Tuesday 26 February 2008

My Neighbour...

My neighbour died this morning. It wasn't completely unexpected as he has been sick for a long time but it's a shock none the less as just yesterday he was walking around outside. He had breathing problems in the afternoon so they took him to hospital and this morning I see an ambulance arrive next door. I was surprised, thinking he was getting dropped back home, but no, he had died at the hospital this morning and they were bringing his body back home for the ceremonial bathing and funeral. Within 5 minutes of arriving, about 50 people showed up, within 15 minutes, about a hundred had shown up. The death is also announced by the Village Headman over the village loud speakers (that blare the provincial news at 5:45am every morning) for the world to hear. It's times like this where the cultural differences are so vastly apparent. Everyone goes to pay their respect, to view the body and help out if they can. His body was frail, it was just so sad. He was 62.

Another massive cultural difference is that of showing grief. Not a wet eye in the place. Blank faces or smiles. The mask. As soon as I saw him I was trying to hold back tears. I can understand it if it's an elderly person as you are celebrating the end of a long life, which I suppose is the case here as he was over 60 and in Thailand that is considered quite old. I don't find it strange, just quite amazing that tears don't come spontaneously at loosing a loved one. But Death is such a common thing to deal with in Thailand, it is a completely normal part of life, whereas in our isolated 'western' culture, we rarely have to deal with death, it is not a constant in our life and therefore, perhaps the loss feels more extreme. As I have said before, since living here (over 3 years) I have lost count of the funerals I've attended but it feels like about 50 as some months there can be 3 or more and then other months none.

After death, the body is washed by the family as soon as possible after their spirit has gone. Then at 3pm more masses came to "Rod Nam" which is to bless him and pay last respects by pouring water over his hand. Everyone stands in line to perform this rite as it's like a last goodbye. The immediate family stands in 2 lines at the end of the body for people to walk down the middle to accept their thanks for the blessing.

They have a commentator on the microphone (the same dude that did our wedding commentary) telling people about his life, his accomplishments, his family, cracking jokes. It's unfortunate and quite embarrassing that even after living here for 3 years I'm still made the centre of attention at things like this. As I went to rod nam (pour water), the commentator makes a big show of it, telling the guy to take my photo whilst doing it. Yep, not uncomfortable at all. It's pretty much just this dude cos at all the other funerals and weddings I attend that have a different speaker, they never draw special attention to me, but this dude ALWAYS, without fail, shouts my name out to the masses, every time. If I hear him on the microphone I try to turn invisible as I know I have that special power! Something I can definitely not get used to and I find rather painful, but in reality there's no blending in being the only whitey in town.

After the watering is finished, 5 monks showed up to perform the death rites by chanting for about 20 minutes. They will come every afternoon for 3 to 7 days, depending on when the body is cremated, in what I like to think of as helping his spirit on its journey. Exceptionally beautiful and something I never tire of hearing is monks chanting.. sweet bliss. The monks perform the rites sitting next to the body.

Within the hour of his arrival back home a myriad of activities were afoot. A truck full of karaoke speakers were delivered to the property, about 10 men had set up camp at the front of the house to get on the piss (get sloshed, maggot, drunk if you don't get the lingo), 3 tents and hundreds of chairs put out for the week's party, a pig was slaughtered to start cooking all the curry and the massive, sparkly air-conditioned coffin arrives. Now last time I wrote about the air-con coffin here, I felt a little silly thinking I had imagined this funky technology to keep the bods on ice, but not so I tell thee, not so.. check out the power cord in this pic with a little tube for the water runoff. My village is obviously very 21st century when dealing with the departed! So, this hive of activity is pretty much how it goes down at every lay person's funeral in Thailand, it's like clockwork.

Just to note - J took the photos of his own accord as I would feel too disrespectful (and actually quite horrified at the thought...although I'm using them here - bit oxymoronic really) but he assured me it was completely normal which was proved correct when I saw 2 others also taking photos.

As it's 9pm and no vibrating airwaves from a dozen metre tall speakers, I shall live in hope that people are too distracted by gambling (there's about 60 people next door as we speak, gambling) to turn on the karaoke machine tonight. I shall wait in anticipation for it to begin...

4 commentaramas:

Jenny Beattie said...

You see, I realise I'm hardly in Thailand at all here in Bangkok, when I read posts like this. Just: OMG. Bizarre.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...sounds more like an Irish wake than a funeral. Let's have a party and everyone can remember the dearly departed fondly.

It also seems to me like the Thai's will take any excuse for a party, at least that's been my experience when we're at my wife's parents in Tak province.

thailandchani said...

I really like the sense of inclusion, the fact that everyone in the neighborhood shows up. Here, everything is cloaked in such privacy and requires a specific invitation.

Mel said...

jj -Bangkok really is in another universe. City life is lightyears away from village life that's for sure.

TM - Yep, that's pretty much my take on things too. Love the gambling, love the drinking.

TC - One of the things I love about living here is how everyone bands together so quickly whether it's for celebration or for something like this (which is still a celebration I guess).

I remember someone having a party last year because he owed the bank money so it was like a fund raiser party where everyone paid a donation. Imagine having a party to pay off your own personal debts!!