Don't let ceremony overrun meaning

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 April, 2005, 12:00am

Tradition has it that there's always light rain when Ching Ming comes.

Indeed, this April is a month of showers and sadness. Besides the local Ching Ming festival, when we worship our ancestors or visit the graves of our deceased family members, the passing of Pope John Paul II and Terri Schiavo are two public deaths which have touched the world. Though much affected by western individualism under years of British colonial rule, Hong Kong Chinese people still view life after death differently from the west.

In the west, coffins are buried in large churchyards, each having their own space.

Here, most of our relatives are cremated and their ashes kept behind small marble plates in a big shrine which contains row upon row of these plates. This style of burial is based on the Chinese ethic of relationships - having 'neighbours' means you won't feel lonely. But it leaves no space for family members to gather around the ashes in remembrance of lost ones.

Western graves, on the other hand, allow the dead to have their own area for family members to leave flowers or spend time at the grave site.

Hongkongers seem to be more materialistic. They burn paper villas, Rolex watches, suits, Mercedes-Benz cars, and so on in the central furnace hoping the deceased will have a wealthy life after death.

Some even bring roast pigs, rice and wine, to lay on the ground for the spirits to eat.

Ironically, we share the food ourselves afterwards. The deceased here do not 'rest in peace'. We still believe that they have their own life and activities after death.

It's never a pleasant experience for me to visit the shrine. It is always filled with the smoke of burning incense which is guaranteed to bring tears to the eyes.

The meaning of the festival seems to have been lost. We don't have time to think about our lost loved ones, as we are too busy rushing around, dealing with the ceremonies. Isn't it more rewarding to stand quietly and reminisce?

Pulcheria is a regular SYP columnist