Friday, December 11, 2009

Religion in Taiwan: Exhuming your long dead grandfather

When we first arrive it is really hard to believe how a nation of technology lovers and capitalists are also so religious.

Well, not so much religious as superstitious. In the west we are brought up to believe in one God, and all religious practicies and ceremonies deemed to ward off evil spirits, bring good luck etc. are firmly relegated to shows about the Middle Ages and how stupid we were back then.

Not so in Taiwan. Here they cling onto beliefs that the druids would have found illogical -Businesses routinely consult fortune tellers to ask which country they should go to a trade show in. Paper BMWs are burnt for those in the after life to drive. And so, and so on...

After the initial period of shock wears off you get used to it, and find your own way to deal. My way was usually to switch off and ignore.

On this occasion the future wife was back after spending a couple of days down south with the relatives. As we hadn't seen each other for a few days we were naturally on the bed and she was playing with my nether regions.

"So what happened?" I asked.

I did vaguely remember her saying something about the family felt they had had bad luck and a fortune teller had told they needed to dig up the body of their grandfather. I of course had switched off.

"Oh, it was not good," she said in her usual understated way.

"Ok, explain again please," I said. "Why did you go?"

She explained. The family had been having bad luck for a few years and someone from the local temple had told them it was because the grandfather had not been looked after well in the after life. It was simple: they had to exhume his body, scrape whatever flesh was still on his bones off, wash the bones, perform some prayers, burn some paper money, and stick him back down under again. Then they would all win the national lottery for the next month.

"Hmm, seeing the body of your grandfather. Dead five years, couldn't have been easy," I said.

"Uh, that was ok," she replied. "The ceremony went wrong."

"Ok. Why?"

Apparently, the people they had hired to do the scraping, didn’t turn up so they all mucked in – and he was still quite fleshy considering the amount of time he had been dead.

"And you helped?....Of course, you did. Stupid of me to ask. You are a good daughter after all."

I suddenly became aware of where her hands were and what they were doing. "I guess you have washed your hands?" I asked.

"Of course," she replied. "What is the problem?"

"Nothing, just i have never had hands that recently touched dead flesh on my body."

"How do you know?"

"True. I am not the best judge of character under the influence of alcohol."

"Stupid," she replied. "So you want me to stop?"

I thought for a moment. "No. No. Definitely not. My warped side has already kicked in. This should be a pull to remember for all time."

1 comment:

Claudio said...

Well, imagine the entire family of your wife changing their family name ("because we had bad luck") while she's living abroad. You two visit Taiwan and, when she has to obtain documents from a public office, she has to explain that, despite having now a different family name, she is still the daughter of X and Y, and A, B, C, D are still her siblings...

... it wouldn't work in your UK or in my Italy. In Taoyuan, instead, the employees listen intently, nod, say something like "Yes, it did happen to my cousin's husband's family too", then update the city's database and produce the document requested.

What's your Chinese name, if I may ask? Mine - which sounds like By-Crrr-De - was assigned by my wife and the Taiwanese commercial office in London (no embassy, you know the story). We had to register our marriage in TW, and the people working at that office found that my first and last names had way too many syllables (2 + 3). So they took the first sound of each name and made up a new one, which apparently also has a meaning. It means "Mr. White".

Great people. By the way, burning paper money and paper Mercedeses is something that happens here in Singapore too, and this country is way more arrogant about its supposed modernity...