I’m biking home from work tonight around 9:30. I’m on a two-lane road near our place, and it’s clogged up ahead. This barely registers because getting clogged is just what Tianjin roads do. But then I hear the music — looped Buddhist funeral chanting. As I get closer, I see what must be the relatives standing silently lined up in the middle of the road — there’s at least twenty of them, all in dark clothing. Several meters ahead of them are a about five guys piling Chinese funeral wreaths in the middle of an intersection (as they often do at Tianjin funerals), dressed casually and yelling, “Throw that there! Move that over! Don’t put those there!” There’s a big paper-machÃ©-looking horse at the front of the pile. Mildly curious onlookers are scattered on the surrounding sidewalks and cars are waiting in both directions.
The pile is finally ready; it’s about six feet high. The last thing to go on is a white, paper something placed on top by the lead family member — looks like he could be the son. Then they light the pile and it flares up quickly. The family members are all kneeling on their hands and knees, heads bowed, in the middle of the road. The horse literally bursts into flames, and the flames from the pile threaten the overhanging tree branches and telephone and electrical wires. The lead pile-arranger has a long pole that he stokes and corrals and beats down the fire with.
Once the flames are on their way down (but still high; this is a full-on bonfire), the family gets up and the women start wailing. They slowly walk away down the road, arms around each other, crying, dabbing eyes, etc., following the amplifier on wheels that’s playing the looped Buddhist chanting and being pulled by some guy.
The guy in charge of the bonfire is trying to get the cars to start going around it. The drivers hesitate, but one nimble taxi cuts out of line and flies past like he’s afraid of getting his paint scorched. As the flames get lower, some of the onlookers chuckle and applaud and begin to disperse.
I didn’t have the camera with me, but you can see examples of what I saw here: