More Funeral Farangs
I loved Dana’s piece on the funeral farangs “Thai Thoughts And Anecdotes 60”. With my cancer creeping up on me, I was thinking I’d better get in early and make a reservation with the funeral farangs, just in case my death happens
to clash with other commitments of theirs.
I see this little tale as showing up the wide discrepancy between knowing the language and knowing the culture. Thai village life does not really have the small minded excesses of an American country club. Nobody’s going to get upset. This sort of occasion is exactly what the social white lie was invented for – sorry I have headache, mai sabaai. Happens all the time – mai pen rai.
And why would anyone in there right mind want to sit through multiple Thai funerals. They are simply mind numbingly boring. Of course if you get the chance to attend one then you should definitely go, and as a one off they are quite fun. But the only reason to attend further funerals would be because you have to – close family member. But while not going to funerals, there are the days before the actual funeral where it’s good to visit the deceased family, because every night until the funeral a party will be going on to keep the dead company. So any social responsibility can be discharged by turning up during one of the evenings before the funeral.
While I was working in Bangkok the wife’s grandfather died and we travelled up to Uttaradit to attend the funeral. He died on the Sunday and the Mor Phi determined that Thursday would be an auspicious day for the funeral. As soon as we got word of his death I organised time off with the boss, and we decided to travel up to Uttaradit on the overnight sleeper train. What a great trip. I would strongly recommend the 2nd class sleeper to anyone going up to Chiang Mai. There’s no air-conditioning (I didn’t go to Thailand to get cold) and the bog isn’t of the highest quality, but the atmosphere in the carriage is fantastic. And having the staff bring food and drink is just what a body needs.
So we get to grandfathers house and a party is in progress with tons of food and drink. And it gets even better at night. The local Wat provides a fridge that the coffin fits in and this is set up as pride of place in the house, with photos of grandfather and a small alter. Someone from the family will stay with the deceased until the funeral, and in the meantime all his friends, relatives and well wishes drop in to pay their respects and enjoy the ongoing party. While gambling is illegal in Thailand, every night during the partying many gambling tables are set up and lots of money changes hands. It’s all an accepted part of the festivities.
We meet one Thai bloke at the party who’s doing some serious drinking. He used to be a boxer (muay Thai) in his younger days and until recently worked in a camp as a trainer. He gave me a massage and his hands are absolute magic. His daughter married a farang and he now lives with them. Poor fella, asked the wife what “Shut-up” means. Seems every time he tries to talk to his daughter and son-in-law they tell him to shut up. So he spends the next 4 days drinking white whiskey until unconscious, sleeping, having a meal; then repeating the whole thing. We always refer to him as Mr Shutup after this.
Over the next few days the wife describes some of the ceremony to me, and asks if I will be a Phra for the funeral. The custom is that the family provide several Phra for the day, and a couple of her uncles will be doing it, so would I please do it too.
Would give big face for the family if I would.
So come the day of the funeral we’re up early and I have my head shaved ready to become a monk. Porta (father-in-law) takes the first bit of hair off, then everyone in the family takes their turn at shaving the farang. Soon the head is completely bare with the even the eyebrows removed. Then down to the Wat to be ordained as a monk.
Prior to this day it had been a long long time since I had tried to sit cross legged. So spending the full time of the funeral sitting with legs crossed was very hard. It amounted to sitting for about 6 hours and by the end of this time I was in quite some pain and had more than a little difficulty standing up after the service. But once back on my feet it soon passed.
Monks are held in very high regard in Thailand and there are very strict rules on how people can interact with them – for instance females can’t touch them. So when I wanted to take some photos the wife couldn’t pass me the camera, had to place it on the ground in front of me for me to pick up. And again when I went to give it back had to just place it on the ground. We had several photos taken and in them she, and all female family members, are always a step behind me in the picture.
After the body was cremated it was back to the Wat and we were released from our vows. Back home for a final party then next day back to Bangkok on the train. This time we took the “sprinter” and enjoyed the view of the countryside in daylight. For me it’s a toss-up which train ride was preferable, but the Thais all preferred the overnight trip – probably just reflects their propensity to sleep anywhere.
In Thailand after the funeral the spirit of the deceased is given 100 days to say goodbye to friends and relatives, then another ceremony is held to farewell the spirit on his way to heaven. So after 100 days we are back in Uttaradit for the final party. If you ever get invited to a 100 day party then make sure you don’t miss it. It’s generally a real party and bigger than the funeral, and lots more fun.
So we look for Mr Shutup and he’s not there. Seems he had 3 funerals in a row and drank himself to death (shades of Nicolas Cage in Leaving Los Vegas).
So if you get invited to too many funerals the advice is: pop 200 baht into the envelope and turn up couple of nights before the funeral. Apologise for not being able to make it on the actual day, but promise that you’ll be there for the 100 day party.
My stupid comments to follow in few days…..very busy!