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Hungry Ghost Festival: When The Gates of Hell Open

Come straight home from college after class. Don’t loiter around until late at night.” 

Don’t stare and point at people by the road.” 

Wash your feet properly after coming home.” 

Back when I was younger, these were just some of the things my mother used to caution me about whenever the Hungry Ghost Festival approached. Celebrated in many parts of Asia, predominantly among Chinese communities, the festival proper falls on the 14th day of the 7th month according to the lunisolar calendar (August 22 this year) – but the entire 7th month is generally known as Ghost Month.

During this time, ghosts and spirits are believed to wander the earthly realm, so the living pay homage to their ancestors as well as lost spirits by burning offerings, as a form of merit making. The practice can be traced to the ancient Chinese practice of ancestor worship, but over the years, has evolved to absorb elements of Taoism and Buddhism as well.

Like many young people, I used to think superstitions associated with the Hungry Ghost Festival were a load of baloney – but I guess with age comes the wisdom of hindsight, and an understanding of how cultural beliefs are tied to our identity and our place in the world. These are practices that have been passed down through the generations, sometimes for thousands of years – and in a rapidly modernising world, there’s something to be said about keeping them alive, even though you might not believe in them per se.

While my family is not particularly traditional, we do observe some superstitions and practices which I think are quite fascinating, especially to people of other cultures. There are also differences between how it is celebrated and observed among Chinese diasporas around the world, such as in Malaysia, where I am from. So without further ado, here are some interesting facts and trivia about the Hungry Ghost Festival! 

OFFERINGS

During the Ghost Month, the gates of Hell are opened and spirits roam the earthly plane. Among them are ancestors whom the living forgot to pay tribute to, those who died without a proper send-off, and lost spirits. Because of this, they are ‘hungry’; hence the importance of providing them with food and entertainment so that they won’t cause harm or mischief.

ProjectManhattan, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Filial piety is an extremely important part of Chinese culture, so even after their death, you are expected to honour your ancestors with offerings of food, drink and material goods. It is common for people to burn paper effigies of items like houses, cars, servants, clothes and hell bank notes, in the belief that these can be enjoyed by the deceased in the afterlife.

There are also people who make offerings for lost souls: those who have no one to pray for them, or victims of suicide, murder or accidents. Aside from accumulating good karma, it is believed that it will appease these angry spirits and prevent them from harming the living. Prayers for lost souls are usually held at temples, or by the road – so if you see people huddling over a fire in the evenings with bowls of food and joss sticks, it is best not to point and stare because you might risk offending wandering spirits.

PAPER EFFIGIES

Paper effigies are an inseparable part of the Hungry Ghost Festival – but if you think they’re just rough, crudely shaped pieces of paper, then you’d be wrong. While I won’t deny that some are printed with machines, there are still effigy makers who make it the traditional way by hand. They are often commissioned to create items such as mansions, life-sized effigies of guardians, servants and deities, vehicles, even ‘designer’ clothes. These master craftsmen are artists in their own right, often creating incredibly intricate pieces that take months to complete. It’s crazy when you think about the amount of time and effort that goes into each piece, only to have them go up in flames in seconds.

Paper effigies are burnt in the belief that the deceased will receive them in the afterlife. As you can see, there can be some pretty quirky items – like gold watches, mobile phones and even dentures! Photo: Jorge Láscar from Australia, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The first time I took part in a paper effigy burning ceremony was when I was eight or nine, and I vividly recall the beautiful patterns on the paper samfoo (traditional Chinese clothing for women, usually with floral patterns) that was meant for my late grandmother. Over the years, paper effigies have become more and more creative (?), with items like mobile phones (what service provider do they use in hell, I wonder?), SIM cards, laptops and the like. My colleagues in Singapore even shared a photo of paper durians with me recently. Now, I definitely don’t subscribe to the idea of my grandparents operating mobile phones and texting each other in the afterlife, but it’s certainly a unique part of the celebration.

