The Chinese Cemetery ~ Silom Road, Bangkok

Blue Chinese headstone, surrounded by green weeds and water

Weeds and Water ~ Chinese Graveyard, Silom

Cemeteries, especially old ones, speak volumes. The epitaphs engraved on the headstones, tombs, and mausoleums tell stories about the living. The materials and style of the contruction, the location and orientation of the graves themselves, and the way in which they are cared for, give insights into people’s priorities. The study of burial rituals is one of the mainstays of cultural anthropology, illuminating, as it does, so much about the values and organisation of a society. Photographically, graveyards are a goldmine: rich with textured surfaces and subtle tones.

Chinese graveyards can be particularly interesting. Traditionally, they were built into hills – the higher the better. Funeral observances were elaborate and bodies were buried intact, with the food, money and goods that they might need in the afterlife. During the annual Qingming Festival, the tributes were paid to the dead, and the graves were swept and cleaned. With the pressure of population and scares resources, the idea of cremation was promoted, so that today many Chinese graveyards include provisions for urns.

An elaborate white chinese grave, set into a sculptured green lawn - a golden Chinese buddha on the green hill behind

A Chinese Grave ~ Hua Hin, Thailand

In many places, however, frugality is ignored. Where money and space permit, urns are housed in mausoleums as large and ostentatious as ever, as is ‘befitting’ the stature of the ancestor.

The spiritual importance of one’s ancestors in Chinese culture makes the old Chinese cemetery on Silom Road in Bangkok even more surprising. Sinking into a watery grave itself, overrun by pumkin vines, weeds and mangy dogs, it is hard to imagine the ancestors feeling at home there.

Water, weeds and ruined graved ~ Bangkok high-rises in the background.

Sinking into obscurity, in the heart of Bangkok's commercial centre.

A Chinese stone lion in front of a gravesite filled with water and rubbish.

Guardian Lion ~ The Chinese Graveyard, Silom Road, Bangkok

Old Chinese mausoleums, surrounded by water and weeds

Water and Weeds ~ Chinese Graveyard, Silom Road

I had wanted to visit this place years ago when a photographer friend of mine posted the results of one of his visits on his Flickr site, but I never quite made it. It took the suggestion of visiting Manhattan-based artist, Jenny Krasner to pique my interest once again.

Truthfully, had I been alone, I would have never ventured past the gate! Beyond the walled car park, a large sala (pavilion) gave shade and shelter to a collection of rough-looking Thais and assorted car parts and bits of machinery. We greeted the men cautiously in our best Thai, and when they ignored us, we assumed it was safe to proceed. The graves themselves are surrounded by water, and we had to climb over stones, broken glass and rusting cans to get to the pathway between the headstones. I was wishing I was wearing closed shoes, trying to remember when I had last had a tetanus shot and wondering what the place would look like in rainy season (we were there early summer) while picking my way gingerly over the uneven ground with my camera gear. The pack of resident soi dogs (we counted 20), somnolent from the late morning heat, growled and barked whenever we moved too fast or got too close.

Howling dog standing on the headstone of a Chinese tomb

Guardian of the Tomb?

Old wall with niches for cremation urns

Old Wall ~ Niches for the Ancestors' Ashes

Composite: Faded Jasmine garland on a sealed cremation alcove; Memorial inside an alcove

Garlands and Remembrances for the Departed

Blue pottery container with a n incense stick and an empty fanta bottle in it: wall of ashes

All the Spirits in Thailand Love Fanta!

Old empty beer bottle and energy-drink bottle inside a brick memorial alcove

Living Spirits ~ Beer and Energy Drinks

Photo of a middle-aged man on a stone tomb ~ Chinese Graveyard

The Ancestors Keep Watch (Lightroom Blue Filter)

Old graves, flooded

Watery Graves (Lightroom Colour Creative - Yesteryear 2)

Flooded Chinese headstone + reflection

Reflections of Mortality

Back porch of a Thai house - bordering a graveyard

Living Amongst the Graves

People actually live on site, and there was evidence of children on the cluttered back porch that overlooked the flooded grounds and the graves. If these people are caretakers, it is not clear what they have achieved against the decay of a cemetery which is not actually as old as it looks.

