Sunday, 4 July 2010

Chinese funeral

The sweet woman at the Chinese take-away opposite us died last week. Today the funeral begins with processions and clanging of cymbals. I take this information from the web:

Preparation for a funeral often begins before a death has occurred. When a person is on his/her deathbed, a coffin will often have already been ordered by the family. A traditional Chinese coffin is rectangular with three 'humps', although it more common in modern times for a western style coffin to be used. The coffin is provided by an undertaker who oversees all funeral rites.

When a death occurs in a family all statues of deities in the house are covered up with red paper (not to be exposed to the body or coffin) and all mirrors are removed (it is believed that one who sees the reflection of a coffin in a mirror will shortly have a death in his/her family). A white cloth is hung over the doorway to the house and a gong is placed to the left of the entrance if the deceased is a male, and to the right if female.

Before being placed in the coffin, the corpse is cleaned with a damp towel dusted with talcum powder, and dressed in his/her best clothes (all other clothing of the deceased is burned) before being placed on a mat (or hay in rural areas). The body is completely dressed, including the footwear, and cosmetics (if female), although the corpse is never dressed in red clothing (this will turn the corpse into a ghost). White, black, brown or blue are the usual colors. Before being placed in the coffin the corpse's face is covered with a yellow cloth and the body with a light blue one.

It is a very short procession. I recognise them all and regret not knowing them better. I imagine they are going through hard times. When we first moved in they had a restaurant next to the take-away. The food was good but the restaurant was mostly empty. A group of them would be gambling there and on Tuesdays - their closing day - they'd drive off in their nice BMW to visit friends or relations. The family was very young then, and one day Clarissa swooped the toddler off the street as he was wandering into the path of a car.

There were changes and the food wasn't so good any more, though the take-away remained popular. Cars would parked in the narrow street, sometimes with music blaring, waiting for their orders to be readied, their numbers called. At night the customers sat on simple chairs watching the TV. Last thing, the children would help clean the waiting room and the mother would sweep the pavement outside the door. From our house it was a permanent Edward Hopper exhibition.There was a shot at reopening the restaurant, but by then there was an elegant new Thai restaurant less than thirty yards away, and elegance was never a priority at the take-away restaurant.

The children grew tall. They practiced the piano and would be up late night with the computer. We bought the occasional easy supper, smiled and made a passing remark. The mother would smile back.

It is melancholy to think we don't even know their names. How natural it would have been to get on properly friendly terms. Boy and mother were warm and smiled. Then she got cancer and was quickly gone. There they go now, the cymbals beating. The sky is as blue as I have seen it here for a long time, gusts of wind thunder down the street then fall quiet again.


Anonymous said...

And on the subject of Asian funeral rites, let me commend to readers the Japanese film, 'Departures'.

George S said...

Thanks. I'll try to find it.

Gwil W said...

I once heard about an Eastern culture in which the relatives take the corpse into the mountains and lay it where vultures will find it. I quite like the idea. It's seems to me to be a very fine way to dispose of a dead body.

George S said...

I suppose you could classify Norfolk as Eastern Culture, Gwilym. The vultures of Norfolk are mostly to be seen on the mountains of Norfolk with their legendary views.

Anonymous said...

Re PiR's comment about taking the deceased up to the mountains, I believe this is known as 'sky burial' & is practised by Buddhists living at high altitudes, such as those in Tibet. It usually involves dismembering the body so as to make it easier for the birds. For my admittedly narrow, Western sensibility, the whole thing sounds quite revolting and horrific! The Japanese as shown in the film I previously mentioned have quite a different, and to my mind, respectful approach to the deceased.