Rants of a Weird Little Bird

Random stuff involving myself…and people around me. Hello, and goodbye. :-)

At a Chinese Funeral – 2

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The second day was far more emotionally charged than the first, and there were a few more interesting, but sad, goings-on.

My father and I arrived at around 9am, and the workers from the funeral parlour were packing up.

After that was done, the actual ceremony began, and it was when all the light-hearted mood from yesterday which carried over into this morning had dissipated into actual mourning for the deceased. All our relatives were wearing white socks.

It began with the priest telling us to take a last look at the body before it was closed. I heard my relatives telling my late aunt that she was going to have good company with my late grandparents, among other things.

Following which, all the family members were told to kneel down, and my father and I had to look away as the coffin was hammered shut. There were three or four final nails hammered, and with each nail hammered in, an announcer bellowed an auspicious message, like “One nail for good health to all descendents”.

After that, the relatives were made to circle the coffin several times, as the leading priest, carrying a willow branch, on which condolence messages hung, sang something in what sounded like a Chinese dialect, in a voice which broke constantly, symbolising grief. It only added to more sadness for the family members following him around the coffin.

After they were done, it was our turn to give our final blessings to the deceased. The helper from the funeral parlour gave each of us non-family members two joss sticks, and we duly gave our offerings as the family members were kneeling beside the casket.

During lunch before the coffin was set to move to the crematorium, I asked the priest some details about the ceremony which I had witnessed. It turned out that he was singing in Mandarin after all, and that he had done this for nearly three decades. In fact, when he heard that I was a Singaporean, he told me that he had just gone to Singapore not too long ago to officiate another funeral. Seems that even foreign talent had to be sought from across the Causeway to see the dead off to their final resting place.

After lunch, there were more prayers, and again, my father and I had to look away as the coffin was moved to the hearse. The people from the funeral parlour did a very efficient job, as one must imagine how much strength it must take to move a wooden case containing a human body which must have weighed around 80kg into the hearse, and when we turned back, the coffin had already been fastened to the ground in the hearse.

The driver of the hearse started up the engine, and a Buddhist prayer blared from the van, looping endlessly. The relatives had to place their hands on the rear windows of the hearse as it made a slow trudge across the ground into the main road.

My father and I followed the hearse in his car. Before we moved, we were told to turn on our hazard lights and tie a red ribbon around the right wing mirror.

“Do you want this when it’s your turn?” I asked. (This sort of conversation takes place frequently between us, and my father has very strong atheistic leanings. I shall blog about this at another date.)

“No, just scatter my ashes in the sea,” my father replied. “It’s a complete waste of time to travel to a particular place just to mourn for a dead body.”

“Something like Mao Zedong, then?” I remarked. “He remarked that a plot of land could be used for farming to save people who are alive than to remember the dead.”

[This was a misquote on my part. I had meant to say Ho Chi Minh, who had remarked that cremation saved farmland.]

The hearse in front of us suddenly jerked to a halt, and moved on, and jerked to a halt again. Some of my relatives in front, who had their palms on the rear of the hearse, were getting disconsolate.

“What is the driver doing?” I asked.

“Symbolism that the dead don’t want to go,” my father replied.

As the hearse rolled on, the driver threw out wads of joss paper out of his window.

“Not the most environmentally-friendly, funerals,” I remarked.

“Exactly,” my father said. “Maybe in funerals next time, they wouldn’t use wood, and they would use something like cardboard for coffins instead.”

“This sort of thing could potentially offend non-Buddhists,” I remarked, mindful that pigs’ heads had been tossed into mosques and a few churches had been vandalised not too long ago.

“Yes. So try not to believe in any religion, and try not to bring your children up in any religion. Don’t believe in any ghosts, or gods, or such things,” my father said.

“Of course I don’t. But why do we give offerings to the ‘tian gong’ and all that sometimes?” I asked. There is an altar table in our home, and I see my father burning joss sticks, and frequently accompany him to burn joss papers, hell money and the like.

“That is because my grandparents used to do that,” he replied. “It’s a tradition.”

“So you don’t want an altar table for you?” I ventured.

“Yes,” he said.

“What about a ceremony like this?” I asked, pointing to my relatives, who were still following the hearse at a slow pace.

“I personally want a ceremony like this, but please don’t keep my ashes somewhere. Scatter them in the sea instead. If you miss me during my death anniversary, keep a few memorial photographs, take your children out for a picnic and then you’ll remember me like that,” it was something which my parents like to harp about every time during the “Ching Ming” festival, when we had to travel to the cemetery to sweep our grandparents’ graves.

“I’m not sure I want such a ceremony when it comes to my turn either. That wood from the coffin could have easily become part of a table where people could use to study, and all that joss paper could become writing materials,” I mused.

“So please get married quickly, have grandchildren and then I can go in peace,” my father said.

I groaned inwardly.

“If you want that to happen, please take care of yourself and live longer because I don’t see that happening anytime soon,” I replied.

The hearse came to a halt suddenly, and our relatives boarded a coach behind our car, and the entourage arrived at the cremation chamber. Over there, we had to give offerings to my dead aunt, and after that was over, we had to wash our faces and hands with a common bucket of water filled with flower petals.

After we had bade our farewells to my late aunt, we did not see the coffin roll into the chamber, but it would presumably be done after we had left. We left to decide on the cabinet on which to put the ashes, and after that my father and I made our trip back home, after exchanging our condolences with our bereaved relatives.

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Written by aweirdlittlebird

February 11, 2010 at 12:35 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. You have a great talent for writing. Keep it up man! :D

    yeu@nn

    February 11, 2010 at 8:04 am


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