HONG KONG – Remembering loved ones at a virtual cemetery that shows the favorite place of the deceased, far from the skyscrapers of Hong Kong, or converting their ashes into works of art are some of the inventive solutions for a city where the dead and living jostle for space.
For generations, people in Hong Kong have continued family traditions to honor the dead, fighting for the best spots to bury them in the hills or next to the sea, or spending small fortunes on jade urns or elaborate formal ceremonies.
Those who can manage to secure a private tomb in the overpopulated cemeteries have to pay anything between 500,000 and one million Hong Kong dollars ($63,000 to $126,000).
Those who cannot may join a five-year waiting list for a space in the public columbary – which stores thousands of urns with ashes of the dead – for 3,000 Hong Kong dollars.
As a solution to this mess, the government of the former British colony has been seeking to promote a culture of green burials, urging people to turn away from traditional systems and store the funerary urns in special buildings after cremation.
“My father passed away in 2016 due to a brain hemorrhage,” C. Lau, a 40-year-old airhostess, told EFE.
“He loved the sea and freedom, so we decided to honor him by scattering his ashes in the (South) China Sea,” she said.
Her family boarded a ferry paid for by the government that takes mourners to scatter ashes at sea.
Lau said this option was not only in accordance with her father’s wishes but also responded to problems of scarcity of space in cemeteries.
She said after obtaining the necessary documents, the family joined “the group ceremony aboard a vessel belonging to the government,” where they ensure that the biodegradable bags containing the remains are not thrown into areas where pink dolphins – a protected species – are known to reside.
Lau and her family later held a “free memorial service over the Internet where near and dear ones could pay homage and express their condolences at any time and from any place.”
However, sea is only one of the many alternatives available.
Architects, artisans and businessmen have unleashed their creativity with more options.
A design company proposed a 15-storey high-rise to store human remains, whereas an architecture firm has presented a concept of a cruise ship that can store 48,000 urns in the high seas.
Another idea involved virtual reality burials, where one can pass by, enjoy the view and walk up to the tomb to pay homage to a loved one – something that in reality would be extremely difficult in land-hungry Hong Kong.
This new system will offer people the possibility of paying their respects digitally, and allow families to bury their dead in more agreeable places such as parks and other public areas instead of a necropolis.
Zimon Chow, the founder of glass shop Glazden, offers to capture the essence of the departed loved ones in a maelstrom of color and ashes embalmed in glass artwork.
“We try to know in depth about the person and give it shape in the form of glass figures,” said Chow, who wishes to offer one more alternative to a society where ancestors are ceaselessly venerated, whether in a tomb or in a glass urn.
“We design incredible pieces unique to the family, in solidarity with their grief, allowing them to sustain and cherish their memories. Each order is treated with maximum care and respect, following strict methods of monitoring and production,” said Chow.
According to the artist, every life is precious and deserves to be honored in an elegant and dignified manner, leading them to focus on fewer pieces with greater exclusivity.
“We don’t want to produce en-mass; it is artisanal work and very personalized, which is why, at the most, we accept five clients a month,” she said.
Chow underlined that they have a range of products to cater to all budgets, with more ecological products lined up to attract the youth.