In Chinese traditions, even numbers symbolises joy event such as wedding and birth and odd number for funeral. Chinese funeral wake in Singapore are therefore usually held for odd number of days but it can go up to 49 days although this is unheard of nowadays. Usually it is for 3, 5 or 7 days with 5 the most common since 3 is deemed too short and 7 too long.
The deceased in the coffin is placed with the head facing the house and the feet pointing towards the main door so that the coffin can be carried away feet first. (That is why it is consider bad fengshui for people to place their bed placing the doorway). In days gone by, the ladies will sit on the right of the coffin (facing outward) and the men sits on the right. When a guest comes to pay respect, the men will bow to him and the ladies will wail loudly to show their respect and filial piety respectively. That of course is no longer practice nowadays.
In front of the coffin is the altar. The Buddhist funeral altar is a simple affair comprising of a photo placed on a chair with the deceased’s clothing, a table with some vegetarian food and an oil burner and a incense joss stick holder. The more traditional altar is a more elaborated affair.
On the altar table, there are placed the following items. A pair of candles, an urn, an oil lamp, food offering and the deceased’s tablet. Behind the table is the chair with a photo of the deceased, his/her clothing and next to it is a basin of water, a face cloth, toothpaste and tooth brush. The tablet is a piece of paper with the deceased’s particular written on it and placed between 2 stacks of joss paper. This will be replaced eventually with a permanent wooden tablet but during the period of the funeral, this will suffice. The candle and oil lamp must be kept lit throughout the funeral. This is so that the deceased can be guided to the other world. In the urn, there is a main incense which must also be kept burning at all times. This represent the spirit of the deceased. The food offering are to ensure that the deceased is able to eat his/her fill.
The eldest daughter in law is supposed to ‘bathe’ the deceased every morning and in the past has to use the water in the basin to wipe the photo. That has more or less been reduced to anybody just changing the water every morning.
In addition to all of the above, there is also a pair of paper effigies in the shape of a male and female. These are supposed to be the male servant and the maid for the deceased.
Throughout the funeral, the next of kins are supposed to burn joss paper that the deceased will use to bribe his/her way to a better future. In the past, this was taken very seriously and the ladies take turn next to the coffin to do the burning. That has more or less been reduced to some token burning in the morning and instead the joss papers are folded into gold ingots to be burnt on the last evening preceding the funeral.
Commonly placed on the altar is also a box of cloth ‘badges’ in various colors. Depending on the relation with the deceased, each mourner will wear a particular color. The standard one are children – sack cloth on a white badge, children in law – white, grand children, nieces and nephews – blue, great grandchildren – green. There are also combination – red on white (god children). These are usually worn on the right hand.
In the past, the mourners also wear sack clothes over the traditional mourning clothes but nowadays it is more common (and more comfortable) to wear plain white tees. Refer to this for an example of typical funeral attire.