Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Honouring our Ancestors - Ching Ming & Filial Piety Stories

"The dead have passed beyond our power to honour or dishonour them, but not beyond our ability to try and understand. "

My unmarried sister Sing, has a pair of shoes just for Ching Ming, the Chinese Tomb Festival. She bought the pair of canvas shoes 17 years ago. And for the last 17 years, she would take those same shoes out for Ching Ming, to walk all the few kilometers to clean our father's tomb, our brother's tomb and a few others as well. She is our representative, our most filial sibling because she is the only one "left in Sibu" to do the rites.

Next year, it will be different because she will then be in Kuching with my other sisters.

And those of us living outside Sibu, will have to make arrangements to go to Sibu for the festival.

I am relating two important values here: my sister's frugal attitude towards life and her filial piety. Two very strong Foochow values which make us just so wondrously sensible, resilient and powerful.

Although being frugal is always known as a great trait of the Foochows , this value is often forgotten by the younger set today. Filial Piety is another value treasured by the Foochows. And again, it may just go out of fashion soon.

Another filial piety story:

When my maternal grandmother became blind due to old age, my third uncle was devastated. He and his family lived in a nice little cottage by the river side and they took care of my grandmother very well. The huge ancestral mansion had by then been swept away by the river . The river express boats for 20 over years caused devasting river bank erosion and many of the homes built in the 1900's were all gone by 1970's . As the banks were eroded, more and more Foochows moved to Sibu, thus swelling the urban population by the hundreds of thousands. This had coincided with the communist threat, the slowing down of the rubber industry and the explosion of the timber and building industries. There has been no academic study made on this population trend.

My uncle would always be at the beck and call of my grandmother. I will always remember how obedient my third uncle was as a grown up son to my grandmother.

Grandmother had become very frail too. But as the matriarch of the Lau family,she was highly regarded. My uncle made sure that she was well treated in the last few years of her life.

No matter how short of money my uncle was,(he was by then retired without a pension and rubber tapping was no longer a big business as rubber price was only about 60 sen a kilo) he would have the pork, vegetables and a few other condimennts on the table for my grandmother.

Life in the riverine farm was very subsistent. They grew vegetables, raised some pigs and chickens and ducks. Electricity was available and its source was from a diesel run Japanese made generator. Electricity was only used for very important occasions. Thus,at night, more often than not, light was from a kerosene lamp.

One day my grandmother asked for beef and salted vegetable soup. Naturally no beef was available at the farm.

So my uncle dressed my grandmother up and carried her on his back and took a motor launch. The trip to Sibu took about 2 hours and soon they were by the wharf of Sibu. Upon arrival, he put her in a taxi and brought her to our home.

That was one of the rare trips my grandmother made to town after she became blind. It was a lucky day for them because it was a Thursday when beef was sold. Fresh beef was not easily available in Sibu then.

That evening we had a good beef and salted vegetable dinner and grandmother was totally over the moon talking of old times with tears in her eyes. My third uncle was also teary. The next day they left for the village down river. It was one of those rare mother and son outing. My grandmother was 83 and my uncle was 50.

Yet I watched them with a lot of sadness in my heart, the son lifting the mother into the taxi and then getting into the taxi himself . Slowly as the taxi disappeared down the road, I felt that they were just like a young mother and her young child taking a slow walk in the morning. And then all of a sudden birds came alive! And I could hear that wondrous bird song from the tree above our house. It was like a chorus saying "well done! well done!" to my uncle.

Life was really so good with grandmother and a loving uncle around!!

And then fast forward, they were in the twilight of their life! My emotions were surging from a low depression and rising to a high crest, like a brilliant ocean wave hitting against a white, sun kissed shore.

A visit to my memories of my uncle's filial piety was like taking the ginseng of my life. Memories of him and his kindness to and love for my grandmother uplift me!

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