Two weeks ago, my friend Mike from NYC spent a few days visiting me in KL while on vacation in Thailand. We made a day trip to the cultural town and tourist destination, Melaka (also spelled Malacca). Melaka is known for its blend of cultures as a shipping port and UNESCO world heritage designation.
There is plenty to do and see in Melaka and we spent the day visiting mosques and temples, walking around the Portuguese Square, admiring the city’s scenic canal, and trying some of the town’s Nyonya cuisine. For travelers with more time, 2 full days could easily be spent viewing all of Malacca’s sites and museums.
While walking in and out of handicraft shops and antique stores on Jonker Street, we came upon a store selling colorful paper replicas of hundreds of different goods wrapped in plastic bags. From the cartoonish look of some of the items, at first I thought it might be a children’s shop.
Upon closer inspection, we detected many goods for adults, including Louis Vuitton inspired handbags, sports cars, lingerie, iPads, boxes of oranges for prosperity, tiny refrigerators stocked with high-end foods, different brands of beer, flip flops, motorcycles, Gucci look-alike briefcases, cruise ships, branded clothing, sail boats, telephones, loafers, and more.
I remembered reading an article in the Star newspaper about paper luxury items like these (including whiskey and oysters which I didn’t see, but wish I did!). They are used as offerings of wealth for the deceased during the Chinese celebration Qing Ming, also known as Chinese All Souls Day and The Tomb Sweeping Day.
During the 10 days of Qing Ming, family members gather at cemeteries to honor deceased relatives and ancestors, upkeep the burial ground, and celebrate the onset of spring. Food, paper money (also called hell notes or spirit money), prayer candles, joss sticks (incense sticks for prayers), and paper replicas of the departed’s favorite things are presented.
The paper money and luxury goods are then burned as offerings. It is believed that the spirit of the deceased will be pleased with the items that are left and will rest well in the afterworld. In turn, it is hoped that he or she will bring good tidings and blessings to family members.
In Malaysia, this year’s best-selling items to give to the deceased were iPads and macbooks. (This article from the Malaysian Insider reveals that iPads were all sold-out and this article from the China Daily talks about how popular they are in Guangzhou.)
In my opinion, Qing Ming is a wonderful way to bring the living together to honor those who have passed away. While it isn’t an eco-friendly holiday, I like how it encourages people to think about lost loved ones and the hobbies they used to have, items that made them happy, or objects that the living associate with the deceased. That said, I’d be reluctant to wait in line for an iPad in my daily life, let alone visit multiple stores to buy a paper replica.
Then again, if it would mean the world to a gadget-lover in his/her spirit life, then perhaps it is worth the wait.
Posted By Maria Skouras
Posted Apr 6th, 2011