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More Songs Of The Dead – A Village Life Story

  • Written by Cent
  • January 2nd, 2004
  • 41 min read

By The Central Scrutinizer



The friendly old lady across the street from our village house was very sick the past few weeks. She's a nice old gal, always making a point of coming to see me whenever I am in the village, just to say hello, and maybe give me a Buddhist good luck prayer string for my wrist. A nice old lady of 80 years old. Her wrinkled and toothless face always wore a smile, and her cackling old lady laugh always brought a smile to my own grizzled mug. A happy soul. One of the many good people of the village whom I’ve befriended, and look forward to seeing when I’m there.

Her husband was always in his front yard giving the local kids and guys a haircut with his ancient, well oiled, electric hair clippers, and worn, well honed, barber’s type scissors. He always would wave to me when he’d spy me out front my house, or over at Sis Mun’s Isaan Emporium and Lao Khao shop next door to my house, where I’d more than likely be sipping a brew with the ladies, which also sits across from his front yard. He usually would wave me to come over and get my own haircut, which I always politely refused to do. I’d seen his handiwork on the skulls of my fellow villagers. He either gave a bowl haircut, closely resembling the one worn by Moe of the “Three Stooges” fame, or one just like the one the original Curly of the same Three Stooges fame had. Both not my style of haircut, and both seeming to be his sole repertoire. He was a nice guy, and like some nice guys he had a bit of a drinking problem at times, he was a binge drinker, which he tried to overcome. Being human he was not always successful. The problem was he also had a severe case of diabetes. Drinking alcohol is not really the smartest thing to do when you have this disease. It can kill you. It did him one fine day when I was away in the states. I missed the tambon. (funeral)

It’s weird now not seeing him plying his trade in the front yard, well, hobby actually, he wasn’t a true barber by training, but then his skills weren’t below the level of what his clients demanded for a cut. We always had a lot of little Moe’s and Curly’s running about while he was alive. Plus he gave these haircuts for free to one and all who’d put their locks and scalp under his blade and comb, and loudly vibrating electric shearers. I’ve noticed the boys and guys in the neighborhood now seem a bit shabbier looking, their hair always seems a bit too long now, the time between cuts much longer than before when they could always plunk their ass on a stool under the old man’s fairly steady hand. The village is poorer for his passing. I miss him and his smiling face.

He died about a year ago.

Not long after his death his wife, a few months at most, this friendly woman who always went out of her way to say hello to this stranger to her village, took ill. After seeing the doctor she was diagnosed with stomach/intestinal cancer. Advanced. Non-operable. I couldn’t think of a worse disease for anyone to have. By all accounts this is a horrible disease, very painful. During the next few months I saw her less and less around the village, around our soi. Her visits were less frequent when I was there in the village.

As I was leaving this past August 25th I went to the village the day before as I usually do to say goodbye to everyone, Mama and her older sister, and all the other family and friends I have there. I always do this, and we have a bit of a going away party where I am festooned with the Buddha good luck prayer strings on my wrists, for good luck in my travels and time away from them all. Most prayers tend to be the “may you win the lottery and come back a rich man!” and “have good luck in airplane” and that sort of stuff. The old lady was feeling good that day and made the walk across the street and joined the other well wishers in placing the strings on my wrists. Her smile was still in place on her withered face, though she walked very slowly, and hunched over with the disease eating her guts out from within. Her pain was obvious, but she is a strong old village lass, used to pain and discomfort and disease. I left for the states after flying down to Bangkok from Surin on Air Andaman and catching a Northwest flight the following day. Still festooned with wrist strings like a newly wed, which causes much comment and amusement when I visit the gogo bars of Bangkok the night before I leave from the ladies working the bars. You need to wear them for three days before cutting them off for the luck that resides within them to work for you. I rely on this luck, I’ll take any good luck offered usually, and follow the customs attached to these offerings, and wear them the requisite three days. It’s also bad form to cut them off yourself, someone else should do this. So usually one of my sons, or my daughter, do this for me once I’m back in the land of the free and home of the brave. Boston. I have them leave one on me, and wear it as a reminder of my new home in Thailand, and as a way of showing my respect for the customs and beliefs of these simple religious and superstitious people that have become my second family. When I return they see this lone string still on my wrist, sometimes months later, and seem to get a big charge out of my wearing it all that time. They seem to know it is a way I show respect for them and their culture, and it is also a way I’m told to get maximum benefit from the good luck of the string. Some wear them until they rot off. I always hope I won’t have to be away so long that mine would do this. So far the good luck has held up.

