Yuen: Holding On To Tradition
Holding On To Tradition
My dad‚Äôs side of the family is consisting of six of his elder sisters, then my dad and his brother. My dad‚Äôs brother i.e. my uncle has passed away a few years back from a road accident and that means in the Yuen‚Äôs family, my dad bears the sole responsibility to the continuation of the Yuen surname. My dad has two offspring, one boy, me and one girl, my sister. And now it means that the continuation of the surname is now on my shoulder.
Now what does it means to be the one bearing the family‚Äôs surname? If only things are just as simple as bearing the surname and breed- it definitely means a lot more, in terms of tradition and religion. Let me illustrate.
In families that there are multiple sons, usually the role of the ‚Äúhead‚Äù or the obligatory ones to perform prayers would be placed upon the shoulder on the eldest son. Now, through my narrative so far, I‚Äôve been using words that portray this as some sort of burden, and honestly, I really do. And in my family now, obviously, the duty will be carry on by me.
Chinese who practices Taoism, like me (not exactly the BUDDHISM written on my MyKad) will have the altar of their ancestors at home. For the uninitiated, it means that I will have some sort of board with the name of all my ancestors at my house downtown somewhere.. What a sore eye to go together with my modern IKEA furnishing, it would certainly look out of place)..Pheesh..
It means that I have to carry on the duties of offerings to my ancestors every first day of the month, birthdays and deathdays of any one of the ancestors and every big Chinese festival, such as Chinese New Year or Tung, all according to the rotation of the lunar calendar. I pity my future wife for having to go through all that, but mom seems to do a pretty good job at that, marking our horserace calendars with Chinese characters that I do not much make sense of.
In those offerings ceremonies, as Taoist, there will be meat- normally in the form of chicken, roasted pork or some prawn thrown in. It has to be a properly prepared meal ‚Äòfor the ancestors‚Äô, where there will be at least 5 to 6 dishes consisting of meat dishes that I have just mentioned, a Chinese broth (clear soup), a plate of mixed veggies (brocolli, carrots, baby corns etc), some fruits and some kuihs. On the offering table there would also be bowls of rice, chopsticks, tea and Chinese liqours (those Cap Sampan Orang Tua, with syrupy-rose smell type that sometimes broke punks buy to consume- NO, we Chinese don‚Äôt drink that shit).
We will then light up the candle, and light up incense and mutter some words inviting our ancestors back to eat for this certain-certain occasion. The duration of our ancestor eating will be determined by the candle, normally when its burned more than half the length, we can keep the food under the tudung saji because I will be the one religiously shooing flies away from hovering the food. Then the whole family will have a little feast for the day.
I will have to do that when my parents joined my ancestors. Is that all? No.
Unlike our Malay fellow friends who visit the grave of their loved ones during Hari Raya Aidilfitri, we Chinese have a special date to do that. It is on the fourth month of the Lunar calendar and it is called Cheng Beng. This is when you will do the offering on the graveyard itself. Pretty much similar to the process above in terms of food offerings but with something more.
This is also the time that we have to clear the bushes developed from the period of last Cheng Beng to the present year Cheng Beng. We will also have to place incense around the grave, stack some papers above them and my favourite part of all, burn (deliver) things to our ancestors. This is the time that we deliver Hell Notes currency, clothes, shoes, umbrellas, watches and God knows what else those people can make out of paper, to our ancestors. If you guys go to Petaling Street around Cheng Beng time, you can see all these shops selling sembahyang necessities having lots of cool stuffs that they made out of paper to send to your ancestors.
Gold bars, servants, big houses, cars, umbrella, thermos, mobile phone (who to call? You? I certainly won‚Äôt burn my ancestors one of those!), cigarettes, set of belts and wallets, mirrors etc. Almost anything that we use for normal daily activities. It is getting more and more exciting to see what all these paper artisans have to offer as it gets more modern. I think they might have PCs too. I want a Mac for myself when I die. PDA‚Äôs? Notebook?
And then there are also the Hell Note currency, with the face of the King of the Underworld (just like the dead kennedies or the face of our sultan on our living human currency) where the amount of money could reach billions of billions in a single note. I‚Äôve lost count of the zeroes. God, they must be having inflation Down There.
Yes, I will have to balik kampung during the Cheng Beng period to make the food offerings and to Fed-Fire-Ex goods to my ancestors, a task that my whole family is doing right now. Every single year. On every grave. On three different spots sprawled from Sungai Petani to Merbok to Penang, where the remains of my great grandparents, grandparents and my uncle is at, respectively.
Honestly, I am not sure whether I can fulfill all these obligations when the time comes. My sister will wed into another family. It will be me and my future wife and kids. That if I plan to get married. If I don‚Äôt then I will failed not only the deceased, but all my extended families. People at kampung will label me as anak derhaka.
Holding on to Tradition. Welcome to my world.
My dad even took the picture of his grand parent‚Äôs tombstone, as he is afraid that his Chinese-illiterate son would not be able to find his grand parent‚Äôs grave when he is not around. The tombstone is engraved, in Chinese characters, the name of the deceased, their place of origin (my great grandparent is form the Middle Mountain- Don‚Äôt ask me, I don‚Äôt know where it is, probably somewhere in Canton.
It will just be matter of time when I have to fulfill my obligation as a filial son, grandson and great-grandson. Wish me luck.
Yuen runs his own blog here: The Cigarette Burns