cold and wet in Taipei

We arrived at CKS at 6am on Monday morning. The weather that greeted us was far from spectacular.

I met my little niece Lareina for the first time. She's only 2 but she's got the voice of a chainsmoker. Raspy and husky. I love it. At first she was shy. She hid behind my uncle, couldn't bring herself to call me "Shan-shan Ayi" (trans: Little Aunt Shan-Shan -- Ayi means Aunt, but doubling the Shan in my name implies youth; hence, Little Aunt). Lareina calls herself Nana. Within minutes, Nana was poking my belly and holding my hand. I can't wait to meet her little sister Angelina tonight.

The first ceremony at Amah's home was at 10am. The living room was filled with orchids and peonies. Three Buddhist nuns lit incense and chanted away, while the children and grandchildren of Huang Ai-Yang knelt before the altar and waited until we were told to kowtow, to chant along. Some of us had taken cushions to ease our knees. Jack, Calvin and I (yes yes, always the martyr) go without. I know Ted would have done the same. What's 45 minutes of slight discomfort? I went from seeing this woman every summer for the first half of my life, to only seeing her twice in the last ten years. This was the least I could do for Amah. Bruised knees will heal in a day.

We were given books with which to follow along. I was able to follow some of the passages, which included phonetic symbols for me to read. Whenver I couldn't follow, I tried to make sure I kowtowed at the right moment – forehead on the floor, book held in my left hand above my head, palm of my right hand facing up in front of me, knees creaking each time we rocked forward on the hardwood floor.

When the nun wasn't reading, she'd speak Taiwanese to the others. I was completely lost. After the ceremony, she sat us down and listed all the DOs and DON'Ts in ways to pay Amah respect before her funeral. Among them: no high-heel shoes, no sandals, no jeans, no leather shoes, no low-cut tops, no v-necks, no tanktops, no crossing of legs -- the list was longer, but that was all that I could pick up, as she spoke in both Taiwanese and Mandarin. I had shown up wearing a tank top (concealed underneath a cardigan) and sandals (suede too!) so naturally I felt horribly. Mom and Ahyee told me not to take everything the nun had said too seriously. Different nuns have different approaches. Their suggestions should be taken as guidelines, but not as rules. Mom assured me that Amah would not have been offended, as she was not a very traditional Taiwanese woman.
"How so?"
"Well, she was a very strong, independent woman. She truly believed that anything a man could do, she could do better."

Before leaving Toronto, I tried a quick search on Taiwan funeral customs. I was so worried about doing the wrong thing, about offending Amah. Imagine my surprise when "Taiwan Funeral Strippers" came up as a result. Mom said there would not be any strippers at Amah's ceremony, despite Amah's non-traditional ways. Apparently, the hiring of strippers and professional mourners was a lot more common in the rural areas.


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