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Stay Out Of The Cemetery

Chinese Cemetery Lion GuardChinese cemeteries on the other hand are a mystery to me. Putting aside the fact that I can’t read Chinese, the symbolism just seems mystical. Small lion statues guarding the entrance, paintings of a Phoenix usually adorn the walls. Headstones with gold inscriptions face east or west to catch the sun. A small statue of a priest guards the site and stands next to a pile of burned incense sticks from visiting family members left over the year. As I wander through the hills admiring the attention to detail I will occasionally come across a grave that has been dug up and the remnants of the smashed headstone litter the ground. The second burial has taken place.

This is where the bones have been removed and re-buried in another location, or possibly cremated is becoming a common event. Sometimes it is because some on-going bad luck is affecting the family and the relocation of the ancestral remains to a site with good feng shui is thought to be the answer. Possibly the bones after being cleaned are placed in a gold pagoda vase and re-buried in another cemetery, this seems to be common as well. Whichever the case may be, I find the whole process very interesting, which brings me to the title of this piece and a sentence I have heard from every Chinese friend I have, “Stay Out Of The Cemetery!”

There is no grey area on this issue to the Chinese, not one Chinese friend thought walking around a cemetery was a good idea for anyCemetery reason. I was bluntly warned from a friend, “During Chinese New Year, never ask or talk about death. It will give people a very bad impression of you and you will have bad luck!” They are not kidding here, even good friends that consider themselves non-traditional Chinese turn pale when I mention going for a walk in a cemetery for fun.

On one of my recent walks through a large cemetery I was almost run over by a couple of very happy dogs bounding around after squirrels, then I realized that I knew those dogs. Sure enough a minute later a friend of mine appears from behind some hedges. “Hey man, what are you doing here?” I say in surprise. “I always come here to run the dogs, they love it” he replies. “Besides, there are never any people here and you can’t say that about too many places in Taiwan these days.” A very true statement from a very un-superstitious foreigner I thought.

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