[Interesting Adventure series] Dad and Mom’s Wedding Under the Cloud of Superstition

Author: Ancy Lee
Translator: Pius Lee

For a few precious years, my father and grandfather have worked together in “Da Luo Tian Casino” and lived as roommates in the casino dormitory. The good time of supporting each other ended when grandpa insisted on leaving Vietnam to return to China to die in his hometown when he knew about his stomach cancer.

Must Marry within 100 Days

After grandpa left Vietnam, my father and my mother started courting and later were ready to get married. However, the bad news about grandpa’s passing away jerked them off course. Due to a superstition, wedding must be held within 100 days of grandpa’s passing or three years later. They decided to meet the crunch-time of 100 days. However, dad had mailed away all his savings to pay for grandpa’s funeral, and he had to borrow money from relatives to pay the wedding bills. He was ashamed and tormented to bear so much debt and the debtors even showed up during the Chinese New Year Holidays.

A side-tracked story was that my grandma had already set her eyesight on a rich young man of the “Hakka” descent to be a potential groom to my mother. But my mother did not like him and chose to marry dad. Grandma was displeased about this for a long time and warned my mother: “You will be like a dumb person swallowing bitter-herbs — suffers in silence all by yourself.”

A Great Hawker Team

Mom and dad were a great team selling textile products as street hawkers. The major threat was police that rid the streets with hawkers by confiscating the merchandise. Mom was a gifted linguist and self-learned Vietnamese, Hakka, Fujian, Cantonese and the Teochew dialect. Naturally mom shouldered managing the business, and dad was in charge of swift packing and fleeing from the street police. Soon a daughter and a son were born into this small family. The challenge of life was excruciatingly difficult battling all odds including the torrential rain and scorching beating of the tropical sun. The demands of a hawker’s life and raising young children lasted for years. The couple thrived in shuffling between the roles and at long last now they owned their textile retail shop. It was an achievement and fruition, my parents accomplished through many years of hard work and bare-knuckle thrift living.

Don’t Call Us Mom and Dad

Mom and dad had given birth to nine children. Unfortunately three of them: the 3rd, 4th and the 5th children died in their childhood. Mom and dad were devastated time after time. With each of the passing children they were ensnared deeper and deeper into idol worship, Feng-Shui (geomancy), and temple pilgrimage. They even prohibited the younger four children: 6th till 9th — including me, not to call them dad and mom but call them Aunt and Uncle instead. My parents’ command mystified me for a long time.

There were many idols and figurine shrines in our home: The warrior god Lord Guan, heaven courtier, earth god, ancestors, the kitchen god, and charms such as horseshoe and the eight divinatory. An evil-omen dispelling porcelain rooster was mounted on the roof. During various festivals of these idols, dad would polish up the incense stands and candle pots in front of these idols to glaring brilliance. Dad would light up the shrines with burning incense and rainbow candles. Dad religiously abided his going-out and entering-in according to the Tung Shing (通勝) omen-book. Such a mindset of fear was instilled in the children. For instance, whenever there was an involuntary pulsing of my eye-lids, I became skittish about knowing what was about to happen. Out of curiosity, one would consult the Tung Sheng to foretell fortune. Good omen meant luck and bad omen meant disaster. The Tung Sheng is a Chinese superstitious repository that is passed down the generations. Nowadays in 2023, in many Chinese communities around the world, many such traditions have infiltrated into the calendars of their daily affairs. Many Tung Sheng influenced calendars are freely provided by Chinese grocery stores. It continues the superstitious grip on the thoughts of many. It is a common mindset: “Rather to believe that a god exists, lest one overlooks any.” What an influential superstitious concept that keeps haunting so many. The book indulges people to foretell the future but enslaves them to pay tribute and sacrifice in its accord. The high bar required to satisfy what the book subscribes is high and people live under a constant fear of angering the gods.

The Lord’s Purpose Prevails

Out of ignorance, dad became the Tung Sheng consultant of the neighborhood, serving the neighbors to give advice about lucky or disastrous days. It puzzles me why a man rather lives in fear believing that misfortunes control lives, while rejecting the Creator of lives that also governs all. Man is deceived by the illusion that he trumps fates (by bribing the gods). The Bible refutes that plainly: “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD ’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21).

I can testify to that manifold. I was afflicted with illness often when I was little. When a fever lingered on for many days, my mother would hold a stack of altar paper money, set that on fire and hoover the burning money over my body from head to toe a few times. Fortunately, mom was nimble and swift in her motions and I was not seared nor scorched. At times, mom would bring me to a nearby busy street junction to perform such a fire dance over me. I was given charm water — ash impregnated water made from burned paper with a monk’s scribbles specifically written for me, to drink many times. Dad even brought me to a temple to give me away to the monkey king god to be his goddaughter. Later as a teenager I found this out and was embarrassed to know that the monkey king was a fictitious character from an ancient comic series. Chinese were so absurd that such a character became an idol for worship to dispense fortune and peace. This happens exactly as the Bible describes: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse…For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:20-21).

Mrs. Thuyen-Anh (Ancy) Lee was born in Vietnam. She immigrated and was educated in Sweden as a teenager. Her profession was social work until she married Pius in 1994. The couple responded to the calling to be ministers and relocated to NY in 2023.

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