Civic responsibility at events

By Goh Ban Lee

Goh Ban Lee

QING MING or Cheng Beng is the day when many Malaysians go to graveyards or columbaria to pray to ancestors who have passed away. It is also referred to as Ancestors Day or Tomb Sweeping Day. Qing Ming which usually falls on April 5, fell on April 4 this year because of the leap year.

Worshippers begin performing rituals 10 days before the actual day, most bringing rice and dishes, fruit, flowers, nyonya kueh and drinks for prayers, besides burning joss sticks and joss paper. Some even bring their ancestors’ favourite cigarettes, paper hand phones, motorbikes and cars, and apparel.

While it was endearing to see so many worshippers at the Batu Gantong Cemetery on April 2, it was also sad to see the condition of the columbarium and its surrounding area. Rubbish was strewn everywhere, including plastic bags and other used wrappers, as well as nyonya kueh and rice with meat and vegetables in polystyrene containers or plastic bags.

It was clear that many who came to pray went home without bothering to clean up by taking their offerings home or discarding them in waste bins, showing no consideration for other worshippers or respect for the souls of the departed, believed to come to feast on the offerings.

It was also clear that the association which owned the cemetery and columbarium had not engaged an adequate number of people to keep the place clean or volunteers to ensure there was no littering.

The only thing well attended to was parking. There were not only people to collect RM2 for each car, but also parking attendants to ensure orderly parking. Surely, the amount collected was more than enough to pay for cleaners and refreshments for volunteers. There is also no doubt that the association has adequate funds to engage paid workers or volunteers without having to collect any charges from worshippers.

Before columbaria became popular to store the bones and ashes of the dead, Qing Ming was a time to visit and clean graves. People brought knives and hoes to trim overgrown grass or plants. Those not prepared to do so employed people to do the job. Somehow, this aspect of Qing Ming is now lost.

It is useful to note that some columbaria, especially those run by Buddhist temples or associations, do not allow the use of joss paper and joss sticks. At Beow Hiang Lim in Ayer Itam, for example, worshippers are not allowed to burn joss paper. Than Hsiang Temple in Bayan Baru does not allow the use of joss sticks, joss paper or even wax candles. People who want to use candles can use battery-operated ones.

Ardent Taoists need not discard traditional practices to keep a place clean. It is possible to maintain cleanliness while following traditions. We keep our homes clean when we observe an event, don’t we?

Unfortunately, there is a tendency for Malaysians to trash surrounding areas when they celebrate in public places. There seems to be a mistaken belief that this is alright as there will be others to clean up later.

Organisers of events must take necessary measures at all times. While they must provide adequate rubbish bins and cleaners, enforcement personnel must be present to ensure people comply with cleanliness and other rules.

At the wider level, politicians must not champion those who break the law at events. What they should do when approached by people who are issued summonses for illegal parking or littering is to advise them to pay the fines. The permit for an event does not allow revellers to ignore municipal rules.

Datuk Dr Goh Ban Lee is a senior research fellow at the Penang Institute, interested in urban governance, housing and urban planning. Comments: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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