Lamma Island

Grave problem for our precious environment

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 April, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 April, 1996, 12:00am

Another Ching Ming Festival is over. Luckily it rained so our beautiful flora and fauna, not to mention hiking school children, were not threatened by hill fires caused by flaming incense left behind by relatives paying respects to the dead.

Instead the hillsides of our islands and New Territories are only littered with the aftermath - not only traditional paper money, food and flowers, but pink plastic bags, string and empty drink cans abandoned at the edge of the 'tidied' graves.

While I can understand a culture having a special day to honour its dead by visiting and cleaning graves, it is incomprehensible how anyone, dead or alive, can equate this debris with respect.

The same happens every year. It is time the Regional Council took action to protect our hills from this inconsiderate form of 'respect'. Firstly, posters should be displayed at ferry piers and on paths leading to graves, urging people to not only respect the dead, but also our countryside. They should be asked to put litter in bins and not leave non-perishable offerings and dangerous burning incense at graves.

Secondly, councils could leave clearly marked bins or bags near grave areas to receive rubbish, and quickly clean up what others have not.

Ching Ming is an appropriate time to question policy and attitudes to graves in general. On Lamma, new graves are springing up at random all over the hills. Planning permission for homes for the living is strict, but there seems to be no regulation over homes for the dead, in terms of location, size and design.

New graves, including their concrete surrounds, are larger than ever, so that within a few decades there will be no empty hills left. Chinese people, superstitious of such places, will no longer want to walk these hills, or live near them. Many new graves are finished off with bathroom-style tiles, permanently ugly scars as prominent on the once-beautiful hills as any small villa.

Many are built adjacent to houses in plots that would be best left wild, but would be more suitable for housing the living, given the acute shortage of living space in Hong Kong.

The living must be educated to recognise that it is greedy to want so much land in death and that other rituals, such as the littering of paper money in front of the coffin, spoil our environment.

Many old graves on Lamma are small, inconspicuous and thus less destructive of the environment. We urgently need tight regulations to return to this style. Size should be strictly limited; tiles and preferably concrete should be banned. Small headstones using natural stone should be encouraged.

Finally, as a culture, we should see dropping paper money as being as dirty as children dropping sweet wrappers. If people insist on this practice, why not just drop one bill with a 'value' of several billion dollars? Surely that should be sufficient for any ghost.