16 June 2011

From Singapore to Pittsburgh—or why I love Google

Right after our trip to Singapore, I received this email from Cheri:

Hans and I are just now watching a really interesting program about Singapore: Nirvana commercial indoor cemetery - light show, Buddhist monks and all, similar to a first class hotel, an Asian "Vegas" version of the afterworld that not even the Egyptians could have surpassed (nirvanamalaysia.blogspot.com). Birdcages of ivory + good-luck-bringing birds + ghost detectives...interesting culture, that's for sure!

A little googling turned up, first, this strange little animated advertisment for the Singapore facility. I had thought nirvana was a Hindu concept, but it is Buddhist as well, and Wikipedia claims the word "literally means 'blowing out'— referring, in the Buddhist context, to the blowing out of the fires of greed, hatred, and delusion.

[On the same youtube page was a link to a more ramshackle and more heartfelt Singaporean way of death, circa 1960: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8qNk0W80zd0&feature=related]

A 2010 article from the Jakarta Globe provided the answer to the que$tion that was in my mind the whole time I watched the ad. I'm sure Iain and Kate are intending to demonstrate their filial piety via a similar costly interment of their parents' remains. Like Madam Goh in the last paragraph, however, we could just go ahead and invest in a couple of niches ourselves.

Traditional Buddhist Funerals Get Rock ’n’ Roll Makeover in Singapore
Edgar Su | May 17, 2010
A demonstration of a Buddhist funeral ceremony at Sngapore’s Nirvana Memorial Garden.  (Reuters Photo) A demonstration of a Buddhist funeral ceremony at Singapore’s Nirvana Memorial Garden.  (Reuters Photo)
Singapore. Death need not be a grim affair, especially for the living, and at a new columbarium in Singapore, the deceased can depart rock-concert-style.

Unlike traditional Buddhist funeral ceremonies that follow cremation, there is no incense and no monks offering prayers at the Nirvana Memorial Garden columbarium, where the urns holding the remains of the dead are stored .

Instead, curtains draw automatically to reveal the deceased’s urn which is placed atop a pedestal, machine-generated smoke fills the prayer hall and a booming recorded voice, accompanied by chants, speaks words of comfort and talks about death.

The columbarium boasts a $2 million sound and light system, its Buddha statue pulsates gently with LED lights and a ray of bright white light shines on the urn of the deceased symbolizing the ascent to heaven.

“This is just 60 percent of what we can offer,” said Jessie Ong, who works for Nirvana Memorial, the company that runs the columbarium. “We are still fine tuning the laser lights.”

Most columbariums are dark, eerie places, with floors littered with incense ash and urns piled high to the ceiling in tiny pigeonholes, each adorned with a picture of the deceased.

But in Nirvana Memorial, luxury and space are aplenty. “This is not a place for people to come only once a year to visit their parents or relatives, we want to create an environment to encourage them to come as often as possible,” said Jeff Kong, director of Nirvana Memorial Singapore.

The so-called “six star” columbarium is Singapore’s first luxury final resting place and the brainchild of Malaysian-based NV Multi Corp, which has other similar projects in Southeast Asia.

After it is fully opened in 2011, the $22 million columbarium will host up to 50,000 niches for urns spread across 11 suites designed with feng shui elements in mind.

The price of such luxury, however, does not come cheap. Compared to a state-run facility which costs $360 for a single niche, prices here start at $22,000 for a double niche in the Royal Suite and $93,000 for a cubicle that stores up to 32 urns in the Family Suite.

Madam Goh, a woman in her 60s, bought a niche for herself at the facility and said the investment was worth it. “This place is clean, comfortable and much less eerie than the traditional columbariums,” she said.

Jakarta graveyards seemed the obvious next Google step and I came across this description by an expat of two cemeteries, one Dutch, one Indonesian:


Every day I look down at two graveyards,
one Dutch, one Javanese;
one frozen in time, one always in-progress.
At long last, we wandered through the Javanese side.

The Rectangle

The Dutch cemetery is geometric & constantly manicured. The dead are foreign soldiers from old wars, visited by virtually no one. Being a cemetery, it doesn’t feel empty exactly, but its ghosts would seem to be keeping a stiff upper lip about things. There’s a pretty white chapel with a columbarium, stained glass & a lily pond. Most of the headstones are simple white crosses, many rows of which read: Onbekend—Unknown—who are protected behind the gates as fiercely as the rest.

