Yesterday was Chong Yang, one of two annual grave sweeping festivals in Chinese tradition. A few years ago, Chong Yang and Halloween fell on the same day. East met West in the afterlife. After visiting ancestral graveyards, youngsters dressed up as Count Dracula or George W Bush for a macabre good time in Lan Kwai Fong.
It was a beautiful autumn day yesterday. After the beach and lunch, we made a spontaneous visit to the Military Cemetery at Stanley, and was spooked by an uncanny coincidence...
I used to drop by this beautiful and peaceful resting ground when attending the adjacent St. Stephen’s College in the early 70s. The familiar cemetery looked extremely well kept. Tidy gravestones cast long lingering shadows in manicured lawns. Memories felt surreally distant in its timeless air.
Many were in their 20s and 30s. 25 Dec. 1941 was a popular inscription. The College was a hospital for British, Canadian and Indian soldiers during the war. On Christmas Day 1941, the Japanese launched a hostile takeover known later on as the St. Stephen’s College Incident. Dr. Black and Dr. Witney were the first to get mutilated. Nurses were gang raped. Wounded soldiers were bayonetted in bed. All the usual stuff during those atrocious years. It had since become a tradition among boarding students to exchange ghosty tales around Christmas time. One day, when all the victims are long dead, when different versions have crept into history books, the massacre might become “controversial”. The Christmas ghosts at St. Stephen’s — by then an esoteric folklore — will be the only testimony left.
On this Chong Yang day, we stood above the victims, captured by a reflective mood. Some were remembered only by name. Their bodies were never recovered. An exceptional few were not soldiers, buried there long before the war. I spotted a child’s tomb with my birthday on it. CHILD, AGED 3 YEARS, DIED 24th NOV 1864. “Hey,” I turned to my wife standing a few feet away, staring at another child tomb. “This one died on my birthday exactly 90 years before I was born!”
She pointed to the tombstone she was looking at. CHILD, DIED 10TH DEC. AGED 1 YEAR 9 MONTHS. “And this one died on mine,” she said. They forgot to mark the year.
I quipped to our nine-year-old that this was where her parents last met, before this life. But instead of finding it amusing, my wife and I both felt a touch of eerie melancholy creeping under the skin.
Guo Du Blog
James Tam 14 Oct 2013
Chinese Version: 重阳坟头 迷离插曲