GETAI

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Chinese opera was the main form of entertainment during the Hungry Ghost Festival, but these have since been replaced with more modern performances. Photo: grungemann/Flickr

In the old days, villages and towns would host large open-air stages, and a troupe would put on a show in the evenings. The benches at the front were always left empty, as they were meant for unseen guests. Over the years, traditional opera fell out of popularity, but the practice of hosting entertainment for the dead did not – instead, it evolved into Getai, or literally ‘song stage’. I’m not sure how it is celebrated in China as I wasn’t able to find references on the net, but in Malaysia and Singapore they are quirky, lively affairs.

Tents are set up in fields or commercial spaces (where I live, there’s one every year in front of a food court). There would be live auctions and a dinner (proceeds usually go to charity). Sometimes there are still traditional opera performances, but you’ll also get stand-up comedy, entertainers singing pop songs or oldies, and even women dressed in skimpy clothing dancing to modern numbers. This aspect might seem blasphemous to some, but I find it very unique because it goes to show how adaptable Chinese culture can be – you gotta move with the times. In Singapore, where 76% of the population is ethnic Chinese, the getai culture is even bigger; shows are broadcast on national TV.

SUPERSTITION

Every culture has superstitions, but the Chinese in particular have many. Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to cut my nails or whistle at night, because it might attract bad spirits. In retrospect, I think there was a hint of logic behind them: electricity (and nail clippers) did not exist in the old days, so it was dangerous to cut your nails in the dark. Also whistling at night would disturb the peace. But because we often parrot what our elders tell us, we continue handing these superstitions down even in modern times when we can turn on the light with the flip of a switch.
As for Ghost Month, here are just some of the common beliefs:

  1. Don’t stay out late. – Night is when the spirits are at their strongest, so to avoid anything untoward, avoid staying out after dark.
  2. Don’t go swimming – Angry water spirits might try to drown you.
  3. Don’t swear – you don’t know when a spirit might be lurking around and feel offended.
  4. Don’t wear red – apparently spirits are attracted to the colour red, and might follow you home.
  5. Wash your feet when you get home – to get rid of unwanted bad energy.
  6. Don’t hang your clothes out at night – you might just have an extra guest coming into your house when you collect them
  7. Don’t tap someone on the shoulder – it is believed that a person has three ‘lights’ – one on their head and one on each shoulder, which ward off evil spirits. By tapping them, you’re essentially extinguishing the light.
  8. Avoid killing insects – the Chinese have a belief that spirits might be reincarnated as insects like butterflies and moths. They could be visiting relatives, so if you just smacked that moth flat, you might have killed grandma.
  9. Be wary of offerings. – Sometimes people leave offerings out by the side of the road (especially in Malaysia) so it’s best to keep an eye out. You wouldn’t like it if someone stepped all over your food now, would you?
  10. Don’t take photos – The idea of photographs and how they can capture spirits is not unique to Chinese culture. So it’s best not to snap any, especially of offerings. I’m sure you’ve watched Shutter.

As the world grows ever modernised and practices that are deemed old-fashioned and superstitious are abandoned by the younger generation, it is heartening to see that The Hungry Ghost Festival still has its proponents. It’s a case study of how culture is fluid and ever changing; where tradition is valued but also adapts to the times.

Hilton Kuala Lumpur Celebrates The Mid-Autumn Festival with Royal Midnight Mooncake Series

The Mid-Autumn Festival is an important festival in Chinese culture. Also called the Mooncake Festival or the Lantern Festival, it is also celebrated in a few other East Asian countries, where it is known as Chuseok in Korea and Tsukimi in Japan. The festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th month according to the Chinese Lunar calendar, when the moon is believed to be at its fullest and brightest. Like the Lunar New Year and Winters Solstice, it is a time of reunion for families, where they gather to watch the moon. The moon’s round shape also symbolizes unity and togetherness, as no matter how far apart loved ones are from each other, they can gaze upon the same moon in the night sky.

Mooncakes are an integral part of the Mid-Autumn Festival. In Malaysia, malls are often chock full of stalls stacked high with mooncake boxes in the days leading up to the festival. Traditional flavours like lotus paste, red bean and black sesame are always popular, but there are also modern creations like tiramisu, chocolate, durian and many more.

