The Yearly Ancestral Hike

Two Sundays ago we went for Cheng Beng or Chinese All Souls’ Day. The actual date fell on 5 April but tradition has it that you can go 10 days before or 10 days after the actual date.

Chinese All Souls Day to remember the departed
My grandpa's grave with our food offerings

Each year, I take part in Cheng Beng because it is a way to gather the family around the graves of our ancestors. I believe in reincarnation and I hope that my grandpa, great grandparents and grand aunt’s spirits have been reincarnated into a higher and better realm by now. After all it’s been a long time since they passed on.
Yet this Confucianism practice is something I truly look forward to. Not because my departed relatives can imbibe the food we put before them. (I hope not!)
A pile of joss paper and a set of "clothes" to become a bonfire
A pile of joss paper and a set of "clothes" to become a bonfire

I look forward to it because as the years go by, fewer and fewer family members make that trek to clean the graves of my great grandpa. His grave is on a little hill which overlooks the Straits of Malacca; it is a place of feng shui for sure.
My great grandpa, Goon Phoon Chong of Ah Chong Tailor
My great grandpa, Goon Phoon Chong of Ah Chong Tailor

Although it takes less than 20 minutes to hike up, fewer family members make that hike as most of them are in their 60s and so it is left to us young people to continue hiking up the hill, to remember a man who most times frightened the crap out of my aunts and uncles but was such a gentle lamb to us great grand-kids when we knew him.
When I knew him, he was in his 80s. He was such a quiet old man that we never truly had proper conversations with our great grandpa. But we often went and called upon him when my sisters and I were at the old shophouse on 34, Leith Street. (That shophouse has been demolished which is rather sad because now the shop next door, which is still standing, took my great grandpa’s shop name – Kwong Sung House – for its cafe business with a tailoring theme).
The killer view from my great grandpa's grave...after a nice hike
The killer view from my great grandpa's grave...after a nice hike

The remaining pillar, a remnant of the shophouse, still bravely proclaims “Ah Chong Tailor”  – Ah Chong stood for Goon Phoon Chong, my great grandpa. In those days, the sons followed their father’s footsteps so my grandpa and his brothers helped out in the booming tailoring business (this was back in the 1950s and 1960s). My grandma, when she married my grandpa, also sewed.
So Cheng Beng is more of a time to remember our ancestors rather than hoping they get the food! Of course, Cheng Beng is never Cheng Beng without the prayer paraphernalia like paper offerings and paper clothes. We’re not that hi-tech to offer mobile phones to my great grandpa or grandpa – they would never know how to use it!
Grand-aunt prays and offers some sweet cakes to the deity first
Grand-aunt prays and offers some sweet cakes to the Earth Deity first

Over the past few years, Cheng Beng is also a time for us  to remember what to do when we are in front of the graves. Actually it is for my cousin and I to stamp into our minds the steps and rituals of praying. We don’t want to forget a single step – it’s sacrilegious!
More than that, going for Cheng Beng gives me a moment to reflect and be grateful for the people who have brought me here  – for without my great grandparents, where would I be? Certainly not here, not blogging about it.
Younger cousins tidying up the grave
Younger cousins tidying up the grave

I don’t have that many memories of my great grandmother though my aunts and uncles were all rather afraid of her stern demeanour when she was alive. As a child, I used to be afraid to look into the first room upstairs (at the old shophouse) because her portrait would be hung there. I don’t know if it is the way people in those days took photos but there was not a smile. Just a tight-lipped grimace!
Anyway, as the proverbial baton is passed to my cousin and me to carry on the tradition of Cheng Beng, I hope to improve upon it as we go along. Already I am thinking of bringing with us a garbage bag the next year we go up the hill. I just cannot understand why we Chinese are so damn filthy, discarding rubbish all about the graves when it is the final resting place of our ancestors! It boggles my mind.
This pile of offerings goes up in flames once the prayers are done
This pile of ingots goes up in flames once the prayers are done

I would replace the newspapers with a proper tablecloth too – the newspaper is the temporary “table cloth” which annoys me to no end. And if we revere our ancestors, I think we should give them the best. How about some lovely wine that doesn’t come in a cheap bottle?

A Family Affair

I always look forward to Qing Ming. This year it fell on 4 April (or is it 5 April?). I know that Chinese schools declared Friday a holiday. But most working people would visit their ancestors’ graves on a weekend. I never miss going for Qing Ming even though I have to wake up really early (missed last year’s though as my maternal grandma passed away).
This morning, I was up at 5.30am and reached my paternal grandma’s home by 6.15 only to find half the household still getting ready! As with all the years before, we were going to visit 3 ancestors: my great grandpa, my grandpa and my grand-aunt. Luckily all are located within the Mount Erskine area.

Read moreA Family Affair