lunar seventh month, I don't know, but I'm guessing that it works along similar lines. Knowing the Chinese race (and any ancient race for that matter), believing that 'being good' on this day towards the deceased would bring good fortune as we would be seen as being thoughtful and caring. This explains the elaborate paper 'assets' we prepare for them to enjoy in the afterlife; even the food that we prepare like the roast suckling, all the fruits, the little pastries and tea that we presumably 'offer' to them.

However, I also think that it is part and parcel of the age-old Chinese culture of filial piety. Today is the one day that Chinese families would outwardly show their respect for their ancestors. No, there is no praying involved at all. None. Zilch. This day is for us, the lucky ones who are enjoying life now to say 'thank you' to the generations before us who have allowed us to have the lives we lead now (although I think it is FAR TOO LATE as they CAN'T HEAR US!!!). It so should be primordial in us Chinese by now, I mean, the filial piety part...

Personally, I feel that this day is the most important day in the Chinese lunar calendar. It really doesn't matter if I am still Buddhist, will become Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or atheist, it will still be of the utmost significance. Why? Simple. I prefer to look at it from a cultural point of view. We are Chinese and will remain Chinese despite the different religious stands we take. This day may physically bring us to the cemetery but psychologically and emotionally, it brings us back to the days when they were alive. Hopefully, it also helps us appreciate the things that they have done to and for us. Therefore, this day is special because of the meaning it holds.

It is fine if you choose not to hold jossticks. It is also acceptable if you don't want to kneel at the grave. What I find revolting is the attitude that some people have and pass on to their children. Think of it this way: if you do not feel it important to maintain your respect for your own deceased parents for one day, do you think your children will? Haha, I highly doubt so unless they miraculously are peas from the pod on the next tree. I mean, come on! Do you think you'd even be on Earth now if not for your parents and their parents and so on?

I miss the heart-warming feeling of cleaning the graves of my great-grandparents. I have never met them but every time I go, it feels good. It feels even better when I look around the cemetery. It is as if it has woken up from a deep sleep. It is abuzz with life. Many would come with the whole extended family, a whole clan of them! They would clean the grave and give a new coat of paint (some as if they were competing to see who is more creative). Children would happily place colourful strips of 'offering paper' and eagerly wait for the firecrackers to be set off. It really does feel more like a picnic-cum-family gathering session.

On a more personal (and final) note, thank you Grandpa for coming along on holidays with us, for showering me with boundless love and your careful guidance. Grandma, thank you for the fried rice lunch, the last meal you personally cooked for me. The morning walk I had with you the day before you left will be forever etched in my memory. Great-grandma, I will always remember your liveliness and your delicious pig's trotters with ginger and vinegar.

Qing Ming is Remembrance Day to me. Remembering our past helps us build a better thought-of future. So, lest we forget, we have a long way to go in building a brighter future for ourselves and the generations to come.

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