Singapore is a modern city but many of its citizens remain strongly influenced by beliefs from the past. You can live here a long time and be completely oblivious to this reality.
For the most part, superstitions seem to be simply quaint cultural vestiges from an ancient time. But to treat them as irrelevant and benign is a mistake.
I learned this fact under very sad circumstances when the death of a loved one exposed the detrimental power of these beliefs.
After struggling two weeks in ICU with a drug resistant infection, my best friend’s mother – who is Chinese – finally passed away before the first light of the lunar new year. It was 6am which according to Wikipedia was the tiger hour of the tiger month of the tiger year.
The family and a couple of close friends gathered at the hospital to make final arrangements. One friend could not tell her family where she was lest she be accused of bringing bad luck back home during an auspicious time.
“I just can’t tell them,” she said. “My father is very superstitious, and so is my aunt. If anyone were to fall sick after this I would get the blame. It’s not worth it.” She snuck out later that day to attend the funeral under the pretence of ‘visiting’ – the new year tradition of calling on friends and family.
At that early morning hospital gathering, the siblings decided they would not hold a wake. Many of their friends would not want to come and they didn’t want to cause a dilemma for them and make them feel bad. They made arrangements to have the body cremated later that day.
There wasn’t even room at the church for a service. A combination of it being a Sunday and the first day of Chinese New Year meant there wasn’t a single Catholic Church island wide that could accommodate a funeral.
So less than 10 hours after my “auntie’s” death, a small group of us gathered for her funeral service at Mandai Crematorium.
There may be no good time to die but I can tell you dying on Lunar New Year’s Day is probably the worst possible time if you are Chinese. It’s the epitome of bad luck.
I am very sad that due to these superstitions, my friend was denied a time of public mourning she really needed.
No doubt the superstitions came from an era of disease and plague when it was more than just bad luck one could carry back from the house of the sick or the dead. But now the perpetuation of these old beliefs only serve to deny comfort and compassion to the bereaved during their time of need.
They are pointless and cruel.