Numbers growing in last two years; pragmatic reasons cited for practice
By Diana Othman & Kimberly Spykerman
24 Aug 2008
MR RONNIE Ho arrives at the Changi Ferry Point bearing a simple white urn.
In it are the ashes of his aunt, Madam Fang Lun, who died in 1987 and whose cremated remains had thus far been stored at Mount Vernon Columbarium.
When her only son Ricky Gah died recently and had his ashes scattered off the Changi coast, Mr Ho decided to do the same for her to reunite her with him.
He is among a growing number of Christians and followers of Chinese religions here who are giving this kind of final resting place to their kin.
The numbers are not known but funeral service companies say the number of requests for ash-scattering at sea has gone up in the last two years.
In Singapore, this has long been practised by Hindus such as the Kandiahs, who allowed The Straits Times to accompany them out to sea. They were on their way to scatter the remains of their father Subapathy Kandiah, who died at 101.
The family's youngest son S. K. Singam, 54, said: 'This is the traditional Hindu last rite we want to do for our father.'
Muslims bury their dead.
Mr Ho, when asked why he was not moving his aunt's ashes to another columbarium or keeping it at home instead, was realistic. He said doing either obliges descendants to visit during Qing Ming, the Chinese festival to honour the dead, and future generations may not do so.
He said: 'Relatives may visit the first, second, third or fourth years, but after the fifth and sixth, no more... What's the point of troubling people?'
As a Christian, he believes the body is just a shell for the soul, which returns to God upon death. He has decided that he too, will have his ashes scattered at sea. He and his wife have no children.
He also had a pragmatic reason for his choice: 'There's no point for the dead to fight for space with the living. It's a waste of land and resources.'
Singapore Casket told The Straits Times that, where requests for ash- scattering at sea came once to thrice a month two years ago, it was now arranging for this rite more than 10 times a month.
A spokesman said: 'People choose ash-scattering mainly to make it convenient for the next generation. When the ashes are scattered, they do not have to keep visiting to offer prayers.'
Another funeral service company, Funeral Solutions, now does six or seven ash-scattering rites every month, which contribute to about a third of its business, said its owner Teo Chin Li who, at 20, is reportedly the youngest funeral director here.
It did just nine sea services in 2006, its first year, and 40 last year. It did 40 in the first seven months of this year alone.
Marketing agency owner Angela Sim, 32, fulfilled her cancer-stricken mother's wish to have her ashes scattered.
She said her mother had felt it was a waste of time for her family to have to visit the columbarium: 'She said to just put up a photo of her at home and think of her because, at the end of the day, it does not matter if we are in an urn or a coffin. What matters is how people remember us and the memories of the life we make.'
Others who take the option of ash- scattering also see the rite as symbolic of 'freeing' the spirit of the deceased, and that it helps bring closure to the death.
Families will not have tangible remains of their loved ones, but some do head out to the spot on, say, the anniversary of the death to toss flowers into the sea.
Funeral companies' packages, which include collecting the ashes from the crematorium, prayers and a boat charter, cost about $300; if a meal is catered on board a more luxurious vessel, the bill can run into the thousands.
Most people stick to smaller boats berthed in Changi and Sembawang. Boatmen who used to ferry sun-seekers to Pulau Ubin and Pengerang in Johor now get the bulk of their business from taking people to their final resting places. For between $60 and $100, they ferry families of up to 12 to places up to 1 km from shore, near Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong.
Boat-charter company CKL Motor Boat takes families to waters off Katong and Tanjong Rhu from Marina South Pier.
But the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, which regulates the disposal of ashes at sea here, has some rules - even if they are usually not enforced:
- Ashes should only be disposed 2.8km south of Pulau Semakau;
- Only the ashes should be cast into the water. Urns or containers should not, because the piling up of urns on the sea bed will reduce water depth; also, urns have been known to float to the surface and be washed ashore.
MEMORIES ARE WHAT MATTER
'She said to just put up a photo of her at home and think of her because, at the end of the day, it does not matter if we are in an urn or a coffin. What matters is how people remember us and the memories of the life we make.'
Ms Angela Sim, 32, said her mother had felt it was a waste of time for her family to have to visit the columbarium