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This will be a long post, but I need to recap the last few days, just to process it myself, so writing it down helps.

I flew back to KL on Thursday night. Thankfully the flight wasn’t full at all and I could move away from the two little wriggly boys I had been seated next to, and could sleep at least a little bit. I caught a taxi to the funeral parlour, where the first of three services was being held for my grandmother, Lee Ah Yin, who we called Mama. I got there after the service was done and people were sitting around, eating (there’s always food).

The funeral parlour is an old, pretty run down and frankly quite depressing complex. There were Buddhists having a vigil in the front parlour, and my family’s wake in the back parlour. The body was laid out in the coffin, surrounded by dozens of flower arrangements sent by people all over the world, business colleagues and friends and family. Mama looked the most glamorous I’d ever seen, in her brocade blouse, and all made up. It was so strange to see her so still.
The next day I went into the city with dad while he went to work for a few hours, and wandered around the fabric shops in Little India (and bought some fabric of course). In the evening I met up with my cousins and a couple of people from my aunt’s church to practise the songs for that night’s service (Because he lives, In the sweet by and by, Amazing grace and How great thou art – it was an old songbook and those were the only ones we all knew (or could fake)). Just quietly, my cousins and I made a pretty good band, with Chi Ming on cajon, Ken on guitar, Jon and I singing. I was glad I could serve the family and God in this way.
Dad led the service. My cousin Vanessa and I read the Bible (John 14:1-7 and Romans 8:38-39). The pastor gave a rambly kind of sermon, but the thing I liked was how he talked about how our hearts are troubled when we are uncertain about things, but we do not need to be troubled about what comes after this life – we have certainty about where we’re going if we know Jesus. 
After the message my aunts Christina and Honey got up and shared a few things, and Honey talked about how Mama became a Christian. She had been baptised in 2011 after her dementia had already started taking hold, so I had always wondered how much she knew about what she was saying. But Honey said that she had actually become a Christian in 2005 on a church retreat that Honey had sent her on to Cameron Highlands, and this was before her mind had gone. It brought a reassurance about her last years, that even though she couldn’t remember who her family was, her faith was simple and childlike and real. Her character had certainly changed in the last several years; she was no longer the fierce, stern woman she had always been, but seemed much softer.

After the service there was plenty of food, but I didn’t feel much like eating. I went and patted the cat that hung around the area, waiting for scraps. There was a lot of sitting around while people ate and talked. Felt kind of weird to be sitting in a room with a coffin in it, eating and drinking. I ate a lot of kueh lapis…kind of the only comfort food I felt like (it doesn’t taste as pink as it looks).

We were back again first thing in the morning for the small family service. We sang some more (What a friend we have in Jesus and Because he lives (again)). We read the same passages as the night before and the pastor said similar things.

Then the coffin was put in the hearse (really just a van), and everyone walked slowly behind it, to the crematorium next door. Ken played guitar and Chi Ming and I sang In the sweet by and by and How great is our God as we walked. It was very hot.

Then yet another message from the pastor, and we all took a flower and laid it on the coffin. Unlike Australia, where there is usually a curtain or at least some doors that close on the coffin, at this place you just stand around and watch the coffin go into the actual furnace.

We went out for yum cha at this surreally empty mall (it was still quite early in the day). We had so much food, and it was delicious. My cousins and I sat together; even though we’re all in our late 20s and 30s, we will always be at the kids’ table, being clowns.

So then it was time to go and collect the ashes. In four hours. So fast. I assumed that we would just go pick up an urn. But no, that’s not the Chinese way. This next bit might be a bit morbid sounding, but it is how they do it here. And I actually found it quite fascinating, when I stepped back and observed it. It completely demystifies the whole process of death and dying.

Back at the crematorium, there was a table with two metal boxes on it. In one box there were the remains of the coffin. In the other box were Mama’s bones. Beside the boxes was a piece of newspaper with pieces of bone the attendants had separated; these were fragments of skull, set aside because they were the most special pieces.

Each family member had to select some bones with chopsticks and put them in the urn, then pieces of skull. The attendant ground down the contents of the urn with a stick (that was pretty much the sort of thing they muddle mojitos with), then he went and ground the remaining bones into ash in a machine, and the family poured the ash into the urn together. Of course everyone photographed the entire process.

I’ll spare you the photos of the bones themselves, but this is my dad (in black) and his siblings in the last stage.

Afterwards I got in the car and said to dad, “well that was weird.” And he said, “what was?”

The whole trip has been an eye opener in terms of cross cultural experience, made weirder by the fact that this is half my culture and yet I am so unfamiliar with it.

It has been a strange time of catching up with family, of remembering my grandmother, of trying to bond with my young half siblings, of eating. Dad and Janice have kindly put me up, but my dad and all the kids are unwell and I’m starting to feel a bit headachy myself…I’m hoping it’s just tiredness and I’m not getting their colds!

Me and Ethan

Celine, me and Ethan…somehow I didn’t manage to get a pic with Matthew!

Tomorrow morning I get back on a plane and go back to Australia and straight back to work on Monday. I’m exhausted. I’m not really emotional, just tired and dazed and a bit spun out from everything that I’ve been a part of these last few days. I wonder if it will hit me later. Hopefully the plane is not full again and I will be able to sleep the day away.