A grand piano for a wife who loved to tickle the ivories.

An old sedan, because it was their parents’ favourite car. And a pair of hands cupping their infant daughter as she rests in eternal slumber.

From simple headstone engravings to such elaborate monuments, Mr Edward Ang has spent nearly 30 years designing tombstones for the living to commemorate their departed loved ones.

Mr Ang, 53, handles most of the designs for Chua Chu Kang Monuments Contractor, one of the few remaining tombstone specialists here.

The self-taught tombstone designer has helped to memorialise Singapore’s first chief minister, Mr David Marshall, property tycoon Ng Teng Fong and CK Tang founder Tang Choon Keng.

But with the increasing scarcity of burial plots, more Singaporeans are opting for cremation. “This is a dying trade,” Mr Ang told The Sunday Times in a recent interview.


Engravings done by Mr Ang.

The number of cremations at Mandai Crematorium increased from some 13,000 in 2015 to 14,000 last year, according to statistics by the National Environment Agency.

Due to space constraints, the Government imposed a burial policy in 1998 to limit the lease of graves to 15 years, after which the remains are exhumed.

Choa Chu Kang Cemetery, Singapore’s biggest and only active burial ground, will lose about a third of its 318ha land to make way for the expansion of Tengah Air Base, it was announced in July.

Some 80,500 Chinese and Muslim graves will be exhumed progressively from the end of next year, in the largest exhumation in the cemetery to date.

The slide in demand for burials led Mr Darren Tan, Chua Chu Kang Marble’s third-generation director, to set up Memories of Life in 2006 to focus on columbarium works.

Said Mr Tan, 40: “Ten years ago we did 20 to 30 tombstones a month. Now, it’s 10 to 15. For the columbarium side, we do about 200 plaques a month.”

He also started Paws to Heaven this year, specialising in memorial products for pets.

Most of the others in the field have given up the tombstone trade for columbarium plaques, he said.

But Mr Ang, who was hired by Mr Tan’s father fresh out of national service and later co-founded Chua Chu Kang Monuments Contractor with him , has no plans to quit.

As a boy living in a nearby kampung, he whiled away his time at the cemetery, where he would later be tasked with getting customers.


Engravings done by Mr Ang.

“I’m very familiar (with) the cemetery site, but if you ask me to go downtown, I’d be lost,” he said.

To accommodate special design requests, he learnt how to draw from his brother, an architect, and later taught himself how to use software like Adobe Illustrator.

His office is his lorry, which he parks under an angsana tree in the Hindu cemetery, sketching designs on his MacBook laptop while listening to Chinese radio channels. About 95 per cent of the tombstones there are his handiwork, he estimates.

After a design is approved, the marble and granite components are moulded in China or India and shipped here for assembly on-site.

A simple tombstone costs around $4,000, while more elaborate ones cost $20,000 to $30,000 and take several months to complete.

He does not keep track of the number of graves he has adorned, but knows many of the cemetery’s residents by name.

FEWER BURIALS

Ten years ago, we did 20 to 30 tombstones a month. Now, it’s 10 to 15. For the columbarium side, we do about 200 plaques a month.

MR DARREN TAN, director of Chua Chu Kang Marble.


CARRYING ON

You see a lot of sad things; some die young, and there are babies that don’t even have a chance to see the world. But as long as I am healthy and can walk, I will keep on.

MR EDWARD ANG, one of the few tombstone designer in Singapore.

“You see a lot of sad things. Some die young, and there are babies that don’t even have a chance to see the world,” said Mr Ang.

“But as long as I am healthy and can walk, I will keep on.”



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