It's dead right to make peace with ghosts

Updated: 2012-04-17 13:04

By Dinah Chong Watkins (China Daily)

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"I see ghosts." When the movie Sixth Sense, about a boy who communicates with the dead, was released, the general reaction from Hong Kong locals was, "Duh!"

Ghosts are as real to the population as the smell of diesel off the harbor. Hong Kong people may be fearless in the face of any stir-fried dish consisting of animals, insect or invertebrates but nothing will scare them off a below-market rate property faster than the ghost of a previous tenant, who met an untimely death.

Which is why one entrepreneurial company is marketing "haunted" homes to the other kind of ghost - the "gweilo", which is Cantonese slang for "ghost man", or foreigner.

It's dead right to make peace with ghosts

The company website lists not only the properties but also the causes and methods of their demise. So, if you or a loved one is going through chronic illness, financial strife or marital discord, my advice is to lock up the charcoal and move to a low-rise building.

I remember as a kid reading the Chinese comic book Lo Fu Ji (Lao Fu Zhi), it was a slap-stick reflection on the go-go years in Hong Kong, as seen through the eyes of the goateed local Lo Fu Ji and his pals, fat Mr Yam and slim Mr Bean (or the normal guy).

Apart from the tongue-in-cheek commentaries on the foolishness of the locals mimicking Westerners, every fourth cartoon panel had Lo Fu Ji trying to outwit or outrun a slack-jawed, zombie-like female ghost. At that time, this was considered good entertainment for little kids.

So, unlike the West, the Chinese don't romanticize ghosts and other demons. There's no hunky Twilight-like vampire carrying his hot-blooded date's handbag like a good Shanghai boyfriend. Ghosts are not something they want to have in their homes or worse still - upset at them.

Not so long ago, Chinese families made the pilgrimage to the countryside to celebrate the Qingming, or Tomb Sweeping, Festival with their relatives, both the living and the dead. To appease the spirits of their ancestors, food, fruit and roasted pork were offered at their graves, along with symbolic paper items like money, clothes, cars and houses burned as an offering.

Of course, this looked like a big block party to any unsuspecting passer-by with ad-hoc buffet tables assembled together with gravestones and cast-off planks of wood. After the prayers are recited, the family digs into the picnic offerings, with a game of cards or mahjong to follow.

Westerners find it harder to accept the notion that ghosts walk among us. For them, the supernatural is relegated to popcorn movies or, such a case as the US TV show Ghost Whisperer, where do-gooder humans take on the unlikely role of ectoplasm afterlife counselors.

With today's absolute-reliance on empirical evidence and logical reasoning, ghosts and the supernatural are the realm of supermarket tabloids and the crazy second cousin that never gets invited to family reunions.

But what if the Hong Kong locals and their southern cousins in Guangdong and Taiwan are right? Is their acknowledgement of the spirit world and their continued offerings actually attracting ghosts? Are we able to distinguish the truly paranormal from the merely placebo? For many Chinese, it's not a matter of "if" but "when".

The Hungry Ghost Festival held in the seventh lunar month is the annual week when the gates of hell are let loose and much like in the movie Ghostbusters, ghosts and spirits are free to wreak havoc, possess small children and drown swimmers if they aren't satisfied with the delicious offerings from the living.

So whether the partition between us and the supernatural is more permeable than we'd like to believe, one thing's for sure, with the $500 trillion Bank of Hell notes burned as an offering, inflation in the afterlife is a real killer.

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