A Tomb for Grandpa


Norman Cho’s journey to find his grandfather’s tomb ended in November 2011. This month, he built a tomb for a man who died 66 years ago. Read part two of this moving story, a personal tribute.

We hope it inspires all those searching for their ancestors. Norman visited his grandfather yesterday (March 17) and today, we paused to have a look at the moving tribute, and in a nearby grove, we encountered a man looking for his grandfather’s grave, bearing offerings – it was his 30th trip in his vain quest. The rain came pouring down as we left him, and saw through the rain and the foliage, his white T-shirt and his umbrella as he doggedly searched for his roots. It moved us deeply and we hope Norman’s story provides comfort. 


Grandfather’s unmarked grave was discovered on 6 Nov 2011 with the help from Raymond Goh to whom I am eternally grateful. I was over the moon when I received an email from Raymond, declaring “I have found your grandpa!”. I had given him the location and plot number about a month earlier. Overgrown with weeds and creepers, the grave was indeed a sorrowful sight.


Cho Kim Leong's unmarked Grave (photo: Norman Cho)


“I must do something about it,” I thought. I feel that I should make things right as the eldest grandson and honour him with a proper tomb. He still has living descendants and had taken good care of his family. He truly deserves a proper tomb, no matter how simple it may be. I consulted my parents about it but was met with mixed reactions. Understandably, they had my interest at heart as I had to bear the cost of the construction. Eventually, they left it to the calling of my heart. Hence, as soon as I learnt that grandfather’s tomb was not in the line of the proposed new 8-lane highway, I contacted the tombkeeper to discuss the construction of the tomb. I settled for a simple tomb so as not to strain myself financially. The details of the headstone in Chinese include his name, year of birth, date of death and his Hokkien ancestry. I have specially requested for his name to be also engraved with English characters as my family does not read Chinese.


Hence, I commissioned grandfather’s tomb on 7 Mar 2012. Before the tombkeeper disturb the resting place of the deceased, offerings were made. The tomb was completed on 11 Mar 2012 to be in time for Cheng Beng (Qingming). Qingming which falls on 4 Apr this year is a remembrance day to honour the ancestors. It is often compared to the All Souls Day that is celebrated in the West. Qingming which means clean and bright, is the day which Chinese families visit the tombs of their ancestors to pay respects. The tombs are scrubbed clean till they are sparkling bright. Then, offerings of food and incense paper are made.


This year marks the first year that I am paying my respect to my grandfather during Qingming. On 17 Mar 2012, I visited his newly constructed tomb. It is the first time that anyone has been there since he was buried more than 66 years ago. As the family is now Catholic, I had originally thought of asking the tombkeeper’s help with the offerings and rituals in accordance to the Chinese custom because grandfather was a Taoist. However, the idea was met with vehement objection from my parents. Out of respect for my parents, I relented. Instead, I brought him flowers. Immediately upon reaching my grandfather’s tomb, I squatted beside it and patting gently on the neatly trimmed grass mound, I greeted him with an introduction – “Anak Charlie carik kongkong; Norman datang carik kongkong” (Charlie’s son visiting grandpa; Norman has come to visit grandpa). As I finished speaking, I could feel an air of comfort and happiness. It also dawned on me that I was the first person who visited his grave in over 66 years. Suddenly, I could feel a drop of tear trickling down my cheek… I proceeded to scatter a potpourri of flowers on the mound and inserted a bouquet of chrysanthemums into a vase that I had brought along. I placed the flowers beside his headstone. It was his first bouquet of flowers. Despite the tomb being simple, I think it was a beautiful sight that he is lovingly remembered.


I learnt that expressions of love and respect for the ancestors can be manifested in various forms. Whether a gift of flowers or the offering of incense paper, it does not really matter. Most importantly, you made time and effort to be at the tomb of the ancestors to honour and remember them.


Cho Kim Leong's tomb (photo: Norman Cho)


Beating a path to Cho Kim Leong's tomb (photo: Norman Cho)


“Peranakans believed that the butterfly/moth is the spirit of an ancestor. I saw one at my grandpa’s new tomb while i was there yesterday. Probably attracted by the flowers i had placed earlier. A pretty sight as it hovered around and on the tomb.”


A Grandson Remembers


Norman earlier shared his search for his roots in the post, A Grandson Remembers.