I returned recently this, just past, October, the late night of the 22nd. Being gone a long seven weeks. After being picked up at the airport by a good friend I spent the rest of the evening/early morning hours at his place, grabbed a shower and shave, and chatted with him about a few things, and then returned to the airport to grab another Air Andaman flight up to Surin to see my wife and family. I arrived once again in my beloved Surin on Thursday morning, safely, and quickly. I love the fact that Air Andaman has started these four times a week air service to Surin. Costs more than the VIP bus trip, but hell, it’s much quicker, and much easier on the ass and back than the 6 or 7 hour bus trip!

A couple of days later I was polyurethene-ing the wooden stairs, railings, and bannisters that lead upstairs to the bedrooms in the Surin rental house. These are made of a beautiful dark hardwood, which has been much neglected since the house was built around 12 years ago. The house is built in townhouse style and adjoined to five other townhouses. It has three bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor. (At 2,500 baht a month it's a steal too!) The whole of the second floor is floored with a dark parquet wood that, though beautiful, has seen better days. It’s a bit scuffed and scratched through the years of neglect, and lacks the nice shine, depth, and the protection a good coat of shelac/polyurethene would provide. As I intend on staying here in this house for the next five or six years I want to have it looking nice and in good shape. Easier to clean and maintain, shows the landlord we are excellent tenants she’d want to keep in the property, and, as I said, I want it to look good, as I will be staying there for a long time while look sow (daughter) goes to the much better schools, compared to the village school at least, here in the “Big City” of Surin. So, not being a total lazy cunt, I do some work here and there around the house whenever I’m there. Gets me off my duff and working. Gives me some satisfaction once I finish whatever I’m doing, as I am handy and good at this sort of thing, and improves the quality of life for myself and my family. The place looks great, the neighbors think I’m a good husband and all around guy, and, as I do the work myself, it’s very inexpensive to do, and done to my own exacting standards to my satisfaction. As it’s my own work any flaws and imperfections are my own, so I have no one to bitch at except myself if the job’s not well done.

As I was doing this chore that morning my wife came to me and told me that the nice old gal from across the street in the village was not doing well, and had been hospitalized here in Surin. The hospital is very near our home here. The old lady was asking for my wife and her sister to visit her, and she was going to go now to see her. I told the wife to say hello to the woman and give her my best wishes, and gave her 300 baht to buy a gift of a nice fruit basket to give the woman, mostly for her visiting family and friends to eat as they stayed in hospital while the old lady recuperated, as her severe condition made it hard for her to eat much herself. The wife said, “I think old lady dead soon. Want to see me and sister before she dead. You come too, okay?” My wife is full of pronouncements of this sort. Sometimes she’s right, other times she’s not. I call her the “Surin Witch”, a form of taking the piss out of her predictions and recounted dreams of a supposed fortune telling nature. It’s one of those insider jokes most married couples share. I told the wife/witch that I couldn’t join her on her visit to the hospital right now, as what I was doing needed to be finished, now. I was right in the middle of doing the stairs and wanted to finish them. I told her to forward my well wishes, and that she could tell the old lady I’d come visit her later in the day, after dinner. This seemed to appease her and she and her sister went off to buy the fruit basket, and visit the poor woman in her hospital room. I continued polyurethening the stairs, high as the proverbial kite from the fumes provided, and a bit nauseous and light headed. The wife can be a bit bossy occassionally, as all women are wont to be sometimes, but I’m not one to succumb to bossy lasses, no matter how much I love them. I wanted to finish the damned stairs so they’d be dry when it was time to climb them to the bedrooms later that evening. I’d had to fix the places where they’d stepped on the wet spots enough already. Another few hours wouldn’t hurt, and I’d see the friendly lady later that day. No harm done.

