Traditional habits and ceremonies vs. modish patterns and behavior Tanjong Rhu is one of the famous ASEAN short stories wrote by Minfong Ho. This story is focusing on Singaporean Chinese life which contrasts in terms of traditional and modern. Tanjong Rhu is a port in Singapore where the writer sets as the place that the protagonist of the story spent his childhood in. The main theme of this story is the distinction between traditional habits and ceremonies and modish patterns and behavior. In the story, Chinese tradition as praying to the ancestor and the dead has been mentioned as an important element.
From the description of the writer, we know that the protagonist, Mr. Li’s mother values the importance of this traditional practice. This can be proved by paragraph 5, line 1 to 8 at page 118 in the textbook. ““If something is to be done,” she said with the loud solemnity which she reserved for the altar room, “it must be done properly. If I am to visit your place of work, I must tell your father properly.” Carefully, she unlocked the top drawer of her mother-of-pear inlaid cabinet, where she kept all the paraphernalia for tending the altar: tiny porcelain wine cups, gold-leafed sheets of ceremonial money, candles and joss sticks and countless packets of incense.”
As we read through the story, we know that father of the main character, Mr.Li has passed away long ago. The lines mentioned above shows that Grandma pays attention on praying to the ancestor and dead as she keeps all the necessary things for praying and arrange in the drawer. As a traditional thinker, she thinks that it is important to let Mr. Li’s father know what those livings do even though he has dead as she says “I must tell your father properly”. In Chinese traditions, praying to the ancestor and the dead is important to every family.
This is a practice whereby Chinese believes that the ancestor and the dead will bless the living family. This tradition seems getting lost in modern Chinese family especially for those who are not Taoists or Buddhists. As in this story, Mr. Li and his wife, Helen seems not valuing this traditional practice. At the end of the story, Mr. Li cannot find the key of the drawer in which keeps all the praying stuff in it. This can be proved in page 127 paragraph 6 lines 4 to 6. “He tugged at the handle again, but the drawer remained shut. Then he realized that she always kept it locked. And he did not know where she kept the key.”
This is shown that he never prays to the ancestor and the dead before and this is the reason that why he can’t find the key. Helen is also proved that not seeing the tradition as an important practice as she never helps Grandma in praying to the ancestor. Besides, the writer has also mentioned the funeral run by Mr. Li for his mother at the beginning of the story. In the story, Mr. Li described the funeral procession as long, chaotic and noisy. This can be proved in line 5 paragraph 2 pages 114. In fact, Chinese funeral procession is also one of the traditional practices which pass down from one generation to the next. During the funeral procession, the dead’s family will engage a monk to lead the blessing ceremony.
The monk will chant scriptures regarding blessing and praying to the dead while the family members follow him and walk as in a circle a round and a round. In Chinese tradition of funeral procession, there should be someone who cry or mourn for the dead. This is to shows that the dead’s spirit is lonely and the sound of crying can attract the attention of deity and take the spirit away to nirvana. This is the reason why Mr. Li describes the funeral procession as chaotic and noisy. Normally, the funeral procession will take place three to five days. This is to let the dead’s relatives and friends to send off the dead.
Besides, the dead’s family will hold vegetarian during the funeral procession. They will also burn some paper stuff for the dead as Chinese traditional believes that the dead spirit will use them after dead. After the coffin has been placed for the funeral procession for three or five days, the family will carry it to the cemetery. They will walk a distance while head of the family or the successor will carry the coffin or the dead’s picture.
The hell banknote will be scattered too during the walk. The whole funeral procession is considered as a form to pray for the dead spirit so that the spirit can leave at ease. The complexity of the funeral procession makes Mr. Li thinks that it is long. In fact, many of the modern Chinese family do not think highly of the funeral procession. There are even many Chinese family does not hold a funeral procession for the dead or just for only one or two days. Modern thinker will think that it is not use for praying in the funeral procession as the one already dead. They will think that the dead will not hear or know what the livings are doing. Instead of the perfect funeral procession, modern thinker is probably thought that it is more important to take care of the dead before dead.
We think that this is also one of the reason that why Mr. Li is not satisfy with the funeral procession held for his mother. As a modern generation, we think that Chinese traditions need to be passed down until future generation. Chinese traditions stand for 5000 years history and culture. Traditions stand for one ethnic. Without traditions, the ethnic will lose its significant. Therefore, modern generation should keep these traditions so that the ethnic can be remained and the traditions will not vanish.
- Comber, L. (2005). Prizewinning ASEAN Fiction (pp. 113-128). Hong Kong: Times Edition – Marshall Cavendish.
- Loh, M. (n.d.). Culture and Change: The Rise of the Singapore Short Story in English. In The Domain of Fiction.