Tuesday, January 31, 2012


My parents raised us in a cultural vacuum, or near-vacuum, an uncomfortable space created by one parent's baby-and-bathwater view of cultural practices not implicitly described in the Bible and the other parent's putting up with it. I guess life sans baby, bathwater, towel and tub is easier to bear in the long run than the prospect of living indefinitely with belligerent dogma.

And so I've spent a lot of energy in the past few years trying to learn more about where I came from. One thing I'd observed and wanted to know the reason for: Hokkiens really, really like sugarcane. It's there on altars or near doors whenever there's a big festival; when you pass a bridal car on the street you know if at least part of the happy couple is Hokkien by the four feet or more of sugarcane stalk protruding from the car window. I wonder now why I've never heard of any traffic incidents caused by a motorcyclist or pedestrian getting swiped by sugarcane.

Image by Jesuino Souza

So, the short version of all that I've gathered from talking to relatives and reading strangers' blogs: the Hokkiens were once on the run from enemies. Sugarcane plantations were the only place that provided cover for our trembling ancestors while their homes got sacked and pillaged. And ever since then, the strong, flexible stalks have been a symbol of our thanks. They're present at every major milestone of life to remind us how fortunate we are that life goes on at all.

I also learnt that it's on the ninth day of each year (which falls today and YAY I just proved I still have some level of attachment to this blog and I am so glad I finally have a timely post, even if it did entail having lunch at my desk) that we ritually give thanks for our deliverance as a people. I wouldn't know first hand; see beginning of post. But I have always known that there's a day during the Chinese New Year period when my relatives go the whole hog -- actually, the whole pig (roasted, head on) -- preparing food and paper offerings. By the time I got old enough to ask questions, I was also old enough to decide I didn't want to ask them because I rather prefer sweet silence to another blood pressure raising, high-volume lecture on idolatry.

Much of my energy is spent on understanding why people say and do the things they do; when I fail to arrive at comprehension, I try to accept and tolerate because I think that is how you avert most of life's destructive moments. There are things worth fighting for but once they've been identified, you realise how much else there is, therefore how much isn't worth fighting over. So I don't bear any grudges for having had huge parts of my heritage withheld from me in my formative years. There's nothing I can do now to change it all.

I'm only left wondering: how do you get so hung up on whom to thank and how to express those thanks that you cause your entire family not to give thanks at all?

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