We’re not gonna lie, we waited for the main Ghost Day (September 2nd) to end before posting this cause we didn’t want any bad ju-ju coming after us. You know, JUST in case.
So the Hungry Ghost Festival is a (mostly) Chinese belief that ghosts and spirits of deceased ancestors are released to the living world to visit their kin. It takes place over a month following the Chinese Lunar Calendar so it sorta varies a little bit from year to year. This year’s festival started August 9th and will be ending on September 16th (Source: My grandmother).
If there’s one thing you might have noticed about traditional Chinese beliefs, it’s that they really like burning stuff.
In the case of the Hungry Ghost Festival, it is believed that the souls of the dead would need essential supplies for the afterlife so they burn “Hell notes” and gold ingots (made of paper la) to ensure they won’t come back to ask you for money (Source: My grandmother). But the changing of times and general Chinese ingenuity/kiasuness has created a whole sub industry of creativity – ranging from cheap printed boxes to expensive hand-crafted palaces.
We paid a visit to some of these shops to see what’s the hottest products for the afterlife now, and even to a factory where they make these paper effigies to find out a little more about the craftsmanship behind them. And yeah, “hottest” products, because we, you know, burn them.
If you’re getting the feeling that you’ve read this article before, it’s because we originally published this a few years back. However, this writer recently accompanied his dad to Soon Hing Trading in SS2 to buy some ancestral care packages; and found that the people making this stuff are really updated on trendy stuff, which deserves some updates (witty comments added by CILISOS).
1. Tea Dead and Char Time
2. So cute until can die…..oh wait.
In the earlier version of this article, my first stop was to Chop Lian Chong Hup Kee in Ampang, where we asked them to show us their most popular items…
3. So mach Engrish
4. Back in my day we played with sticks and our imagination!
5. When you wanna be all classy and eat “Western meal”
6. Kung-kung want iPad also
7. If it’s running Windows 8, sure your ancestors come back to haunt you wan.
8. Because you can be obnoxious in the afterlife oso
9. Essential supplies for every travel trip
10. ASTRO B.yond? More like ASTOL Beyond the graaaaaaveeee
After I was done with the more commercial stuff, I picked up my friend/Cantonese translator Freddy and went over to Hoe Heng Joss Papers in Jinjang where the craftsman, Vincent, was nice enough to give me a tour of their factory. He specifically mentioned that he did not want to be photographed, and Freddy and I thought it might be a job-related restriction; if you know what we mean. Walking in, we were greeted by frames of effigies in various stages of completion, such as this bamboo frame:
11. We don’t know why this is there. We didn’t ask
12. Don’t tell me afterlife also got traffic jam???
13. I’m on a boat!
14. Standard netherworld housing
15. Should probably not make a joke about this
These are the Heibai Wuchang, or the “Black and White Guards of Impermanence,” who bring spirits to the nether realm. Their faces are covered up till the point they’re ready to be used.
16. Should probably not make a joke about this also.
These are the Niu Tou Ma Mian, literally translated as “Ox-Head and Horse Face.” Like the Black and White Guards above, theyalso bring spirits back to the nether realm.
17. Vincent’s pride
When we asked what was the most special thing he’d made, Vincent brought us to this Heavenly Palace Stand which he has been personally working on (no one else at the factory has the skill, he says). He also points out that it’s only halfway done, to be finished by November. It’s completely made of paper (no bamboo frame) and incorporates lights.
18. We really thought this was an actual bicycle
Over dinner with my driver, Freddy (I belanja), we discussed our surprise at how accommodating these people are in entertaining requests to visit their premises and snap photos. We expected there to be strict protocol and a whole lot of pantang larang involved, but nope.
As it turns out, the greatest barrier to this assignment was my laughable attempt at speaking Chinese dialect. They were friendly and more than willing to answer any questions that we had. And we had a whole lot of questions. We didn’t know, for instance, why the more human effigies were kept locked in a different room in the warehouse.
We also didn’t know why Vincent didn’t want to be photographed, and if there were any other protocols that had to be followed in their line of business. Unfortunately time constraints kept us from exploring this further, but we really wouldn’t mind finding more about this part of Chinese custom.
Let us know in the poll or comments section below if you’re interested in reading more about this.
CILISOS would like to thank the following companies for their time and assistance:
Chop Lian Chong Hup Kee Sdn. Bhd.
127, Jalan Besar Ampang, 68000 Ampang, Selangor.
Standard Casket Parlour Services
G15, Jalan 3/115C, Taman Kuchai Jaya, 58200 Kuala Lumpur
Hoe Heng Joss Papers Sdn. Bhd.
3480, Jalan Garden Jinjang Utara, 52000 Kepong, Kuala Lumpur