Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Six feet under

I started writing this article three years ago, after my Mom passed away, but I couldn't finish it. Every time I tried to go deeper, I ended up lost in overwhelming emotions; feeling suffocated and I couldn't put it down in words, until now. It's ghost month again, it is said every year in July (lunar calendar) all ghosts could pass the gate that separates two worlds and re-enter the world they used to live in and enjoy a feast prepared for them. More than 3 years have passed, I can't stop wondering if reincarnation does exist as it is claimed in Buddhism or Taoism, shouldn't my Mom have already reincarnated? The paradox is why those people keep worshipping a wood tablet for the rest of their life while they believing in reincarnation? Don't they wish the deceased had started a new life? Reincarnated or not.

Filial piety is one of the virtues in Chinese, in fact it is the core idea imprinted in Chinese and we are all chained in this invisible shackle. "You should build an altar in the living room as a home for ancestral tablets where the spirits rest and serve them with joss sticks every morning and evening"; " you should kneel and crawl all the way in to the house as when she passed away you were not by her side"; " you should order wreaths or better, towers made of cans and present them in the most prominent location"; you should...". Tons of "you should" during the funeral process and lots of them made no sense to me. It seemed everyone was an expert in this kind of things and the list of suggestions was not suggestions but orders, failing to comply was considered unfilial or blasphemy. Does it really work this way or it's an inescapable exploitation discovered by undertakers?  "How sad it is that none of the kids in this family got married" was an nice comment from the visitors; "How unfilial could you be, no grandson to carry the family name? She must die in regret!" was the mean one. Despite the fact that we did most of the "suggestions" in the funeral, we still couldn't escape the lynching from others with filial piety held as a weapon.

The funeral should be a final chance that the living can do something for the deceased and through the process the living get to grieve. Somehow, Taiwan developed a unique culture in the funeral ceremony like professional daughters who cry with a microphone in funerals (video) or funeral parade (video). "To make it presentable, at least once in a lifetime they are treated as someone important" says the undertaker, and of course the  filial piety works like a charm. It's for the death or for the living that puzzles me, it seems no one knows that you are dead or dying alone is the greatest fear in Taiwanese and arranging such "entertainment" somehow they manage to have the fear contained.

Years back, we had a discussion about "should we ban burning ghost money" in a class. It was started by a foreigner who posted an article in Tainan Bulletin, urging Taiwanese to stop burning ghost money in order to slow down the global warming. Almost all students in the class were angry; outsiders who came from a country that has the highest CO2 exhaustion, riding second-hand scooters that might not even have their exhaust checked to the protest/petition meeting, how ironic. Nevertheless, finding a substitute for ghost money is an ongoing evolution in Taiwanese's beliefs, with or without a protest from outsiders. The funeral business is adapting to the new thinking. The whole funeral that used to take 49 days is now acceptable to be done in 1 week, and the "funeral entertaining" service has became a sunset business. Even though a custom made furneral service can be arranged, without unleashing it from the shackles of "tradition" how much room can it evolve? I wonder.

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