I don’t get the feeling too many spirits stay there anymore.

So – keep your eyes open this Hallowe’en! They will probably be looking for a better-kept home.

 

 

 

 

  • Signe Westerberg - October 28, 2011 - 1:17 am

    considering the wet grave sites in these photos’ one would think only a shadow of the water in there now….stay safe.ReplyCancel

  • Selim Hassan - November 16, 2011 - 6:08 am

    I am shocked at the state of neglect in the Chinese cemetery. This is quite contrary to the degree of respect and reverence that the Chinese traditionally have towards their ancestors. I find it hard to believe that there could be no surviving descendants of those interred in the cemetery to maintain the grounds? Most cemeteries, regardless of religion, are usually kept in pristine condition. This would be an interesting story in itself.ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - November 16, 2011 - 7:12 am

      Hi Selim!
      Nice of you to visit. 🙂
      I agree with you: most cemeteries are maintained better than this one. If I’m reading the dates right, this one is only 87 years old.
      B.E. 2467ReplyCancel

  • Dog : Guardian (3469) | Pictures of Dog - November 16, 2011 - 9:51 am

    […] For the back-story, please visit my PhotoBlog: http://www.ursulasweeklywanders.com/travel/the-chinese-cemetery-… […]ReplyCancel

  • Guava - November 16, 2011 - 12:54 pm

    Interesting shots Ursula. I concur with your reading of the date B.E. 2467 which would make it 1924. Certainly looks much older than 87 years!ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - November 17, 2011 - 12:27 am

      Always happy to have your visits, Guava! 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Khin May Hlyan ( May ) - November 2, 2012 - 6:26 am

    Hi Ursula

    I came from Burma but I have been living in Thailand for 10 years. My grandfather was buried in this cemetery. When I first came here, I asked one of my relatives to take me to the cemetery so that I could pay respect to my grandpa. Since then, I have been paying respect to my grandpa whenever I was around that area. I think more than 10 times now. Before I always went inside the cemetery but I couldn’t go in front of my grandpa’s tomb because the ground was flooded water. However, the last two times which were in this year , I dared not even go inside in the cemetery as there were a lot of dogs in the compound where people park their cars. Before, there were about 6 or 7 dogs but now it was about 15, so I dared not go in. I apologised my grandpa and paid respect to him from the gate only.

    It is so sad that the cemetery has been neglected like this. I know my aunt pays a visit on Chaingming Day every year but I don’t know whether she is still alive or not, and her children keep going or not.

    I took three photos of my grandpa when I first went there and I think my grandpa’s tomb is in one of the photos that you took. It is photo number 5 and my grandpa’s tomb is beside the big one with two lions on the tomb. It is on the right side of the photo.

    Do you have the photo taken from the front so that the tomb I thought is my grandpa’s? In my photo, there was a part of the big tomb and the smaller one. My grandpa’s is between them. Or from the other side of the tombs. If you have it could you please send it to my email address? I would like to take more photos like you but I dare not go in because of the dogs.

    Thanks you very much for taking the photos and putting them on the website.
    Best regards
    MayReplyCancel

    • Ursula - November 2, 2012 - 9:47 pm

      Hi May,

      I’m so sorry to hear about your grandfather. It is sad when graveyards are not maintained properly.

      I’ve had a look at my originals, and I don’t think I have what you are after. Some photos that are not on the Blog are on my Flickr site, so you could try looking at those. Just go to my Flickr page (http://www.flickr.com/photos/ursula_bkk) and search “Chinese graveyard”. The pictures currently start from page 43 (http://www.flickr.com/photos/ursula_bkk/page43/) but that changes each time I post.

      I’m sorry I couldn’t be more help!

      Best regards, UrsulaReplyCancel

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