Eternal burnables


At the start of this month I took a jaunt into Sham Shui Po, a neighborhood in flux. Surrounding the metro station, the dominant industry of auto repair shops co-exists relatively peacefully (for now) alongside a colorful coterie of hip artisan workshops, from soapmakers to leather goods. As one meanders further afield, edgier shops give way to a grab-bag of more “local” stalwarts that have been open a good deal longer. 


One such example is this funerary artifacts and ritual accessories shop, still going strong after 30 years. This shop specializes in the design, manufacture, and sale of paper objects that are designed to be burned here in the world of the living so that they may be sent to relatives afterlife. While this ritual likely began with the burning of “spirit money”, paper specie designed to function as currency in the afterlife so one’s ancestors could live comfortably in the great beyond, Hong Kong has taken this practice to the next level, as evidenced by the objects for sale.


The range of offerings are diverse, and speak to the broad range of activities that people down here in the world of the living imagine the people who have departed will want help getting up to. 
What seems consistent is that status is still as important in the afterlife as it is in the world of the living. I did not see any Toyotas or Fords, but there were several paper “LAMD ROVER” SUV’s. Similarly, there were a few cans of more accessible beverages, like “GUINENSS” and “Heinekon”, but the supply of higher-shelf offerings, such as paper bottles of  “Hsnenesy cognac” and “MARTEEL cognaa”, was far more ample. For your afterlife carry needs, options include a Supreme backpack or a Gucci saccoche. 
As on the mortal plane (though perhaps less so in these pandemic days), travel documents for the spirital plane must be arranged in advance. That said, I did not chance upon any afterlife smartphones, only a variety of flip-phones, so Instagramming one’s destination of choice remains beyond technical reach for the time being.


What stood apart from the more “decadent” offerings of gold watches and luxury cars was the breadth of offerings designed to help deal with the more mundane, everyday necessities as well. Dental hygiene must also be maintained in the afterlife. Afterlife bank accounts must be tended to, and afterlife transit cards (such as the presumably Octopus card-inspired “Octopux” card) must be kept topped up so one can take advantage of the afterlife’s public transportation (if one doesn’t have a LAMD ROVER to call their own). Even clothing must be washed with an afterlife-compatible washing machine. 


The level of detail in some of these items is remarkable. That every single one of these things is destined to be lit aflame, and yet that has no discernible impact upon the meticulousness and care with which they were designed. Closest to the entrance, next to the massive (and very real, not at all paper) fishtank, a life-sized paper mache dog/wolf stands guard, complete with individual (and menacing) teeth, a special commission by the family of the departed, knowing they’d want their four-legged friend to be able to join them in the afterlife. There is an “APPLO” laptop, sporting an exaggerated Apple logo that articulates open to reveal a full screen, and a desktop complete with file folders and a taskbar of applications (with the illusion only slightly broken a bit by the teal-and-bubblegum-pink calendar and weather widget).

Were you to push off this mortal coil today, what might your family members burn in your honor to send to you in the afterlife? How different are they from some of the things seen here? How different will these things look in a century from now? What will have vanished, and what will have evolved, and what will remain mostly unchanged?   

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