Friday, September 4, 2009

Ghost Month

Last night was the 15th day of the 7th lunar month (Ghost Month), and Keelung held it's celebrations as usual, despite the rain-on-rain-off typhoontastic weather. The 14th day is for the parade and candle lighting, and the 15th - the one I attended - is the massive food offering, prayer and throwing of food at people. All around your city you may have noticed huge offering tables outside businesses and larger than usual fires outside houses (enough that the smoke changed the quality of the air in Taipei, which is amazing considering how bad it can already be at times). Keelung takes that to an extreme.

I apologize that the following photos are in no particular order, but it should be clear how things went down anyway.

Some photographers checking out the crowd.

Every year, a different clan sponsors the decoration and food-buyin' and leads the prayers. This year, as the sign says, it was the Zhang clan. Since my name is Zhang - not really but it's my Chinese surname - they asked me to be in one of the formal portraits of the clan. I kind of hope that one will make it into the temple where the keep the clan photos for each year.

For the offerings, long tables were set up full of food, some of which is shown below.

This year there were more foreigners than usual. Last year we were the only ones. This year nobody could come with me so I went alone, and saw a lot of Westerners. Despite our increased presence, the local kids were fascinated as usual.

Toward the end of the evening, some Zhangs got up on the dais in front of the temple and, while singing incantations, flung food (fruit, bread, candy etc.) at the crowd. I got a few videos of the throwing but no photos - didn't want to get beaned on the head with a snow pear while trying to take a picture.


Still more incantations...

Just before that, the Zhang family and basically anyone else who wanted to participate walked around the offerings with incense, praying for it to multiply. Then some Zhangs donned traditional clothing and led more prayers.

People walking around.

The walkway up to the temple was also the classiest possible way. I love the subtle play of light and color, so minimalist you'd hardly notice it. (snicker) Apparently ghosts like serious bling.

One of the displays around the temple was of figurines. When the offshore typhoon caused sudden downpours, they were protected.

This boat is made entirely out of rice flour goo and painted - it's a food offering. The characters say, basically, "Celebration - Zhang Clan - Ghost Month"

Around the temple, banners are hung. The writing on these, visible in another photo below, is not Chinese. They're special "spirit characters" meant to invoke various things.

As you can see, this set of photos uploaded backwards - the sky is getting lighter. That's not the ghosts coming.

The temple where this takes place is on a hill and while it's brightly colored all year, only at this time of year is it blinged the heck out.

This balloon pig looks mighty happy considering what's happening to his people below:


I wonder what she sees under there...

Like some sort of medieval punishment.

How funky is your chicken?

Decorating teapots made of rice - all of this food is made of rice goo and painted. Not edible to humans but perfectly ingestible to ghosts. At the end of the night you can keep whatever you can get your hands on, but since you can't eat it (and we have a cat who would try) I only took some orchids.

Rice fish.

Rice spiders.

Rice beetles.

Rice guy with dragon between two cones of bread.

This is how the temple normally looks - minus a few million lights.

Around the temple, to please the ghosts, the sponsoring clan erects shiny depictions of various gods. I think this is Guangong.

...and tinfoil elephants...

Here are the spirit-character banners I mentioned above.

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