Funeral expo shows new ways to deal with the dead

Fri May 20, 2011 10:54am EDT
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By Stefanie McIntyre

HONG KONG (Reuters Life!) - For the seven million citizens of Hong Kong, living comfortably in the one of the world's most densely populated cities is difficult enough, but dying presents is own set of challenges.

Around 43,700 people died in the territory in 2010. By 2020 that number is expected to rise to almost 53,000. A majority will be cremated, since land shortages forced most people to abandon burials in the 1980s and cremations became acceptable.

But now the city's public columbarium, where relatives can keep ashes in an urn in a 30 cm (one foot) crevice in a wall, has run out of space.

As a result, Hong Kong residents have been forced to store their loved ones' remains in funeral homes, privately-run storage facilities, or their own homes.

"In recent years there are more than 100,000 people waiting for columbarium space," said Tiu Tong Ng, Honourable President of Hong Kong's Funeral Director Association.

"Usually it take three to four years to obtain this kind of space. The government has to solve this problem," he told the Asia Funeral Expo, which opened in Hong Kong Thursday.

In 2010, the government identified 17 new potential sites for columbaria in five districts, and looked at relaxing regulations on private columbaria in industrial buildings.

But local residents are resisting these plans, concerned about bad feng shui and a constant stream of mourners burning the traditional paper and incense offerings in their neighborhood, especially during festivals.   Continued...

<p>A TV journalist tries a coffin during the Asia Funeral Expo (AFE) in Hong Kong, May 19, 2011. REUTERS/Bobby Yip</p>