Thor's China Diary

Funeral by the Lake

@19 May 2000

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For the first time I saw a Chinese funeral this morning. Out running by East Lake, a hazy morning, about 8am. Backing the road that runs along the lake margin are a string of restaurants, lots of gilt paint, red dragons, girls in slippery dresses slit to the thigh to ogle in the fat officials in their black limousines with curtained windows ... but this morning I heard brass players, like a slow number from St Louis blues, then saw a moving wall of man-high wreaths. They were coming out of a narrow alley, and behind the wreaths were fifty or so mourners, dressed in black with white crosses on their tunic arms. One had a red spot on his black headband, meaning he was a grandson. Behind them were a small group of immediate relatives, walking backwards, including two supporting the bereaved widow (the only person showing visible grief), and another pair holding a life-sized photograph of the departed patriarch (he resembled Chiang Kaishek in his prime). This was also looking back on the world now farewelled. Huang Quan Lu, the road to the underworld, was not a happy prospect. Then came the casket, dark polished wood with a perspex top, the dear departed in a bed of flowers. And last of all perhaps ten or fifteen young men in white tunics, with white sashes about their brows, tied at the back and streaming down to their shoulders. Just out of the alley the parade stopped for five minutes, the music swelled, and the young men in white tunics sat in a circle on the roadside, calling a lament. A small crowd of early morning onlookers began to line the road, and as I ran again, a hundred meters further on the first of the wreath bearers had reached a large blue dump truck, where the floral tributes were unceremoniously heaved into the back. Perhaps the dump truck was on day lease too, from that contractor who always collects his dues, at the other end of Huang Quan Lu.

"Funeral by the Lake" copyrighted to Thor May 2000; all rights reserved
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