Saturday, September 30, 2017

Chinese Hungry Ghost Festival

With Halloween only a month away, I thought I'd start a series of blogs representing the spirit of the holiday.

According to Chinese legend, hungry and restless ghosts roam the world to visit their living descendants.

Traditional Chinese belief has the seventh month of the lunar year reserved for the Hungry Ghost festival (Yu Lan). For 2017, the festival starts on September 5th. This is a boisterous celebration of feasts and music. According to Chinese folklore, the ghosts who wander the physical world are ravenous and envious after dying without descendants or because they are not honored by relatives who are still alive.

Because the hungry spirits need to be appeased, prayers and incense are offered to deceased relatives. Fake currency, known as hell money, along with paper copies of material wealth are burned. The ghosts then use them when they return to the underworld.

Neighborhoods hold nightly shows of Chinese operas and pop concerts. The front row of seats remain empty because they are reserved for the ghosts. These shows are accompanied by extravagant feasts. On the 15th day of the lunar month, families offer cooked food to the ghosts with the hope that the spirits will help them find good jobs, get good grades, or even win the lottery.

Tradition holds that there are 14 things you should not do during the Hungry Ghost Festival month:

1)       Don't stay out late at night, spirits might follow you home
2)       Don't stab your chopsticks on your bowl of rice, it resembles the joss sticks offerings to the dead
3)       Don't take photos at night, they might capture things you don't want to see
4)       Don't celebrate your birthday at night
5)       Don't open an umbrella, especially a red one, in the house
6)       Avoid working late during this month
7)       Don't cover your forehead
8)       Don't play games that can attract spirits such as Ouija Board
9)       Don't wait at a bus stop after midnight
10)     Don't use black or a dark color nail polish, the spirits might think you are one of them
11)     Don't enter a cemetery or abandoned house
12)     Don't spit or blow your nose in public or at a tree/plant
13)     Don't lean against the wall, spirits like to stick on walls because they're cooler
14)     Don't turn your head around if someone pats you on the shoulder

Next week in my spirit of Halloween series, I'll be posting a blog about America's Haunted Hotels.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Are The Holidays Getting Confused?

As we all know, Christmas is December 25th. But it seems to arrive earlier each year. The end of summer/official start of autumn (here in the northern hemisphere) was yesterday—Friday, September 22, 2017. We've barely cleared the summer season. Halloween is still over a month away and Thanksgiving is two months away. But none of that seems to make any difference.

As far as some retailers are concerned, Christmas is already here. In fact, it's been here for a while. Yep…that's right. There are Christmas decorations, Christmas cards, Christmas wrapping paper, and other things Christmas in the stores next to the displays of Halloween candy and masks. I've been receiving Christmas Cards—buy now and get a special discount solicitations since August.

It's a little disconcerting. Winter weather is definitely not here. There's nothing outside that even pretends to resemble the pictures on Christmas cards showing the snow-laden pine and fir trees, pristine snow covering the landscape (before it turns to dirty slush), and a perfect snowman out there in the wilderness complete with top hat rather than the lopsided snowman in someone's front yard. And there's the charming country cottage with the smoke curling from the chimney and an old-fashioned sleigh being pulled by a horse.

How can you even think of chestnuts roasting on an open fire and Jack Frost nipping at your nose when the temperature for the last several days has been in the mid to high 90s? I do realize there are many places where nice warm weather is common at Christmas time. In the U.S., Hawaii and southern Florida come to mind. And, of course, in the southern hemisphere Christmas arrives in the middle of summer. But even with the places in the U.S. that experience warm weather year round, wouldn't it be nice to get Halloween and Thanksgiving out of the way before concentrating on Christmas?

I, personally, would rather finish with one holiday before embarking on the next one. Maybe that has to do with my childhood. My birthday is in mid December and my parents always made sure that it was clearly separated from Christmas. The tree and decorations did not go up until after my birthday.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Say Goodbye To Summer And Hello to Autumn

Friday, September 22, 2017, marks the official end of summer and start of autumn here in the Northern Hemisphere—the Autumnal Equinox.

Earlier this month in my little corner of the world we had a delightful taste of the fall weather to come.  That crisp feel in the air with cooler temperatures replacing the heat and dryer air shoving aside the retched humidity of summer.  That change to cool dry air brought a renewed vigor, a revived energy to replace the lackluster feeling resulting from the summer heat and least for me.  (Do you get the impression that I don't function well in heat and humidity?)

