I have only been to one funeral here in China, Jade's grandmother passed away about 3 months back. She had been ill for some time and at 93 years old it was not unexpected.
Jade made most of the arrangements but I still had to go with her to the funeral parlour to help finalize the event and buy the casket which would hold the ashes. This was the Longhua Funeral Parlour just down the road from IKEA.
None of the quiet soft lighting, low music and dignity there. If I had not known what the place was I would have taken it for a 'normal' business. Loads of people all pushing and shoving to make sure they could be first in the queue to get the myriad of bits of paper needed to book and buy the services on offer. Plus some attempted haggling over prices. But as these places are government run the price on the sticker is what you pay.
Coffins were stacked on a rack nearby allowing you to choose easily and around the corner was a glass cabinet holding samples of the caskets for the ashes. Another counter hired out traditional mourning clothes. The staff were brusque -as is usual in China-none of the sympathetic quiet service you might expect in a western funeral parlour. It is after all a business and one where the customers never run out.
This list of various items and services we needed came to 50 in all and included a charge for the gas for the crematorium based on a rate of so many cubic meters over a period on one and a half hours, plus cooling time!
On the day of the funeral I put on a black suit and tie, but I was out of place, most people were simply dressed in shirts, trousers and trainers with a black swatch of cloth stitched to the arm of their shirts or blouses.
There must have been about 30 halls at the back of the Longhua where the service was to take place. All busy. Hundreds of people milling around awaiting the service for their particular family deceased. Again none of the quiet dignity I would have expected. Cars vying with cars for a parking space, shouts and hollering as 6 people gave parking advice to the poor driver trying to reverse into a space with flower delivery vans trying to barge through to deliver their load and get off to the next 'customer'.
About 20 minutes before the service began the open coffin was brought in and we all had to get a picture taken with Grandma. We had to line up behind the coffin to get the pics done. I was the 'official' photographer. The same things was going on in the hall adjacent to ours, I had baulked at the idea of doing a video but I need not have worried. Some people that night who missed the event would be treated to a home movie…..
The service was short a few speeches and then the coffin was brought forward so small paper models in the shape of silver money bars could be put into the coffin. She was 93 so I guess she did not need the paper cars, luxury villas that are also used in China and Hong Kong. The Chinese government is cracking down on some of the paper items that can be put in a coffin. One of those banned items is paper condoms. Gran certainly did not need those. But it did strike me that if they are banned does that mean China has dropped the one angelette per couple policy in its section of heaven?
Up until the time the coffin was brought forward there had been quiet weeping. As the lid was nailed down the proper funereal wailing started and there was again a push and shove as people tried to stop the coffin being taken away or who wanted to touch the coffin one last time. At that point a brass band of about 8 people suddenly turned up and started playing away. I had heard them earlier but I did not realize we would be treated to two thumped out songs. As the brass band finished a group of uniformed people came in to end the wailing and ordered people to stand back as they took charge of the coffin to take it to the crematorium.
We had to wait around a further hour, why I am not too sure, but in that time I noticed one 'uncle' raking through the rubbish bins to rescue and flatten the plastic water bottles. He could sell those at a profit and there were plenty of them. Where he hid them I do not know but where there's muck there's money, even at a funeral parlour.
Suddenly everyone started moving off. I followed; it was time for the wake dinner in the aptly named Angelic Restaurant….