SINGAPORE: A Place to Die

In an alleyway off Sago Lane in Singapore's Chinatown, beneath banners and scrolls and paper models of ships and planes, dozens of Chinese last week played mah-jongg by the light that gleamed from two adjoining houses. From inside the houses came a deafening cacophony of clanging cymbals, shrieking flutes and thumping drums. In the ancient Taoist tradition, the mah-jongg players had come to pay their last respects to friends and relatives who lay dying inside.

For generations, poorer Singapore Chinese have sent their infirm relatives to spend their last days in what the proprietors call "sick receiving homes," but what...

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