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He stitched murder victim's body back into one piece

Roland Tay is arguably one of the more well-known undertakers in Singapore as he's handled many high-profile crime cases, including Ms Liu Hong Mei, whose body parts were found in the Kallang River in June 2005. -TNP
Chai Hung Yin

Tue, Sep 04, 2012
The New Paper

He stares death in the face day in, day out. Even on Chinese New Year.

You see, Mr Roland Tay is an undertaker. His job is to help people with death, arranging everything from claiming the body from the mortuary to embalming services to arranging the wake and the funeral services on behalf of bereaved families.

"No day off for me, even on Chinese New Year," says the 65-year-old managing director of Direct Singapore Funeral Services.

His mobile phone is on standby 24/7 and he springs into action even at 3am if a client needs help, he says.

When he is away on holiday, he passes the baton to his sons. He has five kids in their 20s and 40s.

Mr Tay is arguably one of the more well-known undertakers in Singapore as he's handled many high-profile crime cases, including Ms Liu Hong Mei, whose body parts were found in the Kallang River in June 2005.

Her killer, factory supervisor Leong Siew Chor, chopped her body up into seven pieces, packed them into plastic bags and boxes, and dumped them in different locations in the river near Kallang, Clarke Quay and Parliament House.

That case is etched in his mind because of the sheer brutality involved. He says: "We collected the body parts back and stitched up the body into one piece."

Almost every part was retrieved - except for a foot. "We did a wax foot so that the body could be complete again," he says.

Why does he get involved in these cases?

For good karma, he said.

"Once you do good, you have karma to do more things."

He adds: "When I come across these cases in the media, I will come forward to volunteer myself to those in need of help.

"When I hold a wake for these victims, many good Samaritans from all walks of life also donate money to help the family members."

Besides crime cases, Mr Tay also handles the funeral services of those who are destitute for free - he has done this more than 100 times in about 20 years.

The cases are referred to him by social workers at voluntary welfare organisations such as All Saints Home and Society for the Aged Sick.

Many also came to him via word of mouth.

He says: "I've never rejected any client as I know they call me because they are in difficulty. No questions asked."

Growing up, Mr Tay lived on Lavender Street where he helped out at his dad's coffee shop next to an undertaker after dropping out of school at 13.

He says: "I helped to serve refreshments at wakes for many years. I've seen the poor and rich. I've seen very poor families had very simple funerals."

He then learnt the trade and became an undertaker when he was in his early 30s.

"When my parents were alive, they would tell me to go forward and help whenever I see someone in need," says Mr Tay

And it has nothing to do with his religion as he is a free thinker, like his wife, Madam Sally Ho.

The 46-year-old make-up artist uses her skills to put make-up on the dead.

He says: "We respect all religions. We handle funerals for the poor - any race or religion.

"No matter who they are, we will help them. "

Mr Tay remembers arranging a free burial for the Bangladeshi man who died while trapped in a locked metal container for nine days. The man was discovered by port workers at Pasir Panjang Terminal on April 6 last year.

Mr Tay admits that his job can be depressing, especially when he has to deal with cases of sudden death.

He says: "When I'm handling the funeral, I also feel the sadness and heartache.

"But when I've completed the funeral and there's a smooth send-off, I feel a sense of satisfaction."

As he arranges funerals almost every day, he has to go through the emotional ups and downs very often.

"The sad part is only temporary. Once the funeral is done, I don't think so much about it. So the most important thing is to complete it."

People do shun the profession, but Mr Tay says there is satisfaction from helping people, such as helping grieving family members to come to terms with their loss.

Mr Tay says: "When I handle cases of people who have lost loved ones all of a sudden, I talk to them on a heart-to-heart basis.

"Whatever I can help to do, I will help. I will go forward and help sincerely. I treat my clients like my own family members."

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