Monday, May 14, 2012

Qing Ming

This year in April, the Chinese living in Malaysia celebrate Qing Ming. This is similar to Memorial Day in the United States, where families visit the graves of deceased ancestors to pay their respects.

Penang is home to several large cemetaries, including this one which is a mix of Cantonese and Teow Chew ethnic groups. Many of these graves were put here during the Japanese occupation of Penang during WWII.

The month of Qing Ming is the only time when you can visit the graves of your family. The rest of the year the cemetaries aren't kept, thus they are covered in tall grass and weeds. Just before Qing Ming, the operators of the cemetaries clear away all of the debris. Visitors are frequently seen restoring the graves, which is why Qing Ming is sometimes referred to as "grave sweeping". The man pictured above is rebuilding the mound on tip of the resting place of his ancestor.

In the United States, visitors often leave flowers or other tokens of remembrace at the graves of their ancestors. In Malaysia, the Chinese have a much more elaborate way of honoring their dead, including providing a feast and clothing! You can see a family decorating the gravesite above. The grave is covered with tiny slips of paper quoting scripture and held down with flags.

A complete meal with roasted chicken and fresh fruit is laid out for the dead to eat. The family waits for the dead ancestors to eat what they want. After about 20 minutes, the head of the family kneels in front of the feast and flips two coins. If they both show up heads or tails, then the ghosts are done eating, and the leftovers can be taken home and finished later. If one shows up heads and the other tails, then the ghosts aren't done eating, and you have to wait and flip the coins in another 20 minutes.

In addition to a nice meal, the spirits of the dead are given clothing and money to last them for one year. You may be wondering how you can give a ghost clothes and money. Well, you take paper versions of anything you want to send to hell, and you burn it. Makes perfect sense, right?

So, near Qing Ming time, stores start to carry paper versions of things that your dead ancestors might need, like iPads and other electronics. Of course, iPads are easy to use, but if your dead aunt passed away in the 1990's, she may not know how to use one!

An alternative is a nice paper BMW. You can even get one that comes with a paper driver!

Maybe your dead uncle was missing some teeth. So, buy him paper dentures, and also some paper dental hygiene products!

Once you've piled everything up next to your ancestor's grave, you light it on fire. This transports whatever gifts you want to give to the spirit world for the use of your predecessors in the next life.

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