The seventh month in the lunar calendar, which this year began last Friday, is believed to be the time when ghosts and spirits come out from the lower realm and visit the living.
For a whole month, ending September 12, Vietnamese offer food, fruits and votive papers to hungry ghosts who supposedly wander the streets and drop into some houses.
The Ghost Month is also usually associated with bad luck. Not only in Vietnam but also in other Asian countries and territories like China, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, and Philippines, people will rarely start a new business during this period and a great many do not dare swim fearing they will be drowned by ghosts living in the water.
Though many young people working and living in large cities may no longer follow these traditional taboos, those living with middle-aged parents are usually reminded to strictly follow them so that the Ghost Month passes without event.
It is said that on the 15th night of Ghost Month the gates to heaven and hell are left open, allowing ghosts and dead people into the world to seek out delicious meals.
In the countryside, where life after dark is much quieter, to this day many stay at home at night and also avoid other taboos during the seventh lunar month.
However, those who believe there is an underworld also accept that during the month ghosts are all around and not just in the countryside or quiet places.
In that case, be careful about what you do, say and eat during the Ghost Month, especially on the Ghost Festival on the night of the 15th -- which falls on August 28 this year -- when the King of the Underworld allows all spirits to eat, drink and play to their fill, which could cause some disruption to humans’ lives.
1. Don’t hang the washing at night since some ghosts may notice it and borrow your clothes for a while. When they return them, they will leave a miasma which is likely to cause the next wearer a bad flu, headache or an even worse illness.
Tip: A tumble-dryer will help you skip the hanging part. Modernity could save the day.
2. Never shout out another person’s name at midnight because ghosts will remember the name and later trick the person into follow them.
Tip: If you hate someone, such as your ex-spouse, invite them to hang out until late and shout their name at Zero hour, hopefully thus consigning them to hell.
3. “A leg hair manages three evil entities,” claims an old saying. Dear female readers, you should never wax a limb during these days. Your leg hair will protect you from evil and all other spirits.
Thankfully, bikini waxing or underarm waxing is okay during the month.
4. Never steal even a single cookie or small guava from the offerings tray before it is offered to the spirits. They could extract fierce revenge for eating their offerings on the sly.
If perchance you had committed this blunder before reading this, I unfortunately have no advice that could save your skin. A sincere apology could help, though.
5. Do not take any photos of people at night, especially in dark places, unless you want to have an unsolicited companion standing beside them in the printed image.