Culture according to a loan shark

The lunch outing started off rather typical – my colleague, D, and I were getting our favorite piping hot beef noodles at one of Singapore’s ubiquitous food centers. As she got hers first, she set off looking for the elusive vacant table. She ended up sharing a table with a man (in his fifties) who was drinking the last sips off his coffee cup. So she sat down and started eating – not bothering to move her bowl from the tray but instead ate with the bowl on the tray. As soon as I joined her at the table, our stranger lunch company suggested that we remove the tray from underneath our bowls before we eat. Well, at least it started off sounding like a suggestion. When we decided to not heed his advice, he began to order us to do so – saying that only the dead eat from a tray (alluding to the manner that food is offered on the ancestral altars).

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I politely informed him that it’s fine for us as we’re not superstitious. My reply apparently prompted an emotional response as he started to chastise us (in Mandarin) for our cultural faux pas: “This has nothing to do with superstition, it’s our tradition! When we offer food to our ancestors, we are showing them our respect/filial piety. And only they are worthy of being served with a tray. When you eat from a tray like that, you’re being disrespectful of the elders and being ignorant of our Chinese culture. This has nothing to do with superstition. This tradition of venerating our ancestors has been handed down to us from our forefathers and were commanded by our cultural elders (referring to Confucius, Lao Tzu and the likes)….

Despite the fact that he’s rude (who asked for his opinion?!) and wrong – about ancestral veneration being taught by the Chinese cultural elders (coincidentally I’m currently researching the philosophies of Confucianism and Taoism and know that worship of the dead is an adulteration of the charge to respect and honor the elders); we didn’t respond to his berating but kept our heads down as we ate. As he looked suspiciously like a loan shark by way of his choice of accessories/jewelry, we didn’t want our lunch to end up on the evening’s headline news: “Two ladies hacked to death in public by enraged gang leader.”  

(Pixs courtesy of Chowtimes and Phnomblog)

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~ by iccthomas on June 20, 2012.

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