At Hong Kong's Death Cafe, it is love and life that is on the menu

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 June, 2014, 5:28am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 June, 2014, 5:28am

After talking about death for two hours straight, customers departed the Death Cafe full of life.

The crowd consisted of ordinary Hongkongers intent on addressing the taboo subject - over cake and a cup of tea.

Many had arrived at the Death Cafe yesterday - hosted by the Bijas vegetarian restaurant at the University of Hong Kong - not knowing what to expect.

But within five minutes, 30 to 40 strangers were having conversations that they had found impossible with friends and family.

"It's not easy even with close friends to talk about death. People here are ready to talk about it," said Tracy, a 30-year-old who had battled cancer two years ago.

The young and old of a dozen or so nationalities spoke candidly. Some had survival stories, another worked with a mother who had lost a child.

"It feels good to have people who know what it's like. Someone who's willing to listen to these things," said Jenny, 26.

Others spoke of how death had made them think more deeply about how they wanted to live.

There was talk of different burial customs and then there was the question of why so many cultures found talking about death difficult.

"It's a great forum for people to talk about death without fear, anxiety and guilt," said social sciences professor Cecilia Chan Lai-wan, who helped organise the Hong Kong incarnation of the Death Cafe movement, which started in London in 2011.

Its mission is to "increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their finite lives".

"In Asia, the death taboo is stronger than anywhere else," said Chan.

There have been 898 Death Cafe events in 19 countries, according to the movement's official website.

"By talking about death, you end up talking about life," said Megan Mooney, who runs the US-based Death Cafe Facebook group and came to Hong Kong for yesterday's event.

Future Death Cafe events will be run by the NGOs Lost and Found and Togetherness, and will be announced on the Death Cafe HK Facebook page.

Organisers stress that all the stories told at Death Cafe sessions are confidential.