Welcome back to my blog!
Over the next two weeks, I will be covering the impacts of the Hungry Ghost Festival as per my observations and explore some possible measures to mitigate these impacts.
The Hungry Ghost Festival that just ended over the weekend is observed annually in the seventh month of the Lunar Calendar, where it is believed that spirits of the dead come to earth and roam around (Tan, 2018). It is customary for Taoists and Buddhists to put out offerings and light joss sticks on the street along their houses to honour wandering spirits and pray for peace and safety for their family members.
Even though my family observes this tradition, I was never involved in the process. To me, this time of the year just meant joss sticks on curbsides, “hell money” strewn all over the neighbourhood and a persistent burning smell.
In order to take a closer look at the effects of the festival, for the first time ever, I followed my grandfather as he performed the rituals on the last day of the hungry ghost festival and here is what we did.
Step 1: Find a patch of grass near our house
Step 2: Set up joss sticks, candles and food offerings as below
A typical offering setup includes candles, joss sticks and some food.
Step 3: The last step involves burning paper offerings like “hell money”
The inside of a typical burning bin, featuring my grandfather’s hand.
As I walked around my neighbourhood, I noticed that our offering setup was relatively simple and basic – some others had more than twice the number of joss sticks and candles. A strong smell of smoke permeated the air and ash drifted around with the wind, looking almost like snow.
In this photo, you can see the ash particles from the burnt offerings.
The most obvious impact of the Hungry Ghost Festival would be air pollution. Yesterday in class, I learnt about the different air pollution sources, one of it being area sources, which refer to multiple small sources that may be negligible individually but amount to considerable emissions as a collective whole. It occurred to me that the burning of offerings during the Hungry Ghost Festival is a perfect example of area sources.
While surveying my neighbourhood, I counted an average of two burning bins per HDB Block and most were in use. When we consider the combined emissions from the burning bins of HDB blocks across Singapore in the entire month, this could raise PM2.5 levels by 18-60% (Webster et al, 2015). High PM2.5 levels may cause respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses (The Straits Times, 2014) and the danger is amplified by our high population density.
Perhaps it is time that we think of environmentally friendly alternatives? Next week, I will look into some hygiene issues exacerbated by the Hungry Ghost Festival before moving on to possible solutions. Stay tuned!
Tan, C. (Aug 18,2018). Singapore’s Hungry Ghost Festival: what to do in the Lion City during the month-long event … and taboos to avoid
Webster, R. D. et al (Sep, 2015). Annual air pollution caused by the Hungry Ghost Festival
Retrieved from: https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlepdf/2015/em/c5em00312a
The Straits Times (Mar 12, 2014). Budget backgrounder: What is PM2.5 and how it affects air quality