Sunday, August 24, 2008

More opting to scatter ashes at sea

Numbers growing in last two years; pragmatic reasons cited for practice
By Diana Othman & Kimberly Spykerman
Straits Times
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.


'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

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Hungry Ghost Festival Wayang 2008

My deepest and most sincerest apologies. This announcement is definitely too late but none the less, for record's sake, here it is.

This year's Ubin Hungry Ghost Festival Wayang will be held on 15 and 16 August 2008. That is yesterday and today. I forgot all about it until the annotated budak asked me today.

I received the email on Thursday from Alan Tan via the Ubin Volunteers mailing list but was swamped with work and forgot to update. Apologies again.

Ubin Wayang. Taken on August 27, 2007.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Is this a forewarning of reservoir in Johor Straits?

Within a short span of 4 months, Straits Times has TWICE published a letter to the forum page by readers suggesting a reservoir to be built between Pulau Ubin and Singapore, at the Johor Straits. Surely Straits Times is not forgetful in its old age despite PUB providing an official reply on the forum stating that it's not considering such a reservoir. However, is this a forewarning by our media of greater things at work? If this is an idea that's traversing the brilliant minds of our policy makers, I can only hope they perish that thought forever!

Create reservoir between Pulau Ubin and Singapore
Letter by Chew Wai Soon, Straits Times Forum
Aug 7, 2008

COME 2012, we will have to be more self-reliant for our water supply.

I propose Pulau Ubin be linked to mainland Singapore to create a huge reservoir.

On the eastern end of Pulau Ubin, a two-tier road can be built so the lower deck allows cyclists to cycle between Singapore and Pulau Ubin. The upper deck will be another route for vehicles to go to and from Malaysia. Jetties can jut out from both sides of the link - the reservoir side for smaller boats such as kayaks, sailing and racing boats, and water scooters, while bigger boats can dock on the other side. Bicycle rental kiosks, souvenir shops and so on can be built at the starting point of the link at the Singapore end. Further reclamation at the Singapore end will allow immigration offices and multistorey carparks to be built.

On the link at the western end of Pulau Ubin, bicycle rental kiosks, food centres and souvenir shops with solar-panelled roofs can be built for cyclists to cycle between Singapore and Pulau Ubin.

Pavilions can also be extended from both links into the reservoir for relaxation, photography and fishing.

Pulau Ubin can be promoted extensively as a venue for camping, mountain biking, adventure, trekking, hiking, jogging, horse riding and prawn fishing (to meet strong demand for youngsters to rough it out and enjoy nature).

The proposed reservoir will mean less land use elsewhere - some of the existing reservoirs can be redefined as collection centres for rainwater and Newater, and their water channelled into Pulau Ubin reservoir. The surrounding land can then be freed for other use, such as residential development to house a growing population.

Feedstock for Pulau Ubin reservoir can also be had from excess water from the smaller reservoirs, from rainwater and Newater to be collected from the northern and eastern parts of Singapore and from more Newater that could be generated.

Big water pipes connected to both links at Pulau Ubin would help to drain seawater between Pulau Ubin and the Causeway and provide a change of seawater according to the tides. Energy-generating turbines can be incorporated into these seawater pipes.

Coney Island can be reclaimed further to become part of the mainland and pavilions can be extended from Coney Island into the reservoir.

The damming of the water between Pulau Ubin and Singapore to become a huge reservoir promises many possibilities for development, for meeting future water needs and for recreation.

I urge the authorities to look into these great benefits on our doorstep.
Related Reads:
"What's wrong with an Ubin-Tekong reservoir?", Pulau Ubin Stories, 18 April 2008
"After Marina Barrage, Tekong-Ubin reservoir", Letter from Syu Ying Kwok, Straits Times Forum 18 Apr 08
"Tekong-Ubin reservoir not practical", Letter from Ivan Kwan Wei Ming, Straits Times Forum 22 Apr 08
"Strategy in place on long-term water supply", Reply from PUB, Straits Times Forum 22 Apr 08;

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Family of otters spotted at Jelutong!

Last Saturday, 2 August 2008, 2 days after I came back from research in Malaysia, I decided to take a trip to Ubin for a leisurely ride. First time in 5 years that I visit Ubin purely to relax and enjoy. As such, I was duely rewarded. Perhaps as my friend suggested, it's because the less people you're with the higher chance of seeing wildlife. Well, I was most pleasantly surprised when my friend yelled "Otters! Right in front of you" at Jelutong River after a feast of coconuts at about 3pm in the afternoon.

There weren't just 1 otter but 7 of them! [See above photo. I counted several times to be sure]

We observed them for a while and it was really quite interesting. I'm no expert in otters but they seem to play "follow the leader" and all of them will line up in the water and swim where the leader goes. Then they went and "queue up" at the shore which is when this photo above was taken. They seem to be looking at the camera!

After that they played hide and seek with us and we were running after them every time they surface and catching on our game, they quickly duck through the mud and mangrove before we decided to give up.

We also saw 2 wild boars, 1 at an abandoned rubber plantation from mamam beach and 1 at chek jawa! The mamam encounter was just a tad scary since it was stopped in front of my path and we were the only ones around. I gave it some time to excuse itself before proceeding. Too bad I was too shocked to take any photos.

Of course we also saw the "mandatory" sea eagle at jejawi tower. It might have been a brahminy kite... couldn't see its underside clearly to tell. It was quite a sight and charmed all the visitors on the tower.

Only a dugong sighting at chek jawa would have topped my day. Perhaps that's an encounter for another day.