In the gentle morning light, 22-year-old Liu Chun-lin brushed her three-quarter-inch eyelashes, fastened her flowing raven hair and then set off for another day of crying her heart out for someone else's dead relative.
Liu and her five-member Filial Daughters' Band are part of a thriving funeral mourning business in Taiwan -- professional entertainers paid by grieving families to wail, scream and otherwise create the anguished sorrow befitting a proper funeral.
Complex, lavish and drawn out, the performances are as much a status symbol for the living as a show of respect for the dead on this island of 23 million people lying 90 miles off the Chinese coast.
Taiwanese death rites regularly feature processions of elaborate floats displaying folklore figures in colorful costumes, bands of drummers and trumpet players, and even strippers and scantily clad singing women. The most extravagant can cost as much as $30,000.
A scaled-down event -- something without a procession and floats -- can cost $6,000, mortuary operators say.
Grieving relatives are often too weary or too numb to shed the requisite amount of tears, so they hire groups like the Filial Daughters' Band to perform their mournful stuff. Liu's group charges $600 for a half-day's work.
On a recent weekday morning, the group arrived at a funeral home on the rural outskirts of Taipei for a typical exercise in empathy, this time for a ceremony at the cheaper end of the scale, with just a simple flower-draped hearse and no elaborate procession.
Mounting an outdoor stage, Liu danced, posed and clicked bamboo sticks to the tune of a well-known mourning song, before launching into her signature high-pitched, heart-wrenching wailing while pounding the floor and crawling on her knees to express grief for a dead stranger.
After finishing the song, she shed her rainbow-colored costume in favor of the white satin dress with matching white linen head cloth required for the main ritual.
With brother Liu Wen-chi accompanying her on an electronic piano, she returned to the stage, recalling the harsh life of the dearly departed, a woman who had sacrificed everything to raise her dutiful children.
"Mama," she chanted into a hand-held microphone, "from now on we go our separate ways. We look around everywhere but see no traces of you."
The woman's two adult sons and daughter quickly took up the beat, softening their faces and letting their tears flow freely.
But it was Liu who set the pace, Liu whose emotion was greatest.
For 40 minutes she chanted, danced and wailed, touching the hearts of the audience.
Back in the band's van, Liu changed into a pink shirt and jeans and considered the challenge of playing necrologic cheerleader for total strangers.
"I just imagine that I am part of the family and I fuse myself into the occasion," she said.
She doesn't have to familiarize herself with many details of the deceased's life. Her performance relies on a mostly generic mourning text, with the sorrow of survivors expressed in poetic lines.
Some young people -- particularly in big cities -- have begun opting for more restrained rites. And authorities encourage using the Internet to post pictures of the dead and dispensing with or shortening formal rites they deem too lavish and superstitious.
But customs die hard and many Taiwanese insist on traditional procedures, including hiring monks and nuns to chant Buddhist scriptures to help spirits seeking the path to reincarnation.
Liu's brother, Wen-chi, said the Filial Daughters' Band can turn a profit by appearing at one event a day, but laments the bygone times when funeral processions could wind their way through crowded city streets "and no one complained about the blocked traffic or the noise."
"Young people today don't understand the deep meaning of the ceremonies," he said. "They only hire mourning bands at the insistence of older relatives."