June 3, 2010

SINGAPORE: Free burials for good karma

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SINGAPORE / The Straits Times / Breaking News / June 3, 2010

AS THE coffin of 92-year-old Lim Kim Guan was carried out of a hearse, the puzzled crematorium officer asked undertaker Roland Tay: 'Where is his family?' 'We are his family,' Mr Tay replied with a wan smile, gesturing to himself and his wife at the funeral of the elderly man who died penniless and alone in a welfare home.

Two helpers and a Buddhist monk formed the rest of the funeral party on a hot and humid afternoon in May. Mr Tay, 63, is an undertaker with a charitable mission: looking after the destitute dead, from senior citizens abandoned by their families to foreign workers and executed criminals.

'I think what I do is very meaningful. I'm in the funeral line, so I can help the destitute and the poor people in the community,' Mr Tay told AFP in an interview. -- PHOTO: AFP

'I think what I do is very meaningful. I'm in the funeral line, so I can help the destitute and the poor people in the community,' Mr Tay told AFP in an interview.
Some notable funerals conducted by Mr Tay:
* The 'Kallang body parts murder' where a 22-year-old Chinese woman, Liu Hong Mei, disappeared and her corpse was found chopped into seven pieces and discarded in five different places including the Kallang River.
* The funeral of Nguyen Tuong Van, a Vietnamese Australian hanged in Singapore for drug trafficking in 2005.
* The most unusual funeral involved Ah Meng, a female Sumatran orang utan from the Singapore Zoo who in life had been the face of the city-state's massive tourism industry.
While most people's idea of charity work involves financial and other forms of support for the the living, Mr Tay makes sure that society's forgotten will be taken care of after they die.

Typical funerals in Singapore are pricey affairs, costing around S$5,000 for the embalming of the corpse, a coffin, a three-day wake and transport to the crematorium or graveyard.

'I help any religion, any nationality. As long as there was life, I will help them,' said Mr Tay, who considers himself a free thinker. The stout, clean-shaven man, who owns Direct Singapore Funeral Services, has laid to rest more than more than 100 dead people free of charge in the 20-odd years he has been in the business. -- AFP

Copyright © 2010 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd.