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Ghost Month Survival Tip: Don’t Pick Things Off The Ground

Ghost Month Survival Tip: Don’t Pick Things Off The Ground

The Chinese 7th month is here, and every year, I’m reminded of the silly mistake I made back in secondary school. There are a few non-negotiable rules during the ghost festival, and one should not pick any valuable items off the ground. It could be a gold bar, a red packet or even just a 10 cents coin. If you’ve never heard of this rule, take my story as your cautionary tale. 

I grew up in a religious family, but I wasn’t a religious person. Whenever my family heads to the temple to pray, I tag along to avoid fighting with my parents about ‘disrespecting my culture’.

When I was 15, my father volunteered to help with the ghost festival prayers and offerings

Initially, I thought it was just a simple incense-and-joss-burning ceremony. Surprisingly, it was a big event held under the void deck. Several religious altars represented the different gods, and many offerings were before them. These offerings are usually given in exchange for protection and prosperity during this sinister month (at least, my parents told me). 

Apart from the altars and offerings, there were also puppet shows and Chinese Opera for the participants to enjoy. At these performances, the first row is intentionally left open as it is believed that the ghosts would like to enjoy the show too. I always found it ridiculous because, logically speaking, the ghost could just sit wherever they like. Why the front row? This was just one of the things I didn’t understand properly about my religion and culture. 

Source: Unsplash

Since my father volunteered at the event, our family members were naturally expected to help.

I had to lift and transport many bags of joss paper and register the guests there to pray

I was also in charge of managing the donations coming in. Basically, it was a lot of work for something I didn’t really believe in. At one point in the night, I had dropped a bag of joss paper that I was transporting to the burning area, and another volunteer shouted at me sternly, “Boy, you want to play? You go there and play. Don’t come to help when you don’t want to take this seriously.”. I was pissed. I just spent hours transporting, carrying and doing all the admin procedures for this stupid event, and all this man can do is shout at me? It wasn’t like I dropped the bag on purpose.

At that moment, I remember being so angry that I mumbled under my breath, “If the ghosts are real, then give me some money in exchange for my hard work here la.”

That was my first mistake. Thinking back, I’m certain that “someone” heard what I had mumbled, which set me up for the “trap” that happened later in the night. 

It was about 3 am, and I was exhausted from managing the logistics and people. Compared to today’s hungry ghost festival, the events back then were much bigger and livelier. Everyone from the surrounding blocks would come down and offer their prayers, no matter what religion they belonged to. Hence, it was so busy that I could only take a 5-minute break every 2 to 3 hours. 

When my chance for a 5-minute break came, I quickly took it and went to the quiet benches nearby to relax and destress from all that was happening. When I sat on the bench, I felt a cold breeze quickly shoot past my neck. I don’t know where it came from because my back was against a wall. I was a bit spooked but ignored it because I was so tired. I decided to take a quick nap, and my body fell asleep faster than ever before. Even though I was resting, I could still feel and hear around me.

When I was about to get into a deeper state of rest, I felt something squeeze my hand

It wasn’t an aggressive squeeze. It was soft and gentle, almost like something slightly heavy had been placed on my hand to create that pressure. I opened my eyes and looked down; there was nothing. I continued to rest, chalking that feeling up to hand cramps from all my work. 

My phone alarm rang after 5 minutes, and I got ready to head back. I saw a gold ring on the floor beside me as I left. I was scared that someone had lost the ring since it was quite rowdy that day, so I took it and placed it in my pockets without a second thought. I returned to the void deck to tell my parents about it, but they were nowhere to be found. They were busy, so I didn’t go out of my way to look for them as I had other things to do. In the blink of an eye, it was time to go home. Thankfully, my father drove, so I fell asleep in his car and was knocked out for the rest of the night. 

Source: Unsplash

The next day, I developed a super high fever that couldn’t be subsided by fever medication

I don’t remember exactly, but I think my temperature was about 40 degrees then. My parents were worried about me and stayed home to look after me, but I didn’t get any better. That night, as I tried to fall asleep, I heard faint laughter. Even though it was soft, it felt like the sounds were coming from right beside me. I was beyond scared, but I couldn’t work up any energy to move away or call out for my parents. 

The following day, my mother was doing the laundry and found the ring I had picked up in my pocket. She rushed into the room and shouted at me, asking me where I got the ring. I weakly told her I found it on the ground the other day and wanted to return it, thinking someone had lost it. She ran out of the room and called my father. She said she was sure I was experiencing this fever because I picked up something that didn’t belong to me during the seventh month. She then took the ring to pray at our family’s religious altar. With all her strength, she dragged me into the living room and repeated in Chinese, “Children are unaware of what they did wrong. Please forgive him”. She asked me to place my hands in prayer while chanting repeatedly. 

After about 15 minutes of doing so, my mother brought me back to my room and told me to rest. I’m unsure if it was the placebo, but I felt less achy and feverish overall. However, I still needed the rest, so I slept through the day. By evening, my father had returned home from work, and instead of eating dinner first, he immediately brought my family back to the void deck where the hungry ghost festival prayers were taking place. I was made to kneel before the biggest altar and pray for forgiveness as I took the ring without permission. My father’s friends advised us to return the ring where I found it and apologise. We did just that. I brought them to where I was resting and placed the ring back on the floor while apologising, asking for forgiveness. We did all we could and returned home and hoped for the best. 

Source: Unsplash

Some of you will probably roll your eyes and scoff when I tell you this, but my temperature returned to normal the next day. I don’t know what happened, but I also returned to my normal state. As much as I wasn’t religious, I couldn’t help but attribute a big part of my recovery to returning the ring. From that day on, I became very cautious about what I do every year during the seventh month. I am still not religious, but superstitious about the hungry ghost festival. Once bitten, twice shy, I guess. 

If you’re a sceptic like me, don’t try to game the system. You can keep your beliefs to yourself but don’t go the extra step to prove yourself right or to prove other religions wrong. It’s not worth it. 

Have you ever had a spooky hungry ghost festival encounter? Share your story below!

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