Posts Tagged ‘traditions’

Paying respects

laelene Posted in lifestyle glimpses, stories,Tags: , , , ,

In modern China, you’ll find an eclectic mix of old traditions and new lifestyles. Even as they build skyscraper after skyscraper, tucked in between those giant buildings are tiny little ones from ancient times. And even as buildings get built and land gets cleared, you might notice many large bumps of dirt scattered around. Those are the graves of our ancestors, preserved through time as the world around it changes.

It’s been 10 years since my paternal grandmother died, so our family arranged a get-together to honor her and pay our respects at her grave site. An assortment of cousins, aunts, and uncles came. Most are my grandma and grandpa’s nieces and nephews (my dad’s cousins) and their families. Our extended family branches out in ways I don’t even know and can hardly keep track of, but all that matters is that everyone who came is family.

paying respects burning chinese paper money at ancestor's dirt mound grave siteThe day started off by meeting up at my grandpa’s. Around 10:30, the male lineage of the family (my grandpa’s sons and families plus his brother’s families) went over to my great-grandparents’ grave. Through the winding streets of the city, down an alleyway, and into a small area next to homes rising around it… there you’ll find a little locked door that leads to a walled-off area just big enough for the large dirt mound that covers my dad’s grandparents. A loud burst of firecrackers set things off to announce our arrival. My uncle set up the fire and we put in stack after stack of yellow paper representing money. Ashes rose up from the flames, gently carried away by the breeze as he spoke to our ancestors, telling them who was there and that we would be visiting my grandmother afterwards. We even offered them some (fake) US dollars, burning them to send them up to the heavens for my great-grandparents to use. My uncle kow towed on behalf of all of us and we let the fire die. This was my first time visiting this grave site and I’m glad it’s been preserved despite the growth around us.

long trail of people making way through crop fields to visit grave siteWe then went out to my grandmother’s grave and the rest of the family met us there. We had 12 cars in total, carrying around 50 people. For each who could make it, there were many more who couldn’t, but it was a really good showing. My grandma is buried out in the middle of wheat fields, in a spot chosen for good feng shui. I’m not sure exactly how they know that that particular mound is hers, but the family knows.

rows of fresh green wheat crops in winter

This is what wheat looks like in winter? I never knew.

setting up dirt mound grave with flowers, picture, and offerings

Upon arrival, we got to work setting up the site with flowers, a picture, and food offerings.

preparing paper money for burning at grave

Some of us working on getting the paper money offerings ready so they’d burn easier.

extended family gathering at grave site for memorial

As the fire got started, we all gathered around.

setting off fireworks at grave site to announce arrival

A massive round of fireworks crackled in the air and set off the proceedings.

offering stacks of paper money to fire at grave

Some of the money was folded into fun shapes.

fire burning fierce with new shiny paper money offerings

The foil money really fueled the fire!

giant pile of paper money burning in front of dirt mound grave site

The fire burning at my grandma’s grave, letting her know we were there and sending up offerings.

stoking large pile of burning paper at grave site

People took turns stoking the fire and making sure everything got burnt.

kow towing at grave site with smouldering ashes of burning paper

After an uncle read my grandpa’s letter to grandma, we all took turns kow towing and talking to her.

365great Day 354: jade

laelene Posted in 365great,Tags: , , , , , ,

365great day 354: jadeGrowing up, we always had some sort of jade jewelry around. I remember my cousins each had a piece carved into the animal of their Chinese zodiac sign, which they wore on red strings around their necks. I had fun little pieces, like Buddhas and tear drops and even a pair that formed a heart – perfect for best friends to share. When I graduated from college, a few of my aunts and uncles were able to make it over. One of my aunts gave me a jade bracelet. It’s one of those that is never meant to be taken off. We carefully squeezed my hand through and got it on… over five and a half years later, it’s still here and I’ve never removed it! In Chinese culture, jade is believed to have protective powers and it becomes an extension of your body. It is probably one of the luckiest pieces of jewelry you could ever give or receive and is rife with tradition. Keeping it close to your body is supposed to be good for your qi, ensuring a good flow of energy throughout your body to help you maintain good health. No wonder it makes a great (and very meaningful) gift!

Holiday traditions Asian-American style

laelene Posted in general blog,Tags: , , , , , , ,

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate!

My family has sort of stopped, but the holiday season is a time to celebrate in general and that we do, in our own little ways. While the rest of the country was scrambling to get gifts for their loved ones around this time of year, I was sitting back and only had to figure out what to bring to the company white elephant last week. Other than that, I really didn’t have any gifts to get. Since I ended up putting together items I had at home (champagne, cookies, and a hangover drink) for the white elephant, I haven’t had to buy a single gift for the season. This actually seems to be pretty common among many Asian American households, so I doubt we’re that unique.

christmas tree in living room decorated with poinsettias and ornaments

The last time we broke out the tree was 2006 I think.

When I was a kid, my parents adopted the American holiday traditions as you often see them advertised. We had Christmas lights and a tree and gifts. One year, I wrote a little letter to Santa and left some cookies and milk, even though I didn’t quite believe it would work. Still, for the sake of participating in a tradition, I gave it a shot. Since my birthday happens to coincide with all the celebrating that occurs between Christmas and New Year’s, I wanted to make sure we celebrated it all lest my birthday get lost in the shuffle. Being an only child, my mom indulged me and even let me dictate that I would get 25 (or was it 30?) gifts one year. Of course, when pencils and socks count, it’s not too hard to get that count. Still, I grew up pretty spoiled and always well-taken care of. While I never got the video games I begged for for years, I did get plenty of other items ranging from clothing to books to toys.

Sometime around high school, I began to really notice how impractical it was to wait til the end of the year just to get a camera or some article of clothing that I could have been enjoying long before. One time when I asked my mom for a particular item only halfway through the year, we decided that it would count as one of my holiday/birthday presents. From that point on, it made more sense to get what I wanted/needed when the timing was right and then we’d just do some small thing at the end of the year more as a gesture than anything else. Over the years, that transitioned into a family trip in the winter and no official gifts. We’d also make sure to get at least one meal together as a family. It’s more about the time and experiences now.

This year for Panda I asked what he wanted and he said much of the same. Time spent together now that we’re both back in LA. We’ll visit some of our favorite stomping grounds and also take some time to explore new ones. I’m finally going to get to a restaurant I’ve wanted to eat at for ages! And that’s how I see us celebrating my birthday in a few days – a whole lot of eating, driving, exploring, and picture-taking. Just the way I like it.

The commercial products? We’ll get them as we see fit, when we see fit.

365great Day 247: Dinners for 12 Strangers

laelene Posted in 365great,Tags: , , , , , ,

365great challenge day 247: dinners for 12 strangersThis is a fun UCLA tradition that I have participated in both as a student and alumna. You basically get alumni to volunteer to host a bunch of students for dinner. Usually this is at an alum’s home, but sometimes it could be at other venues that they have reserved, like one time when I had a meal at one of the restaurants at the Anderson School of Management. On average, it will be two alumni to about ten students, but of course the number will vary depending on how many Bruins sign up. As a student, it was an opportunity to meet some fellow students, enjoy a free meal, and learn from alum. It was nice to see what some of them had been doing since graduating and getting any advice from them regarding school and/or work. On the flip side, as a host, I enjoyed working with co-hosts to put together the meal, learning about what’s been going on at UCLA since graduating, and sharing my apartment for a night of chatting. For hosting, we were given these cute little cutting boards as a thank you. 🙂 It’s a great way to connect with more Bruins over the years!

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