CHENG BENG. Every year, it comes around usually in late March or early April. To be exact, it occurs 104 days after Winter Solstice (which incidentally tends to fall around Dec 22nd or at least it has been doing that for the past few years).
Cheng Beng is the day when Chinese all-over the world practice ancestral worship and fulfill their family duties by visiting the graveyards of their ancestors in remembrance of their departed love ones and to clean-up the tombs. Well, it’s not called the “Tomb Sweeping Day” for no reason. 🙂
With most families, they usually have one or two sites to visit. Each family would also have their own “rituals” of prayers and offerings made to the graves of their ancestors. For ours, we carry a strange custom where only the male descendants need to perform this obligation, while the female members dutifully stayed at home.
When I was younger, I do believe in our custom of male-only Cheng Beng. But for the past years, we’ve been noticing a high influx of the fairer sex from other families all cheerfully present around the cemeteries. Which lead me to either one of these conclusions.
One, the new generation of the fairer sex thinks it’s hip, sexy and cool to be seen around cemeteries on Cheng Beng. Well, this explanation is not entirely preposterous as most of the ladies we saw at Cheng Beng were dressed in short pants, tight-fitting clothes and some in fancy hats who looked like they were out enjoying the springtime of April in M’sia (and not sweating under the hot sun cleaning tombs of old ancestors they’ve not met before).
(Or) Two, we the male descendants of the Au Family have been hoodwinked by some powderful female matriarch of our family into believing only the males have the honor to fulfill Cheng Beng obligations while the females however willing were not allowed to even step outside. Custom, you see.. they are all powerful and must be obeyed.
There are benefits being an All-Male Club though. We can all
oogle, sorry I mean observe the various female members parading around the Cheng Beng sites without having to worry about our wife or girlfren giving us the “stare” or worse, threatening to poke our eyes out!
For most families, Cheng Beng comprises visits to one or two graves and they are done for the day. For us, it’s a day-long journey with 9-stops where we’ve to say Hi to fourteen (14) ancestors! We are a large family, you see… (haiz)
It is not uncommon for our Cheng Beng trips to take more than 8 hours; with most of the time being spent on the road in traffic jams as everyone seemed to pick the same day for Cheng Beng as ours even though Cheng Beng obligations can be performed ten days prior or after the actual day itself.
There have even been years where we split our visits into First Half and Second Half (maybe we watched too much football), with a trip back home for a short siesta around lunch-time before going back on-the-road again for the 2nd Half.
I even remembered a year – when my late father was around – that we were still out there around the cemeteries at close to 7 pm with dusk falling fast on us… And no, it’s not because we started late. We normally start our Cheng Beng trips around 6:30 in the morning!
Organizing for a more systematic Cheng Beng
Part of the reason why we took so many hours (in the past) was that we did not have any map/chart/references, and we literally went around searching for our ancestor’s graves from memory! Memories that came from my granduncles and late father with their many years of Cheng Beng trips behind them.
Not having any reference is fine if you are visiting one or two sites… but when you have to deal with 9 sites and 13 graves, it can be a liability to depend on our memory.
The first thing I put in place was a sketched map of where we’d gone, and some guides and landmarks to help us locate the graveyards. So you can often see remarks like “Look for light blue grave with large 35 word written on it’s back, then two rows behind is ….” Laugh not, for these notes helped us find what we needed to find. 😛
Each of the graveyard does have it’s own reference number, but you do not expect the cemetery to be properly organized and with weeds and lallang growing profusely around the tombstone, the ref numbers are not at all useful to help locate the graves. They are useful however in confirming the identity of the grave once we’ve located them given that all members of our existing Cheng Beng troupe have very limited reading ability for the Chinese language.
A ver 1.0 sketched maps shown above. That was probably done back in 1998. The details and notes in the maps were updated and improved with each year of Cheng Beng trips we made…….
The maps proved extremely useful when my father and Taiping granduncle passed away (many years back) and the remaining granduncle from the pioneering group is getting on with his age and decided to pass the baton to our generation!
You can’t imagine how relieved I was on the first year when we were going “solo” on our own – without any of our elders tagging along – and being the oldest among our current batch in terms of age, I have to lead the group. The maps, no matter how incomplete or inaccurate they may be back then were such life-saver for us!