Wife and Sis came back a couple hours later. I’d finished the steps and was relaxing my poor back on the nice, new, soft, yet firm, sofa, Beer Chang in hand, and Bangkok Post on the coffee table in front of me when they came in. I greeted them with a smile, and asked how the woman was doing and how their visit went. “Old lady berry sick.” said the wife solemnly, “Dead soon I think.” I swallowed more beer with this pronouncement of doom and asked her how the lady had liked her fruit basket. “Oh, like too mutt! Say thank you too mutt for you.” She chirped, smiling. “That’s nice. We’ll go back tonight after dinner and see her, okay?” I threw out to her smiling face. “Okay”, she said, “No problem.” I returned to the comforting world and local news in the Post. Slaughter, death, mayhem and destruction comfort me no end. The Post gave me much to comfort me, more than enough. I fell asleep on the couch with the paper as a canopy over my face. Guess I’d gotten too comfortable and comforted. As the paper muted my buffalo-like snoring my wife left me to my nap and went in the kitchen to prepare dinner for later.

I was startled awake, rudely I might add, as I hate the fucking music/sound my lady has set on her mobile phone, I woke to my wife answering her phone. I hate that damned trilling, shrieking, sound she has it set for. I got up while she stood speaking Lao into the mobile and headed into the kitchen for a few ice cubes to chill my half finished glass of Beer Chang left sitting on the coffee table. Waste not, want not, as the saying goes. I plopped a couple cubes in my glass and waited for the cooling effect the cubes would have on my beer. The wife finished her quiet conversation and closed her phone. She turned to me and said, “That daughter from old lady. Old lady dead now. Wait for sister and me see her. Now dead.” Dammit. The witch had been right this time. I mentally kicked myself for not having gone to see this nice lady before she died. I had liked her. It was too bad she had died, but it was probably a blessing and relief for her too. The pain must have been incredible. Cancer sucks. I said as much to the wife. She agreed. I asked her when the funeral would be. “Tambon in village in three days I think.” She informed me. “First they burn husband she in two days. Have small tambon for she husband.” Huh? “But, what do you mean? Her husband has been dead a year hasn’t he? How can they burn (cremate) him now? I thought this was already done to him at his own funeral.” My wife explained something to me I hadn’t known before. “He dead last year, they put in house for dead. Not burn he. Wait.”

“Why would they do this?” I asked.

“Because family not have money for tambon when he dead. Put in house for he dead.”

“Ah, a mausoleum then!”

“Yes. Same.” she said, understanding the English word somehow, or maybe just agreeing with me.

“So how come they will burn him now? They have money now to do this?”

“Yes. Now have money, and do same time do old lady wife he. Have tambon for two now. No problem.”

“Huh. I didn’t know this. So sometimes they put a dead person in an above ground tomb and then have the tambon later on when they’ll burn them and have the tambon? How long can they do this?”

“Oh, do long time sometime. Up to family when have baht can do good big tambon. Up to them. ”

I learn something new here all the time about their customs. Makes life interesting for me. I hadn’t known about this.

Two days later they burned the old man in the village in his own separate tambon. We didn’t attend as the wife said it wasn’t necessary, it’s mainly for the family it was told me. The next day was the tambon for his wife, the recently dead friendly old village lady. This funeral we attended.

The morning of the old lady’s funeral we waited for a relative of ours to arrive from her town to accompany us to the village for the funeral. This aunt had been a good friend of the old woman’s and wanted to ride with us to the village so she could go to the tambon. She took a bus down to Surin and Sis met her at the bus station and then brought her to our house. My wife ironed some clothes of mine that I would wear to the funeral. Some tan chinos and a black shirt. Black is worn to funerals. It is the color of death here, and usually not worn except for funerals. Each day of the week has a corresponding good luck color for a person to wear to gain good luck for the day. Like yellow for Tuesday, Red for Wednesday, green for Thursday, like this, but these are not the colors for these days. I’m just using them for an example. If anyone is interested I can ask and get the correct colors for the correct days. It’s a cool thing to do when visiting the village of your lady as it gets the villagers taking a shine to you as you are showing you know their customs and shows you have some knowledge and have taken the time to learn a few customs. It brings a smile to their faces and is a pleasant surprise to most that you’d think of this and do this. I did it for a few days once in the village and it brought some comments and caused some conversations and smiles. A good way to break the ice with her family and friends during a few days visit to the village. Shows some knowledge and respect, and makes you seem less a farang, less of a stranger, a little bit Thai. It’s not a big deal, just can show some thought.

