It was a weekend of dying. In the morning, Kimi, my great friend in Kuala Lumpur passed away at the too young age of 36. In the afternoon our neighbour’s grandfather passed away at the ripe old age of 90.
My one aim in life was to live longer than my father, something which I managed to surpass in the last year or so. My father died when I was just 18 months old; lung cancer, after a lifetime of being advertised to the health benefits of smoking. It’s difficult to gauge exactly what effect that event had on my life but it is surely significant. Death was a part of my life from the beginning.
One of my earliest memories is aged 4, sitting up in my bed, crying my eyes out, knowing that one day I would die. I couldn’t believe it. What was this thing called life all about if you just ended up dying?
Whilst I was sitting around crying for my friend far away, feeling useless, the neighbours were busy making preparations.
Could I get to KL to be with everyone? What kind of funeral ceremonies do my Muslim friends have? Are they celebrations of someone’s life or sombre occasions like in most of the west?
I’ve become somewhat familiar with Thai funerals unfortunately. Many of Amy’s family are at that age when funerals come along more often. I’m also getting to the age when more and more friends will leave too. And it will be my turn sooner than I’d like too.
In the smaller villages of Thailand it is still traditional to keep the body in the home for around 5 days before cremation. I’m not sure about burial here. All the funerals I have attended have been cremations and the only places I have seen graves are for people with Chinese backgrounds. I think burial should only really be used if a tree is planted along with the body which I know has started to become more popular in some places and seems to make a lot of environmental sense.
Gatherings, food, prayers and respects are shown by visitors to the home, from relatives and the local residents. Family spread out all over the country will drive back to attend. As this grandfather was 90 years old and his family have lived in the village his whole life it was due to be a big turnout. So big that local farmers where hired to clear the jungle land opposite our house to make an impromptu car park. There were some big rats living in there that were quickly grabbed by the locals and I don’t want to guess what for.
Huge gazebos were erected, a PA system bigger than Motorhead (every house seems to own huge PAs – even worse when combined with their Karaoke machines!) Each night for 5 nights, crowds would gather, monks would chant, food would be served until on the final day a huge silver decorated cart would take the body off to the crematorium, followed by everyone as it spiralled through the village.
I sat through an hour or so each night of chanting and it was quite meditative and mesmerising, especially as I was often lost in thought for my friend Kimi. I then struggled through another night of a chief monk talking. I didn’t struggle with his words, though I didn’t understand anything, it was the crappy plastic chairs playing havoc with my back and posture. The monk was hilarious, the crowd often erupting into laughter and I could feel the ease within everyone. He even joked about me and was sad that I couldn’t understand what he was saying. Of course the whole crowd turned to look at me. I think I’m just know locally as ‘that farang’ who lives here. Amy translated a lot for me so I got some of the fun. At the end the monk opened up his homemade accoutrements to make a little extra cash. People gotta eat I guess.
In contrast, I finally heard what happened to Kimi and discovered that Muslim tradition requires the body to be buried as quickly as possible. I don’t know what kind of ceremonies happen around that and I’m guessing not everyone in his family would have been able to attend this.
Kimi had been finalising some concerts for some European bands and the Kuala Lumpur concert will happen this coming weekend. I will fly down to meet Kimi’s wife and all our mutual friends. I will treat the concert somewhat as a memorial to my great friend.
These coincident deaths have obviously brought sharply into focus thoughts around death but as I wrote last time, these thoughts are still confusing. I’m still processing it all.
I’m very grateful to have made friends with Kimi 12 years ago and to have felt such a connection that we remained in contact over this time, worked together often and I visited him many times and he always showed me his big heart; giving me excruciating massages, taking me jungle river swimming and one time directing me into the ocean filled with jellyfish – a story that is repeated for everyone on every visit. He didn’t piss on my jellyfish sting but I know he would’ve if I had asked him.
23 years, 26 years, 52 years, 90 years. It’s not enough for anyone. Soon, all our names will be forgotten, let’s remember whilst we can.
Come hither, my lads, with your tankards of ale,
And drink to the present before it shall fail;
Pile each on your platters a mountain of beef,
For ’tis eating and drinking that bring us relief:
So fill up your glass, For life will soon pass;
When you’re dead ye’ll ne’er drink to your king or your lass!
Anacreon had a red nose, so they say
But what’s a red nose if ye’re happy and gay?
Gad split me! I’d rather be red whilst I’m here,
Than white as a lily and dead half a year!
So Betty my miss, Come give me a kiss;
In hell there’s no inkeeper’s daughter like this!
Young Harry, propp’d up just as straight as he’s able,
Will soon lose his wig and slip under the table,
But fill up your goblets and pass ’em around
Better under the table than under the ground!
So revel and chaff As ye thirstily quaff:
Under six feet of dirt ’tis less easy to laugh!
The fiend strike me blue! I’m scarce able to walk,
And damn me if I can’t stand upright or talk!
Here, landlord, bid Betty to summon a chair;
I’ll try home for a while, for my wife is not there!
So lend me a hand I’m not able to stand
But I’m gay whilst I linger on top of the land!
Drinking Song from the “Tomb” by Rudimentary Peni
I am so happy and grateful for the people I know, my acquaintances. Their part in my life is small but still valuable.