As I was walking home from school today, it seemed just like any other afternoon. It was my next to last day of school; the sun was blazing, and motorcycles were rushing about, but little did I know the significance of this particular day.
I passed by a small store that had set up food offerings in front of its doors. This is fairly common practice for a predominately Buddhist city to connect with the spiritual realm, so I thought little of it. Then I saw another store, and another, and another, all with food offerings and incense each more elaborate than the next. I curiously messaged my wonderful CET mentor and friend, Chunling, to ask what was so special about today.
August 15th is the date of the Ghost Festival, or the Hungry Ghost Festival, she said. By setting up tables upon tables of delicious food and snacks, the ghosts will bless your business and bring you good fortune and prosperity. I suddenly remembered that as early as mid-July, Chunling had warned us about these ghosts. Starting on August 1st, the whole seventh lunar month in Taiwan is considered Ghost Month.
While most other East and South East Asian countries believe that ghosts come to the land of the living on August 15th, the Taiwanese believe that August 1st is the day on which the gates of Heaven and Hell open to let spirits wander the earth.
There are many things you want to avoid doing during Ghost Month, such as swimming for fear of previously drowned ghosts and spirits trying to drown and take life from any swimmer in the waters. Whistling is also considered a taboo, as it could attract unwanted ghosts from latching onto the whistler and bring about misfortune.
As this is my last week in Taiwan, this holiday was an opportune reminder of the unique experiences I had this summer. When your semester abroad winds down, it is natural for some to be ready to head back to familiarity, and I am no exception. However, I am forever indebted to the Hungry Ghost Festival for reminding me again of why I came to Taiwan in the first place and how special this place truly is.
In the end, even though I complain about the scorching heat and the insane motorcyclists that almost run me over daily, I am sincerely going to miss this unparalleled country and the extraordinary individuals I have met along the way. It has been a whirlwind of a summer, complete with precious moments and hardships alike. My hope for future CET Taiwan students is that after the honeymoon stage wears off and the homesickness or frustration sets in, they are still able to recall why they came here in the first place and take delight in the small victories and memories that they have made.