The veil between the dead and living has been temporarily lifted for a month, so locals believe. The 7th lunar month is Ghost Month when the hungry ghosts come to haunt the undead. There are many superstitious rules to follow and I only remember two: don’t swim or hang your clothes outside to dry for fear of being possessed. Did I mention possession is a real, normal phenomena here, like catching the flu. I have one Taiwanese friend who takes her only son to the temple to be routinely exorcised. He comes home with a big red stamp of approval on his forehead.
My friend told me it all started during the Ming dynasty, a royal astrologer to the Emperor told him that the 7th lunar month was very auspicious, so the Emperor being the caring leader wanted to horde all the good luck for himself and had his people told the converse. Superstition and ghost stories grew throughout the years. It can’t all be bad luck, as the Chinese Valentine’s Day is also this lunar month (a very nice little folktale I wrote a poem about "On this night of 7's" ). I’ve also heard stories that Ghost Month originated in India with Buddhism, that during the 7th lunar month, Buddha’s disciples attained enlightenment more during this month than the others and that one follower in particular was told that his mom was unable to pass onto the next world unless he appeased her ghost. Apparently she was starving, her belly was insatiable and her throat too thin. Who knew? Whatever the origins my neighborhood has been full of more people burning ghost money outside their buildings than usual, paying off their ancestors to find peace.
Last weekend during the full moon was the climax. All the temples were active. Every building had a table full of offerings and the ghost money burnt so fiercely, the air was hazy, my eyes stung and my throat was irritated. My apartment building had several tables outside the front door covered with bowls and large trays full of snacks, fruit, ghost money and the neighbors’ apartment number. The temples put on shows for the gods. I’ve seen puppet shows, burlesque teases, Chinese opera all with full blast sound systems (because the ghosts are hard of hearing). Its seriously loud, loud enough where even me (I think I may be slightly deaf no joke) have to stand away from the stage to take pictures.
Do you take me for a cynic? Truly I believe in ghosts, I saw them with my own eyes twice and have had more experience than I can count with spirits (mostly in night terrors, out of body experiences) so have my folks. The first ghost I saw I was a kid and I saw it with two of my brothers. It was late, my folks had company over it was around 10pm we were outside on the driveway, a summer night when a little ghost like Casper, no bigger than 3 feet ran past us, luminous, flying as he ran. As he flew past it left imprints with a face each more terrorizing than the previous. We all screamed and my youngest bro John ran in the house and told my folks- who didn’t take us seriously. The second time I saw a ghost I was 20 years old in Catalonia, a seaside village north of Barcelona. I was an au-pair and my then family was staying at their summer home, the grandfather’s home. The baby had a nightmare and for some reason neither me nor the mom heard him crying (it was our job to be there when he woke as the Dad was too macho for that.) Anyway as I walked in I saw the Dad (not happy to be the one comforting his son on a Sat morning) asking me why I didn’t hear Pedrito crying. Standing behind them was a man, life-sized, tall, dressed, luminous, who commanded me in Spanish to enter “Venga!” I was so shocked I really didn’t even pay attention to the annoyance of Pedrito’s father. After 30 seconds or so the ghost faded. Maybe it was the grandfather? Maybe Pedrito saw the ghost and got scared or he had a nightmare and the ghost came to comfort him?
I have met many travelers throughout the years with their own ghost close encounters and I always thought it would make a great travel book. I collected the most stories in Egypt and Sudan, some local folklore, others first-hand encounters and also some ofmy own personal experiences I shared with a group of volunteers outside Khartoum. I believe in ghosts, spirits, demons, angels. Am I afraid of them? Not after Sudan. I have my recent stories of Z and I and spirits in Taiwan. Ghosts are abundant here, like mosquitos, maybe because people believe in them so much.
- Kathy (杜 言 艷)
- Yilan, Taiwan
- I'm a Social Studies teacher and single mom from Colorado and have lived here for 9 years. Taiwan is an excellent base for us explore Asia, while living in relative (gun free) safety, while benefiting from a cheap and efficient national health care system. The people are amazing too. I have friendships that are 14 years old and I'm always making new ones.