As the funeral was to be held at two in the afternoon we left Surin around ten in the morning. It takes around fifty minutes to drive to the village from Surin proper. I was told it was okay to wear cooler clothing of shorts and sandals and t-shirt for the drive up and while we waited for the funeral to start. Later I could change into my funeral gear without it being all sweated up and wrinkled. No problem, as we would stay in our house, or actually Sis Mun’s Isaan Emporium and Lao Khao Shop, chatting, eating and drinking until the monks arrived and started their eulogy for the dead woman in the house across the street where her family was gathering. The eulogy would start at noon with one monk doing the prayers and eulogizing. We arrived around eleven, after a quick stop for victuals for lunch to be eaten in the village along the way at the shops in a village a few miles up the road from our own village. Some banana leaf wrapped wads of sticky rice, a few charcoal roasted chicken halves between split bamboo sticks, some bananas and other fruits, some uncooked veggies for some som tam and to be eaten with the rice and chicken, cabbage and scallions and such raw stuff as is always normally eaten with the sticky rice and chicken. We’d parked in the grass lot beside our house and made a bee line for Sis Mun’s shop to scarf down our lunch and quench our thirst with a few beers.

While we were chatting and eating the lone monk started his eulogy in a droning voice that made it hard to stay awake after a while. Luckily look thung music was blaring at near concert hall levels from huge columns of speakers set up in the street almost in front of us. Paeons for the dead emitted over the speakers, loud enough to wake the dead in my mind. Mostly look thung music for the most part, old and newer, with some traditional songs of an eerie sound with traditional instruments that can sometimes set a farang’s nerves on edge. I don’t mind these songs myself. I find them charming and interesting and nice to listen to. They set a mood in my head, and set me to wandering in my mind throughout time it seems. These songs, this music, is so alien and strange from what I’m used to. I like alien and strange, so I don’t mind hearing these songs for hours at a time. Like I said, for me anyway, they seem to set my mood. I love the older traditional songs, and look thung is some of my favorite Thai stuff to listen to.

The monk droned on, the loud music not a problem, as he was wired for sound himself with his own microphone and speakers. We sat under the tin sheet roof on a raised wooden platform, the wood it is made from is of an unknown age, worn smooth, as if it was carefully sanded and shellaced by a master craftsman, by the hands, feet, and asses of uncounted multitudes of villagers over who knows how many years. After an hour had passed of the monk droning on and on in his sing song voice I hit the wall, so to speak, and told the wife to come and get me about fifteen minutes before the tambon funeral march was to begin, so I could grab a quick shower and throw on my funeral garments. I had a book I’d brought along by a woman author I’d gotten hooked on recently and was trying to finish. “The Last Temptation” by Val McDermid. A wonderful crime novelist, from Scotland I believe I read, I’ve been enjoying recently. I’d picked up this book in Pattaya at a used book shop on Soi Buakhao, called Swan Book Shop. Good shop. If anyone wants the address let me know and I’ll forward it along. It’s where I get most of my reading material when in the LOS.

I went into our house and turned on the floor fan at the end of our bed and laid down to read awhile. Much more comfortable than the wooden platform, for sure. It must have been the beers, or maybe a combination of the beer, the heat, reading the book, and the droning monk and oddly toned music, that sent me off to lullabye land within about ten minutes.

I cut some zzzz’s, and probably a few farts too, as I sawed some wood. The Beer Chang can have that effect sometimes.

