During my stay in Thailand, surreality has repeatedly left me speechless, that’s because I’m not expecting to witness or experience a surreal moment at the time. Two of these surreal moments occurred at funerals, cremations to be more exact. Depending on your outlook, you may or may not expect bizarre, surreal experiences to take place at a funeral, but it can in Thailand.
The purpose of this post is partly to let you know what to expect should you have to attend a funeral in Thailand, my own experiences of funerals in Thailand, and surrealism of course. I’m going to pick up the story of the actual cremation ceremony, the photos on this page were taken at the funeral of my wife’s aunty in Buriram, for a more in-depth explanation on the formalities and procedures at funerals in Thailand read this post by Richard Barrow.
Depending oh how close you was to the deceased, you may be invited to a wake the night before, or even to attend several days prior to the cremation ceremony. We did attend a wake the night before at my wife’s aunties house. The coffin was placed on top of an altar in the house, one of the first things we did was to take off our shoes, kneel before the coffin, take a lighted joss stick, wai and then place the joss stick in front of the coffin.
Monks attended the wake and sat beside the coffin as they performed several bouts of Buddhist chanting. Once the monks were finished it was to time for all the guests to drink and feast.
On the day of the cremation the coffin was transported to the temple, guests were seated under temporary canopies while the service was conducted. The service began with a monk (photo above) reading a eulogy of the deceased, reciting good deeds and mentioning friends and relatives in attendance, I even got a mention myself.
Thais have an overwhelming desire to take photographs (see photo above), and morbid as it might seem to us westerners, a friend or relative is usually encouraged to document the event with their camera. It might not be surreal, but having your photo taken with the deceased’s coffin is a custom which is, shall we say “not customary” to us non Thais.
One of the concluding formalities is the last respects and final farewell, all in attendance file past the coffin and wai, some may even tap the coffin.
When everyone paid there last respects there was a gathering, children were huddled to the front and encouraged to catch colorfully wrapped coins thrown by the young monks. When the coins were all collected it got surreal, but maybe not as surreal as I first thought.
There was a loud whistling noise, I turned around only to see a rocket screaming loudly, traveling straight as an arrow but moving so slowly I expected it to fall out the sky, it appeared to heading for the opposite corner of compound, of which the cremation build stood. My first thought was that surely that rocket should have gone into the sky, that it was poorly. Alas, there was another, then another 2, all headed to opposite corners, straight as arrows, screaming with an intensity that belied there speed, which it must be said defied the laws of physics.
Ive only been to 2 funerals in Thailand, but there’s a theme which itself might be surreal. The first funeral I attended was that of my close friend Roger. There were no rockets but at about the same point in the proceedings I looked through the arch of the temple gates. The view was of the sea beyond Jomtien Beach, and framed in the arch, which means it could only have been 20 or 30 meters above the sea was an airplane. It was the size of, and could well have been a C130 or a Hercules transport plane, the surreality didn’t go unnoticed, there was 3 of us turned to each other and exclaimed “did you see that”. The rockets were symbolic, and since the rocket experience I somehow think that plane was symbolic, it was Rogers Rocket.