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Cultural Center frowns on plans for nearby crematorium

The Chinese like to separate the living from the dead. It's about keeping bad energy from the good. This pretty much explains why a plan to cremate corpses across the street doesn't sit well with Albuquerque's Chinese Cultural Center. "It's extra bad luck, let alone that it's face to face," said Synthia Lin, who founded the Chinese Cultural Center, 427 Adams St. S.E., with her husband, Charles. "It becomes a mental torture to look at this every day." Charlie M. Finegan, owner of the New Mexico Mortuary Service and Riverside Funeral Home, both at 225 San Mateo Blvd. N.E., has leased the building at 422 Adams for a cremation service.

He's already ordered a $500,000 "retort," the oven used for cremating remains. The building will be used only to operate the retort and won't have signs, Finegan said. Bodies will be transported by unmarked van rather than hearse. "The nature of the business is to be discreet," Finegan said. He spent six months looking for a nearby site he could afford and that was zoned for commercial use, Finegan said. "If I would have known there was an issue, I probably would have pursued another venue," he said. "I told them I will continue to look for another venue. But I have already ordered the machine. I'm contractually obligated."


As she stood in the center's training area, a room like a small gymnasium used for tai chi and kung fu lessons, Lin tried to put the cultural divide into more familiar words. "What would be very offensive to you?" she asked, before settling on the comparison of placing a burning cross in a Christian's yard. "Some people say `bad karma.' " In China, Lin said, crematoria are placed in remote areas away from residences and businesses, as if putting the bad energy in quarantine.

There's a fear that the bad energy will drive all Asians away from the center, an ornate building modeled after two Chinese temples that each year draws hundreds of people to Chinese New Year celebrations. The crematorium also threatens to derail the center's feng shui, the Chinese art of placing objects in ways that enhance the flow of positive energy, Lin said. It's a practice that many believe improves everything from general health to physical balance.

The center's front entrance faces east, an important element of feng shui. On the ceiling, a crystal dangles from a piece of dust-covered red string - a decoration said to improve energy flow, said Gail Rubin, a public relations specialist who takes tai chi lessons at the cultural center. "If we know we're looking at a crematorium, that's a real downer when you're trying to find harmony and balance," Rubin said. Gary Edwards, president of the Parkland Hills Neighborhood Association, said he, too, isn't excited about a crematorium in the neighborhood.

"It doesn't seem like it's an asset to the community," Edwards said. "I'm also in real estate. The properties will go down in value." Finegan is open to finding a new spot and he's asked the Chinese Cultural Center for help. "I want to be a good neighbor," Finegan said. "If you want to help me try to find a location, then I invite you to help me." Posted on the wall inside the cultural center is a note to students asking them to contact City Council President Martin Heinrich about the crematorium, calling it "very bad feng shui."

In a postscript, it asks for help finding Finegan a new location, one that's 20 by 50 feet with a rolling door, and within a five-mile radius of the cultural center. "We're trying to be very helpful," Charles Lin said.


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