April 6, 2009

Finding a balance between tradition and environmental preservation.

The family rose at 6am last Saturday. We put on our trekking gear and loaded our car with Qing Ming Festival cargo mom had prepared weeks ahead.
I had forgotten my track pants and naively pulled on shorts instead. I was eaten alive by an army of mosquitoes. It was dark; I had no means of defending myself. *tear*It's been years since I was home in Malaysia for Qingming, and it felt pretty good to be a part of it with the family this year.
I get excited about these things; of course, as a child; I often questioned why we gathered at the cemetery once a year, folded paper money and displayed food for our ancestors; which we then consumed in delight after! *grin* It was definitely something I looked forward to at the end of our mornings together.I remember it to always be lots of fun catching up with everyone. It was never eerie or uncomfortable either. Everyone would pitch in to help clean up the place; set up the offerings and chat about our family's ancestral heritage. Sis and I ask more questions about our grandparents and those before them every year that we're there. Inevitably; we learn more about our origins each time.

There is lots about this festival which I remain oblivious about; well until I just recently ran a wiki-search. Apparently it's a just a time for...
"people to go outside and enjoy the greenery of springtime (踏青 Tàqīng, "treading on the greenery"), and also to tend to the graves of departed ones.
People go on family outings, start the spring plowing, sing, dance, and Qingming is a time where young couples start courting. Another popular thing to do is fly kites (in shapes of animals, or characters from Chinese opera)"

Courting and kite flying?! I must try that next year! *grin*
I love the whole idea of this family oriented festival. ...Well;.... maybe not 'entirely'.
For over 10 years it had been perfect; it was as well last Saturday;... up to the point I realized; Oh... we got to now burn this. ... ...... Burn!?.. er?
*looks around at other families creating clouds of smog*
Of course; burning offerings is a big part of qingming; and I suppose it can not be forgone.
But it did scar my 'green' soul a little to watch good paper go up in ashes. Of course it isn't toxic gas; but it does create excessive carbon dioxide. I'm happy grandpa 'received' a nice yacht from mom this year though! *giggle* Sis thinks we should burn him a beach house next year to make sure he gets to use it; haha funny.The family gathered our belongings and our waste before we made our way back up the hill; and I did make a point to clean up the inorganic trash around us before heading off. It was important for me to know that we did what we had to but left the place without leaving any non compost trash behind.

I'm actually amused at my self realization. It isn't till the past couple of years that I've made a significant change in my daily habits and actions in an attempt to contribute to healing our planet. My personal standards of what's acceptable has definitely been raised. I suppose it happened naturally as I matured and took on responsibilities I felt necessary.
Aunt noticed my wrinkled brow and puzzling frown; she wanted to know what I was thinking about,
I simply reassured her everything was fine.
*shrug* I didn't know exactly where to begin; I didn't want to come off as though I opposed of Qingming rituals either.
I decided I'd just have to find other ways to make it up to mother earth today. I'm thinking of planting trees tomorrow; who's with me?! *laughs*
I've got 'cake' all day tomorrow unfortunately; I might just sleep without air conditioning tonight. *shudders at thought*


Poorni Pillai said...

Those are really beautiful pictures!! And your point is valid- it is a bit difficult sometimes to find a balance. I'm Indian and my family is a Hindu one- we have so much stuff we burn and throw.....it's not something you can argue about either. Kudos to you for doing what you can.

Chef C said...

I like this piece you've written.

smile :) said...

hey...i got to agree what you wrote here. I felt the same way too. Worse was that my family went to the cemetery on the Earth Hour day! We were burning so much yet celebrating Earth Hour at night. Sigh.

It is difficult to explain to my parents that it's not good to burn these stuffs because it's the culture that we've been practicing since long long time ago. But one thing that I am really glad is that at least my parents took the initiative to reduce the amount after so many years. I still remember we used to carry bags of those paper offerings!

Really glad that you're doing something for the environment!

Laurel said...

I really enjoyed your piece. What a wonderful tradition to grow up with. My family always went to my grandparents and father's graves on Memorial Day (May 25th this year). We left flowers, usually from our garden and a US flag at my father's grave (he was a World War II veteran) and, unfortunately that was the beginning and end of our ritual. When I went off to collage in Hawaii, I missed visiting my dad's grave and so developed a ritual all my own. It must have been (unconsciously) influenced by my Japanese roommate. I went to Punchbowl cemetery, found a grave of a WWII Army vet from Illinois that was around my dad's age. His grave had sadly been untended for a long time and so every Memorial Day, I would go, wash his grave, burn a stick of incense, thank him for his sacrifice and even talk to my dad, knowing that somehow he would hear me. Now that I am back in Illinois, I visit my Dad's grave on Memorial Day and Halloween, honor him as my ancestor, burn incense, tend his grave, and tell him of events that have happened in the family throughout the year. It too is a pleasant time. I have also started visiting my husband's sister's grave after she died three years ago. I now always take several days off around Halloween to do the final preparation of my garden for Winter and honour family and friends who have died. I make a special dinner along with a little Scotch, and put part of it on a natural altar in the back yard, knowing it will bless the spirits of family and friends who have died. I am of Scottish heritage and, as I have gotten older, this has become a more and more important time of year for me.

Good for you being concerned about the smoke issue. I agree with you and find the same true in my life. As I get older, I long to live greener and make less of an impact on our beautiful world.

gluten free pammy said...

your photos are wonderful, what a wonderful tradition

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Su-Yin -Décorateur said...

thanks everyone for leaving me a message. :) It's nice to know people enjoy reading my tidbits on other things besides food as well! hehe

smile: thanks for sharing! it's nice to know how similarly this applies to other cultures too.

laurel: wow.. what a touching story. that's incredible. Thank you for inspiring us with your thoughts and efforts to remember those who have passed.