05 August 2011


Prior to this week the closest thing to a Singaporean friend that I had was a Korean girl from Denver. I have been wanting to make local friends, but have not really given myself an opportunity. All of my friends are western and most of their friends are as well.

Tuesday I was invited to attend a ladies night out with a friend from Cincinnati. She invited two of her other friends, one being a Singaporean woman whose family is Chinese. We had a great time and got to talk about the Asian culture quite a bit.

We talked about Wild Swans, the book I am reading, and about a lot of the Chinese history I was learning while reading. Call me stupid, but I had no idea that China had anything to do with World War II. In U.S. history classes, we learned that the German Nazis were evil, communism was bad, the U.S. dropped a couple bombs in Japan and Switzerland was Switzerland. At 28, I am learning that the Japanese took over China and forced the Chinese to adopt the Japanese language and ways of life immediately and unforgivingly. The book is enlightening, eye opening, depressing and captivating simultaneously.

While we were on the subject of Asian history and culture, I decided to ask about a ritual I had observed a couple days prior. Sunday afternoon, Paul and I hopped on a bus and headed into town for church. A few blocks down the road, I noticed an older woman and an even older man outside in the grass between the sidewalk and the street.

The woman was squatting on the ground waving a burning stick. After a minute or so, she stuck the stick in the ground, stood up, turned and walked into the apartment complex behind her. The old man, here referred to as “uncle,” was standing over a metal barrel resembling a trash can that had three roles of circular holes in the middle of the barrel.

There was a fire inside the barrel and the man was tearing individual pages from a book and delicately throwing them into the fire. The pages were colored and they had ribbons draping from the bottom of each page.

As we continued down the street, I noticed more burning barrels and incense sticks in the ground. Realizing this was some Chinese practice, I immediately started Googling “Chinese burning paper.”

At dinner, I talked about what I saw and explained that I knew it was joss paper, but I could not find any significance relating to last Sunday. My question was, “Why that day? What is the significance?”

I learned that this is the beginning of the seventh lunar month, known as Hungry Ghost Month, and that this woman, a realtor, was in for a slow month. This is a time when the hell gates open and ghosts walk among the living. The living try to please the ghosts by offering food and burning prayer money.

The month is named after the “hungry” ghosts who have no living dependents in their family line. These hungry ghosts are out, particularly at night, searching for a living person to embody and take their place in hell. Children are not to be out at night for fear the hungry ghosts will embody the young, and closing deals and purchasing property are considered unlucky during this time.

To me, this is much creepier than Halloween.

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