"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
" Top tip: don't shave your legs. Long hairs on your legs frighten away the wandering souls (and boyfriends)."
Today, the gates to the other place are flung open so that ghosts can move amongst us. As you wander around Hong Kong expect to see food served at the roadside, as people burn offerings - the Hungry Ghost Festival (中元節) is in full swing.
It's best to soothe and entertain the ghosts to avoid unwelcome entanglements. Plus, there are a few things you need to avoid doing.
First, don't stand too close to a wall. The cool of a wall, especially in a dank alley at night, attracts the ghouls. Second, don't leave your washing out overnight. According to legend, ghosts may borrow and return items at dawn. Yet, they can leave behind an aura that may bring you misfortune.
Third, don't linger late at night, forcing you to take the last bus home. It may be full of invisible fare-dodgers, especially if heading to Chai Wan or Wo Hop Shek.
Also, ghosts wander around look for signs pointing towards humans they wish to terrorise. Thus, tip number four for a ghost-free evening is don't leave your slippers pointing towards your bed. (I didn't make that up)
Number five, whistling is also a no-no because it's said to attract wandering ghosts. And last, precaution number six — and it's now getting bizarre — don't shave your legs. Long hairs on your legs frighten away the wandering souls (and boyfriends).
Based on the principles of filial piety and ancestor worship, the spirits of deceased forebears come from the underworld to visit their living relatives. Then, with offerings of food, burning incense and joss paper, people pay their respects. In return, the appeased spirits confer blessings before heading back. After all, you don't want them lingering; it may impact property prices.
For the past week, across Hong Kong, a series of operas organised by clan associations, street performances and other events are taking place. By tradition, seats are left vacant near the front of performances for the visitors from the other side. Although, the occasional clueless gwailo can be seen sitting there, which is kinda appropriate.
For those who wish to see a ghost, the obvious answer is to take the last bus to Wo Hop Shek, with shaven legs and whistling, while drying your washing outside the bus window.
Happy ghost hunting.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.