客厅里摆棺材?/ Interior Design: Coffin in the Living Room?



黑狗好奇地打量着我…… / A black dog eyed me curiously…

客厅里摆棺材?

80年代初,我在两周内参观了四川的许多地方。我和一位同事,以及一家与我们有合作项目的当地公司的几位经理一起旅行。有时候地方官员也来陪同。

这次旅行多次坐汽车,还有几次坐火车。和现在不同,当年的公路大多只有两条车道,所以行驶速度比现今的高速公路慢得多。

有一次,我们在偏远农村开车,沿着乡村公路走了很远,我需要响应“自然的召唤”,解决一下内急。

我猜想,接下来走很多里都不会有公共厕所,于是就请面包车司机把车停到一户农家门外。

我朝农宅走过去,看见一个女人正在前院干杂活。而她身后的堂屋门前,坐着一位老太太。

几条黑狗好奇地打量着我,但因为天气太热,即使看到一个外国人接近院子,它们都懒得理会。

我的同事问女主人是否有地方可以让我小解,女主人用手往房子侧后方的粪池指了指。粪池的大小相当于一个小型泳池,里面散发出的恶臭差点儿把我呛晕过去,但在内急的时候,它给我带来了解脱。

返回面包车的路上,我注意到在老奶奶座位的背后、堂屋的正中间摆放着一口大木棺。

我对堂屋中间摆口棺材感到不解,于是请教中国同事到底为什么要在那里摆棺材。

我的同事解释说,在中国农村的某些地方,这样做是为了让老太太或是其他年长的家人放心,后事都已经安排妥当,他们没必要为此担心了。中国的乡下人历来很重视妥善安排死后的送终和下葬,这不仅仅是为了逝者,也是为了生者着想。

尽管在当时的情景下我接受了这个解释,但我看到棺材时的第一反应却大相径庭。我觉得这口棺材多少给人一种家人盼着老太太尽快过世的印象,所以,当我第一眼看见它就感到异常诧异。

这个故事的寓意是:从一种文化到另一种文化,甚至是从同一种文化中的一个地方到另一个地方,人们对同一事物的看法可能会存在天壤之别。假如没有开明的调查精神,一个外人很容易就会犯下妄加论断的错误。

Interior Design: Coffin in the Living Room?

In the early 1980s I visited many places in Sichuan Province during a two-week period. I traveled with a colleague as well as some executives of a local company we had a cooperative project with. Sometimes, local officials also accompanied us.

This involved quite a lot of driving as well as some train trips. Unlike today, the roads were mostly two-lane, and the driving was much slower than on today’s modern highways.

At one point, as we drove along a rural road far out in the countryside, I had to answer the call of nature.

I guessed there would be no public restroom for many miles to come, so I asked our van driver to stop outside a local farmhouse.

As I walked toward the house I saw a lady doing chores in the front courtyard. Behind her was an elderly lady sitting outside the main door of the house.

Several black dogs eyed me curiously, but it was hot, and they were too lazy to investigate even the approach of a foreigner to their courtyard.

My colleague asked the lady of the house if there was a place I could pee, and she gestured to the side and back of the house, where there was a big manure pond. It was the size of a small swimming pool and the smell was almost enough to knock me out, but it provided welcome relief at that moment of need.

On the way back to the van, I noticed a large wooden coffin right in the middle of the main room of the house, directly behind where granny was sitting.

I was puzzled by the presence of the coffin right in the middle of the main room next to the door, and asked my Chinese colleague why in the world they would put a coffin there?

My colleague explained that, especially in some parts of the Chinese countryside, this would give granny or other elderly family members peace of mind, that arrangements for her eventual funeral were already taken care of. Thus, no need for them to worry about that any more. Traditionally, rural people in China place great importance on proper funeral and burial arrangements, both for the sake of the departed as well as those who remain on.

While this explanation made sense to me under the circumstances, my first reaction upon seeing the coffin was quite different, that somehow it might convey the impression that the family was anxious for granny to go. That’s why it struck me as particularly strange at first glance.

The moral of the story is that from one culture to another, and even from one place to another within the same culture, people look at the same thing in very different ways. Without a spirit of open-minded inquiry it is all too easy to make the wrong judgement as an outsider.


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