News

Hong Kong works overtime to feed hungry ghosts

Hong Kong works overtime to feed hungry ghosts

A man burns a five metre long paper "Buddha Boat" (R) believed to sail ghost spirits to the afterlife during the Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival in Hong Kong August 25, 2013. Photo: Reuters/Tyrone Siu

By Grace Li

HONG KONG (Reuters) – At a workshop in an old Hong Kong neighborhood, paper craftsman Ha Chung-kin uses delicate sheets of paper and sticks of bamboo to fashion a huge, expensive boat that will soon be consigned to the flames.

The Hungry Ghosts festival that has prompted Ha’s exquisite labors centers on a superstition that the spirits of the dead return to Earth during the seventh month of the Chinese Lunar calendar, which runs from August 7 to September 4 this year.

16 feet long, Ha’s boat is one of numerous paper offerings ordered by Buddhist temples at this time of year, when many Chinese around the world tread more cautiously and make an extra effort to appease the roaming souls.

All kinds of items made of paper – including clothes, “gold” and “silver” ingots, mansions and boats – are burned to ensure the ghosts have enough to tide them over until the next year.

“You can earn a living by making paper crafts,” Ha said. “If you are good enough to turn paper into all kinds of things, you can make good money from it.”

The paper boat costs $4,500 and takes a skilled craftsman 10 days to finish.

But fewer young people are willing to take on the job in Hong Kong after a boom period in the 1980s. Now the city of more than 7 million people has fewer than 10 all-round master craftsmen, Ha says, making it hard to meet demand.

Ha’s shop supplies a sizable portion of the paper offerings to the local market. For this year’s Hungry Ghosts festival, it had more than 40 orders, some worth more than HK$100,000.

Orders flow in through the year, as paper lanterns and other items feature in many Chinese festivals. Ha’s shop also gets busy at Halloween – when Westerners celebrate ghosts, witches and goblins – to make scary items for theme parks and costume parties.

Slimmer profit margins due to competition from the Chinese mainland and long hours are major factors that discourage people from entering the business. At this busy time of year, Ha and his team toil up to 16 hours a day.

Fortunately, Ha’s 26-year-old son enjoys the work.

“The fact we can use the materials to make cars, iPhones and other trendy products fascinated me,” Sam Ha said as he stuck colorful tassels to the stern of the boat. “It prompted me to create new things so our customers will have more choices.”

Recent Headlines

1 hour ago in Music, Sports

Lorde meets Hall of Famer who inspired ‘Royals’

Fresh
lorde

The singer behind the hit meets the real-life Royal that inspired her song.

1 hour ago in Viral Videos

Kicked in the head by a train

Fresh
Kicked By Train

This man tried to take a selfie while a train passed but was a little too close.

1 hour ago in Entertainment

Donnie Wahlberg and Jenny McCarthy engaged

Fresh
donniewahlberg

Jenny McCarthy has the "right stuff" in the New Kids On The Block star's eyes.

today in Viral Videos

Slow motion parkour dog

Updated
Parkour Dog

If you thought parkour videos were cool, wait until you see the dog version!

today in Music

AC/DC will ‘rock on;’ Young has ‘debilitating illness’

brianjohnson

The band plans to begin recording in May, but founding member Malcolm Young won't be among them.

Bellingham Traffic