A two part series on Death in Chiang Mai
By Brian Brown
Mother died at about 5pm on Tuesday the 13th August, just one month
short of her 79th birthday. She died peacefully, surrounded by family and
close friends, I counted 28.
An amazing reality, within 2 hours of her death, a funeral director had
appeared with a coffin, a body cool-box and a catalogue of funeral byres.
Nang was suitably attired, in the coffin and placed in the large, ornate
cool-box in the living room.
At the same time the whole village seemed to click into a well-practiced
routine. Pick-ups delivered chairs, tables, a whole floodlight system, and a
complete set of large scale catering equipment. It’s owned and maintained
within the village, with an average of a funeral every week, well used.
It’s going to be a big funeral; mother was head of one of the original
families that settled the valley. Our house number is 19 – which refers to
when it was built. The village is now up to 260 houses. Already distant
family members have indicated they are coming, from as far away as Saraburi,
some 500 miles away. My wife expects 400-500 people to attend.
Up early, 5.30 am on Wednesday, and already there’s a dozen people starting
to prepare food, and set things out. I notice that a number of family
members stayed overnight, and just slept on the floor – something the Thais
do so easily. I decided that the best thing I can do is keep out of the way.
I looked for my 2 cats but they have made themselves scarce for the
My wife and her cousin went shopping in Phrao today, to buy household goods
and furniture. I understand that she will set up in a corner of the Wat, a
complete set of everything that mother might need in the afterlife, clothes,
goods, whatever. This includes a TV and radio.
I understand that after a period of time, the family can check if any of the
items have been taken away – and if they desire, can ‘buy’ unused items
back. I am cynical about this. It is not the teachings of the Buddha, but I
am castigated if I point this out, Having said that, I believe some monks
are speaking out more openly on this, but it’s a belief structure well
ingrained in Thai culture, especially rural areas.
We now have a huge tent structure on the house forecourt, as it is the
height of the rainy season; it’s more than likely. More tentage was
required, so we had to call on the equipment from the Tambon office. To
erect this, we had to block off the road, and at least 80 meters of tentage
was erected, with a large group of men working, from all over.
What I didn’t realize, is that my wife and her nuclear family will go with
the minimum of sleep for the next few days/nights. It’s midnight and she is
still buzzing around, organizing things.
I’m going to watch football.
Again, up early on Thursday. Yet another big tent in the road, the full
stretch of road in front of our house and neighbour’s house now fully
covered with tentage. A large area further up the road has been cleared for
the catafalque or pyre, involving some heavy pruning of trees. On Saturday,
the pyre will be towed by the whole village to the crematorium site, some ½
My wife decided we had to make a quick trip to Chiang Mai to get the
presents for the 10 monks who will be officiating at the funeral. She
decided to ‘go big’ with the presents, and bought as a main gift an electric
fan for each monk. We also bought a TV and fridge to go in the household
effects available for mother in the after-life. Eventually, they will be
re-possessed and my brother in law will use them in his new flat over his
gymnasium. The best part of a trip like that was she managed to get some
sleep on the journey.