#NOIR: Life, Death, and a Quite Hungry (and Picky) Ghost

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The Hungry Ghost Festival is a Taoist practice. Passed down from the older generation, many still practise it. Walk past a Chinese neighbourhood like OUG or Cheras and you can easily spot offerings of oranges, traditional cakes, cups filled with alcohol, joss sticks, and a burnt mark from the hell notes that were set ablaze the night before.

Text Rizki Maulana
Images Alvin Lau

This marks my second time in Penang during the festival, so it’s only natural to get thinking about death. After all, our stay in this mortal world is numbered. The countdown begins when you’re born. The clock ticks faster as you grow up, experiencing the bitterness this world has to offer.

The struggle, the falls, the rejections, the car and house loans, the birth of your unplanned child, the school fees, the divorce, the monthly settlement, the death of your parents, the death of your loved ones, and the despair of it all are enough for you to wish you’re dead. After all, what’s the worst that can happen when you’re dead? Exactly.

The peace and quiet – the heaven of silence that you’ve been dreaming of. Not being awakened until you decide when you want to wake up. The bliss of the void. To be alone, undisturbed. It doesn’t sound too bad, really.

However, despite all that bitterness, I’m pretty sure that we’re all Gods in our own stories. And how you wish to shape it, it is all up to you. You can control the ticks, if you want it to be faster or slower. It’s all up to you.

Although I’m pretty sure no matter how well you play God, there’ll always be your past haunting you. Insecurities, exes, past mistakes. Look at it this way, you can choose to see an empty futsal/badminton court, or a court with a floating towel on it. I think I prefer the former, although I’m not afraid of ghosts.

Well, I don’t think I’m afraid of ghosts at least. For one, I am not sure myself if I believe in them. Nah, most probably not. Maybe that’s why the Hungry Ghost Festival doesn’t keep me from staying out late. Despite the warning from the elders about the seventh month of the lunar calendar, when the gatekeeper kicks the gates of hell open and the dead dwell amongst you. Maybe, secretly, I want my descendants to give me the riches I’ll never obtain. That too is a maybe, if I get married later on of course.

I wonder though, how much hell notes will I receive. Will I get a BMW or a Porsche? Will I get a Leica M9 paired with a Noctilux? I guess it shouldn’t matter. Worldly possessions should just stay here. Just burn me the works of my favourite photographers and Magnum contact sheets.

And once I’m gone, after burning my feast of effigies, for my sake, please do not get Thai girls to sing and dance crappy songs. At least curate the set list will you? Also, I’m done with Chinese opera. I think you can just screen some new movie that’s currently showing in the cinemas – Johnnie To’s, if he’s still alive, kicking, and making movies still. For my offerings, pour me a perfect pint of Guinness. And none of those cheap joss sticks please; sandalwood only. Perhaps some artisanal ice cream and Jasslyn Cakes for my annual supper? Extra fries with that chicken chop.

I have not thought about reincarnation. Do I really have to redo life all over again? I mean, the first time around it was already tiring. Can I just be a cat? To be petted by every passer-by, given food, and sleep all day. No? I have to be a human again? At least make me look hot, okay? And the last time, you gave me so much back hair. Please transfer that to my head.

Alvin Lau and Rizki Maulana make up one-third of .IMG.