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  • James Tam

A Spooky Coincidence During Chong Yang

(This is a post from 2013, transplanted from my old Guo-Du Blog, slightly edited.

The uncanny coincidence somehow inspired me to research and

write the short story Comfort Woman Eleanor afterwards )

Chong Yang is one of two annual grave sweeping festivals — one in Spring and one in Autumn — in Chinese tradition. A few years ago, it fell on the same day as Halloween. East met West in the afterlife, spookily cool. After visiting ancestral graveyards, youngsters could dress up as Count Dracula or George W Bush for a macabre good time in Lan Kwai Fong.

Yesterday was a gorgeous Chong Yang Day. We had done our grave sweeping a week before to avoid the crowd, and spent a lazy morning at Stanley Beach instead. After lunching at the village, my wife, daughter and I made a spontaneous visit to the Military Cemetery. I often dropped by this beautiful and peaceful resting ground when attending the adjacent St. Stephen’s College in the early 70s. The familiar cemetery still looked extremely well kept. Tidy gravestones cast long nostalgic shadows in manicured lawns. Memories felt surreally distant in its timeless air. 

Many of its occupants moved in when only in their twenties and thirties. 25 Dec. 1941 was a popular date. The College had been a field hospital for British, Canadian and Indian soldiers during the war. On Christmas Day 1941, the Japanese took over. Dr. Black and Dr. Witney who greeted them at the door were the first to get mutilated. Nurses were gang raped and wounded soldiers bayonetted in bed. All the usual stuff during those atrocious years. It had since become a tradition among boarding students next door to exchange ghost stories around Christmas time.

On this Chong Yang day, we stood above the victims, captured by a reflective mood. Some were remembered only by name; their bodies were never recovered. An exceptional few were not soldiers, interred there long before the war. I was standing before a child’s tomb with my birthday on it. CHILD, AGED 3 YEARS, DIED 24th NOV 1864. “Hey,” I turned to my wife a few feet away, staring at another tombstone. “This one died on my birthday exactly 90 years before I was born!” 

She pointed to the one before her: CHILD, DIED 10TH DEC. AGED 1 YEAR 9 MONTHS. “And this one died on mine,” she said. Year unknown.

I quipped to our nine-year-old that this was where her parents last met, before this life. Just kidding, haha. My wife and I smiled at each other as goosebumps roller-coastered down the spine.

Chinese: 重阳坟头 迷离插曲:

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