| KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 24
KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 24 (Reuters Life!) - Demand for luxury
funerals is booming in Southeast Asia, driven by the rising
ranks of the wealthy in the region.
From $100,000 gold-plated caskets to million dollar burial
plots, a growing number of the rich are making the passage to
the afterlife with the best that money can buy.
"Our clients tell us their loved ones deserve the best in
life and in death," said Au Kok Huei, the group chief operating
officer of Malaysia's NV Multi Corporation Berhad NVMU.KL,
Southeast Asia's sole listed bereavement services provider.
The company offers a range of funeral services and runs
cemeteries and columbariums in six countries - Malaysia,
Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Taiwan.
Its 100,000 clients are mainly ethnic Chinese who make up
more than 40 million of Southeast Asia's population. Muslims
make up the majority of the population in the region, but
lavish funerals are frowned upon by the religion.
Company officials said demand for luxury funerals among the
ethnic Chinese has been growing especially in Indonesia, which
has a small but affluent Chinese community and in Singapore,
where the company runs a $22 million columbarium.
Among the more popular top-of-the-line products are a
burial urn crafted from Canadian jade priced at 188,000
Malaysian ringgit ($60,780), while a gold-plated casket costs
388,000 ringgit. Prices for a basic burial provided by smaller
firms start from about 4,000 ringgit.
The company's most expensive burial plots are on hilltops,
conforming to Chinese geomancy principles. Each costs 1.6
million ringgit and wealthy customers usually purchase several
adjacent plots for their family members.
"CEMETERY LIKE A GARDEN"
To expand further the company said it plans to offer
pre-planned funeral services tied to investments in palm oil or
rubber plantation schemes.
Profits from these investments are used to defray the cost
of the customer's eventual funeral.
NV Multi aims to finalise a foray into China with Chinese
partner next year, where it will eventually compete with
players outside Southeast Asia including Hong Kong-listed
Sino-Life Group Ltd (8296.HK), a funeral service provider in
Taiwan and China.
Chief executive officer Kong Hon Kong, who founded the
company 20 years ago, said the idea to set up the company came
after he was asked to manage a relative's funeral.
"Local cemeteries were poorly run and eerie, so I thought:
'why can't we manage a cemetery like a garden so our children
will want to visit us after we pass away'?"
The goal led him to design a showcase memorial park near
Kuala Lumpur, currently the largest in Southeast Asia.
Landscaped to resemble a recreational park, the sprawling
809-acre (327 hectares) facility features burial plots divided
according to the respective religious beliefs of its customers.
A statue of Guan Yin, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy,
venerated by Taoists and Buddhists, stands on the head of a
kilometre-long dragon replica, while a 20-feet statue of Jesus
takes centre stage at the Christian section of the cemetery.
The dead buried at the memorial aren't limited to humans. A
corner is dedicated to cats and dogs, with over 100 burial
plots costing 4,900 ringgit each.
"The next generation won't be afraid to go to the cemetery
again," said businessman Loke Kam Weng, whose father is buried
in the cemetery.
($1=3.093 Malaysian Ringgit)
(Reporting by Razak Ahmad and Angie Teo; Editing by