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Hungry Ghosts, Good Money

The bus ride back to my little room rented from a human family takes about 35 minutes every evening, and passes by many HDB flats (The Singapore government built flats, HDB stands for Housing and Development Board) in Chinese housing area including the China Town. Since mid August, I have been noticing a lot of burning of candles, prayer paper that represents "hell money", joss sticks, and paper replicas of luxury items in these areas. There are also some heavily decorated stages and tents set up in various areas, completed with altars and amazingly, karaokes! It looks like something really big is going on.

Aahhhhh... it's one of the most important Chinese festivals in Singapore: The Hungry Ghost Festival! The festival which the Chinese believe that the hell gate would open and free all underworld souls to wander amongst the livings' world. All that burnings are the humans' offerings to feed these hungry and perhaps greedy ghosts, so that they shall not disturb or harm the living.

What amuses me is, the Hungry Ghost Festival is meant to be only on the 14th day of the 7th Lunar month, but this has been going on for weeks, since the first day of the Lunar month. And tonight, the 15th day of the 7th Lunar month: I still had to walk through rows of burning candles and joss to get to the lift lobby.

It's rather ironic that all these are happening in the clean and modern Singapore. Didn't Singapore just organise a Live Earth Concert recently, shouting about global warming? But then again, the concert itself was a gigantic hypocritical bulls**t, no wonder they can create all that smoke and pollution for a few weeks and still get away with it.

There is nothing wrong with having and keeping one's tradition and belief. But taking a few weeks to celebrate a one-day festival, is really unnecessary (although some believe that the gate would be open for a whole month, what do we aliens know eh?).

If this is about tradition and belief, the ghosts were "traditionally believed" to be let out of hell for just that one day, every year; and in the town I lived in when I was in my younger human body, people used to only give offerings a day or two around the 14th. Now who did they get that extra holidays from? And if they can be feasting freely for so many days, there will be no hungry ghosts left because they would have been well stuffed!

If this is about tradition and belief, there is another Chinese festival in the 7th Lunar month, 7 days prior to the Hungry Ghost Fest, which is the Qi Xi Festival or the 7th Sister Festival. Why has that been ignored completely then?

Simple.

To make offerings, these believers will have to buy a lot of specially-made paper merchandise (or it may not keep the ghosts away), candles, fruit, candies and cakes. If they feel the need to burn these things for longer and more secure protection from the ghosts, they will buy more.

Setting up the tents, stages and karaokes, involves the hiring of some event organisers, contractors, and material suppliers. And if you wish to attend to one of these events for a sit down dinner, you may have to buy some tickets.

I have checked with a human I know in Singapore, and the answer is: yes, the prolonged festival is highly profitable. Perhaps some humans still believe that they could get some lucky numbers off the ghosts and win some lottery money! So, the extended version of the festival seems absolutely necessary, so that they can burn massive amount of paper and candles every night of the "official" celebration period, to pray for extra safety and prosperity. Sorry Qi Xi Festival, you just aren't profitable enough to be remembered.

So, who is having prosperity at the end of the day, and laughing all the way to the bank?

This is the modern day Hungry Ghost Festival. Feeding the ghost, or the hell money manufacturers?

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