With roots in Buddhism, the Hungry Ghost Festival is a time of honouring ancestors and appeasing the ’hungry’ ghosts that wander the world of the living when the ‘Gates of Hell’ are opened once a year.
It is believed that these Gates of Hell are opened once a year during the Hungry Ghost Month and all the lost and hungry ghosts of hell are free to roam the living world. To appease these lost souls and to prevent them from causing the living harm, people put food out for the ghosts to enjoy. Elaborate ceremonies and rituals are also performed to please the ghosts
I go to the ghost festival every year, as I am a huge fan of Chinese operas, puppet shows, and animal juggling. Hey, who isn't? Besides, it's a cheap vacation, as I always travel via an out-of-body experience by assuming the cross-legged trance position, clutching my brown bag and burning my special incense.
So I finally get there and the entire first row was empty (as always), so I took a seat and waited for the next act. That's when Robin William's ghost floats on stage wearing a mock Islamofacist Hijab.
"Goooooooood morning Hong Kong! It's 0900 hours. What does the "O" stand for? O my God, it's HOT down there! And the jokes on me, cuz I apparently am one of the 72 virgins that crowd was promised."
The crowd of live people laughed and clapped uproariously, as Williams continued the harried rapid-fire comedy pace he was well known for. The Chinese-speaking audience couldn't understand a single word he was saying, but they seemed to be enjoying the show. Come to think of it, I could never understand what the heck this cat was saying either, but I always seemed to laugh too.
At one point, William's jokes fell flat when he insulted the audience by saying, "I don't think you're smarter than anybody else, but you've convinced a lot of us you are...."
But then he seemed to recover quickly: "..One problem that I've had today is keeping my Wongs straight."
...and the crowd ROARED and was back in his corner.
There are standard "hungry ghost" jokes every deceased performer gravitates too, and Williams was no different. Groaners like: "What do skeletons say before they begin dining?... Bone appetit." and "Where do hungry ghosts buy their food?... At the ghost-ery store!"
Jokes that were not funny in and of themselves, but made to be hilarious by William's delivery, as he waved his arms and strutted the stage back and forth, delivering various lines by alternating between a deep then cartoon squeaky voice."
At the conclusion, Robin William's ghost did a funny bit on the "dos and don'ts" of re-gifting:
"Do put thought into the unwanted gift. Maybe you have enough new silk neckties and believe your friend could use the item better.
Don't re-gift a new silk necktie to the ghost of James Foley (the beheaded journalist). He won't think it funny."
"Do re-wrap the gift in new wrapping paper, with ribbons and a bow.
Don't re-gift a used item, even if its a slightly used leather belt not used as originally intended, even if you think it would look good on obama."
It was then that I awoke in my darkened linen closet, the contents of the brown bag long since gone. The pounding headache behind my eyes did not dampen the memories of Robin William's ghost's performance still fresh and funny. He broke all the rules (30 THINGS YOU SHOULD NOT DO DURING HUNGRY GHOST FESTIVAL) but I am sure he will be back next year.