The Second Death

If ghosts do exist, tomorrow would be a big day — but not for all of them.

Tomorrow is Ching Ming Festival, also called the Tomb-sweeping Day, a Hong Kong public holiday. On this day, it is a Chinese tradition for families to show respect to their ancestors by cleaning their grave and making offerings of food and fake paper money (said to be a common currency in the after-world).

While many graves will be visited, some will be left unremembered.

The unnamed

“There are about 100 unclaimed bodies who are buried here every year” — Law Kin-kwan

The Sandy Ridge Cemetery is located just south of the border between Hong Kong and China. To get there, the only public transportation available is one bus and one minibus route. At first glance, it is a normal-looking cemetery. At the far corner of the cemetery, however, there are no more names on the tombstones. Only the year of death and a serial number.

This section of the cemetery is the burial ground for all the unclaimed and unidentified bodies.

The reporter went to the cemetery on Tuesday. It was an overcast day and the cold air was seeping into one’s clothes, but the section of the unclaimed bodies was unsheltered and remained well-lit. The individual tombstones, hiding among the ever-growing grass, each had a year and a number. G2016 6, G2016 7, G2016 8… But not a name in sight.

There is a small tombstone for each unclaimed body

In addition to the individual tombstones, each year had a big tombstone dedicated for all the bodies buried in that year. The 2017 tombstone was yet to be installed but there was already a schedule for it, according to an officer at the cemetery office.

There is an additional tombstone laid for all the unclaimed bodies died in that year

“There are about 100 unclaimed bodies buried here every year,” said Law Kin-kwan, who has been a tombstone installer for more than 30 years.

From 10am till noon, the entire cemetery received less than 30 visitors. The majority were visiting the named graves. Someone they knew. A single man was visiting the tombstone for the unclaimed bodies who died in 2000. Although he refused to be interviewed, the reporter saw him placing incense sticks, some liquid and food in front of the tombstone, and kneeling in a worshipping position repeatedly.

The tombstones of the other years were left unvisited, clean and untouched.

Alive and alone

I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” — Banksy

“Among the unclaimed bodies, many of them were old people who died alone,” added Law.

However, there has not been any statistics showing how many of them were truly the last living member of the family, and how many were simply out of touch with their relatives.

According to the 2016 Population By-census Thematic Report, there are more than 150,000 elderly who live alone in Hong Kong. As people ages, they may slowly lose their self-care ability along with fitness, and face mobility, nutrition intake and physical health problems. It is especially dangerous for the elderly living alone, whose sole partner is a television or a radio, since they are more prone to anxiety and depression due to the lack of social life.

There are some charity organizations aiming at helping and protecting the elderly, such as the Banyan Elderly Services Association.  But even so, if ghosts truly exist, it is rather uncertain if they will be remembered.

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