A 2nd updated version of the maps (above) were produced after we’d more or less got the details and accuracy to 85% with a few more years experience of Cheng Beng-ing under our belts.
For the past ten years or so, we’ve been able to successfully complete our Cheng Beng assignments with the help of the maps, and admittedly some beating around the bush here and there! There were one or two years where we couldn’t locate one or two of our ancestors’ (and we just offered our prayers and offerings in the neighborhood). But for the past 6 years or so, we’ve notched 100% completion!
While we’ve solved the problem of “knowing where to find”, we were still taking an awfully long amount of time each year to finish our Cheng Beng trips. It’s time to consider how to streamline our visits!
We noticed even with the maps, we still take an inordinate amount of time searching for the exact location of the grave. This looks like an area we can easily improve.
Maps ver 3.0?
With the emergence of GPS navigational devices, Google Earth, and my acquisition of a Garmin Forerunner 405 last Dec (which is used mainly for me to record my running events) I now have the tools necessary to map out our Cheng Beng journey using Google map and have exact GPS coordinates for each of the sites we visited. Ain’t technology great? 😛
This blog entry will give an overview of our recent Cheng Beng trip, and some quick looks at the Google Map data that was mapped during this trip which we just did on Monday (Apr5), where I’d marked each of the stop we made during the trip.
The KML file will be distributed to our Cheng Beng group which can be used to playback the journey on Google Earth, and to import as GPS coordinates into their GPS navigational device.
We shall be looking forward to testdrive the precision of the GPS coordinates in our Cheng Beng ver 3.0 maps next year. Let’s see if we can take one or two hours off our total time next year! 🙂
THE THREE STAGES OF OUR CHENG BENG
Our Cheng Beng visits are grouped into three stages: 1) Midah Chinese Cemetery, 2) Kwang Tung Cemetery, and 3) Nilai Memorial Park. An overview of the visits we have to cover for Midah Chinese Cemetery and Kwang Tung Cemetery is shown in the map below; with each of the lap marker indicating a stop at an ancestor’s grave.
We start with our patriarch Au Peng Seng’s grave at the Midah Chinese Cemetery before moving to Kwang Tung Cemetery to fulfill our obligations to 11 other ancestor’s graves. Last stop is at Nilai Memorial Park to pay respect to my late grandmother (wife to Au Peng Seng’s eldest son).
Note: You might want to stop here if sights of graveyards are considered too morbid for you. 😛
STAGE 1: TAMAN MIDAH CHINESE CEMETERY
This first stage of our visits is always to the Chinese Cemetery in the area bordering Taman Midah and Bandar Tun Razak. My granduncles used to call this cemetery the “Old Cemetery” maybe because it’s set up earlier than the larger (and more well-known) Kwang Tung Cemetery. It’s small (in land size) and perhaps due to it’s lack of expandability, people moved on to Kwang Tung Cemetery for the burials of their departed relatives.
To us, this Midah Cemetery (for lack of a better name) is always a first-visit since this is where my great grandfather Au Peng Seng was buried together with his first wife. The “Au” family would have originated many centuries back in Fushan, Quangdong, China. However to me and my close relatives, our local Au Family Tree in Malaysia started very much with Au Peng Seng who was sent to manage some business here in Malaya.
Au Peng Seng – my great grandfather – has four wives and more than ten children. Due to the difference in ages of his four wives, his eldest son (ie. my grandfather) from his first wife was about the same age as his 4th wife therefore creating a generation age inversion. To cut a long story short, today I’ve three uncles who are descended from Au Peng Seng’s tenth son (from his 4th wife). They are all younger than me but generation-wise, they are one generation above me.
Correction: My sister just corrected me saying Au Peng Seng has 5 wives (jaw-drop!) but only 4 followed him to Malaya. He has total of 13 children.
