Monday, August 30, 2010

Taiwanese Traditions: Ghost Month

The Legend        

Ghost Month offering
Legend has it that the Ghost Festival comes from the "Legend of Mulian.” When Mulian was ten years old, he was appointed to be a monk by Kshitigarbha. A few years later, his mother died and was sent to the Hell because of the things she did in life such as beating monks and wasting food. When Mulian knew that his mother was suffering from the punishment of “hanging upside down” in the sixth level of the Hell, (Taiwanese religion says that there are 18 levels of Hell) he brought food to his mother. Mulian tried to feed his mother but the food turned into flame whenever it was close to her month. Mulian went to Sakyamuni for help. Sakyamuni told Mulian about her mother’s sins and told him that if he wanted to help his mother, he must prepare vegetable foods for all the spirits on the first day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. Mulian did it and saved his mother from being a "hungry ghost."

A teenager burns money   
The seventh month of the lunar calendar is now called Ghost Month. During Ghost Month the gates of Hell are opened and the spirits are allowed a month of freedom in the living world. July 1st on the lunar calendar (In 2010, that was August 10th) is the start of Ghost month.

This is a time of honoring the ancestors. One way of honoring the ancestors ids to place food on a table outside your home. The food is there for the ancestors to eat so that they will visit. One thing I think is interesting to note is that the ancestors are not invited into the house. Businessmen also make offerings in front of their businesses for good luck. Many people in Taiwan fear the ghosts and are afraid that they will be cursed if they do not provide offerings for the ancestors during this time. The main days for offerings are the 1st, the 15th and the 30th of July (Lunar Calendar).

Ghost month is really a part of ancestor worship. In Taiwan it is believed that when you die you go to Hell. Hell is the place where you wait to be reincarnated. But the people also believe that while you are there you have the same needs as on earth. For example paper “money” is purchased at local stores or at the temple that is burned in an incinerator. It is believed that the smoke carries the essence of the money to the ancestors. You often see people out in front of their homes burning money, paper clothing and other things for their ancestors.

A woman with her food offering
They are taught beginning at a very young age to care for their ancestors, so you  see children helping their parents to burn these things. In addition to the burning of goods, fruit, food, even alcoholic beverages are offered to the ancestors, people burn incense and pray. The idea is to provide them with the things they enjoyed on earth.

It is very important to remember all of the ancestors so in many homes you will find a lineage posted somewhere in the house. A friend of mine has a lineage that goes back for 24 generations.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Taiwanese Tradition: Chinese Valentines Day

Chinese Valentines day is celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month on the Lunar Calendar. In 2010 that day (by the Solar Calendar) was August 16th. The Chinese name for the holiday is Qing Ren Jie. (情人節 Passion person Festival.) There is an interesting legend that goes with Qing Ren Jie.

The legend goes like this:

The seven daughters of the Goddess of Heaven were visiting the earth. While there they stopped to bathe in a river. The noise of frolic caught the attention of a cowboy by the name of Niu Lang. Niu Lang thought it would be a great joke to hide the clothing of the seven daughters as they swam in the river.

When the daughters finished bathing they looked for their clothes and discovered that they were missing and that Niu Lang had hidden them. They chose the youngest and prettiest daughter, her name was Zhi Nu, to go to Niu Lang to ask him to return their clothing, which she did.

Niu Lang gave them back their clothing. However, during the exchange Niu Lang saw Zhi Nu naked. They fell in love and were married. Niu Lang and Zhi Nu were so happy that Zhi Nu neglected her work as a weaver. So the Goddess, in order to punish her called her back to heaven, and the couple was forced to separate. Niu Lang being a mortal cannot enter the heavenly realm, of the immortals.

But once a year the Goddess feels pity for the two lovers, so on the 7th night of 7th month, she allows them to be reunited. The legend says that magpies use their wings to form a bridge allowing Zhi Nu to cross over to be with Niu Lang.

As Americans in Taiwan, my family celebrated Valentines Day on February 14th as we usually do. But when we found about this we celebrated again last week. I thought that it was unusual that no one really was out buying gifts or flowers or anything. In fact, Brenda teased some of the husbands that they would be in the doghouse if they didn’t buy flowers for their wives. But as I read up on Qing Ren Jie I found out that gift-giving and cards are not associated with it. Instead Lovers sit and look at the star Vega, which represents Zhi Nu and the constellation Aquila which represents Niu Lang. Vega is found east of the Milky Way and Aquila is west of it. They are looking for the Bridge of Magpies, to reunite the lovers.

That’s romantic isn’t it, to sit together gazing at the stars and pondering this lovely little legend. And it’s cheaper than a dozen roses. I wonder…..nah, I’ll just do both next year, Roses and stargazing. The best of both traditions.

