At this time of the cemetery craze, I re-visited Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and found a new version. Mr Scrooge was a wealthy man in the cemetery business. He was very mean in charging a high fee for a place in his cemetery. Poor dead people could not afford it and had to go to the sea. Rich dead people got to wait in long line, with their remains temporarily deposited in shelters. All these thanks to the ineffective city officials being unable to offer public cemetery. People everywhere objected to the land next to their home to be used as cemetery. In this small city, there was no land not next to anyone’s home. Mr Scrooge was in good business with the limited and controlled tomb slots.
The night before Christmas, a spirit came to visit Mr Scrooge. He was the Ghost of the Christmas Past. It was never known whether this spirit was an angle or the devil, but he had miraculous power of time travel. He took Mr Scrooge back in time where the cemetery business was just a hole in the ground with or without a head stone. Dead people were buried and remembered for a while and were forgotten after a few generations. Cemetery places were reused over and over again, very ofter opened up for farming for food.
It was Mr Scrooge’s great great great grandfather who started the cemetery business. Tombs were then decorated with fancy masonry work and expensive statues. If the families were rich and famous, the dead person could have a personal angel, or even a Saint as companion. Mr Scrooge wondered if the First Commandment forbade the worship of idols. The Ghost said the First Commandment was changed by the church. One needed to go to the original scripture to find out the real commandments. People now only read a simplified version of the Ten Commandments. Looking at the tombs of the past, Mr Scrooge now knew he was misled by his great-great, and that his cemetery business and the entire culture of burial was a reflection of manipulated religion.
The spirit changed face and became the Ghost of the Christmas Present. Mr Scrooge got to appreciate his successful business. Beautiful and expensive tombs were his most welcome product. However, this business was in a decline because cemetery land was getting scarce. Looking back, Mr Scrooge could not help stop admiring his own talent. Just like the expensive shop space, merchants were opening up smaller shops. Some professions had partners sharing one shop. The most clever merchants even demarcated their shops into several hundred boxes of show windows each selling different product. The ingenious Mr Scrooge did the same. He started the columbarium business where ashes of human remains were stored in small compartments. The business did not start lucrative as a small space could not sell much. But volume could compensate the small price. A small columbarium with a large number of spaces added up to good numbers. Then there was the columbarium implosion. No more land space was available for open burial, and also no more land space was available for columbarium. Mr Scrooge was on the good end of the implosion. His columbarium had suddenly become a monopoly. With elaborate decoration to suit all sorts of religions, an one square foot space could now sell for over one hundred thousand dollars.
The spirit took Mr Scrooge for a reality check. It was simple mathematics. People were dying everyday. Tomb space supply was cut almost completely. Public columbarium spaces were in short supply. Mr Scrooge’s business could only serve a few rich dead people. So the big questions was, “Where have all the dead people gone?” Mr Scrooge went through the city to look for them. He saw hundreds and thousands of sacks of ashes of human remains lying on open-shelves of funeral parlors, shops, temples, quasi temples. He said to himself that this could be a gold mine for his business. But for the sheer number, it was actually an elephant that a small snake could never be able to swallow. He asked why people could not just take the ashes back home or just throw them to the sea. The spirit giggled. It was your faithful partners in the religion business who spread sacred and scary information that such things should never be done.
The spirit changed again into the Ghost of the Christmas Future. Mr Scrooge asked who were your actually. The spirit said had you not heard of the trinity. I was the Ghost of Christmas Past, Present and Future, three was one. It was the future of the cemetery business that Mr Scrooge should take notice. First a projection to the future. There was a cemetery or columbarium crisis already. Dead people were not buried. Some rich dead people were fighting for a small number of spaces. For the people alive, or not dead yet, there were seven million in the city. They would all be dead in a few decades. If the current practice of keeping dead people around was not changed, at least in the next two generations, there would be twenty one million dead people before the end of the century. We would need a lot more columbaria all over the city. The government was trying to find space in all eighteen districts. It was a very small effort which could not solve the problem in the long term. It was just a political move trying to defuse the pressure from the districts.
The sky turned dark and Mr Scrooge was shown the worst scenario. Districts could not come to an agreement and all refused to accept a columbarium in the neighbourhood. People were stacking the remains of their ancestors at any shop available. The situation was out of control. The government had to declare martial law and confiscate a building at every street corner to be converted into a columbarium. This was met with severe opposition. People took to the street and riots were everywhere. Mr Scrooge asked one angry demonstrator, did you have the remains of your ancestor unburied? He answered, yes, but never in my neighbourhood.
The spirit said to Mr Scrooge, this might not happen if I could give you a messiah and save you from this disaster. He was a powerful person and people would listen to him. It was easy to accommodate these dead people if they were all packed into columbaria. Instead of offending everybody in all districts. He could declare the entire West Kowloon Cultural District to be the columbarium district. It aptly fitted the meaning of culture and the place could be put to an appropriate use, stopping all the quarrels in the arts community. Thirty different columbaria would be built for every religion imaginable. There would be an international contest of columbarium design. The finest architects of the world would be invited. The location of the West Kowloon Cultural District could be a solution in itself to the traffic problem. It could be accessed by road system, public transport, mass transit system as well as ferries. A centralized burning area could help the treatment of smoke. The whole place can be rounded up as a columbarium park. A cultural tour could be arranged for tourists. The fees collected could help maintain the park. If all were done well, it would be qualified to be declared an UN Cultural Heritage site.
Just when Mr Scrooge was thinking who else could be better than him to be the Chairman managing this invaluable park, the face of the spirit turned blue and revealed the devilish side. Not so fast, he said. No one in Hong Kong would allow that to happen and no messiah could help in any way. The columbarium crisis would go on. Not just the number of dead people was piling up, the population of Hong Kong would also keep on growing in the next few decades; until one day a catastrophe triggered by a small event caused the population to collapse. Then, everyone would care for his own live and no one would take notice of the dead people anymore. This day would occur well before the last judgment.