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Grave issue

Hong Kong [INFRASTRUCTURE]

Hong Kong is famous for its high-rise buildings but it is the construction of columbaria – buildings designed to house cremation urns – that is increasingly generating morbid fascination. Almost all of the funerals taking place over the next two decades are expected to involve cremation but a shortage of space to store urns is forcing the government to think big. To cope with the increasing demand for these facilities the government’s Food and Health Bureau is planning to add more than 800,000 new slots for urns across 24 sites; the largest will be a massive “super cemetery” at Sandy Ridge, close to the border with Shenzhen. The combined public mortuary, crematory and columbarium will have space for a total of 200,000 niches. Site work is expected to begin next year with the first section available for use from 2022.

Alas, not everyone is happy with the project. Huge crowds flock to Hong Kong’s final resting places twice a year during the Ching Ming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Day) and Chung Yeung Festival (Autumn Remembrance Day) to tend to their ancestors’ graves and burn incense, fake cash and elaborate paper effigies. This tradition, which this year falls on 4 April, brings chaos to nearby communities as crowds cause traffic jams and delays.

“Columbaria are like skyscrapers and often these sites are located up on a hill where roads are narrow,” says Bryant Lu, vice-chairman of architecture firm Ronald Lu & Partners, attributing the problem to high population density and flawed urban planning.

Plans for Sandy Ridge include new connecting roads to the existing cemetery but traffic is not the only thing spooking residents. “The presence of a cemetery is deemed to bring bad luck and ghosts,” says Paul Zimmerman, a district councillor and head of Designing Hong Kong, an urban-planning ngo. In superstitious Hong Kong, that can have a scary effect on house prices.

Change of scene

Southeast Asia [TOURISM]

Southeast Asian countries are rolling out the beach towels for Russians planning their summer getaways. This is after the downing of a plane in the Sinai and a Russian fighter jet in Syria effectively closed off Egypt and Turkey as holiday destinations. Cambodia has agreed to open up a direct route from Russia, Indonesia has waived visa requirements and Vietnam is organising press tours for Russian travel agencies. Thailand is also getting in on the action, increasing direct flights between Moscow and Bangkok and doubling the frequency between Phuket and St Petersburg. Russian tourists spend roughly €45bn a year abroad despite a bumpy economy grounded by international sanctions.

Election watch

South Korea: Winner by default?

Date: 13 April
Type: Legislative
Candidates: Polls suggest that the centre-right Saenuri party should hold on to its majority. Its principal opposition is the liberal Minjoo party, an amalgamation of the Democratic party and the New Political Vision party, contesting its first election.
Issues: The economy is suffering from reduced exports and slow growth and the country’s cranky northern neighbour remains the wildest of wild cards. If Saenuri wins it will have more to do with the disorganisation of its rivals than with its policies.
Monocle comment: South Korea elects a successor to president Park Geun-hye in 2017; this result will shape that contest.

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