Learning about Receiving Ghosts from the Neighbors

The gate to the underworld has been open for 14 days now. Tomorrow is the 15th of lunar July, zhong yuan, a day that is taken seriously here. It is the birthday of the god that oversees the underworld. Thanks to his generosity the good brothers get to wander between the human world and theirs for a month. Mind you, call them good brothers, not ghosts, especially in this month. I learned about this in the first month we got here.

It was announced that our building was having an optional, group zhong yuan pu du ceremony this afternoon at 3 p.m. In the tacid way people don’t do this before 2 p.m., because the sun would still be scorching hot. We all know this is not liked by folks coming from the underworld.

I don’t know when the neighbors started. The tables were already set up. Offerings spilled over from one table to the other.

Zhong Yuan Pu Du table in front of our building

Q: Why are we doing it today? Isn’t tomorrow zhong yuan?

A: The best is to do it tomorrow. But since many will not be here, we decided to do it today. It is actually ok to do it on any day of lunar July.

Q: What are the wash basins for?

A: The good brothers come from afar. They are sweaty and tired. We prepared water and towels for them to clean themselves before they enjoy the feast.

Many offerings

It looks indeed like a feast. Some offerings are for use, but most of them are for a satisfying meal. It is meant to be, because in the underworld the good brothers were made to pay for their wrongdoings in life. They come hungry.

We had rice wine, soft drinks, juice boxes, smoked chicken and squid, seasonal fruits, instant noodles, and even Quaker oats.

Incense was lit. I think of temple right then and there.

Lots of seasonal fruits

Q: How do you know what to offer?

A: You just offer what your heart feels right. But there are certain things you cannot put here, for instance, bitter melon and winter melon – You don’t want to remind the good brothers of the bitterness and chill; they already have enough.

Setting up the little flag

Q: Why does everyone put up the little flag on the offering table?

A: So the good brothers can find our offerings.

Q: When my grandma worshiped ancestors, I remember she put the offerings in the best dish we had; fruits were washed; meals were carefully prepared. Many of these are in packages. Is that OK?

A: We used to do that and some folks in the countryside still do in the old-fashioned way. We city folks became lazy, so we leave them in. We think the good brothers are mighty. Packaging won’t stop them.

Offerings for use

Q: How long do you leave the offerings out?

A: We don’t have specific rules. We just leave them out as long as we think eating a meal would take.

Q: What do you do after that?

A: We give them some money and things for use and send them on their way.
A neighbor showed me stashes of yellow paper money and the “things for use”, which are printed on pale yellow paper: shirt, mirror, pants, fan, combs, boots etc. The way of passing these to the underworld dwellers is to burn these in a burner (see photo in my old post.)
Paper money and things for use

Q: When are we going to burn them?

A: After the meal ends. But we don’t have to burn them here. In order to reduce pollution, the Taipei municipal provide these paper bags to residents. We can leave the money etc. in them; the waste management folks will come around to collect them. They will burn them for all of us in a safer way and place.
I thought of asking where and how but didn’t. I already asked a lot of questions.
Q: What will you do with the foods?
A: Take them home.
Q: What will you do with them at home?
A: Eat them.
So we stood in a circle, chatting, while the good brothers listened in and ate.
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