The Ching Ming Festival in Singapore is full of sights, sounds and smoke! The Tse Tho Aum Buddhist Temple is where several of my family members rest and I visited there during this recent festival. I also brought along my husband and children to see first-hand how offerings are made to the deceased as part of this Chinese practice.
Ching Ming, or Qing Ming, is also called a ‘tomb-sweeping’ festival where Chinese remember their loved ones by tending to their graves. Starting on Monday April 4 this year, the festival is held 15 days after the Spring Equinox and runs for about two weeks.
In the old days, most Chinese were buried at a cemetery and often the extended family would gather there to present food, wine and other ceremonial gifts to keep the ancestors happy. The tombs would be cleaned and repaired, and the food taken home to eat afterwards. At this temple, food and offerings are laid on the tables in front of the seven-floor tiered tower pagoda.
It was only this year that I noticed these large colourful boxes for sale during Ching Ming. According to my local joss paper aunty, they contain sets of clothes and household items useful for the afterlife. Such paper gifts have to be burned at a separate part of the temple grounds.
I have seven relatives located at the columbarium inside the pagoda. My great grandfather, Lim Nee Yam, and his brother, Lim Nee Chip, were exhumed from Bukit Brown Cemetery in 2012 and relocated here. I was part of the ceremony to move them and it was an unforgettable experience. My great-great grandfather, Lim Hong Eok (born in 1855 in China), is still buried at Bukit Brown as his grave was luckily located in a part that wasn’t reclaimed for the highway construction being carried out there.
Also at the temple is my grandfather, Lim Chong Lay, and his nyonya wife, Tan Im Neo. I found this paper underwear set at my local markets the other day. I wonder if she would like it?! The bright colours look like they might suit the taste of a bibik (a nyonya in her senior years)...
My grandmother needn’t be bored in her afterlife either - I found a mahjong set, a sewing machine - and even a paper safe for her to put her money in! For the menfolk, I found some stylish hats, beer and cigarettes. I bet there are some checker sets available too!
After seeing the columbarium, I took my daughter to the front part of the temple to pray. For a 4 year-old, she was surprisingly good about praying with me. We don’t carry out any workship practices at home but she does often see the small shrines dotted around our local market. I guess she’s just absorbed some things as part of living in an established public housing estate. Maybe next year, she can make some nice things to give to her Singaporean great grandparents in her art sessions with me!