The Hungry Ghost Festival is one of the best times of the year to soak in the local culture and observe traditional rites in hyper-modern Singapore.
Just as the Americans have Halloween, the Chinese have the Hungry Ghost Festival (also known as Zhong Yuan Jie in Chinese), when the souls of the dead are believed to roam the earth.
According to custom, these ghosts can get up to mischief if ignored so all sorts of offerings are made during this period, which is the seventh month in the lunar calendar.
Notice those metal bins scattered around residential areas and housing estates?
They are specifically provided to contain the stacks of hell money and paper offerings, such as cars, watches and jewellery, that are burned by relatives to appease their deceased family members – taking care of their material needs even in the afterlife.
Do watch your step in case you trample on food left out in the open. Although many place their food offerings (oranges, rice or even suckling pig) and joss sticks on proper altars, others tuck them at the side of footpaths or even alongside trees.
And as if satisfying the ghosts’ appetites for money and food wasn’t enough, taking care of their entertainment is also important.
Large tents are set up in open fields to host raucous dinners and auctions in heartland estates like Ang Mo Kio and Yishun. There are performances too, such as Chinese operas and 'getai' (literally ‘song stage’ in Chinese, or live stage performances), which feature tales of gods and goddesses, bawdy stand-up comedy, as well as song and dance numbers.
Everyone is welcome – so sit back and enjoy the show. Just remember not to sit in the front row, unless you want to rub shoulders with the ‘special guests’.