Picnic with departed loved ones as they observe Qing Ming

PHOTO: The Star

GEORGE TOWN: Their favourite kopi-O (black coffee) was ready, and since they loved smoking, cigarettes were offered too.

Next came various roasted meats, dim sum, fruits, nyonya cakes and pastries, all neatly arrayed before the tombstones.

For Yeoh Yeow Seng, 60, returning to his parents' graves for Qing Ming - Chinese All Souls Day - was part-ritual and part-family picnic.

"We come here together in memory of our parents, to pray and share the food. It's somewhat like having a picnic because we will eat right here," quipped Yeow Seng.

He said visiting his parents' graves at Mount Erskine cemetery was a faithfully observed annual rite with his siblings, wife, children and other relatives.

They also prepared bags of joss paper including 'hell money' and gold ingots to burn.

Wanting to avoid traffic jams and a crowded cemetery, they celebrated 10 days earlier than Qing Ming proper, which falls on April 4.

Grave visits are done within 10 days before and after the actual date, which is the first day of the third lunar month.

Qing Ming is also known as Tomb Sweeping Day because families would also give their ancestors' graves a sprucing up, and contractor Ooi Eng Teik, 28, was doing just that.

He was giving the weathered inscriptions on his grandfather's tombstone a fresh coat of red paint with his father Hock Chay, 53, and mother Wong Lan Hong, 52.

"We are here to touch up the paint and clean the grave. We'll be back tomorrow with all of our relatives for the Qing Ming rituals.

"My grandfather passed away in 2000 when he was 70.

"I remember him as a kind person and someone who loves spending time with his family," he added.

Part-time cemetery worker Loo Poh Chye noted much fewer people coming to pray in the late morning and afternoon as the scorching sun climbed to its peak as compared with previous years.

"I saw people coming at 5am today. The heat could be making people come either early in the morning or in the evenings.

"In previous years, the cemeteries would be buzzing with people all day on the weekend before Qing Ming," he said.