Today is Chong Yang Festival 重陽節，a day of remembrance for the Chinese. It falls on the ninth day of the ninth month of the lunar calendar, when families go hiking and visiting their ancestor’s graves.
When I was young, it was a long day of crossing the harbour from the Kowloon peninsular by ferry to Hong Kong Island then by road to Happy Valley and finally climbing the steps of the Catholic cemetery to visit the grave of my father’s first wife. She was our Mother 媽媽, as first wives can lay claim to all the children from their husband’s other wives. My mother was number two wife and she too had five children amongst the first wife’s five.
Mother was converted to Catholicism so all her children were baptised but not my mother’s five. However, since big brother went to a Catholic school, we all followed suit. So every Chong Yang Festival we would surround her grave and say the rosary for her soul.
The last time I mounted those steps I was accompanying my nephew and his family to visit their father and grandmother’s grave. My eldest half brother was buried in his mother’s grave, against the protest of second half brother, who also criticised big brother’s last wife and widow for putting him in too good a coffin (because he died in debt, some of it owed to second brother).
At Happy Valley I was mortified when we arrived at the grave that big brother’s last wife had left all his other wives and children’s names off his grave stone; it had only her name and their son’s name on it. My nephew and niece, who were the children from big brother’s first marriage were quite hurt by it. My nephew had not seen his father for more than thirty years and his sister had never met her father, though he held her once. Worst thing was, the writing was in Chinese and I had to translate for them. They were half Australian and never learnt any Chinese.
My father’s ashes are in a cubical in Kowloon, my mother’s ashes were scattered at sea. My mother’s parents died in China when she was an infant and we don’t know where they were buried but my father’s parents were buried in and near the village in China where he was born. I have only visited them once. They lie quite far apart, he in an auspicious position overlooking lychee orchards and the region beyond but she’s in no man’s land between our village and the next, beneath massive power lines.
I have left all my dead behind. I wonder who will be visited today.