In good spirits
The annual Hungry Ghost Festival is well underway once again. Gloria Cheung shares some facts and tips to keep in mind so you don’t get too spooked…
All across Hong Kong, the ashy remains of ‘ghost money’ are flitting spookily into the air. Offerings are being made and people are reflecting while looking deep into small fires which are lit on the streets. All this activity is a sure sign the annual Hungry Ghost Festival is once again in full, eerie swing. Legend has it that the fest, originating from Buddhism and Taoism and taking place in the seventh lunar month (August 17 to September 15 this year), is the time when the gates of hell are opened and countless lonely and hungry spirits return to the living world.
Despite its ancient origin, Yu Lan Festival, as the locals prefer to call it, remains an important event for the Chinese to pay respect the dead. Therefore, many still cling to old rituals like burning incense and joss paper or getting auspicious rice. Whether you’re superstitious or not, here are some dos and don’ts you ought to know during these spooky few weeks…
Don’t pick up the coins on streets
Hongkongers aren’t that absent-minded about their loose change! Those coins are sprinkled purposely on the floor for the dead so they can use it to buy some food. Picking them up is said to bring bad luck.
Do stay away from the water
Avoid places like beaches and swimming pools since people believe devil spirits hide in water and look for chances to drown anyone nearby. They are lonely spirits looking for some company.
Don’t trample on the ‘ghost money’ ash
It’s believed the spirits will receive the ghost money once it’s burnt, so stepping on the ash is tantamount to disrespecting the invisible.
Do show your forehead
Clip away your stylish fringe, ladies! Feng shui dictates that the forehead is the place with the strongest positive energy on our body. Therefore, showing it defends against any dark forces.
Don’t sit in the last carriage of the MTR
If you must ride a late train home, avoid getting into the last carriage as superstition says it’s one of the places where ghosts tend to gather.
If burning paper isn’t really your thing, then going to a Chinese opera is a very cultural way to experience the ghost festival. Every year Chiu Chow associations around the city build bamboo stages outdoors to give free opera performances. You’ll notice that the front row is always empty as the prime purpose of the opera is to entertain the ghosts who ‘sit’ in the reserved seats. Yet, the operas have now become one of the biggest highlights of the festival. Even if you don’t understand the pieces, which are performed in Cantonese, the glamorously decorated stage and vibrant costumes are enough to keep you entertained for an evening. Catch a performance for yourself at one of the scheduled dates below. Admission is free. Click here for a full list of performances:
Hong Kong Island
September 6 to September 9, 7.30pm-11pm, Moretown Terrace Temporary Playground, Causeway Bay
September 12 to September 14, 7pm-11pm, Under Hill Road Flyover, Shek Tong Tsui
August 29 to August 31, 7pm-late, Hong Ning Road Recreation Ground, Kwun Tong
September 1 to September 5, 8pm-11pm, Argyle Street Playground, Kowloon City
To learn more about the rituals and history of the festival, join a free guided tour organised by Hong Kong Jockey Club:
Jockey Club Yu Lan Festival Cultural Tours
Argyle Street Playground, Kowloon City, September 1, 4pm-6pm
Moretown Terrace Temporary Playground, Causeway Bay, September 7, 7.30pm-9.30pm
Cheung Sha Wan Playground, Cheung Sha Wan, September 12, 7.30pm-9.30pm
Email email@example.com or call 2291 0238. All tours are conducted in Cantonese.
Photo: Hong Kong Tourism Board