I had a strange realisation today that most of my workmates have lost a grandparent in the last few months. It’s uncanny. Two in the past week, one less than two months ago, and one at the end of last year. One of my workmates rushed down to Bangkok last week because her grandfather was very sick and got there just in time — he passed away a few days later. And following that, one of my workmates announced on Friday that his grandmother had just died as well. Very matter of factly — because that’s what death is, after all, a fact of life, especially since all of these people were in their 80s.
Perhaps Thais don’t have big public emotional displays about death? I imagine that there seems to be more acceptance that the time has come. Time for the soul to be released from the earthly body. Time to move onto the next life. I get the feeling that this strong Buddhist ethos underpinning Thai culture really does explain why Thais are the way they are…living day to day, in the moment, having sanuk sanuk (fun), not so concerned with the future. It’s exactly this general attitude that a lot of expats here find infuriating, that lack of forward-thinking, because Thailand doesn’t seem to be developing as it should be. I don’t have much emotionally invested in this country so I don’t have strong feelings about this, but the chilled out way of being is certainly one reason why I often feel at odds with the local culture, with my obsession for thinking ahead, making plans and working out how to shake a few banana trees. I’ve got Vietnamese determination coupled with Western ambition and thinking — little wonder I don’t sleep much!
Tonight is the last night of the funeral happening in Bangkok as funerals here go for a few days (probably the same in Vietnamese Buddhist culture too, though I have never experienced it before first hand). This description about Thai funerals seems to concur with my impressions about it being completely different to a Western-style funeral and far more cheerful (if cheerful is the right word)…because actually, I haven’t attended any of these funerals and have chosen to just donate money instead. As an acknowledgement of my contributions, I have gotten little gifts like an agate grey stone table with a Buddha and a pretty wooden fan. It’s kind of weird to get party favours from funerals, but I think these little gifts are tokens of appreciation. I’ve seen pictures from the funerals and no one seems completely devastated, which is actually kind of nice. You hear people in the West saying they want their funerals to be happy occasions and celebrations of their life. If they were born in Thailand, that wish would be easily granted.
Even though I have endless curiosity about people’s lives, there are definite limits when it comes to what I consider very personal experiences. I could have gone on Saturday night to the funeral here, to show my respects and to gain a cultural experience — but I knew I would be gawking bigtime because back home, I wouldn’t attend a friend’s grandparent’s funeral. (If it was a friend’s parent, then I almost certainly would. I prefer being consistent.)
Thinking about all of this, I’ve also gone back to my thoughts about one of the life celebrations I have experienced in Thailand: namely the wedding I attended in June last year. At the time I wrote, “This is the first Thai-style wedding I’ve ever been to and I found the occasion to be more sober than I imagined it would be, because Thais are generally so fun-loving”. Isn’t that funny? Funerals here are more fun than I would’ve expected, and weddings are more sober than I would’ve expected.
This blog post basically sums up my current thoughts about all of this: “The Thai people have truly internalized the duality of life.” If that’s the case, then it certainly explains a lot.