There’s hell to pay

It’s not uncommon for us to see the occasional flaming pile of paper and wood in or near intersections. There’s no container; it’s just an open fire or an abandoned pile of glowing ashes on the road or sidewalk. This happens for funerals in Tianjin (Taibei did it differently). These first two photos show people burning funeral paraphernalia smack dab in the middle of an intersection, and what it probably looked like before they burned it: a typical funeral arrangement in our area, which involves lots of flowers, black ribbons with white writing, and in this case, a paper litter and cow(?) all arranged outside the stairwell to the apartment of the deceased. (Click any of these pictures to see them full size.)

But last weekend there were dozens of people all around our area out in the evening burning piles of paper money. It’s Thursday and you can still see the black scorched spots everywhere; the third photo is from right outside our complex on my way back from school around noon today – each black smudge was a small fire. Surely there weren’t dozens of simultaneous deaths right in our neighbourhood. Even if there were better days to die on in the lunar calendar, it’s not like people would go out of their way for one (I hope).

So I asked around and turns out there was a special day on the lunar calendar: 十月一送寒衣 (shí yuè yī sòng hán yī), ultra-literally: “10th month send cold clothes.” Saturday (November 10 to us) was the first day of the tenth month in the lunar calendar, which is a special day for sending money and winter clothes to one’s dead relatives in the underworld. In addition to special “paper money,” which you can buy at any vegetable market, people also burn special paper clothes so their dead relatives won’t be cold in the underworld. In the folk beliefs that are prevalent here, winter comes to the underworld around the same time it comes to regular world. Every intersection and T-section on my daily routes between home, school, and the office were littered with literally dozens of burnt spots – I assume people find it easier to burn many little open fires than trying to have one great big one.

Sorry there’s no photo of the fires. I had the perfect photo op Monday night around 6pm right at the entrance to our neighbourhood. But it was cold, and I was biking with one hand on purely symbolic brakes while swinging a plastic bag full of hot soup (my dinner) in the other.

(07 December 4)
Some neighbours were out burning again two nights ago. Our apartment building is in the background of the first photo:

7 thoughts on “There’s hell to pay”

  1. this is so interesting and I would have loved to see a pic of the fires.. but even better a picture of you doing the hot soup thing on the bike :) so cool. :)

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