It’s not the career choice for many in their twenties, but Ming Tai has amassed more than 47,000 followers on his Instagram page, where he shares stories from his work in the funeral industry.

While a lot of people might be taken aback at the prospect of working with corpses, it did not take Ming Tai, a pseudonym, long to adjust. His work, he said, is aimed at promoting the concept of dying with dignity. In recent years – during the Covid-19 pandemic – he has found himself particularly busy.

Ming Tai.
Ming Tai. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

He began working in the morgue of a public hospital after applying for a transfer from his job as a porter on the wards. On his first day he was left alone when his colleague went to buy lunch.

“While I was waiting, I heard a noise coming from the fridge [refrigerated corpse containers],” he said. It sounded like someone knocking on the door. “So I went outside to wait for my colleague.”

The colleague told Ming Tai off and explained that the noise came from the cooling system.

“My colleague said: ‘Well, there are two things you could do if there are door knocking sounds, either you open the door, or you call the police.’” 

“From then on I understood that a lot of things were only my imaginary fears.”

After the 2019 extradition bill protests broke out, he left the mortuary and began working in a district councillor’s office. There were many deaths from natural causes in the area the councillor represented.

Ming Tai.
Ming Tai. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Eventually he decided to set up a company which specialised in clearing the possessions and cleaning the homes of those who have died. With the permission of their families, he shares photos of cherished possessions and final notes with his Instagram followers.

HKFP spoke to Ming Tai in Hung Hom on a cold, windy January afternoon as he was rushing back from a funeral in Happy Valley. Wearing a short-sleeved black polo shirt, the 25-year-old seemed impervious to the chill. 

He cast his mind back to January 2022, when Omicron had recently arrived and Hong Kong’s fifth and deadliest wave of Covid-19 was beginning. It would leave hospitals and mortuaries overwhelmed. 

Photos of elderly patients shivering in the open air on gurneys, bodies piled up inside hospitals, and shipping containers turned into mortuaries made international headlines.

covid-19 covid hospital
Caritas Medical Centre in Sham Shui Po. Photo: Kenny Huang/Studio Incendo.

Ming Tai was called in to help in the mortuary of a public hospital in the New Territories. In between juggling the demands of his own company and those of the hospital, he had no private life at all. 

“It was too miserable a time for Hongkongers,” Ming Tai recalled. 

“I knew of some cases where dead children had never taken off their face masks from the moment they were born to when they died.”

“The most ironic thing was that when I opened one body bag, the child still had a face mask on, even though it was pulled down.” 

At the height of the fifth wave, Hong Kong’s death rate from Covid-19 death was the highest in the developed world,  according to a Bloomberg study of Johns Hopkins University data. 

With the overwhelming number of fatalities and a shortage of manpower, families faced long delays in trying to settle the affairs of their loved ones. 

“Even though the funeral services industry is very organised, the support was insufficient,” said Ming Tai. 

Bodies in A&E in QE Hospital
Bodies in A&E storage area in Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Photo: rn_aed_247, via Instagram.

Hong Kong has a very efficient system compared to much of Asia, he said.

“But why did we let it slip during the fifth wave under such conditions? There are things that are actually foreseeable: why did we handle it in such a way?”

Some families, he said, had to wait over a month to receive the necessary documents from the government.

Drawing on his experience, he had some advice for Hongkongers in the wake of the city’s epidemic.

“Treasure what you have, be true to yourself, and if there is something that you want to do, and it is not a bad thing, just do it,” said Ming Tai.

“I don’t know whether there will be another pandemic, or whether more people will die. But you should not wait until then to figure out how to live your life.”

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.