Day of the Dead
Technically, that's today, All Souls' Day, but technically, most saints are dead too, so I guess it counts too......
This Monday morning saw me traipsing around ashes and graves as my parents had decided to go down to visit my long-departed [Christian] relatives. Me, being of Slackdom, opted for that as opposed to a comfortable morning in front of the PC.
One thing you realise, as you drive into the CCK area where all the cemeteries and the columbariums are, is that most death rituals are most likely done for the benefit of the living, than the dead.
Take for example, the Christian columbarium, the Gardens of Remembrance. The outside of the columbarium resembles, at first glance, a posh country club. Yes, a country club. The whole thing is very stylishly designed, with gardens, and nice polished granite walls. My dad even tells me that there's perpetual piped music inside.
I donno about others, but if I have to live the rest of my dead eternity listening to bad organ renditions of Christian hymns...... I think my ghost will just go insane and haunt the place with my baleful wails.
"Noooooo.......... More................. 'Holy holy'.....................Want..................... Linkin....................Park......................"
Then the priest will have to come and exorcise me to Hell.
And even the 'middle-class' columbarium, where my uncle and my grandmother's mother was looked like a Pasir Ris chalet. Only the inhabitants er, stay for life and the rent is paid by their relatives.
Some interesting bites from my dad:
1. The space, or 'flat' where my deceased uncle rests actually just contains a handful of soil. When I asked about it, he said:
"Your uncle was actually buried at a cemetery, and later on, the government decided to take back the land. They exhumed all the graves, but because your uncle had been dead for so long, [almost 40 years] there was nothing left of him, even the coffin he had been in. We figured that since we had been paying for the land all this while, and we'd continue to pay for the space [in the columbarium], we may as well take what we can of the dirt [from the graveyard plot] and put it in there.
If the government is going to make us pay for the dirt, then we might as well have the dirt and keep it!"
2. Every person has a story to tell. Even those of the dead, if the living still remember them. Through my parents, I learned that my deceased uncle had a strong desire to become a Christian missionary at the age of 7. [Yikes! So how did his future niece turn out so paganistic?] I also learned that my distant aunt was a gentle, easy-going soul who loved to play the accordion, of all things. [there's that whatever-gene that came down to me]
All these long, distant people. And somehow, their lines went down and merged, and I was produced, in the far off future. How would their lives have affected mine? Was it because of my deceased uncle's Christian tendencies that my Taoist-almost-nonbelieving Dad got attracted to my Catholic Mum? [hence resulting in a lot of religious confusion in me...] My mother's line, consisting of a line of women who managed to all be different, in a yet quirky and easygoing way.
2 distinct family lines, boiling down to me and my brother.
Hmmm. Sometimes it's worth to go down to a place like this, simply for the stories.
Oh, and apparently, the nearby military camps make it a habit to conduct training sessions in the cemeteries, to encourage bravery in their troops. [how many people dare to spend the night in a cemetery, AWAKE and on the alert the whole night?] So if ever you are at the CCK cemeteries and you notice fleeting figures jumping from behind one gravestone to another, or blurry figures behind trees at the corner of your eyes.... Don't run screaming from the place. :)
Although when my dad told me that, the following scenario popped to mind:
It is the dead of night. The cemetery is empty and quiet, except for one man praying at his parents' graves.
[translated from Hokkien and muttering under his breath] "Please lah, please lah, all I need is the 4 numbers lah. Ah Lian is sick already, cannot work so hard, and children all in school leh."
The leaves rustle in the distance, and the wind blows them so that they brush past him. He shudders.
Suddenly, what was that??!! He thought he spotted a grey blur at the corner of his eye, but as he whipped his head, there was nothing. Don't think too much, don't think too much, he thinks to himself.
"I know lah, you two never like me to play the 4D, but now I really need the money lah!"
He hears a leaf-rustling sound from behind his parents' grave again. The joss sticks that he has offered to them are suddenly extinguished by a gust of wind. He gulps and continues his plea.
"Your son is begging you already! PLEASE LAH!" He abruptly shouts out the last 2 words, in sheer desperation and fear.
"ARGH! ARGH! WHO GOES THERE! FREEZE OR DIE!" Pte Lim couldn't stand it anymore and jumped out from the grave he was hiding behind. His large, fear-stricken eyes stare at the man and his shaky hands thrust the rifle at his face, the end of the rifle only inches away from his face.
*THUD* The man falls backwards, eyes wide open and body rigid, in a manner no one could doubt. Pte Lim stood there, shaking, and as he calmed down, wondered how the hell he was going to explain this to his sergeant......