The Place Where It's More Expensive To Be Dead Than Alive
There are estimated to be 200,000 human remains waiting for a place to be laid to rest in Hong Kong, but there's a big problem standing in the way.
The cost of burying the dead is more expensive than buying somewhere to live, as Hong Kong grapples with an ageing population and scarce free land.
Some of the most expensive real estate in Hong Kong sells for about HKD $1.8 million (AU $300,000) per square metre.
That's what you'll pay for a loved one's remains to be laid to rest in a private cemetery or columbarium.
In some places, a burial plot can cost you upwards of HKD $3 milion (AU $540,000), with some going for as much as HKD $5 million (AU $900,000).
Otherwise, it's a four-year wait for a spot in a public final resting place.
The lengthy wait time has led to fears private companies will exploit those desperate to bury their loved ones.
Private cemeteries and columbariums require licenses to operate, after a overhaul of the industry in 2017.
“Given that only some of the private columbariums will meet the requirements in order to get a licence, I believe the price of niches will go up because it’s a free market,” Hong Kong Funeral Business Association chairman Kwok Hoi Pong told the Guardian.
“We estimate that the price of a niche will rise by 30 percent once the private columbariums are issued a licence.”
But with Hong Kong's ageing population, the number of remains waiting to be buried is expected to double to 400,000 by 2023.
Kenneth Leung Ka-keung, of Hong Kong-based burial company Leung Chun Woon Kee, said it's an issue that's not being addressed.
“The government doesn’t have a plan after 2022,” he told the South China Morning Post.
“We are very concerned about the future shortage and imbalance of urn spaces.
"At an average wait time of four years it takes longer for people to wait for niches than a public housing flat.”
In Chinese culture, it's important for the dead to be buried near their native place.
But with burial space becoming scarce, the calls for ashes to be scattered in a Garden of Remembrance or at sea are growing.
The practice is known as green burials, but there is great resistance as citizens prefer traditional burial methods.
The need for people to use green burials is so great the Hong Kong government has an official website promoting it.
"We are conscious that it will take time for green burial to gain public acceptance as the preferred way to dispose of cremated ashes," the website explains.
"With persistent efforts, we are optimistic that we should be able to progressively secure a paradigm shift."
Tours of the sites and a chance to watch sea scattering ceremonies are also offered in a bid to win over citizens into choosing green burials.