Drawing inspiration from these stories, Hilton Kuala Lumpur’s mooncake series, “Royal Midnight”, appreciates the fine art of simplicity and serves as a tribute to the beauty of traditions. Featuring a lunar medallion and silver embroidered clouds on a navy blue sheen fabric, the luxurious mooncake box doubles as a jewellery case.

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The box is so pretty – it’s a work of art on its own!

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Received a box from Hilton KL for work and shared it with colleagues. Brought home the traditional Baked White Lotus Paste. Its eerything a good mooncake should be – not too sweet or greasy, and definitely not cloying. But as with everything, eat in moderation – a baked mooncake can contain as much as 800 calories!

Chynna Special 2020

This year’s signature, the Bulgarian Blush (RM38 nett), comprises custard cream cheese, Bulgarian Rose petal Jam and pine nuts, enclosed in a delicate baby pink snow skin.

Traditional Baked

Enjoy the traditional season with our array of mouthwatering halal-baked mooncakes.

  • Baked White Lotus Paste – RM35 nett
  • Baked White Lotus Paste with Single Yolk – RM38 nett
  • Baked Lotus Paste with Single Yolk – RM35 nett
  • Baked Pandan Paste with Single Yolk – RM35 nett
  • Baked Red Bean Paste with Almond Flakes – RM35 nett
  • Traditional-Style with Five Nuts Mix – RM38 nett

Snow Skin

  • Heavenly Gold – Snow Skin with Pure Premium Musang King Durian – RM56 nett
  • Blue Moon – Snow Skin Amaretto Lotus Paste with Blueberry Cheese Feuillantine – RM35 nett
  • Flower Drum – Snow Skin Lotus Paste with Soft Custard Egg Yolk – RM35 nett

Gift Boxes

  • Royal Midnight Traditional Baked – RM258
  • Royal Midnight Snow Skin – RM268
  • Christy Ng’s Crimson Red/Royal Purple Traditional Baked – RM158
  • Christy Ng’s Crimson Red/Royal Purple Snow Skin – RM168
  • Lunar Charms Traditional Baked RM138
  • Lunar Charms Snow Skin– RM148
  • Heavenly Gold Package – RM318

2020 Mid-Autumn High-Tea at The Lounge

Royal Midnight_Mid-Autumn High-Tea at The Lounge

Indulge in a Mid-Autumn high-tea for two consisting of bite-sized Chinese delights by Chef Lam, and traditional and snow skin mooncakes, complemented by Dilmah’s Natural Rosehip with Hibiscus Tea. The high-tea is priced at RM236 nett for two and isa available from 18 July to 4 October, weekdays from 12.30PM to 5.30PM.

All mooncakes are available for purchase at the hotel lobby or online at www.takehome.hiltonkl.com from now until 4 October 2020. For more information, call +603 2264 2264.

*Photos not watermarked courtesy of Hilton KL.

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KITA Festival @ Precint 2 Putrajaya + KL Book Exchange Haul

Hey guys!

Haven’t been inspired to write lately – is this what they call burn out? Anyway, I’ve been trying to get my creative mojo back / take my mind off things by going out over the weekend.

Saw an event called KITA Fest happening at Precinct 2 Putrajaya and they had a book exchange going on. Since the place was pretty close to where I live, decided to go check it out.

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The event was pretty small by festival standards, with only a couple of booths. It was close to empty on a Saturday morning, which was pretty sad. At least the buskers’ playlist was pretty good, and it wasn’t too hot with the buildings providing shade.

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There was a watercolour workshop going on in one of the indoor spaces and a mini exhibition of works. Good stuff. Especially liked the food paintings which looked very realistic.

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Checking out one of the vendors selling postcards with local themes and quirky designs.

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Oh well, at least there was the book exchange corner! I brought a couple of books from home that I never got down to reading; managed to exchange them for some solid titles!

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Book haul. Can’t wait to read State of Fear. Michael Crichton is one of my favourite sci-fi writers.

