Site makes offerings dead easy for living

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 June, 2010, 12:00am

The virtual world, having taken over the realm of the living, is now moving into the realm of the dead.

Instead of trekking twice a year to tend the graves of dead relatives, Hong Kong people can now make their offerings online - on a government website.

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department will today launch - where friends and relatives can set up a page for their dearly departed and make offerings with the click of a mouse.

The HK$1 million website will cost HK$800,000 a year to maintain. Up to 100,000 users will be able to create pages for their loved ones.

Users will be able to write descriptions of the dead, upload photos, embed videos and express condolences on the page, department director Cheuk Wing-hing said.

The site will help families remember their ancestors in an 'easy, dignified and personalised way ... whenever and wherever they are', he said.

Emoticons depicting fruit, flowers, candles, roast pigs, chickens and paper money - all popular offerings - can also be added, along with various types of candle.

But incense, essential in such offerings, is missing - perhaps because no one has yet worked out how to make virtual scented smoke.

If worshippers want to offer anything the deceased especially loved - like the horse racing section from a newspaper or a bowl of roast pork noodles - they can upload their own images.

The pages can be set as public or password-protected. There will be 10 themes to choose from, but there are rules to be followed.

Before friends or relatives create a page, they must register on the website and provide the personal details of the deceased, including their name, when they died and where they were cremated or buried.

Only those who were cremated at public crematoriums, buried in public cemeteries, or whose remains are kept at public columbariums, scattered in gardens of remembrance or designated Hong Kong waters can have pages.

Only Hongkongers are allowed - that ruled out pop king Michael Jackson and students who died during the June 4 crackdown, Cheuk said.

Fans are not encouraged to make a page for their local idols, but if they can get hold of the necessary details they can go ahead.

But pranksters tempted to make a page for someone already living can forget it. Only the particulars of a person who is confirmed dead and recorded in the department's database will pass the registration process.

Although the website launch coincides with a shortage of space for funeral urns, the government says the two are unconnected.

Cheuk said it was just another service provided by his department.

Chairman of the Funeral Business Association, Ng Yiu-tong, said memorial pages had been launched on the mainland and in Taiwan, but the government's site was one of the first in Hong Kong.

'Youngsters may like the idea, but the older generation still prefers to visit the graves in person,' he said.

Relatives of those whose remains were scattered at sea might like the site because they had no set location to visit, he said. In the first five months, there were 360 applications to scatter ashes at sea.