Dreaming the Dead

This past First Friday, Asian Arts Initiative’s Pearl Street Micro-Projects hosted BON, a project by artist Lani Asuncion modeled after the Japanese Obon Festival. Favorite songs and dishes of our deceased loved ones were brought to share, images of our deceased loved ones were projected, and lanterns were created and lit to send messages to them.

As I chatted with people, I remember how Asians have a different relationship with our dearly departed. We treat them as if they went on a trip, except they will never come back. We still keep in touch by burning incense and offering food, hoping they do well on the other side.

When I was young and lived in Taiwan, we often visited grandpa’s grave on the weekends. Dad would sometimes pour grandpa’s favorite rice wine on his tombstone for him to enjoy, we brought some fruits to offer to him, and everyone would silently update grandpa what was going on in their lives as we stood around and burned hell money for him to use on the other side.

At one point my dad got really busy with work and we weren’t able to visit grandpa for quite a while. Then one day, dad said, “we have to go see grandpa this weekend.” Turns out, grandpa came to dad in his dreams and said, “hey son, I need some money.” We laughed about it, but we also took it pretty seriously, making sure we burned a lot of hell money that weekend.

Years and years later, I went through a divorce. I was fortunate that it was not messy. However, my parents were really disapproving, making me feel extremely guilty for what I did, and for years I had to hide it from my relatives. One night, I had a dream where both grandpa and grandma visited. Their back faced me, and they turned around and said to me three words, “mei guan xi”. It’s ok. That’s what they told me. They have never visited me in my dreams since they passed. They musthave felt what I was going through and wanted me to know that they understood my actions and they accepted me. Those three words from them were so powerful that it washed away all of the confusion, guilt, and anger that I carried.

My dad said that perhaps it was me trying to seek approval which caused this dream to happen, and I’m sure that there are many ways to explain what “it’s ok” from dead grandparents would actually mean.

But at that moment, I chose to be a Chinese, believing that they just wanted to stop by and let me know, “mei guan xi”, it’s ok.

(This post was originally posted in Asian Arts Initiative's blog during the artist's residency in 2017)

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