We were out of the place in less than an hour as there wasn’t much to see. It wasn’t a total waste of time though; at least I got some nice books to read.

BONUS:

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Got some face masks from The Face Shop – eight pieces for only RM28!

I hope I get out of my slump soon – it sucks to have all these thoughts in my head but not be able to articulate them properly.

 

8th Putrajaya Hot Air Balloon Fiesta

 

Every year around March, the skies of the Malaysian administrative capital Putrajaya lights up with colourful sights as visitors usher in the Putrajaya Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. Held for the 8th year running, the festival has more than just balloons  – turning the city into a three-day long festival hub with loads of activities, food stalls, bazaars, performances and more. This year, they had 20 balloons, including quirky ones like Mr Zee the Zebra, Bobo the Happy Lobster and the Yellow Jacket Bee, flown by 14 pilots from all over the world.

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I covered the event as a member of the media on the last day of the festival. The place was already packed by 10am, despite the sweltering heat. It’s been really hot in Peninsula Malaysia these past few days due to a heat wave.

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Our booth was at the Red Zone, smack in the middle of everything. There was a section called Wonderful Indonesia: Pop of Paradise which showcased all things Indonesian, from dance to cultural performances, Indonesian food like Ayam Penyet (fried chicken), bakmie (chicken noodles) and more.

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Since it was afternoon, most of the balloons had been let down (they float them up twice a day: early morning and late evening), but there were still a few on for show. Visitors can also go on tethered rides for a fee.

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I received a complimentary pass into the Cold Inflation area, where visitors can walk inside an inflated balloon. We had to take off our shoes, but the ground underneath the thin balloon was gravelly and full of pebbles, so it hurt my feet ._. The balloon looked old and faded.. not as pretty as they put in promotional materials. Still, a nice place for selfies and whatnot.

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There were many activities for the kids, whether fun or more adventurous – like rock climbing, archery, plastic rodeo, and zorbing.

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Inflatable playgrounds. If only the weather wasn’t so hot…

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Over at the bazaar area, stalls sold everything from dreamcatchers to toys, fabric, clothing, accessories and more.

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Of course, no festival would be complete without food, and there were loads of them at the PHABF. The smell of some just had me salivating.

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Roast meats fresh off the charcoal grill.

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A pirated version of Starbucks. They’re even called Pirate Coffee 😛

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A visitor playing with bubbles. She looks so happy 🙂

The fiesta was fun, but I wish the weather had been better because it was really hot – can’t be good for the kids.  Now that it’s over, we’ll have to wait a whole year for the next installment, but hopefully it will be bigger and better.

Home-Cooked Food /Mid Autumn Fest

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The Mid-Autumn Festival is an important celebration for Chinese and Vietnamese folk all over the world. Celebrating unity, ties and togetherness, family members (and sometimes friends!) will gather at night for a dinner and to play with lanterns, eat mooncakes and chat while gazing at the full moon.

 

As I mentioned before in my previous post, the only gazing we were doing in Malaysia was at the food on the dinner table, because the haze from the fires in neighbouring Indonesia was so bad, we couldn’t go outside. ._.

The fam and I went over to my aunt’s place for a simple but yummy home-cooked dinner. With everyone’s busy schedules, it’s not always that we get to sit down together like this. 🙂

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Curry leaf shrimp. Aromatic taste and smell from curry leaves all coated around springy shrimp, minus the spiciness 🙂

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Chicken with shiitake mushrooms, garlic and dried oysters (hou si). Hou si is often used in dishes, especially during special occasions, because it sounds like ‘good things’ or ‘good happenings’ in Cantonese 🙂

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Traditional snacks eaten during the Mooncake fest – mooncakes! The brown things are small yams, while the black, devil-looking nuts are water caltrop, or ‘devil’s pod’. This was the first time I had them and they tasted terrible ._.

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With the fam. I took the liberty of editing their faces coz I’m not sure if they’d be comfortable having their faces plastered on a public blog. 😀

Once again, Happy Mid Autumn Fest, guys!