Yesterday was Dumpling Festival (端午节), and our family commemorated the occasion by praying to our ancestors. The only thing missing from the worship table, however, was the tetrahedron-shaped bak chang. And behind this festival lies a little legend that is unique to our family, and perhaps, some Liang/Neo families.
My Gong-gong, who passed away when I was just three, shared this anecdote with my mum when he was still alive.
One day, two people with the surname Liang were crossing a narrow bridge, bringing with them bundles of dumpling. The duo met on the bridge’s middle and both refused to give way to each other. A quarrel ensued and somehow all the dumplings dropped into the river. In a fit of fury, the two frustrated folks swore that future Liang generations would not eat dumplings and no dumpling could be used to pay respects to ancestors.
However, the two Liang elders weren’t so hard-hearted after all. Realising that it was unfair to ask their offspring to give up dumplings just because of an age-old tussle, they relented and gave permission for future generations to eat dumplings, but dumplings were still not allowed on the ancestral table.
When I tried to probe further into our “house rule”—whether it affects just the Hokkien clan, or the particular village in Fujian my grandfather came from, or just our family—it came to a nought. Papa, despite being the bearer of the Liang surname, said he was more concerned about eating bak chang when he was young than to pay attention to such familial customs.
This episode highlights what is happening to our generation. With the passing of each family elder, more and more of such cultural knowledge and traditions will fade into oblivion.
But on a brighter note, this picture (above) also surmises how ancestor worship is moving with the times to reflect descendants’ changing tastes. I suspect that my grandparents were not fruit juice fanatics, but Mum served these drinks to them first because we (the children) wanted them. Plus, my parents are now in the brown-rice mode, Mum probably assumes that her late parents-in-law would agree with her choice of grains too.