This morning when I was still in bed reading, a friend came in, along with a COUSIN, who actually only share the same family name with me. My mother and I were invited by them to attend the funeral of this cousin, starting tomorrow, and will last for typical three days.
My friend is his neighbor, and one of the in-charge men of a funeral, who knows all the traditions, processes, resources and how to organize a large gathering, including two banquets.
Why would this man call me his cousin since we are not blood-related at all? Well, his father was the only son of the family, and his father’s father was also the only son, so this man and his brother who both lost their mothers, do not have any real cousins, they have a SLIM family in their village.
My father only has one brother, my uncle, both brothers passed away and each left one son, so I have one male cousin carrying the same family name. We are also SLIM family in our village. So the four families decided to bond together, suggested by my uncle years ago, so we have formed a “strong voice” in the town.
My cousin was ten years older than me, but he still kneel down in front of me on the floor, with his forehead touching the floor, to tell me the sad news that his mother passed away and I was invited to help in the two-day-long funeral. Then I led him to my mother in the kitchen, he did the same thing. We call it Bao Xiao, which literally means to Report the Loss of a Family Member.
The fact is, we all knew about that two days ago, one hour after the death, over the phone, told by my in-charge friend, my cousin and I have already paid a visit a few hours after her death. But that was another part of the process. It would be considered very inappropriate if they only invite our families over the phone. He needs to go to every extended family to do the same thing today, as long as it is not in another city.
Since I am not only from an extended family, but also one of the two men of Luo Family, I will be also joining the in-charge and supply team: my friend, my cousin and me.
They know I am not very familiar with the rules, processes, so I will be their assistant, doing things like preparing present-packs which will be given away to each family in the funeral. In those packs there are normally a towel, a pack of cigarette. Sometimes there is something else like green tea, etc.
My cousin has a grocery store, so his work is always shopping: candles, drinks, cigarettes, peanuts, beers, towels, candies, etc.
For the first time, I do not need to work with the villagers and helpers to clean the dishes, preparing the tables, cleaning the floors, taking out hot foods from the kitchen, cooking rice, chopping fire woods, etc. Before I was just one of the villager helper team who handle most of the labor works of a funeral.
There will be a cater company coming in the site to prepare their workplace, including temporary kitchen, mostly outdoor. They will bring tables, stools, etc.
Also some other professionals will be preparing their work this day, including traditional musical band.
There are always two local singers, a man and a woman, forming a team, bringing a set of Karaokay stuff, encouraging people to sing all day long, and making the village really loud. They must be singing already, when I am writing this blog.
Friday, there will be large gathering of around 300 guests and villagers in the brothers’ home. Most of them will give the family 100 – 1000 Yuan as contribution to the funeral, and have a very greasy/expensive meal together. The whole day will be noisy, busy, crowded, with all kinds of activities going on: traditional ceremonies, traditional musics going together with the ceremonies, the modern singing and music, some local villagers’ horrible and loud singing, performance of a local drum player group, every guest will bring their firecracks and then kneel down in front of the coffin and photo…
I will become part of the family even though I have only seen the deceased old lady once in my life. When the guests are having meal, I will speak to the crowd on behalf of the family, appreciating their attendance and/or help. I am sure they will be confused who I am because very few people know me in that village, but soon they will be talking about me like: “Oh, he is the one who came back from the USA!”
Yes, I am becoming a legend in JinJing. 🙂
In the evening, the funeral will have its peak hours. It will be the Memorizing Hours which last from about seven to midnight. Villagers, friends, and different extended families, including my real cousin, me, and our mothers, will be the last family to memorize the deceased: walking around the coffin round and round, led by a few LiBin (Funeral Ceremony Masters), who will be singing old songs of sadness, love and loss.
After our family’s Memorizing Hours, most attendees should have already left for home to get rest, only some close family members left. Her body will be moved from the electric refrigerator coffin into a steel box, carried by a kind of service car, by ourselves. The car will take her body and the family to the funeral parlor for cremation. Each extended family will send a representative to drive all the way, at mid night, for two hours, to another city accompanying her for the last time.
When we get back, it will be around 3 AM, there is no place for us to rest in their home, only children and senior guests will be able to share beds. I will just lean against the wall to take a nap, in the room with all the funeral decorations taken down the moment the body was moved out.
It is essential to take down all the signs of a funeral from the house, immediately when the body was moved out, to make sure the spirit does not stay I guess. And before the moving of the coffin, everybody quickly kneels down, including his/her spouse, to wish him/her travel safely.
The ash will be in a stone box, given by the government for free, and the box needs to be put on a table with a distance from the house. It should not be taken back into the house. Its destination is the mountain.
Saturday morning, we will be having breakfast together again, without the guests, mainly helpers and professionals. After that two men will be carrying a fabric-covered sedan room, with the ash box in it, the traditional musical bands following, all the family members following, some villager and friends…send her to the mountain, her grave. There will be constantly lit fire cracks on the way, every home living on both sides of the street will come out and lit a fire crack to say good bye. Sons or grandsons of the deceased will be busy kneeling down in front of each home to say thank you. Those who came out and lit a fire crack will get a pack of cigarette as return.
Funeral is very expensive and a big burden to most families. Even though every family of attendee contribute to it, and the sum may be up to 100,000 Yuan, or more, it may still not enough to cover all the costs.
I will contribute 400 Yuan in cash, and in the meanwhile lose some income because I cannot work for three days. This is one of the unnecessary traditions that rural China has nowadays.
In each funeral, there will be a very nice paper-made mansions, about 1.2 m tall, with all the trees, furniture, TV, pond, vegetable garden, garage, cars…all hand made using paper and bamboo, by two men in 2-3 days. It costs at least 2,000 Yuan. The mansion will be burned after the funeral, together with tons of paper money.
They make a lot of things, and burn a lot of things.