We arranged to leave at 9.30 in the morning. It was considered a bit too late, because by the time we reach the cemetery, the sun will be scorching hot. But we have no other choice. Either you go an hour earlier and have to pay for the ERP, or go later in the day and get jammed with other tomb sweepers. I remembered once when I was a child that we left home when the moon is still hanging high up the sky like a gigantic duck egg yolk. The weather was cooling, but it wasn’t hard to travel around because there weren’t many streetlights in the cemetery.
Back to yesterday’s tomb sweeping, we arrived at the cemetery at around 10am. We had got 5 tombs to sweep: both my maternal grandparents’, both my paternal grandparents’, and my paternal great-grandmother’s tombs. Actually, I find that the term “tomb sweeping” is a bit inaccurate, because we don’t actually sweep them nowadays since we can pay for the tomb caretakers to maintain the tombs for us. What we really did were to light up joss sticks, lay out food offerings, stick coloured incense paper with joss sticks all over the mount of the tomb and finally burn the gold and silver incense paper, together with paper clothing and other daily necessities meant for the dead. Anyway speaking of tomb caretakers, I must take my hat off these people. Even though each tomb caretaker is only in charge of a sector or two of the entire graveyard, they must have very sharp eyesight to spot people who had arrived to do tomb sweeping and go up to them to collect payment. Especially so when an average human looked so minute in a sea of tombs!
As per previous years, my mum mumbled that if weren’t for us, there would not be anyone to visit their tombs. Of all the tombs that we went, we realised that the tombs were clean of any offerings, a clear indication that no one has visited them yet. It was so ironic, that when my grandparents were alive, their children and grandchildren were so “filial” to them. So it goes to show that filial piety of your children can only be really determined after your death!
One interesting thing I’ve observed about the tombs is that, like our living quarters for the alive, the tombs for the dead are getting smaller and smaller as time goes by. My great-grandmother, who died in 1975, had a big tomb, which was about 1 1/2 times my grandparents’. I’ve been to another older cemetery at Mount Peasant, and the tombs there were grander than my great-grandmother’s! However, unlike our HDB flats which are becoming more and more unique in style over the years, tombs these days all looked the same. Tombs before the 1980s came in different shapes and sizes, some were long like an angled horseshoe and some were tall like a stele. My father said the difference in the style of architecture was because of the different dialect groups these deceased belonged to. Too bad I did not bring my digital camera, or else I’d snap some pictures of these graves. They’re interesting to look and study at!
We finished sweeping all 5 tombs by 12 noon, half an hour ahead of schedule. However, my mother had already started complaining about how much black spots she’s going to have after this tomb sweeping trip. Well she should be glad that this is only an annual event and not something she had to do every month!