Just as I love the renewal of life in the spring—bright green new leaves on the trees, colorful flowers, the awakening of nature from winter's long hibernation—I also love the change of the leaves to their brilliant array of fall colors in autumn.  This year we've exceeded our average amount of rainfall, so I'm hoping for a more colorful autumn than we've had the last couple of years.

I can say with all sincerity that I'm happy to welcome the end of summer.  Oh, yeah…also happy to welcome the start of fall.  But it's mostly the end of summer's heat and humidity that thrills me. I do have to admit that the summer of 2017 was a strange mixture of several triple digit temperature days and periods of cooler temperatures. However, we did have many super high humidity days.  Ugh!

Welcome autumn...I'm thrilled to see you!  But, on the other hand, I'm hoping for a mild winter.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Total Eclipse Of The Sun

On August 21, 2017, a total solar eclipse was visible in the U.S. literally from coast to coast as it moved across the country—from the Pacific Ocean on the west coast to the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast. I traveled to an area where I could see the total solar eclipse. The area we selected was the town of Hiawatha, Kansas, (population of a little over 3000) in the far northeast corner of the state.  In Wichita, where I currently live, the eclipse was going to be 94%. But when a 3.5 hour drive can get the total eclipse, we decided that was the thing to do.

In Hiawatha (central time zone), the eclipse started at 11:39AM and concluded at 2:33PM with totality occurring at 1:06PM and lasting for 2 minutes and 34 seconds.

We bought our eclipse glasses about 2 weeks in advance. I spent lots of time going over all the settings on my DSLR camera that I don't normally use to make sure I could photograph everything with quick efficiency. Traffic-wise, we anticipated crowded roads so we left before daylight. The drive up was surprisingly quick and easy, normal traffic moving along as highway speeds.

Rather than finding a quiet place on a country road somewhere, we headed for Hiawatha's city park which had been set up as the center of eclipse activity. Parking was a reasonable $5. Just 2 blocks away from the city park, a church was charging $20 for use of their parking lot (however, I suspect that it might have been an overnight parking fee for motor homes and recreational vehicles).

At the city park, the main recreation building housed a demonstration and talk by NASA personnel in the auditorium and the gym had been opened for children. Outside in the open grassy areas, a band provided live music, one of the television stations (I'm assuming from Topeka, Ks) set up for a live broadcast, about a dozen food trucks were on site and they offered a wide variety of choices rather than everything being the same. Lots of picnic tables and even a beer garden. There were, of course, the normal mandatory souvenir stands selling T-shirts and other Eclipse-themed items. But the main attraction was the rapidly approaching time for the eclipse.
clouds closing in as eclipse starts
Since viewing the sun at mid day is a matter of looking straight up rather than at a stage, there were no bad seats. Everyone was the same 93 million miles away from the show with an unobstructed view of the event.

But…as the old saying goes, into every life a little rain must fall. And so it was on August 21, 2017, in Hiawatha, Kansas.

That whole portion of the state had been having off and on rain for several days. The forecast for Hiawatha for August 21 said partly cloudy with possibility of showers. The morning looked pretty good, then the clouds rolled in. But we weren't worried. It was not a solid cloud cover, it was your basic intermittent coming and going cloud cover with the sun visible most of the time.
last picture before clouds cut off view 
Until about 12:30, approximately an hour into the eclipse and half an hour prior to totality, when the partially cloudy turned into definite storm clouds and started to rain. And that pretty much describes the weather for the rest of the day.

However, the 2 minutes 34 seconds of totality was not lost on us even though the sun/eclipse was not visible. The cloud cover broke at the horizon. As anticipated, the sky became dark (however not black like midnight on a moonless night) and street lights came on in response. The temperature noticeably dropped, but the rain helped that along. The most intriguing part of the obscured eclipse was the color and feel of the air.

The color was twilight, but not really. A combination of many hues, but no specific one. A soft glow that seemed to surround rather than coming from a single direction.

When I say feel, I'm not referring to the sense of touch. The feel was somehow ethereal—aesthetic rather than tactile. The very air surrounding us oozed an almost surreal awareness, a sensation of awe, a perception that can't be explained using mere words.
after the eclipse 
But reality soon set in. What was a 3.5 hour drive to Hiawatha, Kansas, was an 8 hour drive home. The highway was literally a parking lot.

Even though we could not see the moment of totality, the experience was well worth the trip.