“Baba, is it New Year already?” My little boy asks. The deafening sound of firecrackers going off at a nearby grave rang through the crisp early morning air. Before I can gather my thoughts for a better answer, “Pik! Pik! Pak! Pak! Pik! …”, another cracker has gone off.
It’s Ching Ming again. It’s about the only day at the weekends when I don’t have to work, yet have to wake up at 6 o’clock in the morning. Gathered all the praying materials and “present” (no car, no planes, no handphone, no notebook, neither do we prepare any sexy lingerie; just cash, cash is king, they can buy anything they want; anyway, they might be well ahead of us in terms of model or versions of those gadgets, who knows) into the car, and went for breakfast, before heading to the cemetery.
It’s hardly 8 o’clock and already we had to park our car about half an hour away from my grandparents’ grave and took a walk. As I strolled through the cemetery on the gravel road, I was taking in the sight of deep blues of sky over our heads, fluffy whites of clouds hanging slightly above the horizon, luscious greens of palm oil plantation at the edge of the cemetery, colors of all sort by people dotting around the graves (I think there are easily 3 or 4 thousands graves scattered around at this cemetery, probably each facing an auspicious direction beneficial to their descendants), ashes and burnt paper flying up in whirlwinds; feeling the soft warmth of the early morning sun, the soothing coolness of the pleasant breeze; submerging myself into the buzzing sounds of people chattering, laughing around me, and occasional firecrackers going off.
“Well … it is sort of New Year, in ‘the other world’,” for lack of better explanation. I’ve already exhausted my ideas this morning trying to explain the meaning of “remembrance of ancestors”. It’s the boy’s first Ching Ming outing. To the kids, almost anything that was dead was explained to have gone to “the other world” nowadays. Reaching my grandparents grave, one family was already there, busy cleaning up the grave and its surrounding. As we join in the tomb-sweeping activities, other families arrive. Slowly, the atmosphere around the grave is getting livelier and livelier. Whilst the elders are preparing the “contribution”, me and other cousins are busy catching up on recent development; the little ones are busy weeding the soil behind the tomb and decorating around it with joss-sticks and candles. By the time we begin to feel the sun’s scorching heat, as the coolness of the morning air slowly vapor off, we are all ready to pay respect to our ancestors.
As we are standing in front of the tomb, with joss-sticks in our hand, I try to remember the old days when all of us gathered at my grandparents’ house. I had always enjoyed those times, when there were ten to twenty kids running around the house. My grandparents, my parents and the uncles and aunties would be chatting around the table, nibbling groundnuts and other snacks. Everyone was wearing nice new clothes. It was Chinese New Year then.
Looking around me: my parents, uncles and aunties, cousins, my children, nephew and nieces, all standing together, and our grandparents in front of us, I realize that, perhaps, IT IS New Year in the other world after all.