I’d gotten myself into one of those nice deep sleeps you hate to be woken from. You know what I mean. One of those deep sleeps where you are floating along, drooling on the pillow, dreaming of sexy ladies plying you with drinks and foods, all naked of course and sexy as hell, and all with flowing long hair, at least in my dreams they have this, as you float on an ornately carved and painted wooden ship on a blue lake as reflective and still as a mirror. A cool breeze flutters their flowing locks, revealing tantilizing bits and pieces of tits and ass, and silken caramel skin smooth and inviting. You notice you have probably the largest hard on you’ve ever had in your long life, just a bobbin’ and weavin’ in the cool breeze. One of the most beautiful lasses, sitting right next to you of course, leans over, her satiny breasts rub enticingly on your chest as she feeds you a few plump, ripe, glistening and cool grapes, the word “succulent” reverbrates in your mind for some reason you can’t fathom at the moment. It crosses your mind that maybe you should ask this gorgeous creature to maybe do something oral to your throbbing and bobbing member, as it looks lonely and neglected waving about so close to her. Mightn’t she see to it’s well being and happiness you ask her lazily, with a devilish grin, as juice from your last grape glistens on your lips suggestively. With an impish grin of her own on her beautiful face she agrees, and lowering her lashes as she lowers her head toward your ever so grateful cock…………. is when your wife decides to wake you from sleep to go to a funeral. “Wake up darling! Leou leou! (Quick quick) Tambon parade start now. Ab nam! Ab nam! (Shower shower) Leou leou!”

Arrrrrrrrrrggggggg!!!! “Okay, okay! I’m awake, dammit!” Right then and there is when you’d like to kill her, or throw her on the bed and screw her brains out, but there just isn’t time for her it seems. You roll off the bed, a bit grumpy, and she notices your monster is standing at full attention in your shorts. “What you do darling? Why Godzilla awake?” You grin, and being nobody’s fool, tell her, “I was having sexy dreams of you darling!”

“Yeah? Sure?” she says with a smile.

“Jing jing (It's true) darling. Dreaming of you too much!”

Laughing, she says, “Okay okay, now you go shower. Make cold water. Make Godzilla sleep. Have to go quick!”

I see, upon crossing the threshold into the living room from my bedroom, out my front windows, that the tambon march to the temple is about to start. People line the street in front of my house. Some monks, and relatives of the dead woman, hold some woven branches of some sort of tree or plant as though they are a team of oxen about to pull a wagon, or are involved in the start of a “Tug-of-war” game. Attached to the braided vegetation is a long wound up length of white linen or silk, which others are holding. This is attached to an ornately carved and painted red and gold casket resting on the shoulders of many men. Music fills the air and they start to walk off up the street toward the temple. Shit, it’s starting already! I ask the wife why the hell she didn’t wake me fifteen minutes earlier, as I had requested she do, and she just shrugged her shoulders, and said, “I forget.” Likely story! She’s probably been drinking more beers with her sisters and cousins and yakking like a magpie while I was snoozing and dreaming dreams of the flesh. Damn her hide!

I rush into the hong nam (bathroom) and quickly rinse off the day’s sweat and grime, accumulated while I’d been drinking and eating, and sleeping, the past couple of hours. Quickly I towel off and throw on my funeral clothing, slipping my feet into my leather Bass sandal/clogs with the comfortable cushioned insoles and vibram rubber soles. I’m out the door in five minutes flat. Sis has the truck sitting at the curb in front of the house with the AC running full blast, thank God, and we drive down to the temple as the funeral marchers turn into the temple gates.

Once inside we park near some trees and bushes at the side of the road and clamber out to join the marchers and mourners. I noticed the atmosphere was noticably festive. Not a tear was being shed. Which I thought a little odd, even though she was old, and most everyone had expected her to die soon from her disease. It was a much more cheerful and talkative a crowd than most farang funerals, even the Irish ones I’ve been to. It didn’t seem to be viewed as a solemn occasion. Hell, it could have been a picnic outting the way everyone was behaving. Small children ran about laughing and playing amongst the crowd of mourners. Dogs yapped and tussled on the grass, and everyone chattered away with each other as they walked along behind the casket. It sure as hell didn’t FEEL like a funeral to me. It was weird.

