The Red Rooftop

KC Chan Wing Haw

© Copyright 2020 by KC Chan Wing Haw

Photo of the red rooftop.

At night, darkness falls, natural orange patch of cirrus scatters across the wide abyss sky above the triangular shaped red rooftop and me. Almost every detail in and out of the buildings expresses its architectural history and cultural elements combine its effort to show me what heaven and hell mean.

I stand in the middle of the road, surrounded by local breed Telomian, lying on the ground, steadfast and protective, all watching me smoking freely in front of the columbarium under a moonless night. I was thinking deeply: how many stories and mysteries pertaining human lives and history have gone missing along our way in our small steps achieving success in each epoch in our lifetime?

Air is clean and view is clear and my thoughts and emotions are stable and well constructed. Due not to my prayers to God but understanding and accepting my duty to see the world from a different perspective. Certainly, it appears that people are frightened by the fact that after a body has lost its life and cremated and stored in an urn and finally has it transported to a secured location - where family members have nothing to fear after. This place is known as the columbarium.

We have forgotten our ancestry understanding of treasuring a place so least visited and full of fear, we ought to live through to see its beauty.

Barking of the dogs nearby and the mysterious haunting stories of columbarium does not render to alter my choice of living and working within the compound (well as least for a temporary moment). Nothing has to do with irrelevant thoughts that instilled fears or what some outsiders might actually say - are you ready for death?

I detest, oh yes, I do. It is a one-in-a-lifetime experience to live through it and learn something that could build up one’s thirst of knowledge, not many for now, but I observe there will be.

Neither darkness collapses and masks the forgiving heaven nor wind twirls around me make any difference to enable me to read as a writer or a reader or simply an observer. The bright colours so protracted in the day remain an enchanting sight even when the Night Queen takes over. The moon occasionally appears begging for reflection from all of us, but still we fear. We fear the dead might come, or death or sickness or misfortune or whatever we are not prepared for.

Aren’t they already actually resting in peace for those well stored in the urns? This was what I told them over conversations when asked if I fear. Science tells us definitely they are resting in peace, this is the reason we build cemeteries and columbariums to remove our family members from the society properly, but fear is internal and illogical, only psychological science can help us understand even better.

There are four large buildings established enshrining the beauty and art of afterlife storage. Should I use the word ‘storage’ for I lack experience to use an exact word correctly. I presume museums use storage cabinets inside to store up artifacts, disclosing and revealing the human history to the world as well.

Here, the four buildings are for visitors to offer their prayers, whatever they believe in: one for their deceased family members well kept in the urn, the other one on far right corner near the forest with similar structure as the former, however, build in a statute where joss sticks are in placed for worshiping to signify the importance of its original Taoism history in paying respect to their deceased family members, the one at the back is a statute for blessing and respecting the diligence establishment of past and present Chinese immigrants, and, the last where I am sitting in with a kitchen and a meditative hall and bedrooms, is where visitors and workers come to rest and meditate.

Though by far, I read and practise the bible, I still respect the Chinese Taoist current traditions and values. However, I have developed interest in learning in depth what is exactly their practice. This place my parents chose has have some impact on my investigation of truth the same time. So close and yet far fetched (at times) are our relationships between one another but what separates us are our internal fears and individual needs and to a certain extend - knowledge about interior and exterior architectural design of the cultural aspect of almost everything I have observed.

The landscape here is wide and spacious, rainforest and different types of well planted trees are vast. Monkeys are swinging from one end to the other, sometimes, if shouldered with good luck, one can see them finding food on the branches and displaying mischievousness before one’s eyes. Behind all buildings, there is a brief sod leading to a forest site, not too narrow and difficult to walk, spinney spreads across the land so large and occupying. I might have suspected these are not planted by men.

Of course, people choose to believe in myths or even apocryphal, what harm or benefits can they bring upon us these days? Doubts, unrest paradox and unresolved mystery causing social beings to enact beliefs that long gone in centuries. But architectural buildings that help restore new concepts and perceptions may change the way people treat one another, either positive or negative. Not necessarily a new form of education is required. Colours, structures, surroundings and maintenance can all make a difference to enable some but not all, in hope to reform old perceptions.

Once a family has made their offerings to their past deceased family members, different emotions are felt. Maybe different types of food offerings and communications among them make it less a ceremony like in the past. Now, if there wasn’t such a place to honour our ancestries who once worked hard and lived their life and brought the next generation to this very planet earth, would there be us remembering what beauty means?

