Monday, April 23, 2012


My Qing Ming Festival (清明节)

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There are a couple of festivals in Singapore that we never fail to celebrate even though they aren't public holidays. Qing Ming Festival(清明节) is one of the few. Once a year around April, people flock to the cemeteries and temples to pay their respects to their deceased loved ones. Way in the past, other than paying respects to the dead, family members will also rid tombstones of weed and clean up the tombstones. In some cases, they may also repaint the inscriptions on the tombstones with red ink, if the tombstone requires it. People offer fruits and food (from vegetarian to roast meat!), and burn simple offerings to the dead.

Fast forward 20 years, where land in Singapore is becoming ever more scarce, people settle their deceased loved ones in temples or columbariums. People now still offer fruits and food, but more westernized food like cup cakes and chicken chop?! No longer are burning simple offerings enough. Now they come up with all sorts of stuff, from iPhones, iPads, and all sorts of gadgets to be burned for the dead.

To be honest, I never liked the idea of Qing Ming Festival since I was a child. What I don't like is the incense smoke coming all over me and leaving me breathless (I have a sensitive nose, so it drives me crazy). But regardless of how much I hate going to the temples and columbariums, paying respects to ancestors is a basic courtesy. I never actually seen my grandfather before, but I still pay respects to him.

So here I am, on an awesome sunday, at Guang Ming Shan Temple (光明山). So here is a typical sequence of events that will follow:

1) Pray to the heavens
2) Offer the food and pray to ancestors
3) Burn offerings to ancestors
4) Ask if ancestors have eaten their fill.
5) If no, repeat step 4. If yes, go to step 6.
6) Pack up and go home!

The photos below were shot at Guang Ming Shan Temple and  Zi Du An Temple.

Let's start by first praying sincerely. Palms together and bow.

As expected, jobs like these are also done by foreign workers. The Singaporeans are there too, but they just sit around to supervise. Offerings comes in boxes or paper bags and have the deceased person's name and birth date written on the offerings before being sent into the fire pit.

I like the feel of this photo. I already knew how I wanted this photo to look when I was shooting it. Black & White is the way to go.

Temporary shelters and tables are set up during the yearly Qing Ming festival for the families to pray and offer food. Inside the building where the urns are kept, it's a strict no offerings and incense, so families pray outside the building.

The food that most people choose to offer. Since this is a Buddhist temple, no meat is allowed, so you won't see chicken chop lying around. So most people offer a popular local dish "Vegetarian Beehoon" (斋米粉). After the prayers, some people will not bring back the food and leave it lying around, waiting for someone to clear..

 Yes! And somebody is here to clear it. It's our Bangladesh friend. He dumps the cooked food, and keeps all the fruits. And the amount of fruits he can collect a day is amazing! I bet he and his friends can't finish them all.

 What's prayers without incense?

This is Zi Du An Temple. It's much more rundown compared to Guang Ming Shan Temple. I've only been inside the building once, and it really freaks me out. The urns look exactly like those in Chinese horror movies, and not to mention the creepy atmosphere...

They too have tables, but no shelters. Those coming to pray must stay in the sun...

More food offerings. The bottom right hand corner is the vegetarian BeeHoon that most of us often eat and are familiar with.

People normally don't clear up after their prayers, so they all end up in the bin, and it takes a huge bin to load them all.
 Other offerings that are used to burn. Waiting to enter the fire pit.

Will the new generation continue this tradition? Or will they choose to offer their prayers via an iPhone app next time? Only time will tell.

(This series of photo has been processed with the cross processing effect to bring out the nostalgic feel.)