Sunday, 8 July 2007

I See Dead People

This blog is about Singapore life, so let's talk about death. First off, there's a lot of it about. I can't remember the last time I saw a funeral procession in England. We don't like death; we are embarrassed, unsure how to empathise with the family and wish it would quietly go away.

Here, there are different rituals depending upon culture (ok, race), religion and family wishes but it ends up in a melange of traditions. The one downstairs at the moment is for a Chinese lady (there's a big black & white photograph), so everything's in white including the coffin, white curtains forming a room and white plastic tables & chairs for mourners. But she must be Christian, as there's a big cross at the foot of the coffin, although no other symbols.

A work colleague's father passed away and I went along to pay respects at the funeral parlour; actually an anonymous, austere, mostly windowless 4-storey warehouse. It's a busy place as viewings only last a day and the turnover of clients, relatives, friends, flowers and cards requires close management. He apparently didn't have any particular spiritual wish so the family chose a neutral ceremony followed by cremation. These situations can be awkward but I must confess to being at a short-term loss for words when asked if I wanted to see the body (the coffin had a glass insert at the head end).

Buddhist send offs can be quite fancy especially if they were paid up Soka members. They get a full event at a void deck all in white with priests, music, speeches and ceremonies.

If there's a hearse and procession, then a Chinese would have family dressed in white shirts following the hearse, often with their hands on the back as if pushing it, followed by relatives and friends, then a Chinese band (opera style with drums and cymbals) and possibly a Dragon troupe as well. Indians have their own hearses painted bright and gay (no chance of moonlighting as a limo) and their own procession.

All of life's acts are played out in the dense public confines of the HDB flats and it's doubled or tripled the number of dead people I've seen in only a few months. This is good as I'm more relaxed about the whole thing.