In Malaysia, even the dead can't escape the recession

Wed Apr 1, 2009 11:31pm EDT
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By Julie Goh

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters Life!) - The paper motorcycles are staying on the shelves and less money is being burned during a traditional Chinese festival to honor the dead who, like the living, have not been spared by the economic downturn.

The Ching Ming Festival or Grave-Sweeping Day, which falls on April 4 this year, is an important date in the Chinese calendar and one that is dutifully observed to ward off bad luck.

On the day, Chinese families visit the graves of relatives to clean tombstones and burn offerings aimed at appeasing the dead in the afterlife, so that they do not come back to harm them.

But this year, many of the shops stocking paper versions of possessions such as "hell notes," and the more indulgent laptops and digital cameras, say sales are not as brisk as usual.

"Yes, the business has been affected. It's down about 15 percent from last year," said Mak Weng Lian whose family has been running the Mak Chin Nam Incense Shop for 60 years.

"Folks are still buying because it's in our tradition to pay respects to our ancestors, but they're buying the standard items like shirts and ties and cutting back on some of the unnecessary items like motorcycles," added Mak's wife, Wong May Chun.

Ethnic Chinese make up about a third of the 27 million people in mainly Muslim Malaysia, whose export-dependent economy is expected to fall into recession this year on weak global demand.

Ancestor worship has been practiced for thousands of years among Chinese communities and according to tradition, it is the responsibility of the living to ensure the departed are taken care of in the afterlife.   Continued...