Posted by: Sam Olsen | April 4, 2013

Fake mourning and burnt maids


The Chinese are nothing but inventive. Need to honour the ancestors but just don’t have the time? Simply hire someone to do it for you.
Today is Qing Ming, or Tomb Cleaning Day, the official holiday to allow the Chinese to head to the graves of their forebears to pay their respects. Whereas up in China there is a well-developed market in cash-rich, can’t-be-arsed folks that would rather pay someone to weep at the graves of their parents than rock up themselves (although it does mean that the dead get to see some new faces, as this Youtube clip shows), here in Hong Kong the locals are a bit more straight forward.

When we drove to Wanchai today for dim sum (what a waste of effort – the restaurant was really bad, with the BBQ pork being mainly bone and the chicken noodles resembling the contents of a hospital sewer) we were halted by the police for what seemed an age as hundreds of families crossed the road heading to the neighbourhood cemetery.


I bumped into my Chinese friend Cyrus this afternoon at the Football Club playroom; I abandoned my watch of Lawrence to ask him a bit more detail of the festival. Like, for instance, just how many ancestors do you have to pay homage to?


“We just go to the graves that we know of” he replied, quite logically. “Once you get past your grandparents you’re probably not going to know where they all lie”.


I pointed out that the crowd we saw this morning heading into the graveyard all seemed to be carrying flowers. “That’s what most families do these days, but if you’re really Chinese, especially Daoist, you do things a bit differently. What they do is to take cut-out paper images of all the things that they need in the afterlife, like cars, or helpers.”


“Helpers? You mean, like Filipina maids?”


“Yep. They like make a paper doll, colour it in and take it to the cemetery. Then they burn it. Which is a bit weird because you’d think the ancestors wouldn’t want a burnt helper, but there you go.”


It’s a fair point. Maybe paying a fake mourner does make sense.






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