The casket was carried to a pile of wood, soaked with gasoline by the smell of it, and placed on top. Much to my amazement the sides of the casket were then unlatched and taken away. Leaving the woman on top of this pyre of primed wood. As I watched Sis brought some folding chairs over from the temple and gave me one to sit on. Everyone else had stopped in place around the funeral pyre and squatted on the ground. There were a couple of hundred people attending at least. Some people, the ones who were better off than others, were all dressed in their finest black clothes. A lot of the others were dressed rather shabbily in their shorts and t-shirts and rubber flip-flops. Basically in their everyday clothes. I noticed as I sat myself in the folding chair, we were sitting toward the back of everyone else, that my wife’s cousin was squatting just a few feet in front of me. I thought to myself, “Jeez, Ming really does have a great ass! Too bad she’s such a grouchy thing. Some guy could do worse with her having such a nice ass.” I thrust such inappropriate thoughts from my mind. “For chrissakes Cent you’re at a funeral! Behave yourself.” Must have been the lingering dregs from my earlier, rudely interrupted, sexy dreams. I’d never really noticed before though what a nice butt this skinny little woman had. Sis sat next to me and engaged me in some conversation and gossip about the local monk and his family. Good. The next thing you’d know I’d be sitting there at an Isaan funeral with a goddamned woody in my pants. Sheesh!

Sis told me some stuff about this head monk. He was not well liked by the villagers. He was however a villager from this same village himself, and he was a dishonest cunt. A thief. Seems many times money given to the temple has been withdrawn from the temple bank account by this monk’s family. He has a lot of family living in the village. All bad sorts according to Sis. All true according to Sis. It’s why Mama and the rest of the older ladies have stopped going to the temple so much, and why they don’t contribute to the temple coffers anymore. This has caused the temple big problems, to the point where they now have problems just paying for the monthly electric bill for the temple. At one point she told me this temple had been quite famous once, as the old monk who used to be the head monk there was known far throughout the land as a special monk. Many people would come to our village from all parts of the country during the holidays/holydays so people could be blessed by this old monk. People came from as far away as Bangkok, and the temple thrived under his leadership. Many people gave lots of money to the monk and the temple, and he did many good works for the surrounding countryside and people, not to mention our own village. Now it was all fucked because of this new, corrupt, thieving bastard of a monk. “You mean we have a Mafia Monk here in our temple?” I said to Sis. “Yes,” she replied with a scowl, “This monk Mai dee, no good.” Stealing from the church, and the priest himself yet, or his family! What utter scumbags! “Anyone tell the police this, Sis?” I queried her. “No,” she replied, “Not do. Not good for do. We get him to go by not giving baht anymore. Someday he will go and we get new monk.” Fucking sad story really.

She then told me how he tried to get a woman who’s mother had died and wanted to give some land to the temple to sign the land title over to him, ostensibly for the temple, but the papers he wanted her to sign were in his own name. The lady refused, and told him if he wanted the land he’d have to pay her 200,000 baht, or he’d have to leave as the head monk of the temple and she’d then sign the land over to the temple, in the temple’s name. But unless he paid her 200,000 baht she wouldn’t sign the paper he wanted her to sign. The monk told her that her mother had told him personally that she had wanted to give this land to the temple. “Yes, to the temple.” she told him. “Not to you and your theiving family! When you leave I will give land to temple.” she declared. The monk argued further with her, telling her her mother had wanted this done, and had told him so himself. She questioned him, “You have paper she sign for this land give for you?” He replied to the negative that he did not. “Then you have nothing. You go I give land to temple. You stay you give me money for my land!” she stated emphatically before stalking away. Caused quite the stir in the village from what Sis says. Many people there want to see this monk leave.

While we were chatting I noticed a man with a large handful of incense sticks walking around and throwing bunches of them on the ground near people who were squatting around. When he did this next to us I asked Sis why he just tossed them on the ground as he was doing. Seemed a bit lazy and rude to me. “Not good to give to you from hand. Use for tambon. Dirty. Not give for you from hand. Bad luck. You must pick up from the dirt.” she explained. We picked up ours and continued talking. Sis explained that we would toss these incense sticks into the funeral pyre once it was lit. A few minutes later everyone stood up as if on cue. The monks had been chanting all along, and men had been laying huge logs of wood over the spot where the old woman had been placed on the fuel for her cremation. Loud fireworks were then exploded around the area. I’ve been told that this is to help send her spirit up into the sky, up to heaven. As these explosives pounded the air dogs began howling, and the smaller children started crying and running to their mothers. A chill came over me, and goosebumps dotted my flesh. The men had also placed over the pyre a canopy that had been decorated with silk and clothe that had been held over the coffin during the funeral march, to shield it from the sun as they walked along to the temple. They first stripped off the silk and clothe used for this and placed the frame for the canopy on the pyre.

