Hungry Ghosts

We all know it's the 7th month. The Festival of the Hungry Ghosts. Where ghosts roam and feed from dusk to twillight. Where the Bangladeshi cleaners do some extra work in picking up all the loose offerings, the ones in my area used to tuck in to the apples and oranges left in the open fields till a few of them got some supernatural experiences.

Trust me. Getting a supernatural experience in the confines of your dumpyard is not a good thing. They refused to sleep in there for a good month or so.

So, I'm sure you know the rest of the superstitions. Don't go swimming lest a bad water ghost drowns you. Return early home, don't wander, don't bring meat and wander about outside, make a peace offering before you consume it. The works.

About the most interesting thing of all that happens, amidst the huge balls of fire and ash swirling contributing to the PSI index, are the auctions. Yes, every Chinese festival builds itself around a coupla core values, namely, to usher in good luck, appease the gods and ancestors and to do a part for community.

Thus, auctions come about. Together with 8-10 course dinners depending on the budget and size and VIP of the function. And loads of liquor and beer. If you were aching for a Martell freeflow, cough up around $300 for a table of 10 and go wild. Tuck in. In regular intervals even. Once the first course starts, the subsequent courses arrive every 15 mins.

The items that come up for auctions are probably the most varied of any auction you might have witnessed before. Mainstay items are Laughing Buddha statues, Buddha statues, God of Fortune statues, Urns and other items of good fortune and well wishes. Fengshui like items like toads and cockerels you can also acquire. Then there is the jewellery. Mostly gold chains and pendants bearing auspicious Chinese characters. Also, collector's item liquor bottles. There are the mainstream 750 ml ones of premium liquor or the massive 3 litre ones too. Rounding it all up, is consumer goods. Could be a bag of rice, a bicycle, a microwave, a TV, you think it, they've probably sold it.

And the proceeds from these auctions go to charity. If you didn't know that already well now you do. More importantly, bids for even small items can run to the thousands of dollars by budding philanthropists or finger wagging happy folks high on Martell. But all is not lost, cos you get the item on the day itself, yet you only have to fork out the cash before the next year's auction. That's one year to pay up. Pretty good, interest free deal actually.

If you hear the auctioneer and don't know what the hell he's talking about. Then it means your Hokkien is not up to scratch. So, learn just the numbers and you're probably good to go.

One - Yoh
Two -Di
Three - Sa
Four - See
Five - Gor
Six - Lak
Seven - Chik
Eight - Pui
Nine - Kao
Ten - Chup
Hundred - Pah [not to be confused with the word for "fight" which is "pak"]
One Hundred - Chi Pah
Two Hundred - Neng Pah
One Thousand - Chi Cheng

Got it? And when bidding is in progress, take note that the amount you bid must be auspicious sounding and as lucky as possible. I.e. No one ever bids $100 but instead calls out $108.

I personally have been very involved in Hungry Ghost proceedings cos well, how not to? The place I live in is so entwined that its not rare to see Indians belting out Chinese hits during "getai" performances and Chinese servers at Indian functions. Not to mention our Malay pals who also end up sitting at the 10 course dinners, cept giving all the pork dishes a miss.

Alas, in this 7 years I've been attending auctions, I've never really bought anything. More of a viewer than an actioneer I am. The inspiration for this post was actually cos of a friend of mine who had NO idea that auctions actually took place. It's quite atrocious actually. Cos, the next one might be just at the massive carpark next to your house or the open field.

So, the next time you hear some emcee go Li Li Pui Pui, you know some mofo has just bought something for $2288 and is hoping to enjoy that same amount of luck for the next year at the very least.


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