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Travel & Holiday

'Funeral view' hotels

Lavender Street, home to Singapore Casket, has become a popular spot for tourist lodgings
The Straits Times - May 27, 2012
By: Goh Shi Ting
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'Funeral view' hotels -- ST PHOTO: ASHLEIGH SIM

Clean sheets, reasonable rates and a room with a view... of a funeral parlour.

Tourists who book themselves into one of several hotels and hostels around Lavender Street may end up getting a little more than they bargained for.

Not only are there vans ferrying bodies to the nearby Singapore Casket, but holidaymakers have also been greeted by the sight of sobbing mourners following a hearse down the road.

Of course, Lavender Street has long been known mainly for its multi-storey funeral complex.

But over the last few years, the area has also become a popular lodging spot for tourists and backpackers - many of whom have no idea that they are booking a room near Singapore Casket.

Two hostels and one hotel are within a stone's throw of the complex, with a second hotel now under construction.

The existing hotel - Aqueen Hotel Lavender - even has an alfresco dining area facing the road where funeral processions take place several times a day. Some involve as many as 40 mourners.

So does staying near a funeral parlour put a dampener on tourists' vacations?

It certainly did for one group of 64 holidaymakers from China who had made reservations at the Ideal Backpackers Hostel.

They 'made a big fuss', said its assistant manager Andy Tan, 36. Of the 64, 41 cancelled their bookings for alternative lodging away from Singapore Casket.

However, it seems that most tourists are not too daunted by the parlour, with price trumping all other considerations.

'Nobody asked me (about Singapore Casket) and I wouldn't bring it up too,' said Mr Tan, whose hostel opened five years ago and has 47 dormitories with beds costing $20 a night.

One of its guests, Dutch graduate Xanne Jacobs, 24, was initially taken aback by the sight of sobbing relatives, but quickly decided that it was part of the colour of living in a city.

Bangladeshi Mohamed Shahed Hossain, 26, had been told about Aqueen's location, but was still unprepared for the sight of more than 20 people following a hearse down the street.

'I felt a little uncomfortable,' said the masters graduate. 'As a tourist, I thought something was wrong. It looked like a protest back at home.'

Ms Goh Chai Khim, Aqueen's chief executive of hospitality and leisure, said most of its guests are from Western countries and not particularly superstitious about death.

'There's no impact of being next to Singapore Casket,' said Ms Goh of the 102-room hotel, which opened in 2009.

A new hotel is currently being built next to Ideal, while the Little Red Dot backpackers hostel opened right next to Singapore Casket in late 2009.

Owner David Seah, 38, said most guests made no mention of the funeral processions, which tend to be quick and quiet affairs.

He also pointed to the many positive reviews his hostel has received on travel websites, citing factors such as its proximity to Little India and helpful staff.

Only one or two customers added the proviso - 'if you don't mind staying beside Singapore Casket'.

Dutch guest Rob Zwaan, 25, told The Sunday Times: 'I've noticed some people looking glum... but I just walk past them quickly because I felt like I'd be invading their privacy.

'I respect that they are mourning the loss of their loved ones so the issue of bad luck hasn't crossed my mind.'

Two women backpackers from Germany also said they were not disturbed by the hostel's location. 'There are cultural differences... perhaps I'd just stand at a distance and observe the different ritual,' said 26-year-old student Rasanya S.

An Indian tourist at Aqueen, who declined to be named, said: 'Everyone dies. I'll die and you'll die too. This is part of the cycle of life so there's nothing to be afraid of.'

The hotel's business is healthy, with an average occupancy rate of 80 per cent.

In the case of Little Red Dot's Mr Seah, the main reason for setting up his hostel in Lavender Street was its proximity to the Singapore-Malaysia Coach Terminal.

What was more damaging than the casket company's presence was the fact that the station closed down six months ago to make way for the construction of the Downtown Line. Business dropped by 20 per cent, he said.

And if anything would make him move, it is the fact that more hostels are opening up and fighting for the same piece of the pie.

In other words, 'being located next to Singapore Casket has not made my business worse', he said.

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