This blog will make references to the various wives and children of Au Peng Seng, both deceased and surviving. It may get confusing for you – as it took me years to even understand how some of them are related. There are still gaps in our info sheet. For a third party trying to put all the pieces together, this may turn into a TVB drama instead! LOL
It’s my hope that with this blog entry my other relatives and siblings reading this will be able to find some perspective of themselves and how they are related within this Au Peng Seng family tree. There’s the Chinese saying, “When you drink water, always think of the source of the water”. 饮水思源 (hehe)
First Stop (Lap 1) 8:22 AM
Midah Cemetery Na Tuk Gong
– getting here: 12:30 min (from 19P2)
– time spent here: 12:35 min
After the group had our dim-sum breakfast at Yulek, we started on our Cheng Beng trip around 8:00 am. This is an uncharacteristic late start as we normally started no later than 7:00 am in past years.
To get to the Midah Chinese Cemetery (from Jalan Cheras), we take the Jalan Midah Besar way straight into the small industry lots along Jalan Kilang Midah. Just before the exit to the E27 East-West Link, we turn left into the Midah Cemetery.
Our first stop is to pay our respect to the Na Tuk Gong (拿督公) at the central temple in the Midah Cemetery. Lap 1 marked our coordinates where we parked our Kembara. We were greeted with the first positive sign that today’s a great day for our Cheng Beng visits when we got an all-clear road from the entrance of the Midah Cemetery to the Na Tuk Gong’s temple. Usually if we’d done this Cheng Beng on a weekend, this road would be crawling with vehicles all queuing up to get to the Na Tuk Gong temple. It took us only 12 min to get to here from Taman Midah!
You should be able to see the Na Tuk Gong temple building from the Google map above. We dutifully paid our respects to the Na Tuk Kong who resides in this temple (kinda like getting his permission) before we proceeded to our visit (Lap 2) to the final resting place of the patriarch of our family; Au Peng Seng himself.
Second Stop (Lap 2) 8:46 AM
Au Peng Seng and 1st Wife (Mdm Kwan)
– getting here: 11:30 min
– time spent: 22:35 min
The 2nd stop which is to be our first ancestor grave visit is only about 1 km away from the central Na Tuk Gong temple (see map below). This is the resting place of the patriarch of our local Au family descendants here in M’sia and his grave is a well-made large double grave – as was the custom back then for the head of a family – with his wife buried alongside him.
We would normally take less than 5 minutes getting from the Na Tuk Gong temple to this site. However two incidents delayed us.. first, our driver Jacques pandai pandai went straight up the road instead of turning right at the first junction (see map above). He has to then cut back to the proper turning point.
Secondly when we arrived at the “parking spot”, a Honda driver who came into this one-way road from the wrong end – and who probably thought he drifts better than Initial-D – tried to do a three-point turn on a penny!
Ended up he arse-bumped his Honda onto someone’s ancestor grave (hope he didn’t wake up the incumbent in that grave!), car got stuck in the gravel, and needed a few helpful Cheng Beng visitors to come out and help him push-n-heave his Honda out of the predicament he got himself into. All in, a 4-minute wayang for us.
We usually can locate Au Peng Seng’s grave easily as it’s a rather large double grave; not many double graves around this area. It’s a short walk from where we parked our car.
Here Au Peng Seng, my great grandfather is placed to rest side-by-side with his first wife Madam Kwan who gave him two children; the eldest son (ie. my grandfather) and his 2nd child (daughter), whose family now resides in Kajang.
Once we are done with paying our respects and cleaning up the tomb of our patriarch here, the next stage of our Cheng Beng visits would take us on a tour of the Kwang Tung Cemetery with 7 stops and 11 ancestors.
STAGE 2: KWANG TUNG CEMETERY
Kwang Tung Cemetery (KTC) is one of the oldest chinese cemetery in Malaysia. It’s large, covering over 180 hectares of land. It’s also historic as this is where Kapitan Yap Ah Loy, the founder of Kuala Lumpur and many other 19th century Chinese leaders like Yap Kwan Seng and Yap Ah Shak were laid to rest.
KTC is located in the vicinity of Sungei Besi, along the Old Airport road and is now bordered by Jalan Syed Putra and Jalan Istana. It has two famous schools situated close to it, the well-known Kuen Cheng Girls School which is more than 100 yrs old, and the primary campus of the Alice Smith international school. Maybe there’s something about heightened sense of learning when you place a school around a cemetery. 😛
To get to KTC from Midah Cemetery, we exit to E27 East-West Link highway which leads us to Taman Connaught, and from there we take Jalan Cheras, then Jalan Loke Yew and into Jalan Syed Putra via Jalan Istana. We travel along Jalan Syed Putra until we passed Kuen Cheng High School where we then exit into Jalan Robson and turn left into Lorong Syed Putra Kiri. At the end of this lorong is the once famous Le Chateau apartments. It has been known as “Heaven on Earth” by some feng shui masters.