A murmur stirred the crowd as the monks ended their prayers, and one monk walked to the pyre and lit it somehow with a lit stick of incense. After the fire was started people began filing up to the outdoor crematorium, and with a prayer, would toss their own incense stick onto the now flickering flames. This was all done fairly quickly once the fire was going. Once a person tossed his incense stick on the fire they turned and walked away, heading back to the family’s house for the after funeral party. Sis and the wife and I did our duty with the incense sticks and returned to the truck, after folding up the folding chairs and replacing them in the Wat's open air auditorium, which lies open sided near where the funeral was held. We drove back along the road to our house. We aren’t far up the street from the Wat. Along the way we passed groups of people trudging along. One old guy who is a friend of the family, a stooped and ancient old gent, friendly and gentle and humorous whenever I’ve met him, was walking near the entrance to the Wat as we left. We stopped and he jumped, well, slowly climbed might be a better description, into the back of our truck for the ride to our home, which he lives next door to. This would normally be a five minute walk back to the house for the average person. For him this would take a half an hour or so. He is very old and decrepit. To tell the truth he looks somewhat like a turtle without it’s shell, and walks at about the same pace with a stout stick in hand for his cane and support. Better a ride from us then to have him do this walk in the hot sun.

Once back to the house I was told we had to go and do something the ladies couldn’t quite explain, so I just followed them. Near the entrance to the property for the home of the dead woman’s family sat a bucket of water by the fence. Inside the bucket was water, and some sort of long green leaves tied together, like a brush or a broom. It was explained to me that since we had tossed our incense sticks into the funeral pyre we were now unclean, dirty, and needed to wash our hands in this water, and sprinkle some of the water, using the leaves dipped in the bucket, onto our feet to purify ourselves. I did as the others around me were doing and that was it. The funeral was over.

Some members of the family, and a couple of the presiding monks, had stayed back at the pyre to gather the lady’s bones, which would be sealed in a crypt in a wall in the Wat proper, behind cement. The ashes and smaller bones collected by the family members and monks would be put in a ceramic urn, and also sealed in the wall with the larger bones. I have no idea what else is done to the larger bones, whether they are cleaned, or purified in some manner and wrapped in clothe, or whatever, before placement in the tomb. I saw none of this, and really didn’t delve further into the rituals involved. I suppose one day when Mama’s older sister, or Mama herself, or the wife’s father is gone I may see more of the end rituals involved. (They are in their seventies.)

After the ritual washing of the hands and feet we, the now purified, went to Sis Mun’s shop and sat under some trees where a cement table and chairs are set up. It was hot now, but an occassional cool breeze would stir the leaves above us, showering us with some small flotsam and jetsum from the branches overhead. Beers and food were brought forth once again, and we started partying and chatting around the table. I played with some of the kids, starting my “poke you in the belly and make a loud farting noise” game, always a hit with the local young ones. They were all giggling and shouting for me to “do it again!” They laugh like hell, wave their arms around themselves as though driving away a swarm of mosquitoes, or a bad smell, and shouting, “Mens! Mens!” (It smells! It smells!) Fart games are always a blast.

Much to my amazement I finally noticed that someone had chopped down the “Golem Tree” I’ve written about in a couple of stories of mine. For some reason I had failed to even notice this earlier. I was somewhat saddened by this for some reason. No more would it’s ugly, gruesome hulk silhouette the night sky as the moon rose over the land. It’s arms had been chopped off, and it’s skeletal immense hulk lay fallen across the dirt in death. Well, by rights it had been dead a long time, but to me it had stood alive and somehow sentient. It’s shadow was cast on the land no longer. I asked Sis when this had been done, and why. “Two weeks.” was the answer I got. “Because dead. Maybe fall down, break Mun's house.” The other reason given. I was told one day soon it would be chopped up into pieces and fed to the fires to make charcoal. The older kids ran up and down the top of it’s boney length. The trunk, being around three to four feet in diameter, was too difficult for the youngest kids to climb onto. Their caretakers would lift them onto it and they’d try to run down the length of it as the older kids were doing. A middle aged male friend of the family, Mister Tha Rak Tai I call him, came over and squatted up on the very end of the Golem Tree, the largest end, where the trunk had met the roots, using it as a seat to overlook and converse with those of us sitting at the concrete table, looking for all the world like a pot-bellied silver back gorilla with his silver hair and simian-like countenance, his knees around his shoulder level as he’d once in a while scratch himself on the thighs, only re-enforcing the image in my mind even firmer.

