Kim Jong Il’s Funeral

The photos from Kim Jong Il’s funeral look surreal and way old-timey. That this happened in our world in modern times is totally weird.

In the photos, the people are crying, and it is snowing, and no one seems to be wearing hats or gloves except for members of the military, who also look a little off.

The uniforms are slightly ill-fitting, collars pulling off the neck. You need to take the shoulders in and lift the whole silhouette up or you look like a clothes hanger. I see their loose outfits and immediately imagine pinning the back and folding up sleeves, doing the alterations in my mind. I am a seamstress to the fucking core.

There’s a costume quality to their officials, like they are just pretending, like weekend military reenactors, or like extras from a straight-to-DVD action film, but they are real. I guess the fact that they don’t look real makes them more real.

Everyone is really upset. I would be crying from the cold alone. I can’t stand the snow, and my ears want to break off just looking at their bare heads and wet eyes. I don’t get that kind of dictator worship. I don’t believe I have ever cried over the death of a political figure, with the exception of Harvey milk. And if anyone was deserving of this kind of grandeur, he was, but not Kim Jong Il, I don’t think. I would have been upset about JFK and Lincoln, but I wasn’t born yet.

The big photo of Kim Jong Il reminds me of the Chinese funeral processions I witnessed as a child, weaving slowly down Powell Street. There would be a fancy hearse carrying the recently deceased, usually a very old person, but creepily sometimes someone pretty young, and the blown-up portrait would be propped on top of the car, with white ribbons crossed at the bottom, symbolizing death, as if the coffin inside weren’t enough to tip you off.

I always tried to sneak looks through the windows of the hearse to see the coffin, which was shiny and big and scary and ominous and draped in white lace, with white flowers surrounding it. For Asians the color of death is white. If I put a white flower in my hair, my mom would freak the fuck out. White is death, not innocence, not purity, not cleanliness, not brides. It’s straight-up death. Black, however, is slimming and sophisticated.

A long line of cars rolling single-file to the cemetery in front and behind the hearse would be preceded by a fairly large brass band, their sheet music on small cards stuck to their horns, squealing out a mournful requiem march that filled the joss-stick smoky air with solemnity and minor chords.

I saw these processions so often that I started to understand that some people spent more on their funerals than others. The bands were bigger or smaller, or sometimes there was no band at all, and then the only sound you would hear were the idling engines and some soft sniffling and crying, unless the dead person was a baby. That was the worst. They wouldn’t have a band, and people would be screaming with grief, I mean howling at the top of their lungs in the deepest, sickest sadness that can be felt. I only saw that one time. I’ll never forget that. Tiny coffin in a big, huge hearse. Terrible.

Usually folks skimped on the flower arrangements, and every once in a while I would just see a plain, pine box in the hearse. No frills, no chills, no daffodils. That’s cool. It looks better that way, in my opinion.

It looks like Kim Jong Il’s ceremony was expensive, and that’s wrong. It’s money ill spent. It should have gone to buy hats and gloves for the cold mourners. That money should have been used to feed and educate the people and introduce them to rest of the world.

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6 Comments. Add To The Mix…

  1. I read about the gigantic pillow fight in China and thought \what if the N. Korean citizenry had done that at Kim Jong Il’s funeral?\ That would have been a better catharsis than the staged mourning.

  2. I think the whole idea of elaborate funerals and burying people in the ground with huge headstones is absurd. It’s all a celebration of the ego. Certainly, all of North Korea was a celebration of Kim Jong Il’s ego. I believe in keeping a low profile, no fuss no muss. I’m not opposed to any sort of funeral, but I think it should always be modest and unobtrusive. I wish death could be treated as no big deal, but of course, it isn’t. Death might even turn out to be something totally unexpected. In a way, big elaborate funerals are just an expression of our overwhelming fear of death. A fear that governments and churches have used to terrorize people and keep them in line. Death may be a joke.

  3. thanks for always commenting russell. your writing is cool and i like your blog too. we have similar writing style, which is nice to see. happy new year. thanks to everyone who reads this blog and your comments are always welcome and appreciated even though i don’t generally post my thoughts after the fact. best, m

  4. It is definitely odd watching the footage, almost like I’m watching society in a snow globe. It makes the world seem pretty vast.

    I didn’t know that white symbolized death in Asia, this makes me think of lillies on Easter. :) Happy New Year.

  5. It makes the world seem vast, for sure. It kind of reminds me of observing a society in a crystal ball, or a snowglobe.
    Watching the mourners, I think it must be confusing. I wouldn’t know what to feel… liberated, scared, uncertain, I can’t even begin to imagine. Excellent post, m’lady. Happy New Year!

  6. To live in Pyongyang, one has to prove themselves a staunch supporter of Fearless Leader, and the more of a sycophant you are, the more perks you get. Compare their lives to those of the average North Koreans, and you see why they are willing to go out and mourn theatrically. The ones who are in greatest need are the ones we never see (notice they almost never show any places outside of Pyongyang; that’s the ‘jewel in their crown’). And what really pisses me off is the thought that both Kim Jong Il and his “great suck-cessor” son have both spent a lot of time outside the country. They’re both completely aware of how the rest of the world lives, and they choose to go along with and perpetuate this abuse of humanity. It’s really no different than a small rich ruling class in a banana republic, except that they call it “communism.” It’s still a matter of paying off people who will keep them in power against the people who have the least power. Hoping his son will be do bumbling to keep the show going and it will maybe turn out like Albania, where the system collapses and people will finally lose their fear. But I’m afraid that whatever happens, it will still mean a lot more suffering for the people who least deserve it. I guess that’s politics as usual though, isn’t it?

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