Ghosts

September 17, 2012 § 2 Comments

I don’t know a whole lot about the traditional concept of ghosts in Taiwan, but I’ve gathered a few things firsthand.
My introduction to “ghost culture” was on my first day here when I was transported to a temple in Jhunan on the back of a friend’s scooter. Two things caught my attention as we approached the grandiloquent Mazu temple. The first was a toothless man, stumbling with a blood-red stain on the chest of his shirt (a few of us call this man Betel Juice, as he makes his way around town chewing the arecoline-containing betel nut). The second was a tall, thin, hut-like yet ornate structure housing a roaring fire and a billowing smoke. Beside it was a man feeding the fire with a stack of notes. Zach and Heydon informed me that it was “ghost money,” which is to be given to deceased family members in order for them to purchase afterlife essentials. I imagine this would include a respectable automobile and a spare tuxedo.

Every year, there is an island-wide “ghost month.” It’s the seventh month of the lunar calendar and usually in the middle of the summer when the gates of the underworld open and the ghosts go out on the town. Before ghost month came around this year, I gathered a list of do nots from my students. There’s a few general rules like “don’t hold your wedding during ghost month” and “don’t say the word ‘ghost’.” Then there are a few quirkier ones like “don’t open your umbrella in the house” and “don’t whistle during the day or night.” There’s also “don’t walk near the water” and “don’t pat other’s shoulders or heads.”
During ghost month, there are those who are extremely devoted to appeasing the hungry ghosts and those who are only moderately interested. It seems that most participate in the ritual on the first and last days of the month although some do on a daily basis. One day, I was walking in to work just as everyone was getting setup. The air was filled with smoke from incense and ghost money burning in barrel fires. Many of the storefronts that I passed on the way had set up tables of food and drinks.

All of this is to send the ghosts away nourished and a tad richer. If you don’t participate in the activities, you or your company may suffer various forms of bad luck.

For further reading, I’d like to cite a thorough article from The Seattle Times: http://seattletimes.com/html/nationworld/2003146006_ghosts23.html

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