It is a National Holiday in Hong Kong today: Chung Yeung. But not for me, since this National Day is – such as many more National Holidays in Hong Kong and China – also a religious day. According to a legend from the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD),
a soothsayer advised a man to take his family to high ground for the ninth day of the ninth moon. The man complied and the next day discovered that all the inhabitants of his village had been slaughtered, while he and his family had been spared by leaving for the hills. Nowadays, it is believed that taking a hike to Hong Kong’s highest points brings good luck to people.
Thus, this morning, I put on my hiking shoes and take the MTR to Chai Wan, a place on the Eastern part of Hong Kong Island. Exiting the MTR station, I see I have come to the right place to observe this festival. Around me, hundreds (thousands?) of people with big red bags full of food, incense, paper money and other things made of paper (houses, amahs, cars, shoes, everything the dead ancestors mights ‘need’ in Heaven) stand in lines waiting for bus 388 or 389 to take them to the cemetery they want to go to.
Just outside of Chai Wan, there are many cemeteries situated next to each other, representing every religion there is. Buddhist, Catholic, Christian, Daoist, Islam and Hindu cemetaries and crematoriums, and a little bit down in the valley a war cemetery with soldiers of the Second World War (also about 14 Dutch soldiers). All the graves are build along the hill side, row upon row upon row upon row. Boxes with the ashes of cremated ancestors are build into large multistory buildings.
Since every grave and crematorium is build on the hillside, visiting graves to take care of the deceased is easily combined with the climbing of hills and mountains. Giving gifts to the ancestors can be done at the same as bringing luck to oneself – all in one day. And thus, on this day, hundreds of families flock to their ancestral graves with candles and incense to burn, and all kinds of food (small pigs, fruits, duck, bread, liquor, tea, rice) to offer to the dead and eat while sitting on the graves, that have just been cleaned.
I walk around, amongst the people – both the living and the dead. I see the differences in offerings on the different cemeteries and try to make pictures of what people are doing. Unfortunately, I find out very soon that this might be one of the only situations in China where making photos of food is frowned upon, just like making photos in general.
After hours of walking up and down the hills, the muscles in my legs are paining and my skin is burned by the sun. However, I don’t complain: I guess those are just small prices to pay for acquiring a lot of personal luck by climbing these hills.