On the nights of the seventh month, the Chinese are often afraid to go out at night for fear of encountering ghosts. Mum's always warning not to stay out late or swim in the open sea. Traveling overseas is frowned upon too. It is a brave Chinese person who ventures to the beach, for he may be lured into the water and drowned by the spirits of those lost at sea. The phenomenon of the Hungry Ghosts is said to explain the high level of catastrophes which are believed to occur in the seventh month. The Chinese avoid getting married or moving into new homes during this month.
This solemn festival culminates in the burning of offerings on full moon night, creating a truly eerie and wondrous spectacle. As kids, we enjoyed this part the most...the big bonfires!
This is also the month where you find loud and colourful Getais in the residential estates. A Getai (歌台), is a boisterous life stage performance by a group of singers, dancers and entertainers held during the Ghost Festival to entertain the spirits, in contrast to the sombre mood of the festival. The backdrop of the stage is usually made of cardboard and decorated with spotlights in bright colours like, red, blue, pink and yellow. The performers don loud and glittery costumes, and the compères spout crude jokes all in the name of fun.
Getais have evolved over the years, traditionally Chinese Opera was being performed, with the front rows being reserved for the “spirits”, but nowadays, it has become quite business like, with top shows, comperes, hosts, singers, dancers and other various performers being lined up to entertain the masses, who turn out in droves just to catch the latest song-stage happenings. It's that time of the year to ogle at babes in skimpy, sexy clothes!
Watching Getai has become a sub-culture of sorts. So much so that it has inspired our talented film-maker Royston Tan to make a raucous movie called 881 that’s brimming with nightclub costumes and giant feathers. In a nutshell, 881 is a lively getai movie with songs, performances, drama, comedy and the struggle of two girls – Big Papaya and Little Papaya - to become Getai stars.
See, I told you the Ghost Month is not that scary afterall!