If you toss a coin, standing anywhere in the crowded place of your city , it is sure to hit someone who is either, loved, lost, or lonely (not necessarily in the same order though). The sheer amount of break up albums and movies that sold out last year is quite a proof. People seem to be either fighting for love or fighting in the love. I once saw a scary movie where the hero is always walking around with neck pain. An instant photograph reveals to him that the ghost of his girlfriend is sitting on his shoulder all along. The director couldn't have said it better about carrying past relationships.
According to Taoist Chinese tradition, The gates of the hell are open during the month of August every year(also known as ' hungry ghost festival') . Buddhist on the other hand believes that the gates of heaven are also open and the deceased ancestors are free to roam the lands of living. In Singapore, any open ground near the Chinese home becomes offering place for the ghost. I saw at least 22 offerings on my way to school the other day.
The ghosts are invited with candles, incense, food, drinks and lots of Chinese money. Bundles of "Joss paper"(representing the Chinese money) is burnt either by individual or by groups of people to appease the ghosts. There are even performances like dance and standup comedy that is conducted throughout the month, the first row of which is reserved for the ghosts.
My local Chinese friend told me that it's conducted more out of fear than respect. The fear that the diseased may bother the living and hence the deliberate attempt to feed, entertain and send them off. She warned me to avoid offering places. To be careful and not to stamp on the food and drinks that are being offered, which is hard to do because they are everywhere along the foot path.
I asked my friend if I could perform the ritual and she agreed to help. We went to the Chinese temple where we usually pray. The priest has seen me few times so he wasn't surprised when she translated my interest to burn the Joss paper, to him. After few minutes of prayer and blessings from the gods and saints of the temple, we walked over to the furnace to burn the paper. My friend stood next me , directed me and shared stories about the festival from her childhood.
We had dinner and I took the last train home. While walking back from train station, I witnessed a family gathered for the offering. The fire from the burning was at least two story high and the smoke filled my lungs in seconds. It was quiet except for the crackling sound of burning. The family members stood in silence and their eyes reflected the fire. Be it fear or respect, be it ancestor or unleashed hungry ghost from hell, the act of sending love and thoughts to those once existed in our lives, touched me. For the act not only signifies remembering but also the letting go of past and "wishing you well wherever you are right now". I returned to my empty bed exhausted from the long day, but my shoulders felt light.