Sunday, April 17, 2011

Spring cleaning

The start of April (around 15 days from the spring equinox) in traditional Chinese culture is the Qingming festival. This is a time for remembering ancestors and visiting their resting place to make sure it's clean and tidy. Lyn and her family were nice enough to let me tag along when they went to visit Lyn's ancestors last weekend. I'm afraid some of the Taoist symbolism may have been lost on me (e.g. burning paper replicas of cars and iPads) but as a family and community activity it was quite touching and nice to be a part of.

I think it's fair to say that Singaporean culture puts a lot of focus on food and it's perhaps unsurprising that this entends into the afterlife as well. Food and drink are offered to the spirits and while they are eating, this gives plenty of time to clean the urns (cremation is preferred since Singapore's housing shortage also extends beyond the barrier). Depending on how hungry the spirits are, there may also be time to fold gold-coloured paper into nugget shapes for burning later, and, as at family gatherings the world over, to rehash old arguments and berate the youth for their generation's shortcomings.

There could be a temptation in modern society to think such practices are no longer relevant, but to me it just highlighted the capacity for anthropomorphising of issues beyond our understanding, which happens as much now as ever before; and more than ever we need to ensure that we stay grounded and don't lose touch with where we came from and where we will ultimately go. Whether the dead need paper 'Rulex' watches, trillions of dollars of Bank Of Hell currency and the latest Apple products I'm not so convinced, but it at least provides Singaporeans with one day per year where they can legally make a mess and burn stuff. It seems that the spiritual concepts that prevail in a society generally reflect the aspirations and values of that society so on one hand its nice to acknowledge that we are where we are now, and have the comfortable lives we do, because of those who have come before us, but on the other hand, money isn't everything and inflation at the Bank Of Hell must be a killer.

Top: Bright hill Buddhist temple in Bishan, next door to the columbarium, just before a big thunderstorm hit.
Left: Monks like aubergines

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