Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The Festival of the Hungry Ghost...

And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. The Bull logged 55 minutes on the treadmill tonight, clocking 26 KM and burning just over 400 calories. It wasn't my strongest performance on the bike, but I definitely feel as though my legs have gotten stronger recently. Coupled with the speedwork from last night, I feel it's starting to come together for the upcoming half marathon. Fingers crossed that I stay healthy.
Now that I'm FINALLY caught up on all the adventures, I can start working through a few of the cultural and reflective blogs that I've been wanting to write for some time now (I can almost hear Shogun sighing). Tonight's installment is a particularly interesting one for me - the "Month of the Hungry Ghost." Now I'll confess up front that I will probably butcher some of the history and traditions associated with this, so apologies to all Singaporeans in advance (and especially Evelyn, who is the one Singaporean that I know reads this), but given how interesting it is, I wanted to share it with the readership.
In the Chinese calendar, the 7th month after Chinese New Year is called the "month of the hungry ghost." According to Chinese belief and tradition, this is the month during which the spirits of the dead return to visit us. During this month, lots of interesting rituals appear, the most common of which is that HUGE tables of food are left on the side of the road, outside of shops, and near a lot of housing, all surrounded by incense sticks. People believe that, since the ghosts haven't eaten in a year, they will be hungry. Consequently they offer a veritable SMORGASBOARD of food (el Guapo would say a "plethera"), all the while giving incense offerings to their departed friends and family. This is interesting for anyone on an open-top bus tour (of which I've done two during this period), as you can smell incense on the wind throughout the city, and at times there is definitely a haze of smoke in places.
Another truly MIND-BLOWING aspect of all this is the burning of gifts. It's crazy, as an entire industry is now built around this tradition. You will notice several shops selling paper models of everything - most often cars, houses, clothes, and other staples of life. Again, according to custom, anything that is burnt as an offering to a relative can then be used in the afterlife. Consequently, people burn paper models of all kinds of stuff - cars, houses, airplanes - even i-Pods! Some people burn FULL SIZE PAPER CARS, and apparently fairly large paper houses are set ablaze in the more rural areas. I haven't actually seen any of this, but the stories I've heard are EPIC.
And lastly, the one that haunts me the most can be found throughout the city, but most often outside HDB flats and homes - the empty chairs. The chairs stand as a remembrance of those loved ones who used to sit with us and share laughter, tears, and many, many memories. On and around the chairs are things that friends and family liked and used often in real life - clothes, jewelry, books - you name it. It's a haunting imagine, and whilst the offerings of food and the burned paper models were something that I found truly fascinating but couldn't relate to, the chairs absolutely resonated with me. Perhaps it's the fact that I'm reading Shantaram at the moment and the guy's got me thinking philisophically, but I have thought about those empty chairs quite a bit lately. Chinese culture is obviously a bit foreign (pardon the pun) to this Southerner, and consequently I'm not participating in the festival. However, if I were I think there would be 3 empty chairs on my balcony:
1. One with a deck of cards, a cribbage board, a small set of golf clubs, a hammer, a little wooden robot with some stickers all over it, the keys to a new car - a Subaru, most likely - and a plate of country ham
2. One with a pair of overalls, the Holy Bible, at least one image of a cow, a medal that few have seen and even fewer received, and a photo of 3 generations of men who loved each other very much
3. One with a "Bye Bye, Birdie" playbill, a hockey stick, the keys to an X-Terra, a drama mask with the words "1st place," all the Matthew Sweet albums you can find, and an unpublished screenplay
To all those of you that have gone beyond - I love you and miss you so much. We will see you again.
To all those of you that I'm blessed enough to still have here with me - I love you and miss you so much. Jenny and I are on the adventure of a lifetime, and we fully intend to make these last 4 months count. But when it's over, we look forward to a new chapter in our lives, one that features all of you as the important part of our lives that you have been and will always, always continue to be.
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Sam and (somewhere eating Tom Yam and staring at misty mountains) Jenny

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