Hong Kong duo take a walk on the city’s grave side
Carmen Kam and Eric Wong met through their mutual interest in graves and the history of those buried there; they have since visited many overseas cemeteries
They were surrounded by gravestones, talking calmly about how they spent their birthdays and other special occasions walking around cemeteries in Asia, Australasia, Europe and Central America.
It is not an unusual weekend for the two office workers, Carmen Kam Ka-man, 33, and Eric Wong Lik-shun, 40. The duo, who found each other on Facebook due to their common interest in the dead, have been “cemetery buffs” for more than 10 years.
“I love studying history. I go anywhere that is related to history,” Wong said. “It’s like going to museums and heritage sites.”
Wong said that he learned the stories of the dead by looking at gravestones.“When you know who he or she is, you will try to find out the story behind that person. The grave decorations also show how posterity treats the dead.”
Kam said she not only loved studying history, but also enjoyed going to special places.
“Different gravestones highlight different countries, religions and cultures. The words on the gravestones can also tell their stories,” she said.
The Hong Kong Cemetery in Happy Valley is where the two started developing their hobby. The old cemetery, they said, was an “entry level” for explorers because of its diversity.
“It’s not scary to me. I had some friends walking around with me,” Wong recalled as he spoke about his first tour of the cemetery.
And for Kam, the first impression of the cemetery was “as comfortable as a garden”, although she said she was really afraid of ghosts and had to do the tour in the afternoon.
Hong Kong Cemetery was built in 1845 and is managed by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department. Wong said it was a reflection of old Hong Kong as it was infused with different religions and nationalities such as British, American and Japanese.
“You may see a cross on a gravestone, and that could mean the person was Christian or Orthodox. If there’s an area with lots of cherry blossom, it indicates a place where Japanese were buried,” Wong said.
But the diversity of Hong Kong did not stop them from going overseas. Wong has been to cemeteries in Ukraine, Cuba, Sri Lanka and other places in Asia, while Kam has left her footprints in Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and New Zealand.
Although talking about death is taboo in traditional Chinese culture, Kam did not seem to be intimidated by that. “I remember I was in Singapore on my birthday one or two years ago. And I really wanted to go to the Bukit Brown Cemetery, so I just brought my camera and went there,” she said.
On the day of the Ching Ming Festival in 2015 – a traditional Chinese festival when people sweep the graves of their ancestors – Wong decided to visit a cemetery in Havana, the capital of Cuba, to study history and pay tribute to the deceased he did not know.
“I read a book about the Havana Chinese Cemetery, saying that no one would go there unless it was Ching Ming. So I went there, randomly picked some graves, laid some flowers and poured Chinese liquor I brought from Hong Kong at the graves,” he recalled.
Neither Wong nor Kam could speak about their most unforgettable experience, as they said every place was unique to them.
“When we tell other people about our hobby, some would say ‘no way’. But I don’t think it is a big deal,” Wong said.
THE CEMETERY BUFFS
Who are they? Carmen Kam Ka-man and Eric Wong Lik-shun call themselves cemetery buffs as the two have visited 20 different graveyards around the world to study history. They organised their first tour last Saturday, taking 10 people to four different cemeteries in Happy Valley.
How to join their tours Kam and Wong have set up a Facebook page called “travellingradio”, in which they organise community events, including cemetery tours.
Dos and don’ts during cemetery toursKeep your voice down and say “thank you” whenever you look at a gravestone. “We Chinese always say graves mean the house of the deceased, so it’s like going to other people’s homes. What you should or should not do in other people’s flats also applies to cemeteries,” Wong said.
Comments from a tour memberSherman Wong, 24, said the two tour guides provided in-depth historical information throughout the tour. One disadvantage was that the tour was restrictive and members had to stick to the route.