Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Unexplained forces at work

Something inexplicably unexplainable happened to us during our first Cheng Beng session this year. As has been usual with us for the umpteenth year, we would visit my grandparents' graves at the Batu Lanchang Road Hokkien Cemetery and the Wat Pimban Onn Siamese Temple Cemetery in Green Lane.

The only difference this year was that with my aunt no longer around, the Cheng Beng duties fell squarely on my wife, son and I to fulfil. I had spent the better part of the last two weeks preparing a checklist of everything that had to be done. Well, almost everything, because as we discovered later, there were one or two minor details that needed done too.

Anyway, we were at the Batu Lanchang cemetery at first light - we arrived at about 6.45 a.m. as parking would always be a big problem - and had already finished praying by eight o'clock.

Of course, before we cleaned up the fruits and burned the paper offerings, by tradition we would ask my grandparents if they had finished "enjoying" the fruits we had brought along. This would be done by throwing two coins on the ground after encircling the joss-stick container. A head-tail combination would denote satisfaction and closure, while either a head-head or tail-tail combination would mean that the spirits hadn't quite completed yet.

So there I was, making the first throw of the coins. Tail-tail combination. "Oh, they haven't finished yet," I announced to my wife and son. I waited a while and threw the coins again. Another tail-tail combination. "Strange," I mumbled to myself. I'm their only grandson and they should be happy that I'm was trying to communicate with them about the offerings. But here they were, not giving me the nod.

The third time, a head-head combination turned up. Tried a fourth time and obtained another tail-tail combination. Then came a head-head combination again.

"You better try," I told my wife, and so she did. Her first try turned up two heads. Then came two tails and the last time she threw the coins, it came up two tails. Now, this was decidedly not funny. Something unexplainable was happening. We had thrown the coins eight times and not once did we get a head-tail combination. Probability speaking, this couldn't be happening. For every throw of two coins, the chances of striking a head-tail combination was 1:2 and for us to miss for eight consecutive throws, the chances of that happening was 1:256.

My son offered to try next. We were hopeful that he would get a Yes from his great-grandparents but again, it was yet another tail-tail combination. That bumped the odds of it happening stretched to 1:512.

My wife began wondering out loud whether there was something that we had missed this year; something that we had done during Cheng Beng on previous occasions that we didn't do this time. And suddenly it struck her mind that missing was the offering of a cup of coffee! And so, she asked my grandparents to forgive our forgetfulness and threw the coins again. Immediately, a head-tail combination appeared. We were relieved. So that was what they wanted: a cup of coffee.

Strange that 48 years and 34 years after the demise of my grandfather and grandmother respectively, such little details still mattered....

As a post-script, I should mention here that I had written about such mysterious happenings before. For centuries, we Chinese believe that the deceased can communicate with a Yes/No by such simple use of two coins thrown into the air. The last time it happened to us was during the few days that led up to this year's Chinese New Year when we were praying to the ancestors. Details here.

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