From past entries, faithful followers will already know about this 1-day holiday, falling on April 5, which was added to China’s official “days off” list several years ago.
It is a time when city and country folk alike visit the graves of relatives, usually laid to rest in the distant hillsides of hometown and village areas. Entire families take the day off to travel to the gravesites where they tidy up the area (i.e., sweep the tombs) light incense, burn fake paper money for the dead to spend in heaven, and bow several times to show their respect for loved ones no longer with them.
This year, our Qing Ming Jie fell on a Saturday with the official holiday being Monday. Schools and government offices are closed today, meaning no classes for me.
Since the official day was Saturday, however, most people have already made their way to the countryside to visit relatives and travel to the tomb areas. And what a shame that we in this part of Sichuan had constant rain almost the whole day! Town and city folk who went to pay their respects must have had a hard time of it, sloshing along muddy, overgrown, unfamiliar pathways they hadn’t visited for an entire year.
In actuality, I know for a fact what troubles befell them.
Joe in rural Longzhou (Guangxi Province) Tells me his Tomb Sweeping Day Experience
When I was teaching in smalltown Longzhou, very near the Vietnam border in Guangxi Provinice, I often wrote about Joe (his chosen English name), a teenage boy who visited my home to practice his English. Our friendship began when he was 13 and now he is 17, completing his junior year in high school.
Although I moved back to Sichuan 2 years ago, Joe continues to keep contact with me via email and telephone calls. This past Friday night, he called, as is his weekend habit, to tell me of his Saturday plans.
He and his family would travel by borrowed car to the countryside for cleaning the gravesite of his relatives. After that, they would return home by noon and he and his classmates would go out to eat at a newly opened restaurant that served Korean food. Joe was really looking forward to enjoying a day with friends after dutifully spending time with his family in the morning.
“You’ll have to tell me tomorrow how the day went,” I told him before we called it quits for the night.
The next evening, I was expecting his Saturday call. I waited quite a long time but still, no Joe.
Finally, close to 10 p.m., there it was.
“Wow, Joe! You’re calling so late. So how was your Tomb Sweeping Day?” I asked, ready for some quick reports filled with mostly how good the Korean food tasted.
“Oh!” Joe groaned. “So unlucky!”
The Story Unfolds
Joe then began his woeful tale of a very long, long, long unhappy day.
It started around 8:30 a.m., when he, his folks and grandparents started out on their yearly tomb sweeping trek. Hints of rain seemed to have dissipated, causing no one to bring umbrellas under the assumption clear skies would follow them throughout the day.
To make the trip faster, they borrowed a car so they could arrive in a timely manner to relatives’ homes in a small village. After exchanging greetings, off everyone went, picking their way along well-worn dirt pathways that skirted farmers’ plots of land. They made their way upward on steep slopes into the hillside where the graves were located.
Of course, necessary items were brought with them, such as incense sticks, paper money, lighters and food snacks to leave for the dead as well as enjoy for themselves.
They pulled the tombsite weeds, tidied everything up and began showing their customary respects.
The Unlucky Day Begins
Just when they were about to finish, the rain started.
In fact, huge rain!
In other words, it poured, according to Joe.
There were no trees for anyone to find shelter under and they had a 30 minute walk yet to go to return to the village. Everyone began quickly scurrying down slippery, muddy trails to make it back, moving along at different speeds.
For some reason, I’m guessing Joe and his dad were at the tail end of the pack to make sure everyone was safely on their way. It was at that time that they lost sight of those ahead of them and ended up taking a wrong turn.
That wrong turn sent them traipsing through unfamiliar countryside for 2 hours!
They were soaked, frustrated, filthy, hungry and exhausted when they finally stumbled along the correct pathways to lead them back to where everyone else was waiting for them.
“Where have you been?!” all asked in surprise. “We’ve been waiting for a long time. It’s past lunchtime. We’re starving!”
And to make matters worse, Joe mentioned something about the car breaking down.
I’m not sure if it that happened before they left or during their journey home, but it caused even more delay.
Needless to say, Joe’s expected noontime arrival in Longzhou for his Korean lunch with his classmates didn’t take place. He finally returned home around 4 p.m., missing the feast, and ended up staying at home to clean up and rest.
A Tomb Sweeping Day Never to be Forgotten
Despite the troubles of the day, Joe was laughing about it after he finished relating the story to me..
“Now, we think it’s very funny,” he said.
Yes, certainly a 清明节 (Tomb Sweeping Festival) never to be forgotten，humorously told again and again at family gatherings.
And, hopefully, never again to be repeated.
“Surely next year, Joe, you and your dad will remember the way back,” I added before we finished our call.
There was a slight pause on the other end.
“You do remember the right way back, don’t you?”
Still no answer.
Hmmm. Looks like Joe’s unlucky Qing Ming Jie might very well be making a comeback. I’ll let you know next year.
From Chengdu, here’s wishing you Ping An Peace) for your week.