Saturday, March 14, 2009

Chin Beng

This post is 2 years old. I keep coming back every year to double check the location of my grandfather's grave for my impending Chin Beng or Cheng Meng (depending on dialect) visit. Tomorrow my aunt and I do our annual visit to see my 'Ah Kung'. Today I have a sudden realization that no one else in my family will be there to take on this tradition once my aunt is too old. My role so far is just as driver. My aunt shops for the paper gifts and Hell Notes to burn, the food, candles, incense and whatever else that's needed. She does the prayers and just prompts me to light the candles and place them here and there. I'm just a grunt.

My mum being Indian is not really into it and neither is my sis. My dad doesn't seem too keen on this anymore. So it's up to me now. Me. The fate of carrying on this family tradition lies on my grumpy, disgruntled ass. I can see Granpa rolling his eyes already.

How can i take notes? My Cantonese is bad, picking up half of what my aunty tells me. Even when I speak Cantonese it sounds like an Ewok chewing on some durian skin, so my aunt is half as likely to understand the gibberish questions coming from my mouth. I also am thinking, will these old dudes who still sell these things be still in business in 10, 20, 30 years time. Because by then I'll be the one shopping for a paper chest of Hell Notes to fire up and send it on the FEDEX to the Other Side to Gramps. Anyway these are things I've got to work out soon but as usual it's just me thinking way too far ahead...

11.51PM, 27th March 2007.
Did I spell it right?Anyway, I've warmed up to going with my aunty on our yearly early morning trips to the cemetery on the trunk road to Port Dickson. I used to hate it when I was younger, as my father who also hated crowds would make us leave Seremban at 6 am and get there just before dawn. It was awesome though. I'd see fires blazing in the graves around me and on the hill overlooking ours, fireworks going off and the overall festivities that would make the monkeys in the neighbouring forest agitated. Now it's a different scenario altogether. The rest of the family has backed out of going. I now find my aunty and myself the only ones on my dad's side making this trip to pray for my grandfather. As the infantile one in the group I'm assigned the sweeping, cleaning and joss stick lighting duties. She still wont let me burn the cardboard chest full of Hell Notes as I'll always be the careless kid who liked to burn things around the house. Darn.

It always starts with the minute of panic when we forget the location of the grave site in the rows and rows that lay in front of us. I try so hard to remember the procedures but short of taking notes I'm definitely not going to remember next year. Even though now as i type it down I know its clean, light joss sticks, pray, lay out food, put yellow and white papers on grave, burn cash and goodies, wait for Gramps to eat, pack up, pray and leave. And also that the grave is 6 rows down from the shaded rest area and 2 deep. Just as i know next year i will still be wandering down row 9 and 3 deep as i do every year.

I like it now because as it's up to me I go on weekdays at least 5 days before the official days. I hate the crowds and the horrendous traffic on the actual Chin Beng weekend. Its quiet and there will be maybe 3 families in sight. We go early so that when Ah Kung settles down to his breakfast of steamed chicken, roast pork, pink muffins, Chinese tea and fruits, dawn normally breaks over the hills and bathes the cemetery with a golden light. The skies are clear blue. The cemetery stretches out as far as i can see and is ringed by a rubber estate in the west and a hill that you can see the sea from in the north. When I close my eyes because the joss stick smoke is too strong I hear the birds sing as they fly about, the rooster in the nearby farm greets us from just beyond the trees and you hear one of the planes preparing to land at KLIA as a morning breeze mixes with the warm morning sun. The monkeys are long gone since the cemetery has eaten away at the forest as more clan folk shuffle off the mortal coil.

We pack up the stuff and Kuma pours the tea in front of Ah Kung's tomb stone. She prays to him and his two wives. The one he left in China and the one who's buried in Seremban. Today I eat my once-a-year brunch of 'siu yok' , steamed chicken, rice and hot brued coffee. If Mum or Aunty Kamala next door have tapau'ed breakfast then I have the additional hot roti canai and vege dhal waiting when i get back. Lovely.

As I pick my way out of the graves I find myself remembering the location of the grave with confidence just like I've done for the past 10 years.I think to myself "Aiya no prob la, so easy. Don't know how I can ever forget..."


Karen said...

something different from d usual. very refreshing-kk

Chindiana said...

yeah, trying to get in touch with my sensitive side : )

Anonymous said...

Its Cheng Meng in Cantonese.
Wah! Didn't know our "attitude" memeber has his sensitive side.

Chindiana said...

I'm trying to keep a lid on my attitude. Getting me in trouble too much! Plus i hear women like these sort of things. Heh!

Nex said...

Hats off to you dude, I don't even remember when was the last time I visited any of my late relatives' graves.

Next year bring an MP3 recorder and record everything your aunt says, and add your own comments/notes in between. That way you'll have a solid reference base for when it finally come time for you to go alone.

Chindiana said...

Nex! got some of it down today. quite simple actually - its more like father/grandfather we came to pray for you today, etc etc. hope you like the food, etc. there is some prayer bits at the begining when she's lighting the big joss sticks at the front of the grave that i missed out. next year the education of CHINdiana continues!