I think we all have our own personality, unique and distinctive, and at the same time, I think that our own unique and distinctive personality blends with the wind, with the footsteps in the street, with the noises around the corner, and with the silence of memory, which is the great producer of ghosts.– Octavio Paz, Mexican poet
It’s the last day of the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival, a Chinese tradition to remember long departed ancestors.
Millions in hell notes have also been burnt for the deceased – some of the wealthier Chinese even offered food and drinks, packets of cigarettes and cans of beer by placing them on the roadside.
Who knows, passing ghouls may have had a few drinks and could be well satisfied that their descendants understand that even the spirits need a drink or two.
Appropriately the Ghost Month ended on Sept 16, which is Malaysia Day, a time when the national and Sarawak flags were raised to celebrate 57 years of Independence.
Around Kuching, we also saw hundreds of “ghost flags”, especially at road junctions, burnt offerings and food.
On Malaysia Day, I was invited by my Iban neighbour to celebrate with a tot or two of “Tuak” and Chap Langkau.
It has been a relatively safe month so far because our ancestors have appeared to convince the Covid-19 virus to lay off its evil hands on Sarawakians.
We had no need for the ghostbusters because our able politicians were able to exorcise the virus that had so far taken 19 lives!
In the meantime, the virus has been busy in Kedah and Sabah.
To learn about the Hungry Ghost Festival, I Googled and discovered that the festival, which started on Aug 16, had a list of 19 taboos, some of which I broke but happily survived.
For example, I did spend a few late nights driving around town but was fortunate that none of the spirits followed me home.
If they did, I would have known because my super sensitive dogs would have frightened them off with their howling!
Fortunately, my birthday did not fall in the ghost month because there are certain rules you must follow.
According to taboo, anyone who celebrates his birthday at night, just beware because some uninvited guests could join you while you are blowing out the candles on your cake.
Umbrellas, especially red ones, are also forbidden! I broke this taboo because it has been raining cats and dogs almost every day.
Interestingly, one of the “don’ts” is that bus users must not wait at a bus stop after midnight.
If you notice, there is a bus stop opposite Wisma Saberkas that has been practically built within the premises of a Chinese cemetery.
Fortunately, Kuching does not have any bus service after midnight so those who use this particular bus stop are safe!
Another taboo is women who used black or dark coloured manicure.
This is because the spirits may think that women with black finger nails could be one of them and may lead you back to hell.
One of the best taboos is that believers should not lean against the wall because spirits apparently like to stick on them because walls are cooler.
If you feel someone patting you on the back and you did not turn your head, then you are lucky.
Woe betide if you had turned your head.
One of the taboos that I totally agree with is that it is sacrilege to kill any insects that come into your house because Buddhists believe they could be reincarnated humans.
What if that insect was a long-forgotten ancestor; maybe your great-great grandfather?
However, I did break this taboo because I killed every single cockroach that invaded my house following the heavy downpour this afternoon.
The last three taboos do not apply to me because I don’t intend to buy a new car or house during the ghost month because I do not have that kind of money.
And I do not intend to get married again, anytime soon, because marriage after the age of 70 can be bad for your health.
Now that I have almost listed out most of the taboos, I would like to ask one question: Who is going to clean up the paraphernalia and flag decorations after appeasing the spirits?
The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.