Monday, 6 April 2015
Cheng Beng, paying homage to my ancestors
So this year's Cheng Beng has come and gone. In a whiff, Cheng Beng is over. As usually the case, this year's Cheng Beng was observed on the fifth of April.
In practical terms, Cheng Beng fell only 30 days after this year's Chap Goh Meh, which was the 15th day of Chinese New Year. That hardly gave my wife and I enough time to finish folding the incense paper for the two graves and a columbarium that we would be visiting.
This problem arose because we were unsure whether we could start the incense paper folding process even before Chinese New Year ended. It would have been fine if we were only folding the gold-stamped incense papers which was normal when offering to the deities but here, we were folding the silver-stamped incense papers which were offered only to the ancestors. In terms of custom, praying to the ancestors is one notch lower than praying to the gods and deities.
So to be on the safe side - and with nobody to refer this "sensitive' question to - we had decided to start the incense paper-folding process after Chap Goh Meh, and that would be the sixth of March. Thus, it was a frenzy getting enough of the incense papers folded in time for Cheng Beng. A race with time, so to speak, but like all races to meet deadlines, we managed to complete this task with a day or two to spare.
The problem with Cheng Beng last year and this year is that we have to pay homage to my aunt's memory on the actual day of Cheng Beng itself. According to Chinese custom, this has to be done for the first three year's of a person's death. With my aunt passing away in May 2013, we had no choice but to follow this custom for the second year in succession. Next year too, we have to do this.
Therefore, we had arrived early at the Batu Gantong columbarium yesterday to pray before the urns of my deceased parents and aunt. We expected a lot of people going to the cemetery and columbarium on the day of Cheng Beng itself but surprisingly, we found the crowd rather manageable. Still, we had to park the car quite a distance away and walk the rest of the way.
At the Batu Gantong cemetery grounds itself, there are several columbarium buildings. The newer ones were full of people because these contained newer urns. By comparision, the two older buildings had less crowd because the niches ans urns were quite old, and people had already come to perform their Cheng Beng obligations days earlier. Nevertheless, we had to pick our way slowly through the crowd because we had to pass by the newer columbarium buildings before we could get to the older ones.
And that's one of the features of Cheng Beng. Our Chinese custom allows us to observe Cheng Beng anytime within a 20-day period centering on the fifth of April. Thus, Cheng Beng would begin ten days earlier on the 26th of March and end ten day later on the 14th of April. Anytime during this period would be fine for Cheng Beng.
For my family, our practice would be to go for Cheng Beng earlier rather than later. Ever since I became aware of the significance of Cheng Beng during my youth, I can't ever remember any occasion when my family had done their Cheng Beng after the fifth of April.
When I was a small boy, I would follow my maternal grandmother and my mother to the same Batu Gantong cemetery to pray at the grave of my great-grandparents. We didn't own a car in those days and our normal mode of transport then was by trishaw. My grandma would ask me to remind a trishawman that stayed down the road from where we used to live in Seang Tek Road, that we would require his services.
In the late 50s and early 60s of the last century, trishaws were the accepted mode of moving around to areas not covered by the bus routes. Trishaws were respectable modes of transportation in the past, unlike today when trishaws are mainly tourist attractions.
So come the arranged dated, Uncle Sek Lim, as I used to call him, would wait at our doorstep at five o'clock in the morning to take my grandmother and mother. I would squeeze in between them, and with foodstuff and folded incense paper on the floor of the trishaw before us, the trishawman would peddle ever so slowly to the cemetery.
I remember he'd go along Dato Kramat Road and then turn into York Road before entering Batu Gantong Road itself. I also remember that the most memorable part of the journey would especially be along York Road. The road would be strewn yellow with the fallen flowers of the Angsana trees. As the trishaw slowly trundled along, small yellow flowers would continue falling down upon us in the open trishaw and we would arrive at Batu Gantong with a thin carpet of yellow on us.
But there are people who do perform their Cheng Beng obligations during the second half of this 20-day period. For instance, I've just heard from a cousin in the Klang Valley that she will be going to her grandparents' grave in Shah Alam only this weekend, on the 12th of the month.
Yes, but for us, we would prefer to get it done within the first half of the Cheng Beng period. For us, the earlier we get this ancestral homage completed, the better it would be. It would be one more year of Cheng Beng behind us as we look ahead.
I should perhaps also mention here that my annual Cheng Beng route normally takes us to the Batu Lanchang cemetery where my maternal grandparents' grave is, and the Wat Pinbang Onn Siamese cemetery in Green Lane where my paternal grandparents were buried.
After our visits to these two cemeteries, we would then proceed to the Triple Wisdom temple in Pangkor Road to pray before my parents's memorial tablets. But because we needed to visit the Batu Gantong columbarium for three successive years, we have dropped the Triple Wisdom temple from our itinerary for the time being. Of course, this will resume in 2017 when we no longer have to do Cheng Beng at the columbarium.