Some poets sometimes find inspiration from odd places and I suspect this could be one of them. I rarely write one myself though occasionally I pick poetry writing as a learning curve, I remain secluded about my craft. But days after nights and after weeks, I think I have one and here it goes:

Loud and tender the voice of Night Queen whispers,

Soft and caring the dark street singing,

Long the day has arrived and made us notice,

Past present equals none to future,

Noise and silent condemns the soul of wanderer,

Lost one key no one can help each other,

Moon and sun separates us to make us working,

More to read an ant than to read more wisdom.

Aren’t you afraid of ghosts? Some of my acquaintances and neighbours asked. I take it as an offence committed by a child and replied with nothing in mind. “What do you mean by afraid of ghosts?” I dropped my jaws like I was once teaching my preschool children basic English. I wondered if I had come into a class of teaching about world history or social science, perhaps, biology, I laughed at their specific topic and said to them - ghost is your internal fear about something you are unable to let go.

Time is valuable therefore is value and cost so intrinsic as to the development of the buildings. We take for granted that these places are built because we have to and there are no other more meaningful source of lands to respect our ancestors. Are they even important when one nation is striving forward and facing the world with such diplomacy? I believe Intelligence plays a role. By far and large, existing concept of whatever there is to such constituents we have a choice to make.

Kicking the ground ahead of me, some frustrations arise before the Night Queen kisses the earth, I light up a cigarette and think of what future might be. The dogs gather around my feet and me looking out to the straight rows of rainforest and turning back to look at the columbarium building, the one standing higher on the slope greeting the sun and making promises to heaven. Where are we (or) am I supposed to be now? Inhaling another stream of smoke that goes through a channel inside me, I blow out a puff that looks similar to the clouds ahead, my own thoughts have not given far to what lost means. But turning away from the nature and looking at the temples and the greeter, I seek new form of knowledge and strive not to see old as new or new as old.

My mother once said to me, “Each dream of an individual takes guts to build it, it is not one day or two, five years or ten, sometimes you are simply destined to be who and what you ought to be. So stay strong.”

Her words still resonate within me today even after her departure from this world. Is such a place destined to be built? I have never been so emotionally inclined to places like these before even though I have visited quite a few in the Southern Malaysia and Singapore; columbarium, cemeteries, Chinese Taoist temples, Hindu temples or other buildings bagged with worshiping values. Quite honestly, it wasn’t until last year that I have begun to develop some interest to learn about its culture and history impacting the present society, especially here.

In comparison with some of the more structured and developed derived with facts and accuracy - museums I truly understand the value of displaying its artifacts and revealing its history, and, of course its important lessons and values to the next generation. In this minor crossing over hindsight, a comparison must be made to state its possibilities of lost and found items from the past (by artifacts veterans) as to lost and found memories to those who left us a heritage (by Petite Bourgeois); whether empowered with superstition or superimposed with other values, still, they must be viewed as part of social change. These so called ‘ornaments’ of the society constitutions, we bring some elements to life, where others could see a difference in their lives. Maybe they do, perhaps.

I walk across the land, in front of the three buildings, down the slope to the far end, hot and windy with some peculiar effect on my skin and thoughts, I reckon my emotions are holding back. I am searching for something; something I have lost. My mother’s words perhaps. Yes, I detest, yet I find something else in between. The sharp pointed red rooftop on the temple, I recall certain memories, only known to me for now.

Memories worth only a paper and a pen, in other words, worthless, for they have been burnt to ashes and kept in an urn. My continuing educational journey ahead whether is awaken or asleep, my views follow the structure of each building, smiling, always smiling to the space, at everything I think I should. It has to be something I once treasured and lost, here I re-find them again.

Tonight the birds sing outside my window like they have received some good news or gossips from around the neighourhood. Alas! Thinking again, there could be some talking among people, palpable to such strong emotions attached to old places, no, lost landscape, perhaps, a place people only visit because they feel they have to. That doesn’t mean anything to any formulation of my thoughts above.

I continue my excursion on this very piece of theme, still, wondering deeply if ever I have been haunted by my deceased parents or (others), they must be in heaven greeting the rainforest, pigeons and black crows, Telomian, workers, temple statues, the wide land and least to say our dignity. I have not been here too long ago to rediscover what life means to me (again), unemployed, searching within what life means to me and get down to my feet, and stand up strong again.

Why here one might ask? Certainly, we know for one reason; who would you look up to when you are battling challenges in life? I believe the only person you ever trust in your entire life, there or whatsit, you will find an answer. Mine is simple. Dignity.

Unfamiliar places or buildings those we are least fond of visiting usually engender heritage. Not too far from my window stands the untroubled and peaceful orange soft light columbarium, I look again, and then, understand dignity for all have been answered in this lost land.

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