Twenty years ago, the Le Chateau apartments look posh and grand. Sadly when we passed by it this morning, the apartments looked like it has fallen into regrettable disrepair. No, it actually looks spooky given it’s close proximity to the largest cluster of chinese graves in the Klang Valley! Hah!
On a good day like today with light traffic along Syed Putra, it took us less than 30 min to travel from the Midah Cemetery to Kwang Tung Cemetery, and we arrived at KTC in good time around 9:30 AM to begin the second stage of our Cheng Beng journey.
This stage represents the major part of our Cheng Beng trip. We’ve eleven ancestors to attend to, and they are spread over 7 locations. The plus point of this stage is that four (of the 7 locations) are near each other, with another two within manageable distance (less than 3 km). The last one is slightly out of the circuit but still very reachable within a short traveling time. We usually manage to complete this circuit within 3 hours.
Third Stop (Lap 3) 9:36 AM
Au Peng Seng’s mother
– getting here: 27 min (from Midah Cemetery)
– time spent: 12 min
The first stop here is located less than 500 m to the immediate left after we passed Le Chateau.
This would be the graveyard of our patriarch Au Peng Seng’s mother. She was therefore my great-great grandmother and being four generations away from me, none of the current Au family members on this trip has actually seen her in person, nor were there any photos.
Hmm, this begs an interesting question to my elder sister (who’s currently the walking encyclopedia on Au Peng Seng history) – does this mean his mom came down to Malaya with him?
The grave of Au Peng Seng’s mother
Fourth Stop (Lap 4) 9:51 AM
Au Peng Seng’s 4th Wife
– getting here: 3 min
– time spent: 11 min
This stop is meaningful to at least three members of our Cheng Beng group – Jacques & his two brothers, Pak Hou and Pak Soon – as this is the grave of their grandmother (4th wife to Au Peng Seng). As with the previous site, this is also located less than 500 m from the previous stop.
Au Peng Seng’s fourth wife bore him two children; Jacques’ father Aw Fook Loy (#10 child) who’s still running the famous “sunken” chicken rice stall in Pudu (need to remind myself to take a picture of that stall one day) and the late Aw Fook Heng (#12 child) who lived in Taiping.
Since Aw Fook Heng was laid to rest in Taiping, we did not include that into our Cheng Beng agenda. His three children – Yuen Yee, Pak Loke and Yuen Phen (Celine) – are all staying and working in Klang Valley now. They are always back to Taiping for Cheng Beng to visit their father’s grave. 🙂
Correction: My sis, the walking encyclo (sic) corrected me again saying that the 4th wife has three children, and besides my two granduncles there’s an unidentified 11th child. I suppose Jacques father should know.
Fifth Stop (Lap 5) 10:04 AM
Aw Hoi Loy, 3rd child (son) to Au Peng Seng
– getting here: 3 min
– time spent: 10 min
This is the resting place for the 3rd child to Au Peng Seng who passed away at a young age (late 20s). He was not married and has no descendants. Thus we are the ones taking on the responsibilities of making sure his graveyard is visited yearly on Cheng Beng. This site is also located very close; about 550 m from the last stop.
You can see from the map above, all the previous 3 stops are located within a 2 km ring.
Sixth Stop (Lap 6) 10:20 AM
Madam Tsang (Low family)
– getting here: 6 min
– time spent: 10:35 min
This next stop would be the last in a 4-point loop around the Kwang Tung Cemetery. As with the others, it’s located within 650 m from the last stop. This grave however remains a mystery to us as I could not remember exactly how she’s related within our Au Family Tree. My elder sister thinks she’s the sister of one of Au Peng Seng’s wives.
