Category Archives: chinese traditions

Final Nail In The Chinese Coffin ?

They were built from the finest timber, curved up at both ends, well smoothened and lacquered, and probably weighed half-a-ton.  That describes the traditional Chinese coffin, that is so rarely seen these days.

The Chinese have euphemized names for them, viz., “big house” (大屋子), “longevity planks” (寿板), etc.  Despite the more cheery aliases, one look at these massive final earthly abodes for departed souls never failed to arouse feelings of sadness and eerie, gloomy beckoning.

Perhaps for these reasons, the traditional coffins have almost been entirely replaced by modern “caskets” – which have a much less depressing appearance, and are much lighter.  Many even sport a glass window for loved ones and friends to take one last look at the occupant.

So, has the final nail been driven into the Chinese coffin ?

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The Classic Bean Counter

Long before the advent of calculators, merchants of Chinese origin depended on this simple yet ingenious machine for doing their math on their day-to-day transactions and business P & L.  The “click-clack-click-clack” sounds of the Abacus beads beating against one another was the music of money to their ears

Honestly, it was amazing to see how deftly the experts manipulated the beads up and down each column. I ever tried learning this art of “Finger-Flicking-Good” at an early age, but gave up after a short while.   Well, maybe because I was not born to be a bean counter.

I think there are some shops, such as Chinese “medical halls” where these ancient calculating machines are still in use.   But I do not think their use is going to outlast me on this planet.

More Bang For Your Buck

My heart goes Boom-Bang-A-Bang when they are near, Boom-Bang-A-Bang loud in my ears.

Honestly I hate firecrackers and the din they make, except for the time when I was playing with them in my kiddy days.  And it was a hazard travelling on trishaws during CNY season, as unsavoury characters would throw packs of lit crackers at the passengers.

I remember in Penang, banks along Beach Road used to “challenge” one another with strings of firecrackers as long as 3 storeys tall.  And afterwards, the streets were carpeted in a sea of red paper “shrapnels”.

For centuries, the Chinese have exploded huge fortunes in setting off firecrackers, celebrating the Lunar New Year, weddings, etc.

Other communities in Malaysia now too have keenly adopted this noisy practice for festive occasions such as Deepavali and the Hari Rayas, though it is unlawful.

The Foot, The Fad and The Ugly

The practice of feet-binding in ancient China must surely rank as one of the greatest atrocities in the history of mankind. 

As I put words for this post, it grieves, horrifies and stupefies me – how could people crush and mutilate the feet of young girls, and grossly contort them by tightly binding up whatever were left, and then called them “beautiful” ?

My late grandma was one of the victims.  As a young boy, I listened to the story of her ordeal, and it made cry an hour. At that time, she had already given up the bindings, and what I saw shocked me for life.

Despite her bound feet, as a young girl, she worked as a cowherd, and then later, after marriage, raised 4 kids and ran a sundry shop.

Playing Chicken In The Bridal Chamber

Decades ago, it was a tradition among the Chinese to engage in fowl play as part of the wedding ceremony for a newly-married couple.

After the formalities were done at the groom’s place, the wedding party would go to the bride’s home for the rituals at the maternal side. Accompanying their return to their matrimonial home would be a rooster and a hen, which would then be released under the newly-weds’ nuptial bed.  If the rooster emerged first, that “augured” the first-born child would be a son, if the hen came out first, then a daughter.

In Chinese these are called 带路鸡  (or ‘chua lor kay’ in Penang Hokkien)

These days I believe most couples would chicken out at the prospect of having two live specimens foul up their love nest; don’t worry there are lots of mock ones available.

Dreams Of The Red Chamber Pot

Chinese literary purists may get a cardiac arrest over this “ghastly” travesty of the great classical novel, 红楼梦. 

But indeed a sparkling new spittoon with plenty of red color and the word “double-happiness” was a significant item for the marital chamber of a newly-married Chinese couple.

An “ang pow” was placed inside the potty, and then its mouth was sealed with a piece of red paper.  Once the wedding ceremony was over, a young boy would be asked to smash through the red paper seal and retrieve the red packet.   I learned  that this was to help the couple to bring forth a son soon.    True ? Am not sure.

I don’t think this practice is in vogue these days, as young couples have other more exciting wedding dreams apart from a red potty.