Spirits in the Park

It’s amazing to see the beginning of the Ghost festival here in Taipei. It’s the middle of the week, but there were a number of small shops closed, and even more with small fires burning fake money for the spirits and tables of food and drinks. There really hasn’t been a day here that I haven’t seen one of those small pyres lit or smoldering. The dead are not as far away from the world here as they are back home.

A couple of the customs from this one aren’t as easy to follow though, mostly because the things I do all the time are taboo. I picked up the habit of whistling while I was in Mexico, and I kept it up because the kids find it interesting. During the Ghost Festival, it’s believed that whistling catches the attention of evil spirits, whom I have never been friends with anyway. Leaning against walls is also bad because the spirits tend to cling to the walls, where it is cooler. I am usually leaning on the walls because I find it makes me seem shorter, or at least a little less imposing.

It is fascinating to see the how the generations handle this festival in their own ways. Typically, when I see offerings being placed or burned, it is the older generation, sometimes mixed with the younger. They pass on their traditions, celebrating and appeasing the dead as they have in the past. The younger generation, meaning younger than I am, seem to have found a fascinating way to combine their reliance on technology with their cultural traditions.

I was wandering through DaHu park and there were so many people there celebrating in their own way. I rarely see that many people out late on a Tuesday night. Some were burning incense, or practicing Chi Gung, but there were so many people dealing with the spirits through their phones. It seems that there is an app that allows them, not only to see the spirits, but to capture and keep them imprisoned. People thought Ghostbusters was just a movie, but reality seems to have followed the fantasy. I think it would be more awesome if they had proton accelerator packs beaming out what looks like electrified nightmares rather than red and white balls, but from what I saw it is effective.

Tradition is such a fluid thing, not set in stone like so many people believe. We look back on what was done with scorn or reverence, but it’s really just a story that led our cultures to where they are. It shouldn’t keep us from changing what no longer works, or from teaching the lessons we were taught. Like so many martial arts, holding on to tradition whether or not they know the purpose of those traditions. Everything has a purpose, but if it is forgotten or the world changes to make it irrelevant or dangerous, the tradition needs to change with it.

Strange things to ponder while I’m practicing my forms, but it was stranger to see the older women dancing and exercising while I was listening to my headphones. It was like they could hear Eminem playing and they were following the beat. The dance really didn’t match the music, and it almost made me laugh out loud. That would have been horrible. They can’t hear the anger-rap I’m hearing and I don’t speak enough Mandarin to explain it, so I would have been just an asshole laughing at people exercising in the park.

The weather is changing here, cooling off a little, and school is beginning again. It will be nice to be back to a set pattern for work. As chaotic as I can be, it really helps to know have at least part of my day planned. With school ending, I actually feel a lot more free. I’m heading to the mountains tomorrow with the other teachers, I have an interview with the Peace Corps on Tuesday, and I’m off to Hualien next weekend. I can see myself filling my schedule again, like I always seem to. Somehow, it feels right.

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