Showing respect

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 April, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 April, 2004, 12:00am

We wake up at 8am, take a two-hour bus ride to the New Territories and then walk for another hour to the cemetery. We elbow our way through the crowds of people shrouded in clouds of smoke.

We reach the wall of rectangular boxes which contain our deceased relatives' ashes. My aunt puts down some bowls of rice, cups of wine and roasted meat on a table nearby.

Then we burn piles of paper money, a paper hat and a paper Rolex watch in the incinerator. My eyes start to water as the smoke stings them.

We bow for a few seconds, make sure that all the paper has been burnt to ashes, gather around the food we've brought and wolf the roasted meat down. Then we make the three-hour journey home.

The traditional Ching Ming festival gives us a chance to show respect to our deceased ancestors. However, I do have some doubts about it. Does the paper money really reach the deceased?

As far as I can see, the paper just turns to ash and pollutes the air with black smoke. And the offerings of food are meant to let our ancestors eat but, in fact, we're the ones who eat it.

My main concern though is all the paper we burn. I even saw a whole paper villa complete with swimming pool being burnt. But what I really see is all the trees that have been chopped down to make so much paper.

Each year, I wonder how many trees are cut down. A whole forest? And it all goes straight up in smoke, polluting the air even more than it already is.

Death is a taboo subject. People fear it and have many superstitions about it. But I believe that when a person dies, we should let them be. We should let them have their peace, think about them and pray for them.

But do we really need rituals like Ching Ming? Does it really have meaning for each of us or has it just become mechanical? And is it worth the damage it does to our environment? Isn't it time we respected that too.

Pulcheria is a regular SYP columnist.