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‘How Much Was That?’

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“How much was it?” she asked.

“Free,” I said.

Even in death, my relatives, like many Chinese people, don’t stop thinking about money. This year, the same as every year, my family made the pilgrimage to Wong Tai Sin Temple, where my grandfather’s ashes are stored in a columbarium. We headed to a table in the courtyard, where some women bustled around stuffing bags with joss paper money. It’s a Chinese tradition to light fake money on fire so your ancestors can receive it in the afterlife — like Western Union, but arson.

“Not just money,” my uncle said. “Also traveler’s checks, bitcoin, Canadian dollars, and Apple and Tesla stock. So grandfather can be rich!”

I asked what he would need the money for in heaven.

“Playing Mahjong,” my uncle said. “He needs to buy a lot of chips. Also, they have a jockey club, and he may want to bet on horses.”

If you overlook the horrifying implication that capitalism follows us into the afterlife, it’s a nice idea. Families continue providing for each other even though they’re a bunch of ghosts.

These are the times when my family has never complained about the price: the taxis we took every day because my mother could no longer ride the subway, her acupuncture appointments (thinking it might help with Parkinson’s), her herbal medicines, goji berries, dried scallops, jujubes, a sippy cup to prevent spills, smiley-face squishy balls for hand exercises, spa appointments, melatonin for sleep and walking sticks she won’t use.

At the end of our trip, my uncle sat me down, and we had a frank discussion about what it would cost to take care of my mother as her disease progressed.

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