Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Heaven and Hell

One afternoon my mother and I were engaged in rather busy work folding special pieces of paper into shapes symbolising old Chinese money. We would later take them to a Buddhist temple to burn them, sending the ashes of said money to our ancestors. I was maybe in my early teens, probably in middle school. This is generally as close as I got to religion in my childhood: the one ritual at the Buddhist temple my mother actually engaged in from time to time.

In a room cluttered with paper bags filled with faux Chinese money, we heard a knock on the door. Somehow I knew before anyone got up who was there: it would have to be a Jehovah's Witness. We used to get those from time to time. I thought nothing of it, that whoever answered the door (it wasn't me) would just politely brush them off and we'd get back to work.

My father got to the door first. For some reason that still escapes me to ths day, instead of politely saying "no, no, no" like we usually did (I had been known to feign lack of English skills for this purpose), he invited her in. Before I knew it, a proseltyzing Jehovah's Witness was sitting on my couch, near my mother. I shot a quick "what-the-fuck?" glance at my father, but he must have missed it, for he never responded. Perhaps he had expected me to engage her in some deep philosophical religious discussion (especially seeing as I was the one of us in the room with the best command of the English language), but I had internally vowed to remain silent.

"So, what is this you're doing?" the Witness asked. I presume she was trying to be friendly while searching for a segue into a discussion about our salvation or whatever.

I kept mum, and continued to fold my papers. My mother, possibly equally befuddled (but more likely annoying and internally stewing), did the same.

"Folding papers," my father responded in this broken English. "See, papers kind of like money, we send them to ancestors."

Thing is, Jehovah's Witnesses don't subscribe to the concept of afterlife, nor would they do well with the traditional Chinese rituals of paying homage to ancestors. I don't know if my father knew this and told this woman this just to rile her, or if in some fit of exuberance he was just sharing.

"I see..." the Witness responded. I think she was getting up the courage to get into her spiel about the nonexistence of ghosts or ancestors or the corresponding utter lack of need to pay tribute them, but my father just continued.

"We burn them. When ancestors die, they ... go to hell.... So we burn this, the smoke, go to hell too, for ancestors!" He gestured upwards with his hands, indicating, I suppose, rising smoke.

It was at this point I fought hard to suppress what would have been a very audible groan. Yes, my father had just told a random stranger that my ancestors were in hell.

"Uh, I see...." the Witness said again, now looking visibly agitated. I could sense that she was frantically looking for a way to politely excuse herself, but how does one just ignore what my dad had just said? I'm told that spreading The Word is one of the highest callings for a Jehovah's Witness. I imagined an angel on one of this woman's shoulders and a devil on the other:

Angel: If there's any family in need of saving, it's this one. Save them! Turn them to the Path!
Devil: Just get the hell out of this place before they turn all The Hills Have Eyes on you.

Thankfully, my dad stopped talking for long enough for the woman to politely say, "Well, I can see you all are busy, so I won't take up any more of your time. It was ... nice... meeting you." And she stood up to leave.

I burst out laughing the moment she cleared the driveway. My dad's response to me: "What?"

The good thing is, she didn't even offer to leave some of that literature or anything.


p.p. said...

When they come to my parents' door, my mom merely says to them, "we're catholic." They get the point and leave.

Jon said...

When I was living in a tiny, tiny studio apartment, my doorbell rang. I anwered it, slightly alarmed as I wasn't expecting anyone and the video intercom didn't go off, meaning someone was outside buzzing my apartment Hesitantly, I opened the door and it was 2 Jehovas Witnesses. I lost it and was like' How did you get in the building??!! Who let you in?' I think I frightened them and they left, politely.

Steve said...

Took care of that! My housemate (he's Chinese, too) does the money thing as well. When he does that, he pleads with me to get 'paper' bags when I go to the store. Last week, we had a mountain of them in the great room. He hasn't explained it to me yet, but he was cooking 'food for the dead' last week, too.

duane said...

That is hilarious. At least you didn't have my mom, my mom would let them start, and then say, "nope, get the hell out you! None of that nonsense in here. Get the hell out!". My dad would always respond to that with, "why do you keep letting them in?"