Saturday, June 13, 2009

Death and Life

I was enjoying my newspaper and a simple breakfast at the cooked-food stalls in the upper floors of a wet market on a leisurely Saturday morning.

5 women in the next table were engaged in a conversation excitedly.

“We were running around the cemetery, we all had our own opinions and there were lots of arguments. But my husband was very decisive that day. He said: don’t argue, I will decide and that’s it.”
“The permanent cemetery in Aberdeen was very expensive.
Only rich people can afford to bury their dead there.”
“I don’t want to be buried in a spot where somebody was buried before!” “What do you expect? There are just no new permanent spots. You can only be buried for 7 years and then your bones must be dug up.”

“I had to step over people’s graves, so I kept muttering ‘excuse me’ like a mad woman. Even though they are dead, but the place is their home, so we should show respect.”

“I went to pay my respects to my uncle at the columbarium (where the ashes of cremated people are stored). But I simply could not locate the niche storing the cinerary urns.
Everywhere I turned, hundreds of faces were staring at me (from photos of the dead placed on the niche). I got unnerved, so I prayed to my uncle: I tried but I couldn’t find you, so I am leaving. I turned to go, and suddenly, he was right there in front of me.” ......

A couple and their young girl sat down at my table. Soon the father started talking on his mobile phone, and so did the mother. Apparently they have an elder daughter studying overseas. The elder daughter was calling on the phone complaining about being bullied by some student over there; but she would not complain because she was afraid the offending boy was associated with gangs. They all took turns to speak to the elder daughter (whom they were all very fond of, apparently), with the phone ending in the hands of the mother. The father then started making other phone calls. The little one ended up staring into space after finishing her breakfast.

“The Feng shui master suggested a number of names for the baby, all in the form of 魏褔X. And he said the character 添 should never be used.”
“My accountant lives in South Horizons. It looks out to the ocean, with good 風水. That place in Saiwanho is junk. You would have to sell it right away even if you buy it.”

These conversations, conducted rather openly in the food hall, reminded me of how much time and effort we Chinese spend on the birth (and raising) of the young, and the handling of the dead. We often concentrate so much in these matters, that it appears the purpose of life is to perpetuate life, in keeping the dead happy (so that they protect us in this life), and (to live on) by ensuring numerous prosperous off-springs.

Is that what life is all about? What is the real purpose of our own lives?

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