Sunday, January 6, 2008

Sundays from Singapore: Festival of the Hungry Ghost


Welcome to the month of the Hungry Ghost! Buddhist and Taoist legend has it that a man ventured into Hades to visit his recently deceased mother and found her hungry and alone. The mother had been a mean spirited person in life and was paying for this in the afterlife. Anything she tried to eat turned to ashes and drink turned to blood. During the seventh lunar month of the Chinese calendar, the doors to Hades open and spirits visit their descendants. Those who were taken care of by their relatives were treated to food and drink and offerings to ensure good fortune. Those who died violently or by their own hand, or who had no living relatives, were most discontent and haunted the living for food. If you got along with your dead relatives, good job! You can make your offerings, hope for good luck, and then party at the end of the month.

This can be a solemn and wary time for Asians. Joss sticks and incense are burned at the gates of a home to keep evil spirits out.

Joss Sticks. Photo by Yabby

Food is often placed along side the burnt offerings to placate the hungry ghosts.

Feeding the Hungry Ghosts. Photo by crab68.

The Taiwanese are especially cautious during this time, with no weddings or overseas journeys. They are on the lookout for spirits that have disguised themselves are humans, possibly to seduce the living and get into their homes. However, a "dead" giveaway that one is confronting a spirit is that their feet don't touch the ground.

So, this is what the girls found out online, as I headed off to the market, threading my way through leftover joss sticks poking out of the grass and dodging plates of oranges on the sidewalk. Incense burners with lids have been placed at the gates of the property, but some people ignore them and place their offerings in little fence-like rows to ward off evil spirits. Personally, I'm checking everyone's feet to make sure they are "well grounded."

I think I have an evil spirit living in my "yard" ceiling. This nasty has rained water down upon the washing machine and yet has managed to avoid detection. For days, I have endured repairmen running in and out of the house, climbing in and out of windows to reach the air con ledges, all the while leaving the windows and doors open to the humidity. I now have a one foot square hole cut into the ceiling, with a funnel jammed between the various pipes to direct water to a bucket. This was the band-aid fix after much chattering and discussion. Of course, since that time, no water has fallen. We have flushed toilets, run sinks, splashed in the showers and finally resorted to blaming the upstairs neighbors. The current theory is that the plumbers drilled into an air con pipe, inconveniently buried in a wall, and that is now leaking. There is supposed to be a meeting of the two trades to argue about who is at fault, and proposed a remedy. Either way, I just know it will involve breaking down walls and floors. Someone should have told me to stuff fruit up there and avoid all this nonsense!

We are heading out in two days for Thailand [at this resort], and I am very much looking forward to it. The weather forecast is a bit dicey, but since it is already "raining" at my house, what's the difference? The website for the resort shows cute 2 bedroom cottages sitting right in the sand, with teak floors and canopied beds. Clearly, water sports are the order of the day, but I am holding out hope for some other activities as well. Shopping, perhaps? I can only chase crabs down the beach (I mean run away from) and build sand castles only so long, you know?

Hope all is well with you, and look out for people who float off of the ground!




Celticspirit said...

I love insense and burn it all the time but only the Nag Champa ones. I've never heard of Joss sticks. What do they smell like??? Your Singapore stories are always intersting.
Been doing any crafting?

Lisa said...

I don't remember joss sticks having a particular aroma, but often incense is burnt at the same time. Most of the joss sticks I remember were red, and in various sizes, from regular incense stick size to giant ones in front of temples.

As for the crafting... haven't done anything recently. I am trying (that's the key word here) to reorganize my craft space, but haven't spent more than about an hour total on it so far.

Walter Jeffries said...

Hi Lisa, Yes, Saddle Pig, our oldest sow, died this week as you asked over on my blog post about stone coat hangers. You didn't miss a big post or anything - I had put a note of her passing in the footer down with the temperatures and weather. She was a good pig and is the mother of many of our other sows. The good news is I suspect she died in her sleep based on where I found her and her body position. At some point I plan to post more on her - an homage of sorts, as well as what one does with an 800 pound body on the farm.

Anonymous said...

Now that was an interesting post! I never knew those things at all, but it does help to explain some cultural things that I have noticed. Have a wonderful vacation, now that is surely going to be tons of fun!
jenn to to watch out for those floaters, lol!

Lisa said...

Thanks for your comment, Jenn! Actually, the vacation (much as I would like one right now!) was back in 2001. My Sundays in Singapore post are all old emails I sent to family and friends when we lived in Singapore for 2 years!