There is almost no other space like this in Jakarta.

The Ramai

The other graveyard is RAMAI. This is a great word. Ramai means boisterous, active, busy, close-together, exciting, loud. The atmospheres of good parties, crowded waiting rooms, Graeagle, & busy traffic can all be ramai, & Indonesians like things that way. Space is at a premium, too. Which is to say, there is a lot more going on in the cemetery than burials.

First off, it is a graveyard, of course—some regular, humpy headstones, some plots set with stone crypts shaped like bathtubs, bus stops, benches, rafts, most of them overgrown with vines & grass upwards to my shoulder, a few of these humbuggily topped with lattice & barbed wire, which I suspect are meant to keep off children. Many of the headstones are graffitied, multi-ethnic (Chinese, European, Indonesian), & old.

But it’s also:
2. A commuter road for foot & motorcycle traffic,
3. A de facto trash dump,
4. Which makes it a perfect chicken, dog, cat & goat feed lot,
5. A social field around which kakilima food carts gather,
6. A shanty town full of shacks where families live,
7. A ball field (including a uniquely immaculate tennis / basketball / soccer / ping-pong table ball surface),
8. A school yard, &
9. Being one of the only wide-open air spaces in the area: a major kite flying field. We went at 5 pm, when all the school kids & workers were coming home; the place is full of people. And it’s an oddly cheerful space.

So far, so very interesting. The unexpected bonus was in the brief biog of the author at the top of the blog:

The academic gypsy dance: CA, KS, NH, NY, MN, Jakarta, MN...to PA. So we're Yinzers this year (Pittsburghers), writing & teaching through the spring of 2009, when the music starts up again. Previously, from January-June 2007 we lived & worked in Indonesia & Australia. You'll find the travelogue of those voyages below. The CITRADEL is wherever I'm working on my novel, THE LIME TREE.

Yinzers?? Turns out not only do Pittsburghers have their own colloquial name, they have their own dialect. At first I thought the latter might be a wiki send-up, but that doesn't appear to be the case. Robert and Kate will need this Wikipedia dictionary to understand the natives. Here's Wikipedia's explanation for the origin of Yinzer. Chimes nicely with fact that in bahasa Indonesia anda is the word for you (singular) and anda sekalian for you (plural).


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Yinz is a second-person plural pronoun used mainly in southwest Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh, but it is also found throughout the Appalachians.[1] (See: Pittsburgh English.)

Yinz is the most recent derivation from the original Scots-Irish form you ones, which is probably the result of contact between Irish and English. When standard-English speakers talk in the first person or third person, they use different pronouns to distinguish between singular and plural. In the first person, for example, speakers use the singular I and the plural we. But when speaking in the second person, you performs double duty as both the singular form and the plural form. Crozier (1984) suggests that during the 19th century, when many Irish speakers switched to speaking English, they filled this gap with you ones, primarily because Irish has a singular second-person pronoun, tu, as well as a plural form, sibh. The following therefore is the most likely path from you ones to yinz: you ones [juː wʌnz] > you'uns [juːʌnz] >youns [juːnz] > yunz [jʌnz] > yinz [jɪ̈nz]. Because there are still speakers who use each form, there is no stable second-person plural pronoun form in southwest or central Pennsylvania—which is why this pronoun is variably referred to or spelled as you'uns,"y'ins", "y'uns" yunz, yuns, yinz, yins or ynz.

In other parts of the U.S., Irish or Scots-Irish speakers encountered the same gap in the second-person plural. For this reason, these speakers are also responsible for coining the yous found mainly in the Philadelphia dialect and New Jersey and the ubiquitous y'all of the South.
A similar form with similar Irish/Scots roots is found further north in the Atlantic Provinces of Canada. Rarely written, it is spelled yous, and is usually pronounced as [jɪ̈z] or something between [jɪ̈z] and [jʊ̈z]. It is sometimes combined with all for emphasis, as in "Are yous all coming to the party?"

Yinz's place as one of Pittsburgh's most famous regionalisms makes it both a badge of pride and a way to show self-deprecation. For example, a group of Pittsburgh area political cheerleaders call themselves "Yinz Cheer," and an area literary magazine is The New Yinzer, a take-off of The New Yorker. A DJ crew of Philadelphia-based Pittsburgh ex-pats bills itself as Philadelphyinz. Those perceived to be stereotypical blue collar Pittsburghers are often referred to as Yinzers.

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