Thursday, 19 March 2015

malaysian chinese traditions

in KL i would describe myself as 'progressive' but in Sydney i would change that description to 'traditional'.

perhaps it is the humbling effect of experiencing the death of a loved one.

or being far away from home, alone.

maybe it's just the effects of time and age.

but more and more i am starting to appreciate traditions which have struck me as nonsensical and ridiculous when i was younger.

like the complex funeral rituals associated with Chinese/Buddhism.

the colors of the clothing, the wake, the endless chanting and kneeling, the burning of incense and offering of various paper products.. all left me a bit bemused as a 24-year-old, although i dutifully prayed as instructed by my aunt at the funeral of a relative (not even sure who he was).

when i first heard the news that ahgong had left us i was at a railway station, and my crying would have been never-ending had i not had to clean myself up.

knowing that i needed to remove my contact lenses, makeup, shower, brush my teeth, undress then go to bed focused me and gave me something which can be done on autopilot as a distraction - although crying + brushing your teeth at the same time = choking.

i spoke to K re her experience with her grandpa's death and funeral, and i feel what took the edge off the grief and sadness was the physical effort of the wake and funeral.

we took turns keeping vigil over the body, 24/7. we worked in shifts, and i had to stay up all night once.

why did you have to keep vigil?

because if a cat jumps over the body, he would come alive.

ORZ girl are you sure?

i might have taken it harder than usual because i wasn't caught up in the bustle of preparations for the wake. if i had flown back home and had to expend energy at the wake, i would have been to exhausted to cry and wonder where people go after they die.

reading the texts in the family WhatsApp group really helped.

i was also struck by how expensive funerals are! the bill alone would be enough to stem the grieving!

even the old-school, nobody-does-it-anymore mandated mourning period makes sense now - human beings are such that if you can't do something, you want to do it more. by severely restricting what people can do for an extended period of time, halfway through the mourning timeframe they will be so over it, i want to go on holiday NOW!

wise were our forefathers who came up with this ingenious way to cushion the blow of loss, which is most keenly felt during the first week, by distracting us with this and that, by letting us feel as though there is still something we can do in the most powerless moments of our lives.

or maybe all these musings are because i have been living abroad alone for almost 4 years now, and am craving some traditions to anchor me in a place where i sometimes feel like i'm being swallowed up whole.

another tradition which i may embrace is confinement.

i was reading cupcakes and cashmere the other day, and Emily mentioned that it took her approx. 1 month to feel like herself again after giving birth.

aha! i thought. that's the exact length of a Chinese confinement.

when i was little, all i knew re confinement was that the new mums are not supposed to wash their hair! for a month! eww~ and i recall there's something about superstition re birds for a woman in confinement, can't remember what it is.

anyway i became convinced Chinese people were crazy and wished i were white ((laughs

then i was introduced to confinement food, which i loved! red wine chicken and pork trotter in vinegar are my 2 faves. when popo was well she used to cook them for me and Tao when we visited.

i think one day an Anglo was saying how stressful it can be when you have a new baby and people want to see it, like NOW. it can be tough to say no.

aha! that's why we have confinement!

having a month to readjust to life with a new baby, without feeling like you're an unfriendly boring mother, and being able to explain your limited-visitors policy with just one word 'confinement', is helpful to the entire family. and after a month you can show off your baby with a full moon party!

Il faut des rites. We need rituals. rituals for times of joy, and just as important, rituals for challenging times. as time goes by i am enjoying the reassurance of rituals more and more.

Il faut des rites
i'm even thinking of planning out my weeks more, ala this fabulous idea on family dinners. i struggle to balance work, cooking, cleaning, violin, exercising, friends, reading etc.

having read Switch, i know the daily question of 'should i go running after work tomorrow? or should i cook? when was the last time i cooked? will i have enough time for music practice? should i take the meat down from the freezer anyway?' is sapping my energy.

i guess this is what adulthood looks like - when laissez faire just doesn't quite do it for you anymore ;p

No comments: