When I wrote Visiting a Columbarium in Singapore last week, I looked the word ‘columbarium’ up in a dictionary. This word escaped me. English is not my first language, and I presumed native English speakers would have mastered this word that I didn’t.
My assumption was wrong.
When I got back to England, a few English friends told me the word ‘columbarium’ baffled them.
It prompted me to write a follow-up post on my visit to Choa Chu Kang columbarium in Singapore.
Serenity engulfed me when I entered the vast, warm, sun-lit building. An Indian cleaner smiled politely. He was washing the corridors. He sprayed water from the hose. The floor was immaculately clean. Breezy winds carried scents of sweetness.
Most niches have had visitors. Artificial flowers adorned the neatly laid-out niches. Some tired flowers were coated with dusts. Natural sunlight discoloured some vibrant chrysanthamum and carnations.
My brother told me the deceased were grouped together by their religion. We only visited the Christian section. Couples are placed next to each other.
I saw a poignant handwritten note left by one visitor to a loved aunt.
The design of the buildings resembles what you see in any modern Singapore community. You are identified by your block number, and when you die, also by your niche number. You have upstairs and downstairs. Your neighbours are mostly Indians, Malays and Chinese. In death, you’re surrounded by people of the same faith.
Some people may have lived a miserable life, yet in death, Singapore government gives them a decent, clean, decluttered resting place.
A few years ago, when the Singapore government claimed the cemetery for development, relatives were invited to observe the exhumation. My eldest brother represented the family to oversee the operation. He bore the sweltering tropical heat for half a day.
Remarkably, my grandmother’s earrings and a jade bracelet were discovered after nearly 40 years.
My brother faced another tough task to collect his brother’s remains. The 4-year-old boy died 48 years ago. The grass and weeds were overgrown, and some graves piled on top of each other. “How would I ever know if I had collected the right remains of my brother? ” My brother wasn’t sure. He simply trusted anything he was given.
- Visiting a Columbarium in Singapore (janetsnotebook.com)