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.