My spirit slipped into a morbid and morose frame of mind. Thinking of death is never a good thing. Pondering it, and dwelling on it, even worse. It’s hard for the human mind to get itself around the concept of non-existence, of the ending of one’s “self”. Better not to dwell on it anyway. At fifty myself now it does tend to cross one’s mind now and then. Thirty seems like a dream to me now, but as if a dream from just yesterday. The time flies by. I suppose at seventy I’ll feel the same way about fifty. It’s all relative. But I never want it to end. I always want to be the one drinking the beers after the funeral, the one to play with the kids, to hear their screeching laughter, to look at the lovely ladies as they pass by, still wanting them, still lusting. I never want to be the one stuck in the ground, burned on the pyre, to have my bones crushed and placed in an urn on some son or daughter's mantel shelf, sealed in the wall behind concrete and bricks, with a plaque or a stone bearing my name all that is left of me. I want to read them myself, and thank God for life, and love, and laughter, and even the tears. I suppose we all feel this way, but I take it personally. Funerals bring out the depressive in me. The many beers probably don’t help either!

I poured another round of beers into the half empty glasses around me, and my family and friends, and made a toast to just that. Everyone else says “Choke dee!” I say, “To life, to love, to laughter, and tears. Drink up.” The wife looks puzzled at me and says, “What you say darling?”
I grin at her and wink, “Nothing much, darling. I said I love you.” She looks surprised for a second, then comes around the table and gives me a quick hug and a kiss, and whispers in my ear, “I love you too, darling.”

What more can a man ask for?

Postscript:

Later that night we all drank too many beers and danced to the loud "look thung" and Carabao music, and ate too much. Happy to be alive I’d guess. A celebration by the living, for the living more than the dead I think. Sis Sow said she wanted to get me drunk, for some reason, don’t ask me why. Maybe because she was already pretty damned drunk herself. A drinking game, or custom, or whatever you call it in Isaan, is to pour a drink in a glass and bring it to someone you want to drink it, usually someone who ain’t drinking enough, in everyone else’s estimation anyway, and to step on their foot, thereby pinning them in place until they drink the beer, wine, or whiskey offered them. Once bitten by this trick most make a dance of avoidance with their feet as everyone tries to pin their foot to the ground and force them to have “another”. It can be comical to watch, and the ladies have a ball doing this. Much laughter and sanuk is had.

Sis Sow failed to see me “get drunk”, as I do have a great capacity for beer, or at least once had. I don’t drink much now-a-days. Really. Even less so in the states now. In Thailand though I’ll have a beer every day or so with a meal. Maybe two sometimes even. But Sis Sow had a much lesser capacity, and, after finally going behind the house and puking her guts up, she staggered home and passed out. Hey, gimmee a break! She started it!

Sis and wife and I finally hit the road. We clambered into the truck, Sis driving of course, since she doesn’t drink a drop. Hasn’t for many years. We got back late and washed up for bed. I fired up the computer and noticed to my great pleasure that Turkfist had posted the latest of his stories on Nanaplaza.com. I opened another beer and read his latest. Don’t know what I’d do without his great stories. I know I’d miss them just as much as a lot of the guys there would. I look forward to them immensely. I read the latest and laughed at the funny and strange things our hero gets himself up to, and wondered what he’d be into next, and when we’d get to read about it. Get on with it Turk, or we’ll all have to chip in and get Nam and her friends to track you down and force you to write more! Thanks for the stories Turkfist.

It’s so fucking great to be alive ain’t it?

Cent

p.s. Saw a funny pin for a Buddhist to be wearing today on a Thai guy. Said, "Live life fully. It's the only one you have." Had to laugh.

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“One turns one’s mind away from those states and directs it towards the deathless element. This is the way.”

The Buddha

“Do not die filled with longing. To die filled with longing is painful.”

The Buddha

The Central Scrutinizer

Stickman says:

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