Other posts you may be interested in:

Taiwanese Traditions:  Chinese New Year: The Legend of Nian
Taiwanese Traditions:  Ghost Month
Taiwanese Traditions:  The Dragon Boat Festival

Monday, August 16, 2010

Random Asianess: Taiwanese Health Care

I recently had an opportunity to get a first hand look at the Taiwanese Health Care system. Taiwan’s health care is a national health care system. Because it is a national health care system there are flaws, but I think for the most part that it’s pretty well run. Of course, as I have said many times Taiwanese bureaucrats are not like US bureaucrats, they’re helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, and I suppose thrifty, brave clean and reverent; just like Boy Scouts…even the girls. As always they will go out of their way to help you to have a successful conclusion to your business with them.

Medical History:

For a 54-year-old man with Muscular Dystrophy I’m a pretty healthy guy. My doctor once told me that everyone who has had MD as long as I have is in a wheelchair…EVERYBODY. But I’m not. I walk around, well, not a lot if I can help it, but I’m not in a chair. For the most part I feel reasonably well. There are the aches and pains that come with being 54 and the occasional falls; there’s the tiredness from everything being a strain. But I’m usually pretty self-sufficient and get through life pretty well.

But Then…

Last week I started to feel a bit achy. You know how you feel just before you come down with the flu? I had aches in my shoulder, my elbow, my wrist, my ankles, my fingers and my toes. Then I started to feel a bit nauseous, so my diagnosis was “I’m getting the flu.”

Saturday, I just took it easy. I had to finish up my sermon in the morning but then I just slept off and on all day. I did notice that the pain in my wrist had begun to hurt severely and one of my elbows swelled up. Suddenly this didn’t seem like the flu any more.

Sunday morning I felt really bad. My wrist was unusable. I couldn’t put any weight on it. My wife had to dress me, because of the pain and weakness. I hadn’t slept more than one hour the night before.

But I “manned up” I pulled myself together and I got ready for church. When we got to the church I started doing the things I do. In the middle of setting up song service I started to faint.

I saw the black edges in my vision, lights started flashing and I felt really sick. I had to sit down because I knew I was going to pass out. After I sat down I noticed that I had sweated through my t-shirt and dress shirt.

Then the absolute worst possible thing happened, my Chinese Teacher, Yu Xiu, walked into the church. That’s not the bad part; Yu Xiu is a wonderful person. The bad part was she said “good morning, good morning.” She brought joy and happiness into the life of each person to whom she spoke. She has this way of making everyone smile, then she came to me, but instead of "Good morning," she said, “Oh my…what happened?

I’m Used to That

I’m used to that to a certain extent. I mean let’s be honest here…I’m a mug. You know, I’m not the best looking guy I’ve ever seen. I often get looks like the one pictured, when people see me. People often ask me about the train wreck, or if anyone else was hurt...I’m okay with that, now! But Yu Xiu is unfailingly polite, she rarely, if ever, utters a negative word. Even if she thought I looked like a derailment she wouldn’t mention it. So when she said, “Oh my…what happened?” I knew it had to be really, really bad. Only fear would cause Yu Xiu to comment on my looks.

For the first time in my career as a preacher I couldn’t go on. I knew I wouldn’t be able to finish the church service on my feet…or even conscious, so I had to stop. I went home to lay down.

There is a Good Part

There is a good part, because we saw a bit of discipleship in action. One of the men in the church rose up and preached a short Father’s Day message. He preached on how God is like our earthly father. He finished with an altar call and prayed for Fathers, and those who would like to be fathers. (Of course he insisted that those who wanted to be fathers, be married, already.) It was a great blessing. Another man showed a film in the evening. So even though I was unable to continue, the work of God continued on.

The Hospital

The next day I visited St Paul’s Hospital. I came without an appointment and sat to wait. There was a short wait, maybe one half-hour, and then a preliminary visit with the doctor. He examined the parts that hurt and talked to me. Then he sent me for an x-ray of my wrist. When I returned he examined the x-ray, and prescribed medicine to treat, of all things, Gout. I had Gout in my wrist, shoulder, elbow, ankles, fingers and toes. This is the most severe Gout attack I have ever suffered. But here’s the real deal. The Gout was brought on by dehydration. Because of the temperature and humidity, I had sweat a great deal, but I wasn’t feeling thirsty so I wasn’t drinking much water. As the water level in my body dropped, the level of uric acid by percentage increased and, voila, instant Gout.

The doctor, to battle this severe Gout flare-up prescribed Indomethacin and Colchicine, rest and a great deal of water to get my hydration back to normal. As a bonus the doctor spoke excellent English, having studied medicine in the US. The hospital visit cost exactly $544 NTD or $17.00 USD. All things considered I was very happy with my care in the Taiwanese Medical System. However, I have a new hydration plan. I will drink a Gatorade type daily and plenty of water. I had reduced the salt levels in my body and needed to replenish them. Even though it was a great experience, all things considered, I don't think I want to visit too often. Pass the water, please!

Other posts you may be interested in:

Random Asianess:  Election Time...Again