Singapore is often dismissed as being the most Westernised country in Asia, but the older generation has hung on to many customs including traditional Chinese funeral rites. While funerals are deeply personal affairs that visitors probably shouldn’t intrude upon, you can gain some insight by visiting a Chinese funeral supply shop.
Funeral supply shops are a common sight in residential areas like Tiong Bahru and Ang Moh Kio as well as in Chinatown. The shops sell incense and candles for burning at Singapore’s numerous Buddhist temples, but also paper replicas of everyday items like clothing, medicine, cars and even mobile phones.
The dominant religion in Singapore is a mixture of Buddhism and Taoism, and one of the core beliefs is in reincarnation and an afterlife. Singaporean Buddhists believe that the same items used in daily life are needed in the afterlife, and that they can send these items to their dearly departed by burning them. This is the same principle behind the annual Hungry Ghost Festival where angry ghosts are appeased by leaving food offerings and burning fake money called Hell notes.
It’s no secret that Singaporeans love to shop and, in a modern twist to this age-old funeral tradition, people now burn replicas of luxury goods to send as gifts to their deceased family and friends. Take a look around any funeral supply store and you’ll see paper credit cards, lingerie, iPads, Louis Vuitton hand bags, condominiums, and even cars complete with a chauffeur. They certainly make for a unique souvenir, but bear in mind that giving a living person an item designed for the dead is considered a bad omen.
If you’re interested in seeing a traditional Chinese funeral shop for yourself, you can find one at 22 Smith Street – a street also known as Chinatown Food Street for its nightly food market.
By Tanya Procyshyn
Last updated on 15th November, 2014.