Making arrangements for the hereafter is a burning issue

Loose Cannon has quiet, easygoing neighbours. It is impossible to get a rise out of them no matter how much noise chez Cannon might make. And with Baby Cannon's predilection for late-night hip-hop dance sessions, that noise can be considerable indeed.

Yes, the dead are an exceptionally tolerant lot, and those residing in Pak Fa Lam at the tip of Ma On Shan Country Park have especially good reasons to be content.

Many of them enjoy their eternal rest ensconced in elaborate, horseshoe-shaped masonry structures that even the living would envy. Nestled in the slopes above Ho Chung Valley with a stupendous eastward view across the glistening waters of Hebe Haven, the fung shui is outstanding.

There are no tightly packed, tiny concrete tombs in this resort community for the deceased. The resting places, some of them occupying more than 3,000 sq ft, are spaced at comfortable, dignified distances from one another amid thick, shady growths of sub-tropical forest.

In these venerable tombs lie the mortal remains of some of Hong Kong's most illustrious souls. Some are reputed to be five clan-era chiefs from three centuries gone, others village heroes who died fighting the British when their troops first seized control of the area in 1899.

Even Sun Yat-sen's mother, Madam Yang, rests nearby on Flying Goose Hill.

Some have questioned Loose Cannon's decision to move his family to the middle of a vast, jungly graveyard, where the narrow road is crumbling and the nearest 7-Eleven is four kilometres away. But the village's last indigenous resident - an 87-year-old chicken farmer named Lau, who passed away last year - thought it quite natural that a gweilo should live among the ghosts.

'The [ghosts] bother me in my sleep, telling me to leave this place,' he once told Loose Cannon. 'But I understand why they don't care about you.'

After Loose Cannon discharges his last volley, he would be proud to be interred among the departed dignitaries of Pak Fa Lam. He even owns a suitable piece of unpaved ground near his home that would do nicely.

After, say, another 50 years as a permanent, tax-paying Hong Kong resident, surely he will have won the right to eternal abode?

Not one to leave things until the last minute, Loose Cannon set about arranging things in advance. He quickly discovered that only indigenous villagers have a vested right to permanent burial in Hong Kong. Moreover, only village leaders have the right to apportion grave sites and no ordinary resident - least of all a gweilo - can be granted the privilege of permanent burial, even on their own land.

Wai Mei-foon of the Sai Kung Home Affairs Department was gravely concerned Loose Cannon's plans for the hereafter were ill-considered. She pointed out that even if the Lands Department, the Food and Hygiene Department (which oversees corpse disposal) and the Country and Marine Parks Authority were to issue no-objection certificates, Loose Cannon's tomb would quickly be vandalised by villagers angered at its insolent presence among their ancestors.

Permanent burial spaces for the general Hong Kong population officially ran out this year. For a mere $3,190, the Food and Hygiene Department will still arrange temporary burial at Cheung Chau Cemetery. But after six years, the family must either arrange for exhumation or the government will summarily dispose of the remains in a crematorium.

The Board of Management of the Chinese Permanent Cemeteries - which runs cemeteries at Chai Wan, Tsuen Wan, Aberdeen and Tseung Kwan O - offers 10 years of uninterrupted rest for $280,000, extendable by 10 years for $28,000.

Various schemes exist for permanent burial on the mainland ranging from a bare-bones, cement tombstone interment near Dongguan for about $70,000 to a $2 million 600 sq ft above-ground, stone-clad tomb chapel across the border in Tai Pan Wan.

Sensibly, after a funeral ceremony typically costing $5,000, most families now opt for a government-subsidised cremation, at $1,300.

After assessing the available options, Loose Cannon, too, has decided that an incendiary finish to his corporeal remains would be the most appropriate send-off.