Saturday, April 03, 2010

Qing Ming Festival 清明节

5 April is Qing Ming Day, 104 days from Winter Solstice (read more on wikipedia). In Singapore, this is one month that all Chinese remember their ancestors. With changing times, different people will remember their departed in various ways. Some would go to the temples where they place the tablets of their ancestors and pay their respects. There are still many who would go to the cemeteries where their departed relatives are buried. For those who were cremated, the descendants and relatives might go to the government, temple or even private company run columbaria where the ash niches are kept.

Traditionally, for the Taoists, they would bring along the favourite food of their departed (in this case, mainly for their departed parents or grandparents, or in some cases, siblings or children) to offer to them. In the old days, extend families would organise to get a lorry (truck) to load all the necessary praying paraphernalia and food for each departed relative and to go from tomb to tomb. Traffic jam, during the weekends, would not be in the city, but in the cemeteries.

I remember those days when my late maternal grandma would organise such trips. For us kids, it was fun. First we got to sit in a lorry (the type with wooden structures) and get to meet all the aunties, uncles and cousins. And there would be plenty of food to eat, after the offerings. We would be going to different places in Bukit Brown area (the wider area known as Kopi Sua - Coffee Hill to us. It is said that once, there was an attempt to plant coffee here) and Peck Shan Ting (in Cantonese, what is Bishan now). My mum's late adopted father was buried without any tombstone during the Japanese occupation, and in each Qing Ming she would have to depend on the landmarks, such as trees or other tombstones to locate this small mound.

And a few times, I followed by late Mother-in-law to the Qing Ming outing with the Zhong Shan Association (a dialect group from Zhong Shan in GuangDong). They have one area in Peck Shan Ting where all the Zhong Shan people were buried and there was one common one of the Association. Here, the members paid respect to the common ancestors of the Zhong Shan people. The fellow members would sponsor many roast pigs and after the prayers, we would be sitting in groups to have a picnic with freshly cut roast pork with buns. The best roast pork to me!

There are some Chinese customs in that for the long dead, offerings of respect could be made within 10 days from Qing Ming (known as Cheng Beng in Hokkien) Day, before and after. For those who just passed away, there seems to be some particular rules about the day for prayer.

Apart from the 7th Month (known as the Hungry Ghost Festival to many), Qing Ming is another month where the Joss-shops are very busy offering praying paraphernalia of many kind. The focus now is on the people who have departed. In the past, it could be simple papers with printings of clothings. With modernization, creativity and innovations, the paper offerings have evolved. There are almost real paper models of shirts, blouse, samfoo, and shoes of all kinds. This year, I spotted bras or could they be bikinis? For the more technically inclined, there are handphones, computers and these days, notebooks. I-phone lookalikes could be on its way. With I-Phone applications, well, maybe, there could be less burning. (^^)

For those who have enjoyed life, there are cans of beer and stout and now, cognac and wine.

In Chinatown, there are two shops which probably have been doing such a business for a long time. One is at Banda St and the other at Smith Street. They are also favourite haunts of tourists, led by the tour guides to show them about life after life for Singapore Chinese.

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