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The Hong Kong Way Of Death

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The Chinese peoples have a particular reverence for their ancestors. All around the country there are graveyards or merely simple gravestones, usually slightly circular with a concrete pllnth where descendents can place their offerings of flowers, fruit and the departed's favourite dishes. Hong Kong has several, the large ones in the built up city areas, the individual ones dotted around what used to be called the New Territories.


But as one of the most densely populated parts of the planet, land for graveyards ran out years ago. As a result, many families kept the ashes of their ancestors in urns given a special place in their homes. But as the size of family homes has become smaller and smaller, other solutions have had to be found.

One of the city's zillionaires who made her money in jewellry and property, Margaret Zee, is the latest to jump on this money-making bandwagon. She has constructed a 12-storey building specially designed by a German architect to store the remains of loved ones in the best possible way. Shan Sum offers a resting place for up to 10 years at a starting price of $53,000 - US$ that is! Not that all you get is a hole in the wall measuring around 1 sguare meter! The building can accommodate urns for 23,000 of the departed. This facility is both air conditioned and humidity controlled, it has a roof garden and greenery lining its stairwells and other areas. What happens after 10 years is up in the air as such facilities are subject to government regulations and the maximum at present is 10 years. Perhaps renewal will involve some sort of discount. As Ms. Zee claims, the space is as much for the peace and enjoyment for living relatives as for the dead.


Not that Shan Sum is the largest or most expensive repose for the dead. A spot in a temple-like complex close to the Chinese border presently sells for US$66,000. But that is not all. Annual Management fees per urn space are a whopping US$25,000!

If you do not belong to the class of the rich and famous, the government is trying to increase the construction of a similar number of facilities for the dead. A 20 years lease on these far simpler plots costs US$300 but competition is fierce with long waiting lists.

Hong Kong land values have always been monstrously high and continue to skyrocket. I can remember back in 1996 the car park spaces in the three underground levels of my 34-storey apartment building (which I rented) were put on sale for US$96,000 each - with a management fee on top!


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