Friends and Kin
Blogging from China this time, because they called on Thursday and it was urgent. I could remember that something on the Project Work booklet said that we weren’t allowed to go out from such to such, but by the time it came to me, I was one foot into the plane.
I’ve been called back to attend my great-grandmother’s funeral, who had passed away peacefully at an age of one hundred. My great-grandmother had seen a life more illustrious than I had ever imagined; friends and kin came in from distant corners everywhere to the village on Friday. Wenfang hasn’t changed much, thankfully, except for a random misbegotten house that now blocks the view of the church tower from the road coming in from north-west.
I’d have to be frank here, to say that I did not experience as much emotion as Zhengyou did, in my great-grandmother’s funeral. The older folks in Wenfang did, as the people who were mostly around during her final years or decades. The emotional element, however, must have been diluted by the fanfare that tailed the ceremony; it was more of a celebration of her life than mourning for her passing, for Great Gran has touched the lives of many.
The five of us in my immediate family visited once a year in winter, and a stand-around my great-grandmother’s bed was a must-have upon each homecoming. The folks spoke almost monolingual Fuqingese, which made me and my sisters sort of left-out. Sometimes, though, Dad would offer a translation, while she talked directly to her great-grandchildren.
The last words I remember coming from my great-grandmother, as she held my hands, was along the lines of “Keep praying.” They were valuable words, which I intend to bring to my own grave. Maybe it was why to me, it was as if she had never died; as if she had, like we say, attained everlasting life.
That was the first thing I thought after gramps uncovered her face. She looked as if peacefully asleep, although quite distressingly still. The wake-table was lined with flowers and flashing lights. The head of the table pointed towards the door into the room, and on the other end towards a cloth painting of the Virgin Mary and Christ. The painting was in a western style, and so was the village church. It made me wonder why the idea of Chinese Catholic art never caught on in these parts.
There was no priest present for the ceremony, only a choir, singing hymns like only a Fuqingese could. Smacks of home.
Today we sent Great Gran on her journey via the crematorium. It was crazy the way they did it; five or six brass bands, two or three carriages, and even a stunt troupe called in (did they?) to top it off. The extended family became more extended than I used to think: relatives I’ve never met, cousins I never knew I had and cousins who’d grown so much in the past year I could hardly recognize them anymore.
The crematorium was deathly white inside, which worried me a bit. And it also worried me the way the personnel handled their client irreverently; they must have been through the same process countless times for years! They cried the loudest as Great Gran inched her way into the cremator. And ninety minutes later, Grandpa and the others were out, with a black umbrella and a red box with the ashes.
They buried the ashes in the coffin, shoveling mud and dust to plaintive beats of the musicians. Thereafter we paid a last visit to the wake house and had a full lunch with the same music band cheering everyone up.
Andy Paul Chen
Wenfang, Fuqing, Fujian, China
Posted at http://dunmorecave.blogspot.com on October 28, 2006