Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Annual Cheng Beng

Chinese graveyards are normally sited in wide open spaces that expose the graves to the elements. Nobody bothers to visit the cemeteries much except to bury the dead or for Cheng Beng.

Well, we have already fulfilled our Cheng Beng obligations for this year. We went a-visiting my grandparents' tombs on Sunday, leaving the house at 6.15am and arriving at the Batu Lanchang cemetery just before seven o'clock. Still dark but already, lots of earthly activities happening on the ground. Illegal car park attendants miraculously popped up to collect parking fees and in order to make their collection more "official", they even issued their so-called parking receipts! There was nothing much I could do but to grin and part with my RM2. Too many of them around to make a clean getaway.

Anyway, the advantage of driving into the cemetery grounds was that I could park practically outside my maternal grandparents' final residence! If ever there's a good way to describe their 2-in-1 tomb (they were buried side-by-side according to Chinese custom so that they would always together even in death), I would say "second row, first grave beside the drain."

There we were on the Sunday morning, stomping on the dirt and walking on the decaying vegetation. Tombcleaners were at hand to clear the graves of organic growth that had accumulated since the last Cheng Beng and we had arranged for our regular guy to remove all the growth about a week ago. Lazy bugger, he dumped everything into the shallow drain. At least, we had a nice, clean grave to visit. The whole time we were at the wide open cemetery, we kept our eyes glued skywards. It had been raining almost the whole of Saturday and frankly, even as the day began to get brighter, the sky was still very much overcast. A downpour could still come at any moment. We were lucky to miss all that at Batu Lanchang.

Next stop was at the Wat Pimbang Onn Siamese temple and cemetery about a kilometre away. Why my father had chosen this place as the final resting place for his parents in the early 1960s was far beyond me. Maybe it was because this cemetery also offered a cremation service in the past. Very convenient then, from the cremation spot to the grave. But this place is so totally different from Batu Lanchang and the other Chinese cemeteries. Worlds apart.

This Siamese cemetery had seen better days. Today, there's really no upkeep of the grounds any more. Many graves stand neglected; nobody visits, not even during Cheng Beng. The clearest signs of the neglect are the unkempt conditions around them: uncleared undergrowth and trees sprouting on the graves with wild abandon. A stone's throw from my paternal grandparent's tomb, there's even a tall tree growing right in front of one gravestone. Nobody cared, nobody bothered. And with so many trees growing everywhere, the cemetery may be shaded but it is a damp and gloomy place. A definite hotbed for mosquito breeding.

So this was my grandparents' final resting place. They were cremated here on this very same grounds and their bones collected in separate urns and then buried here. During their time in the 1960s, the cremation process was carried out openly. If anyone had wanted to watch the casket being burned, they could have done so. They could have watched the Indian worker shove firewood beneath the casket which was raised on a platform. They could also have watched the man pour kerosene on the casket and firewood, and then set them alight. They could have watched the casket being consumed by flames and perhaps see the gristly sight or smell the pungent odour of fire burning flesh. All these could be seen from the main road, Green Lane, which ran directly outside the cemetery. It was a wonder nobody complained about the cremation or the ashes flying everywhere. Or perhaps they did - I was too young to bother - and that was a reason why cremations finally stopped here.

Today, there are no more new burials here. Everything is, as I mentioned, in a very bad state of neglect. There are still families coming here every Cheng Beng to clear the graves and paying respects to the deceased, but the signs are there that sooner or later the numbers will dwindle and the whole graveyard will descend into its own eternal gloom.

1 comment:

stephen said...

Very well written piece SS,this would get an A+ for english essay!