Oriental countries with a history of Chinese emigration or occupation as well as Greater China itself perform ceremonies to worship ancestry, sacred deities (both, good and evil) and wandering spirits. Together, the spread of Buddhist philosophy, Taoist & Confucian ethics and eventually personal ghost encounters blended over time into an overwhelming funk which nowadays defines people’s ideology. Believing in the cycle of life, death, and reincarnation, devotees want to make absolutely sure that the departed enjoy a happy afterlife.
With consumerism taking its toll on oriental societies, interdimensional love has also been redefined. Back in the days, it sufficed to send the deceased loved ones a stack of hell money orperhaps a slip of paper with imprinted clothing (including a scissors icon in case the size doesn’t fit). But nowadays it seems incredibly important to upgrade to fancier donations for the ancestral spirits, and furthermore to ensure they can keep up with technological trends in their afterlife. Thus, people buy all sorts of lavish gifts made of paper mâché to honor the dead, not necessarily for the wandering spirits, as those are already appeased with the Pudu rites hold for them during Ghost Month. Besides the funerals, biweekly Bai-Bai tributes, and individual death anniversaries, the peak season for producers to sell their 3D paper imitations is the annual Tomb Sweeping Day Qingming. I can’t wait to travel back to Taiwan for this day, but meanwhile, I desperately want to touch base with someone how knows best about the modern needs of the ancestors. As I’m writing these lines, Word AutoCorrect suggests ‘Ikea’ instead of ‘Skea’. Funnily, this isn’t so far-fetched, both companies produce a wide array of furniture and all sorts of interior decor, with one significant difference – Skea’s products come all in miniature size only, and they’re meant for the dead.
Initially, I reached out to Skea’s competitor. But to my surprise, they’ve denied my request for an interview out of fear their paper products which quite obviously imitate recognizable brands, would draw not only media interest but also lawsuits. Back then, I didn’t understand that this was the best thing that possibly could have happened. It leaded me to more research, and eventually a talk with Han Yean, the founder of Skea.Yean is a grandiose businesswoman combining both, a fascinating background as well as future thinking in art and design, and her market has just started to thrive. In her earlier career, she wrote several novels on love stories, a flair which neatly corresponds with her new passion. The launch of the young company, though, is even more intriguing. When Yean’s grandfather passed away, her family was scouting for a lovely gift to send after him. You’d probably think of a rich bouquet, but instead, they aimed to find someone to craft a miniature villa with an attached outdoor hot spring – something her grandpa loved by heart. Since no one was able to design a tailor-made paper mansion from scratch, they’ve decided to do it themselves. The moment Yean had seen her mother releasing the grief when the gift was created, marked the next chapter in Yean’s mission to help spreading eternal love. Eventually, she established Skea, to meet modern society’s demand for customized gifts to send their departed loved ones.
Today, roughly a decade later, Skea is distributing meaningful and eco-friendly paper products via webshop all over the Orient. Amongst her clients are not only Buddhists, 15 per cent of all orders go out to Christians who trust the papery gifts can be received in heaven, too. The product range includes luxurious mansions with swimming pools, entertainment stuff such as entire discos, ice cream parlors, sports gear, plus every means of transport imaginable – sports cars, jets, bicycles, motorbikes. Skea also offers imitated electronic gadgets such as cameras, or phones and tablets where Skea designs even the apps. There’s watches, jewelry, razors, perfumes, sunglasses, hats, the latest fashion (formal, traditional and casual dresses) – basically everything needed to dress swag and live comfy in the afterlife. Although, one particular gift doesn’t exist in their sales catalog – in case you had just been thinking if it was possible to forward papery strippers, maids or any other sort of companions – At least I thought of it. The other day I met Ada, a young lady from downtown Taipei, who had burned four mini paper servants for her deceased mother, pointing out sarcastically; “my mom is a princess, she needs at least four helpers wherever she is now”. – Yean doesn’t believe that cremated replicas of humans or pets would materialize in the afterlife. But she emphasises that much like the living, the recently deceased also desire new phones, cars, accessories, and convenient living standards. Skea’sinterdimensional giftsmay seem costly, with smaller presents like the latest sPhone 8plus (with 80 GB spiritual memory) available for about USD 100, whereas an entire villa with all the trimmings goes for about USD 4.500 – though „when it comes to love and remembrance, our customers spare no expense“, says Yean, adding that these spiritual gifts not solely serve as a tribute to the deceased but also help the bereaved to cope with the loss.
Keeping up the lifestyle in the afterlife that one is used to, sounds just fair! Whether one’s grandpa who passed away some 30 years ago really would want to deal with the latest technology or not, is a different story. But there are plenty of options, perhaps it’s best anyway to send him a nice pair of pajamas on his death anniversary, a fishing rod as a surprise somewhen during a Bai-Bai tribute, and the red convertible for Tomb Sweeping Day Qingming – all available on www.skea.com.tw
Many mourners reach out to Skea with increasingly demanding ideas, which is right up their alley. There was a famous Taiwanese entertainment tycoon, whose family commissioned Yean’s team to craft a cardboard replica of an entire film set, so he may keep on producing movies in the parallel world. The other day I was taken by suprise when spotting a papery hand grenade on display (right next to a pack of dominoes) in a small outlet downtown Taipei – it remains uncertain if the client’s deceased father was either a military fanatic, or seeking serious revenge in the beyond. According to the shop owner, the order also included an aircraft carrier, weapon crates, and a tank. Weaponry doesn’t work in the parallel world, highlights Skea’s founder who denied this very request, per se following the credo ’rest in peace’ rather than in ’rest in pieces’. However, the vast majority of paper gifts are traditionally meaningful and some even unfold a romantic story – In one of the Skea’s showroom vitrines, a beautifully elaborated cafeteria truck is on display. Yean explains that this was the idea of a young lady who had lost her loving boyfriend. Their dream of opening a Cafe on wheels never came true. Accordingly, she decided to have a replica built for him, so he can receive it where he’s now.
“We believe that we’ll move on to another place after we die, but according to our faith we can’t take any possessions along”, explains Neo, who is attending his uncle’s funeral in Taipei City. A few moments later, he & his clan pay their last tribute to the deceased, whilst a detailed replica of a two-storey mansion complete with paper maids, a lounger with the latest version of a petite Lonely Planet’s guide to ’Germany’ within reach, plus an extravagant car, go up in flames. Besides, towers of joss paper follow the villa into the fire, ensuring the spirit will enjoy a kickstart into a lavish afterlife.