Hungry ghosts' wow factor

GEORGE TOWN: THE Hungry Ghost Festival, which started last month, has always intrigued communities worldwide. It is celebrated by the Chinese during the seventh lunar month when the gates of Hell are open.

Devotees looking at the list of donors who funded the festival celebrations.

The tourists, getting a feel of the Hell bank notes, about to offer prayers to the King of Hades.

A trader takes the opportunity to sell trinkets and other paraphernalia to devotees.

The festival involves ancestor worship where the spirits from the lower realm are offered food as well as items such as clothes, gold and luxury goods made of paper mache.

Eager to learn more about this unique festival were 10 foreign tourists who were at a festival in Seck Chuan Lane here recently.

Local tour guide Richmond Ang led the group comprising Germans, Swiss, Spaniards, Britons and New Zealanders to learn more about the festival that revolves around certain customs and taboos.

The foreign guests were given a chance to participate in the ceremonies where they made offerings to the King of Hades. Apart from lighting huge joss sticks, getting a feel of the Hell bank notes, they also got to watch a Chinese opera show.

The tourists got a chance to go backstage to meet the actors which is a rare opportunity even for the locals.

“I never had an opportunity to watch this kind of performance before and I managed to go backstage to see what goes on behind the scenes,” said an excited Lorenzo Santamaria from New Zealand.

“It was truly a special moment for me. It made my day. I am sure the others in the group also enjoyed this rare experience,” said Santamaria.

Teacher Sarah Green, 32, from England, said it was an eye-opener for her to see the rituals that went with the beliefs of others like the offering of food and money to the deceased.

Retired teacher Kaye Dineen of New Zealand, who has been to Penang many times, never misses the opportunity to watch how the festival is celebrated.

“I am a culture vulture and I regularly visit Penang, especially this time of the year,” said Dineen.

“I stay close to the place where the celebrations are held and the moment I hear the gong, which signals the start of the ceremonies, I make my way here,” she said.

Ang said the festival has a “wow” affect on tourists.

“I am happy to bring the tourists here because they enjoy seeing something that is ‘truly Malaysia’,” said Ang.

The Hungry Ghost Festival ends on Sept 15.

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