We had just arrived and checked in on Penang Island in the small town called Georgetown when we during a walk around town noticed Chinese families burning paper outside their homes. I wasn’t sure what was going on and my Chinese friend had no idea either. I knew I’d read something about a Ghost Festival but my friend told me it was usually in April or May. Who can remember anyway? China has so many festivals, it can be pretty hard to keep track.
Anyway, my curiosity took over and I moved forward and asked the old lady who had just burned her colored paper on the street in front of her house. Left was just the smoke and a grey dirty area on the small road. I tried to talk to her in Mandarin and hoped she would understand. The thing is that many Chinese people are living in Malaysia but even if 40 % of the population are now Chinese, it’s mostly southern Chinese people who live here which means they probably only speak their own Chinese language or the popular Cantonese (Spoken in south China). Mandarin is more common in the north and between the younger generation who were taught in Mandarin and have been studying at universities where Mandarin is commonly spoken because students are coming from everywhere all over China.
But luckily, the lady looked kindly at me and said yes, she understood my Mandarin. Her accent was a bit unclear but I managed and understood some of what she said. She told me that Chinese people everywhere were burning paper for their ancestors to not come and disturb the living family.
I’ve now checked up on the facts and now that during the seventh month of the lunar calendar, the gates to hell are open for all ghosts to come back to life and create disaster according to Chinese belief. The ghost festival is therefore held to prevent the ghosts (diseased dead family member) to come and disturb their living family. This is prevented by rituals transmuting the diseased members’ sufferings. This is a Buddhist and Taoist tradition held around Asia.
It was really interesting to walk around and experience culture like this. I haven’t really seen it in China because I’ve been in Beijing when these things were happening. There, it’s not so common to burn in the streets (Don’t think it’s legal either) so the citizens usually go to temples or back to their hometowns to sacrifice for their ancestors.