(Hah? Sister of great grandmother also need to take care of. No wonder so many sites to visit la! Just saying. hehe. Filial piety and a sense of responsibility means we’ll happily do it la… )
The tombstone stated her name as Madam Tsang and from the Low family (not “Au”). I did remember Jacques’ father explaining about her relationship with the Au family many years back but my fleeting memory have misplaced that piece of info. Maybe I need to talk to my granduncle again. 🙂
The above picture was taken on our Cheng Beng visits in 2007, and you can clearly see Madam Tsang’s tombstone almost half-sunken into the ground. It’s not unusual for us in the past to spend time searching around the area trying to locate her tombstone. Precious minutes wasted. 😛
As a testament to some of the upkeeping work done by the Wah Mei Landscaping people, we find they have helped restored her tombstone and made it much more visible and easier to find! Mind you, we need to pay RM30 yearly per grave to Wah Mei as upkeeping cost.
After completing this 4-point loop, we would usually head to Lap 8 (Au Peng Seng’s 2nd Wife) before going to Chin Fatt Tze. This year, we changed plan slightly by visiting Chin Fatt Tze ahead of Lap 8.
Seventh Stop (Lap 7) 10:55 AM
Chin Fatt Tze (temple of thousand buddhas)
– getting here: 24 min
– time spent: 22.15 min
Chin Fatt Tze is located about a kilometer from Lap 6 and should take 10 min to get there. But this site has always been the major chokepoint and this year is no difference. We took 24 min to get ourselves here, which is still an improvement over past years where we may be stuck in the slow crawl towards this temple for close to an hour! Everyone seems to be headed for this temple during Cheng Beng (and yes, that includes many ladies who appeared to be dressed out to enjoy the springtime in M’sia so this is also a major cuci mata spot for us hehe).
Long before the emergence of Nivana and Nilai Memorial Parks and with availability of ground burial getting very scarce, Chin Fatt Tze used to be the de facto location to place the urns containing the remains of our cremated ancestors.
Chin Fatt Tze is a major stop for us as there are five ancestral urns for us to pay our respects. Three of them are my immediate family ie. both my late parents and the third being my late auntie. The other two are Au Peng Seng’s 3rd wife and 4th child (daughter). The 3rd wife has one surviving daughter (13th child) who stays in Salak South.
Chin Fatt Tze is also the busiest – and smokiest – location among all the stops we make… and after the hustle-bustle of completing our work here, we would normally be heading for our last KTC visit (ie my grandfather). Today we’ve one more stop to make here (in KTC) before my grandfather’s site ie. Lap 8
Eighth Stop (Lap 8) 11:50 AM
Au Peng Seng’s 2nd Wife
– getting here: 33 min
– time spent: 10 min
This stop should be about 2 km from Chin Fatt Tze yet today we spent 9 km on the road before getting to here. My memory seems to be getting foggy and for some reason, I wrongly thought that Lap 8 is located to the west of Chin Fatt Tze…. We tried going there and ended up in the (dead-ended) carpark of Kuen Cheng 2 (see map below)! Once we realized the mistake, it was a breeze getting to here. 🙂
This is the resting place for Au Peng Seng’s second wife who gave him three children; 3rd child (son) late Aw Hoi Loy (refer Lap 5 earlier), 5th child (daughter) who’s now living with her eldest son in Taman Segar, and 6th child (son) the late Aw Kam Loy who migrated to HK, married and started a family there.
While I’ve not met the 2nd wife (as she has passed away long before I was born), I’d met my late granduncle Aw Kam Loy and his family when I went to HK back in 1998 (and also in 2001 when I was in HK with my wife waiyan). My grandauntie and her three children are still staying in HK now. Hope they’ll be reading this blog.
The tombstone that was about to collapse… I think from the loosen earth. What did they do to the grass? Burnt them?
Looks better after we made some improvision and uprighted it and hopefully it’ll remain upright until our next visit.
Ninth Stop (Lap 9) 12:08 AM
Au Tzi Meng, eldest son to Au Peng Seng
– getting here: 10 min
– time spent: 13:45 min
The next – and last stop – in Kwang Tung Cemetery is for my grandfather’s grave and it’s located about 3 km on the other side of the cemetery across Jalan Istana & Dewan Bahasa.
This is the most scenic of all our ancestor’s grave sites. It’s situated almost on top of a slope that overlooks vast open space! The flip side of being in vast open space is that it’s also the hottest as there’s no trees to provide any shade from the afternoon sun – and by the time we come around to this stop, it’s usually noon or later.
