New friends and old traditions

7 Apr

After living in the expat community for some time I decided to move outside my comfort zone and move in with Chinese roommates. Even though we had met a few times before, I was still nervous that there would be a culture clash when I moved in. To my (delighted) surprise, they were not only nice enough to help me transport my things but also open enough to involve me in their Qing Ming Jie rituals soon after I settled in.

Qing Ming Jie (清明节) is also known as Tomb Sweeping Day because it is traditionally when people honor their deceased ancestors. You do this by bringing offerings to their graves, or if you are not in their hometown you burn an offering for them. The first thing that my new roommates taught me was how to fold 金元宝 jīn yuán bǎo, little “treasures” made from gold paper.

My handmade 金元宝

These would later be used as an offering along with fake yuan notes, paper gold bars and yellow sheets of tissue paper. After cooking a fantastic dinner of braised tofu and stir-fried seaweed we packed up the offerings in a bag and went outside. They explained to me that we had to find a 十字路口 shízìlù kǒu (crossroads) so that the spirits of their relatives would be able to find the offering from any direction. We walked a block from the apartment and found an area covered in little piles of ash where others had been before us.

They first used a rock to each draw a circle in the dust, then placed a piece of paper in the circle on which they had written their relative’s name and address in their hometown. Then, they placed the yellow tissue paper in the circle and set it on fire. Carefully watching the circle of fire they added the paper money, followed by the paper gold bars and lastly the 金元宝.

It was a very solemn and very peaceful ritual, and I think it not only brought me closer to my new roommates but also to the lesser-known traditions of China. Additionally, it cemented my belief that living with Chinese people is the best way to truly experience the local culture. I can’t wait to see what I’ll learn next!

This story was contributed by LtL staff member Natalie Litofsky.

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