Bank holiday weekend has been a very welcome break after a busy couple of weeks at work and also knowing that the next few weeks are going to be super hectic too. The weekend started out very chilled where I hung out with some friends (Sophie from A Considered Life and Oh my Clumsy heart and Jack are pretty ace company) and checked out the latest exhibitions on at The Ikon gallery in Birmingham. The current exhibitions feature lovely sound installations by Rie Nakajima who uses everyday and found objects to create some really satisfying sounds. There is also an exhibition from Langlands & Bell who explore the big internet corporations with a focus on their headquarters. They toy with the idea that these ‘campuses’ like Google in the image above, could become iconic architecture in the distant future – all very thought-provoking.
Sometimes the best ideas are the spontaneous ones and I decided to tag along to lunch and found myself at Taiwanese restaurant, Formosa Izakaya which I’ve been meaning to try for ages and it was great. It’s not strictly just Taiwanese food as the menu also includes a bunch of Japanese and Korean dishes, but it was pretty tasty and I’m already considering when I’ll go back again.
Sunday was a busy day as my family gathered at the cemetery where my maternal grandad is buried in for Ching Ming festival. We visit his grave on two important dates in the year which usually fall in March and October to honour family and ancestors. Even though it seems like it should be quite a subdued affair, it’s actually a bit of a social occasion. Chinese families gather to clean up the gravestones, bring flowers, food, drink and burn incense and joss paper including paper offerings in the shape of money or their favourite things like mobile phones, new clothes and jewellery. This time, we offered up a new shirt, a cardigan, a watch and some snazzy jeans.
On these occasions, the cemetery is busy with people, plumes of smoke coming from the burning offerings with the sight of whole chickens, sweet rice dumplings (tong yuen), Chinese tea and the relative’s favourite snacks at head of the gravestones. Amongst all the rituals, there are many choruses of ‘Oh we haven’t seen you in a long time, how’s the business?!’ from families and friends that we bump into. It’s a great tradition, both in terms of paying your respects as well as the social side too.
It’s quite a spectacle and we often get non-Chinese visitors to the cemetery looking on in wonder at the rituals happening at every Chinese grave. After the reunion at the cemetery, we always go for dim sum (smelling heavily of the smokey incense) and as there are so many of us, we get to order a lot and it always makes for a great photo. I’m sure this ritual will be the same when we go back to Hong Kong as my paternal grandad has finally been allocated a space for his ashes after 2 years of being on a waiting list. Hong Kong is very different to the UK since the high population means you can be waiting years for a spot and on top of that, pay thousands of dollars to secure the space. My family didn’t want to wait for years for a space to open up in Hong Kong and chose to be based over in neighbouring Macau instead which is an hours ferry ride away. I’m intrigued to see how traditions differ in the Chinese cemeteries and I’m sure that will be another story when I fly back in the next year or so!