Early last Easter Sunday morning, I had the pleasure to witness masses of Chinese families descending upon their ancestors' graves at Kensico Cemetery in Westchester County with writer Sarah Kramer for the New York Times. The resulting essay "Chinese Families Celebrate Qingming Festival in New York" was published today in the Sunday Metropolitan section of the paper.
Aside from being a beautiful ceremony, it was also a deeply nostalgic experience as it brought me back to my early childhood memories in Taiwan, participating in the Qing Ming Festival and in funerals of my grandfather and lost loved ones.
When I first moved to New York nearly five years ago, I lived by Chatham Square in Chinatown - a key intersection of major arteries and streets in the neighborhood. One such street is lined with traditional Chinese funeral homes, tomb engravers and Buddhist funeral supplies stores. The constant flow of funeral processions juxtaposed with a park teeming with youth across the street dramatizes the ephemeral like a chorus with perpetual rises and falls.
I often visited and eventually befriended a small business owner on this Mulberry Street who would spend his days building mansions and dolls out of paper. Cars, clothing, jewelry, Rolex watches, electronics, games, snacks, even dentures and floss - all made out of cardboard, are sold in colorful array along with joss paper money to families to burn and send up to their departed loved ones.
At Kensico cemetery, one family of five generations came together to feast with their ancestors. A mother and son pair visited their family's grave with humble home-cooked offerings. New memories were made as young and old congregated for hours at the cemetery amidst the aroma of roast pigs while popping firecrackers and ashes filled the air.