KUALA LUMPUR: This will be the first time in Mr Tuen Kong Fook’s life that he will not be honouring his family’s ancestors at their final resting place during Qing Ming Festival.
For as long as he can remember, the 78-year-old has been dutifully paying respects to his deceased loved ones on this day.
“Since I was eight or nine years old, I followed my father to Ipoh for Qing Ming, and after he passed away in 1967, we began to offer Qing Ming prayers in Kwong Tong Cemetery in Kuala Lumpur,” he told CNA.
“For us this is a major cultural tradition. We have never missed it. Even during May 13, we managed to do our prayers and it was never disrupted,” he said, referring to the 1969 racial riot.
While the Qing Ming Festival falls on Saturday (Apr 4), the season usually begins about two weeks prior and lasts until two weeks later.
It is a busy affair, with Chinese cemeteries throughout Malaysia crowded with families paying their respects to their ancestors.
However, the cemeteries are quiet this year, as Malaysia observes the second phase of the movement control order (MCO) until April 14, which was enforced to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the country. Total number of confirmed cases have reached 3,333 on Friday, with 53 fatalities.
Cemeteries and memorial parks have informed the families of those interred in their grounds that the gates will remain closed this Qing Ming, while shops that sell prayer paraphernalia are also shut during the MCO.
Mr Tuen will have to adapt to observing Qing Ming at home this year.
Luckily, his family had made copies of the ancestral tablet and distributed one to each sibling. They can pray to their ancestors separately.
“I’ll still head out tomorrow early, buy roast chicken and roast pork so we can offer them to the ancestors,” Mr Tuen said.
“But I think for the paper items and sending hell money (via burning), that will have to wait,” he added.
READ: WHO expects Malaysia's COVID-19 cases to peak mid-April
Earlier, the government as well as religious and grassroots associations have urged the Chinese community to refrain from observing Qing Ming at cemeteries and memorial parks.
Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong advised families to pay homage to their ancestors at home according to their religious beliefs.
One of the associations, the Malaysian Buddhist Association, appealed to the community to offer “a simple prayer or chanting of transference of merits to ancestors”, instead of visiting the ancestral tombs.
SIMPLIFYING QING MING PRAYERS AND DEFERRING OBLIGATIONS
Mdm Wong Yuet Kheen, 57, said usually, Qing Ming is another reunion opportunity for her family.
“My husband and I drive down each year to Seremban and meet up with the other family members.
“The younger generation is present too. After cleaning the tomb and offerings, we will have a large dinner together,” she said.
The initial MCO from Mar 18 till 31 had not bothered them, she said, as they could observe Qing Ming 10 days before and after the festival.
However, the extension of the MCO threw them for a loop, with Mdm Wong explaining that it was not proper to visit their ancestors’ graves anytime outside the Qing Ming period.
She will have to make do with praying to the ancestral tablet at home and presenting other offerings.
“Those without these tablets will just have to pray to the sky,” Mdm Wong added.
Similarly, Mr Chin V Ming, 35, who runs a private jewellery business, said his family had deferred their Qing Ming obligations and were waiting for the MCO to be lifted.
He added that right now, there were pressing concerns for the living.
"Everyone is concerned with trying to survive the COVID-19 and the economy. I think what matters is that your heart and your mind are in the right place.”
“You can still offer prayers and offerings to show your filial piety at home, in safety rather than in the large crowded cemeteries on Qing Ming Festival,” he said.
MEMORIAL PARK ROLLING OUT PRAYER PACKAGES
Nirvana Memorial Park in Kajang usually sees about 40,000 families worshipping their deceased loved ones during the Qing Ming season, said Nirvana’s chief marketing officer Lee Jye Chyi.
For this year, the company has offered prayer packages instead, ranging from free, simple online prayer messages to one where a Nirvana staff member will offer food and prayers on behalf of the families. Photographic proofs will be provided later.
“This was something we rolled out on Mother’s Day back in 2017, but due to the COVID-19 outbreak, we have received more enquiries about this service,” Mdm Lee said.
To further assuage the worries of families about missing out on Qing Ming, Mdm Lee added that the memorial park had also planned for a prayer ceremony during the Hungry Ghost Festival as a way for them to honour their ancestors later.
Although the MCO and the COVID-19 pandemic are expected to change the way a lot of things are done, Mdm Lee felt that for Qing Ming, tradition will still prevail in the future.
“In China, online prayers and these funerary services are popular because migrant workers might come from one city but work in another, and the cost of travelling is expensive.
“Here, it’s different, people still want to attend to their ancestors’ graves or urns personally,” Ms Lee said.