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when all hell breaks loose

As night falls, the streets take on an eerie silence as a light fog settles in. Next to a pile of burning ashes, a pale figure with a long, pencil-thin neck squats, poking through the smoking pile of soot, in search of something. Nearby, more figures wander about, streaming in from a large, intricately carved wooden door standing in the middle of an open field.

The 15th day of the 7th lunar month has arrived, and the gates of Hell have opened.

Colloquially referred to as the Seventh Month or the Hungry Ghost Festival, Buddhists and Taoists believe that on this day, the gates of Hell open up, and the spirits of ancestors whose families have forgotten to pay tribute to or who were never given a proper ritual send-off are free to roam the earth in search of food and entertainment. During this month, believers will prepare offerings to these spirits by laying out food and burning an assortment of incense, joss paper, hell bank notes and paper models of material goods that range from daily essentials such as toiletries and clothing to luxurious goods such as cars, mansions, the latest technological gadgets - you name it, they'll have it.

Families will also cook sumptuous dinners, leaving empty seats at the table for each member of the family who has passed away, as if they were present to share the meal with. Offerings are also made to wandering ghosts, especially on the 14th day of the 7th month, to appease these spirits so they will not bring misfortune to the family.

Rituals aside, the 7th month is also rife with superstition - believers avoid swimming and get their children to return home early before night falls out of fear that evil spirits might drown or possess them. Marriage, starting a business, moving into a new home and travel are also avoided as the 7th month is considered to be inauspicious for such activities.

Perhaps most interesting of all are two large-scale activities unique to Singapore and Malaysia - the getai and the auction dinner. Held only at night, Getais are loud, garish performances held in tents that are usually set up in open fields, with song, dance, acrobatics and even stand-up comedy, all presented in the various Chinese dialects and at an extremely high volume. While anyone is welcome to watch a getai performance, the first row is always kept empty for the "special guests" that the getai is meant to attract and entertain.

Auction dinners on the other hand are held to bring good luck and prosperity to the area. Usually attended by business owners, an auction dinner consists of a traditional Chinese dinner, followed by light entertainment and an auction, where symbolic items are auctioned off to the highest bidder, with the belief that the winner of the item will receive good luck and prosperity. Mr. Alun, Chairman of Chinatown Business Association's 7th Month Committee, tells us more about 7th month and the annual auction dinner held in Chinatown in this video interview!

Both of these activities are held annually in Chinatown during the 7th month, and anyone can join in these events by signing up for the Walking with the Good Brothers Tour… if you dare!

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