Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Hungry ghost

Here we are, locked on Lamma Island Hong Kong with the Hungry Ghost Festival. That's something I should be able to talk about, surely? That's a real-life on-the-ground bit of learning I want to share.

Because one moment me and Squirrel are staggering home to the House on the Hill in the heavy evening heat, having bought a tasty promise of nostalgia with a lump of overpriced cheddar (which, clutched in my dripping paw at 30 degree Celsius, quickly resembles a sweaty poultice for a particularly nasty boil), and the next, we're tripping over people setting fire to sticks in the ground and shovelling apples and peanuts at the tropical undergrowth.

Now, because Grit is a savvy international woman with one foot in the West and one foot in the East (meta text: she just coincidentally looked at a picture book in Dimmock's on Chinese festivals), she immediately glances up to the sky and clocks the full moon.

Aha! she says to her little companion Squirrel, with that sort of teachery voice that makes it sound like she knows what this is all about. That proves it! Whatever strange ritual is going on here, it's something to do with the moon. And because I read the pictures in Dimmock's I can confidently/tentatively say, I think we're looking at the Chinese time of year when spirits from one world pass through to the other.

Squirrel, this is Ghost Festival, and your Hallowe'en. Depending where we live at any time of year, I could turn into a werewolf, grab a bucket for trick and treating, jump astride my broomstick, or have Mother Ghost leap up at me again waving trout.

This is good education, eh Squirrel? Cultural observation. How we people are all different and the same. Take notes, my home educated child, hungry for learning. Quit yelling. Those spirits can hear you, and now the veil is thin. Those scrawny starved hands might scrabble out the ground to reach you and grab you down to Hell. Say what? you're not going to sleep? What? Never again?

Better ease their burden, Squirrel. Give the lost wanderers something to eat. Pacify them, and make them safe in their souls. No, give me that cheese back. It just cost me a fortune. Observe. In the undergrowth. The feast is already prepared! Three delicious apples, a bag of peanuts, a mound of lychee, and a juicy soybean curd, only lacking a wok.

Me and Squirrel stare. And momentarily, because I am a fat ignorant big nosed foreign devil from an alien civilization, who only popped out for a lump of supper cheese, I'm in half a mind to pinch one of the apples and scoff it, they look so ripe and tempting. But I guess that action might place me on the wrong side of the uncrossable line again, and this time upset the dead as well as the living.

We reach safely home, not grabbed by spirits, but clutching threads of life force that I call an education. Everyone is hungry, because the shopping pioneers are late, what with the spirit watching. Shark comes out to greet us, demanding dinner. Dig says his tummy's rumbling and he hopes I bought the cheese. And Tiger. Where is she?

The forlorn and saddened Tiger has shut herself up in her bedroom with the air con, cold and yearning for what she cannot have. Home. But Tiger, you can come out now. I have brought an offering for your empty tummy. Let me lay it by your plate.

4 comments:

ladybirdcook said...

humour, love and plenty of Grit - it's enough to see any family through the darkest of Ghost Festivals when the boney fingers of 'home' clutch at your heart and the lines look so tempting to cross. But all that's on the Otherside is a dead person's apple. Best left alone, stay with the living.
Here's a little bit of "why home ed" inspiration for you - nothing to do with HK or ghosts but still inspiring http://blog.8gomad.co.uk/?p=149

Kelly said...

28 years ago tomorrow we left for our year in Hong Kong. You are bringing back so many memories....We missed the ghost festival, but I can tell you that Chinese New Year is a lot of fun.

Mud in the City said...

Ah, mooncakes! Might have to pop down to Chinatown to check it out.

No horses for Tiger? Happy Valley?

sharon said...

A piece of sweaty Cheddar should be enough to keep any stray bad spirit at bay ;-)