More insider than tourist or expat
Two of my best friends in Singapore are locals.
Being involved in their lives means that I have had the privilege to be a part of several main life-events of theirs: two funerals, one marriage where I was the maid of honour (and almost a second one; that marriage did happen only I was not able to be present), a long IVF-process, hospitalisations and a birth.
These experiences have taught me a lot about how things are done in Singapore.
I always jokingly refer to myself as a cultural anthropologist, so it is and has been very interesting for me.
It makes me a bit more of an insider than merely a tourist or expat. With the emphasis on ‘a bit more’, because it takes a lot more to become a real insider. I’m fully aware of that.
A final resting place in Singapore
To be clear: of course there’s not ONE way in which things are done. Already there are so many different ethnicities and cultures within Singapore that each will do things differently according to their culture. And even within ethnicities everybody does it in his or her own way.
In my previous post about Cho Chua Kang Cemetery, you can see that the graves at e.g. the Chinese cemetery look different than those at the Muslim cemetery.
You have different choices in Singapore for a last resting place:
- burial or cremation,
- a public cemetery or a private one,
- placing the urn in a temple or in a columbarium,
- a governmental columbarium or a private one.
The cost differ enormously:
- A grave at the public Cho Chua Kang Cemetery e.g. costs a bit less than a thousand dollars.
- You can purchase a niche for the urn at a governmental columbarium for as little as 500 SGD
- while a niche at the 6-star private columbarium sets you back between 20.000 SGD to 60.000 SGD!
Nirvana, a 6-star columbarium
As it happens, I visited this glossy 6-star columbarium, as they advertise themselves, not that long ago, after a cremation. The deceased was going to be placed in a niche there in one of their White Rooms.
I was amazed by the posh, high-glossy ambiance. It felt like stepping into a super-luxurious spa-resort or something. Marble, gold, gigantic Buddha statues, and so very shiny all around.
We were received in the room that the widow had chosen for the urn. Everything was said in Mandarin, but I learned afterwards that the half hour we spent in that room ended with the man from Nirvana doing a sales-pitch. I was flabbergasted. We just cremated a loved one.
That same commercial spirit was also shown when some random people were walking nearby the columbarium when they were surprised by a thunderstorm. They sought shelter in the columbarium. There they received a warm welcome and were offered a tour during which they were told the prices of the different floors and rooms right away.
The person who showed them around told them with unhidden excitement about all the business that was coming his way now that the neighbouring Cho Chua Kang cemetery had to be reduced.
Business is business, I guess.
Wake at HDB void deck
The two funerals that I attended were both Chinese and they had in common that the casket with the deceased in it was placed for several days on the void deck of the HDB where they had lived.
Void deck = the public ground floor of an HDB-flat. Covered but open.
HDB-flat = Housing Development Board flat. The majority of the Singaporeans live in apartments in these buildings. Surprisingly maybe, most Singaporeans own their flat. They don’t rent them.
Friends and family who want to pay their respect can come to the void deck during those days. There you talk, eat, drink, and at one of the funerals we were endlessly folding funeral banknotes in a specific way. I got corrected all the time for not doing a good enough job at folding. Apparently it has to be done quite precise.
The folded funeral banknotes were not the only thing that the deceased person was going to bring with her to the afterlife.
There were paper chests, a car, a house and a lot more.
You can find about anything as a paper object, by the way. Dentures, food, drink, an ATM, an iPhone, etc. Whatever you would like the deceased to have in the hereafter. Again two pictures from the same book.
The subtitle of the book (the art and craft of Chinese paper offerings) is totally spot on, as far as I’m concerned. It really IS a craft -that is unfortunately dying out- how many of the objects are made.
Using thin bamboo, home-made glue and paper these artisans can make anything. I really really love this paper art.
Back to the first funeral that I attended.
At the end of the wake period, we carried all the paper offerings to a green patch nearby the HDB. There we placed it all in a huge wire cage. The offerings reached to the top of that cage. There was a chinese priest, there were some more ceremonies and then the whole cage was set on fire.
The other wake and funeral was different, since the deceased was Taoist.
Did you attend any wakes or funerals that were filled with rituals that you were unfamiliar with?