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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Q: When are we going to burn them?