Friday, June 17, 2011

A Chinese-style funeral

This morning at 3:55 AM my alarm went off and I hurriedly donned my suit and went out the door to meet my colleagues for the funeral procession. We met at school and our cars and buses and vans all had a 68 written on them--the age of the deceased. Jack would have turned 69 this weekend.

I went in the American car of a doctor from my class of doctor's and Leader Lee, a nurse from my class, and another one of my students were in the car on the return trip.  My landlord was there and so were a dozen notable members of the local government, including the head of the health bureau and a deputy principle from the High School Attached to Northeast Normal University. Janet, the widow, did all right and her son was there, too. He looks like her.

Imagine fifteen of these (only oblong) being thrown into a fire.
If you want to learn more about Chinese customs surrounding death and burial, there is a good summary at China Culture. We each were presented with a flower on the way into the building which we lay at his head. Our hands were washed with grain alcohol on the way out. We all wore white sachets.

For me, the most appalling part was that we burned ten of fifteen 6x3 foot panels of styrofoam with plastic flowers in a big open air chimney at the conclusion of the ceremony. That will happen a couple dozen more times today. The western part of Changchun, where the private funeral home is, was home to the first car plant and was as polluted as Shenyang. The black soot issuing from the chimney as we drove away was disconcerting. There is a new train station being built very close to the funeral home. Steve, my doctor friend, told me that the municipal cremation place is on the other side of the city and that there are only two in all of Changchun--a city of 7 million or so.

How you decide to honor and deal with the bodies of 1.3 billion people is not a small matter. I remember the most fascinating Green Drinks that I attended in Concord was a couple of women who specialize in green burial practices. If you have any interest, see Green Burial - the final recycling effort.