By Damir Sagolj
An angel-like girl, dressed all in white carries a pack of toothbrushes on a Sunday morning. She walks slowly, smiles all around and seems not to be bothered by music so loud that one can’t hear his own thoughts. She is on her way to the Mang Teung Sua Jung Cemetery in Chonburi province – where members of a local Thai Chinese community will exhume unclaimed bodies. Toothbrushes will be used to clean the dirt from bones.
One of the first books I read after arriving in Thailand more than two years ago was Bizarre Thailand – a collection of strange tales from the “land of smiles”. It was a nice introduction to what I could expect here in Thailand but I thought to myself – I’ve seen enough elsewhere; bizarre things in other countries so nothing can surprise me.
Well, this is Thailand and things go well beyond expectations. On this day, unclaimed dead bodies are taken out of graves in the corner of a massive cemetery in Choburi province. It is a Thai Chinese ritual that has been going on for decades since diseases like malaria killed many people 90 years ago in the province. The legend goes that officials began haphazardly digging up corpses so the city could build an airport and stopped only when they were haunted by ghosts. Since then, residents have felt it necessary to leave the land untouched and to honor those who have died without loved ones.
Every ten years hundreds of people wearing white – a customary color for funerals and visiting temples – go to the cemetery, open the graves and clean the unclaimed bodies to offer them a proper burial. Later in the year, remains of the dead with no friends or relatives will be cremated, ashes spread at sea to make room in the burial ground for more unclaimed bodies in the coming years.
Collecting karma is big in Thailand and people at the cemetery believe this ritual helps them to do so. Also, they believe that the dead will not be able to move on and have another good life if they don’t have a proper funeral and cremation. So, despite the fear, heat and dirt – hundreds of people take care of the dead and their souls in another bizarre event in amazing Thailand.