Sketching at Tiong Bahru during the Chinese Ghost Festival

When worshippers at my estate started burning incense papers and joss sticks along the streets and at void decks on the ground floor, I have no idea it was for the Chinese Ghost Festival until it was a few days into it. The festival is also known as Zhong Yuan Festival, a name more commonly known among the Chinese. During the festival, believers pay respects to the deceased by offering sacrifices of paper money and food. Other names for this festival is Ghost Day, during which many believes that ghosts would be released from hell so they could feast in the realm of the living, and thus, the seventh lunar month is also known as the Ghost month.

I visited Tiong Bahru to paint with some friends, but I did not know there is a big celebration going on. Right at the entrance to the food center, there is a huge setup with incense jars, sacrifices of roasted pork, containers of food, and giant joss sticks and candles, all for the purpose of "welcoming" the festival. This year the festival actually falls on the 5th September due to a leap month, so a whole extra month is added to the Lunar Year; this happens every three years in the Lunar calendar (goody I read this off from the internet, a not so Chinese Chinese like me wouldn't know all these.

Two visitors from Germany approached me to ask me about the Ghost festival while I was sketching the roasted pork. I gave them some facts but told them that my facts may not be correct. They were curious about the boxes of food stacked in the midst of the other sacrifices. I told them they are not meant to be burnt but offered as auctions to the participants. They rested easy after hearing this. I took a few pictures of how the celebration looks like and a video of burning joss papers.

I got side tracked by the celebration going on at Tiong Bahru Market and Food Center. After capturing some of the celebration scenes and the roasted pork, I hurriedly proceeded to join the others to paint Tiong Bahru. I added colours to the sketch at the studio, along with the sketch of the roasted pork.

I wished I could draw more but when the ashes started flying about in the breeze, it wasn't very comfortable.

Besides food stuff, worshippers were sacrificing all other kinds of material things in the form of paper crafts that could be burnt and offered to the dead. These things include bags, clothes, shoes and even toys. Some people might find this creepy though.

Usually such celebration was organised by the store keepers and owners at the market and food center. They believe that a celebration like this would bring them luck and good fortune in the future. The bigger the celebration the better their life would be after. While burning incense papers, some of them would be shouting at the top of their voices, "Huat Ah!", which means "Let's get prosperous!" in the Hokkien dialect.

The burning of the incense papers was quite exciting to watch. At one point, the fire reached a height of about 2m and I was thinking whether it was going to burn up the tree beside it. I am going to think the street cleaner is going to have a hard time cleaning up the next day. This is going to go on for at least two whole weeks.

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