On the 15th night of the 7th month on the Chinese calendar, legend says that the souls of deceased ancestors are released from the underworld to visit their descendants. Fascinated by the story, I started to research the history behind the story but was further confused, rather than enlightened, because there are so many interpretations. Facts without feeling are important in some situations, but when trying to understand a culture and celebration, the words we choose are critical to portraying the true meaning of the tradition. In some cases, I understood Hungry Ghost Day to be like Halloween; in other cases, I found it to be like a horror movie in real life or even the complete opposite, a family reunion time. For clarification, I reached out to a connection in Hong Kong.
Roger Yim, is an incredibly talented jeweler and master networker from Hong Kong, whom I've recently had the pleasure of meeting and was happy to educate me. His first explanation was a scary Halloween, without the trick-or-treat. These ancestors are ones that have been slighted or not paid adequate homage, they are not coming back to check on the grandkids. They're searching for recompense, so in order to appease the spirits, the tradition is to "send" money and gifts to the underworld. As FedEx doesn't deliver down under, the gifts are burned as a method of delivery. Sometimes, the gifts are household items but it is also common to burn joss paper items. Joss paper is known as ghost money and can be paper crafts in the form of money or other items like cell phones, tablets, wallets and more. I personally would very much like not to be haunted, so I'm sure I would send the best of the best too!
More than learning about a new tradition, I learned how important it is to connect. There are many things that just can't be conveyed in facts alone. For example, Roger was able to truly convey the meaning of Hungry Ghost Day in Hong Kong, but even Hungry Ghost day is celebrated differently in different cultures such as Japanese, Malaysian,
Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and more. In some countries, it isn't scary at all but a time for family reunions and a time of joy. In order to truly understand something, we must understand the context. We must listen more than we speak. We must always be open to learning. We must consider the human elements of every fact. As we all know, not everything we read on the internet is true but we should also consider that every fact will have emotions and history behind it. Before we start throwing our facts around and making judgement, we should make sure we see the whole picture.
True communication begins with true understanding. Language is only a small piece of the puzzle when trying to communicate across the globe. Words come with connotations; phrases are not unequivocal; and people often hear what they feel, not what is said. As the world becomes a smaller place through online networking and business, I urge all of us to be more conscious of how we communicate, so that we grow stronger together.