This stop marks the completion of our Kwang Tung Cemetery visits (and end of Stage 2). We’ve spent close to 4.5 hours in KTC and have paid our respects to 13 ancestors. Not bad for a morning’s work. 🙂
Note: In the past, we used to take 8 hours to complete up to this stage.
All that remains is a long trip to Nilai Memorial Park to pay our respects to my late grandmother (ie. wife to Au Tzi Meng) before we call it a day. As the drive to Nilai will take 30+ minutes, we normally break for lunch to get ourselves refueled with food and water before embarking on the journey south.
– getting here: 12 min
– time spent: 30 min
Lunch is usually simple sitdown at one of the stalls in Pudu. Nothing fancy here… just chicken/duck/siew yoke rice plus veges and whatever we can get our hands on…. Basically for a quick refuel and a breather before we make the 40 km trip south to Nilai.
STAGE 3: NILAI MEMORIAL PARK
When my grandma passed away (in 2002), Memorial Parks were the trend of the month! Instead of placing her to rest at Chin Fatt Tze, we bought a double niche for her – and my late grandfather (see Lap 9 earlier) – in the inner quarter of the Quadrangle Court (see diagram below).
Nilai Memorial Park is a serene, calming and beautiful park. I still remembered our first drive there to visit the place to see if it’s suitable for my grandma. Back then, the journey seemed to take an infinite amount of time!!
We were worried about the long distance. However with our yearly visits here during Cheng Beng, we find the average traveling time is only about 30 minutes (depending on traffic obviously) and though it’s still long but bearable.
Distance-wise it’s about 40 km from the city. Gosh! That’s how far the full marathoners have to cover every time they complete a marathon race! I find it daunting even by car, never mind on foot. 😛
It took us 36 minutes – and a RM4.70 toll – to get here from KL (via Lebuhraya Utara-Selatan).
Tenth Stop (Lap 10) 1:36 PM
Xiao En Si – Na Tuk Kong
– getting here: 36 min (from KL)
– time spent: 10:30 min
As with our visit to Midah Cemetery, our first stop on arrival at Nilai Memorial Park is to pay our respects to the Na Tuk Gong at the Xiao En Si temple.
The steps leading up to the impressive entrance to Xiao En Si
Another view of the Xiao En Si from afar….
Eleventh Stop (Lap 11) 1:42 PM
Madam Lee Tai Yong, wife to eldest son of Au Peng Seng
– getting here: 2:30 min
– time spent: 20 min
The Quadrangle Court is located just a stone throw away from Xiao En Si. My grandma’s niche is in the Inner Quarters which face the courtyard inside the Quadrangle Court.
We bought the double niche for my grandma with the intention of transferring my grandfather’s remains from Kwang Tung Cemetery here some time in the near future so that he’ll be resting side-by-side with my grandma.
These (above) are the ancestral mansions at Nilai Memorial Park – each custom designed and build – where you can place ALL your ancestors in one place! Saves you time running around north, south, east and west paying your respects to them. Bet they must cost in the millions!!!
The trip back took us much longer than we anticipated. It should be another 30 min drive back but we ended up spending over an hour on the road mainly due to an accident near the Sg Besi toll that caused a massive traffic jam. Jacques dropped me and my brother back to my house around 3:00 pm.
That’s a total of 7 hours since we started this morning at 8:00 am, and we covered end-to-end about 126 kms. 3 locations. 11 stops. 14 ancestors. Whew! That’s the story of our Cheng Beng. 🙂
Some of you would know me as an avid runner, and incidentally the Kwang Tung Cemetery Association is organizing a Larian Kubur on the 25th of this month. The run is about 11 km in distance and the route (click here) which runs thru many parts of Kwang Tung Cemetery would look familiar to our Cheng Beng group. hehe.
I’ve registered myself (as it’s also a fund raising event for the association) – not sure if I’ll be running on that morning but even if I’m not, I’ll be there to take some photos and videos. Their t-shirt looks cute though. 😛
T-shirt design (c) Jogathon Warisan (original page)
If you have ancestors laid to rest in Kwang Tung Cemetery, it’ll be good if you can support them and sign-up for this run (even if you do not plan to run on the 25th). You’ll get this cute t-shirt for just RM15. 🙂