Tonight as I was walking the street, I was mesmerized by the air in front of me. At first I thought it was a huge flock of bugs, swarming the streetlight. But as I got closer and started sniffing the air, I realized it was ash. Lots and lots of ash. That's when I remembered.
We're right in the middle of Gwai2 Zeet3, or the Hungry Ghost Festival, as we like to say in English. I'm told that this is the time when Hell's Gates are open so that ghosts can get out and wander the earth. According to Chinese culture, ghosts, just like any other person, needs to have daily necessities like clothing, houses, money, cell phones, tv's, etc. The way to give a ghost these things is by burning paper versions. Usually people burn things for their deceased relatives, but at this time benevolent people will also burn for hungry, wandering ghosts, those who don't have family. So all over the city tonight, there were fires in the streets.
During the day, ghosts look like a normal person, but watch as you walk past a cha4 chaan2 teng1. If you see a person stretching up to lick the hanging ducks in the windows, it is probably a ghost! They just can't resist the beautiful, glistening ducks.
I'm also told that you need to be careful during this time. Ghosts can try to kill you in order to speed up their reincarnation process. People have told stories of standing by a street and being pushed into the street just as a big bus is coming. When they looked behind them (after getting back to the curb), no one was there.
I also learned that ghosts like umbrellas. One particularly cautious student of mine told me to avoid using an umbrella during this whole month, especially today, because ghosts like to hitch rides on your umbrella. Some other students told me that ghosts do like umbrellas, but I still can use an umbrella as long as I avoid opening it inside my house, since then the ghost would be able to come into the house.
Tonight, apparently the gate of Hell is wide open, so it's the biggest ghost night. If you believe in ghosts, you probably would have gone home before dark. I was not good in this regard and didn't make it home until almost midnight. Oops.
So as you go about your week, watch out. If someone calls your name, don't turn; just keep walking. Stand away from the curb. Watch the window ducks. And hope it doesn't rain.