Having championed people’s beliefs in paranormal activities for one month, my stay in Taiwan comes to a closure. I keep on telling myself there was absolutely nothing religious about Ghost Month. It is just a great sign of respect, ch compassion, and love to the forefathers, and one’s time ahead. And lots of entertainment! Before I retake care of rather worldly affairs, there’s still something worthy of a visit. My way leads to urban Toucheng on Taiwan’s eastern shores.
Qiang Gu the centuries-old contest is held across East Asia in the last hours of Ghost Month and meant to snatch the ’good brothers and sisters’ – hypothetically; to shoo them back to their natural habitat. At first glance, it won’t really strike you. You’d probably wonder like me how this weird construction which quite looks like a wooden version of the Sagrada Familia on a hectic day is related with ’ghost grappling’. Even hours later, I’m still not sure what I’ve just witnessed. Neither do the Taiwanese I’ve figured. The contest ever was (and still is) of teams clambering over each other to master the butter greased spires which lead them to a ten meters high canopy. Those few succeeding, are trying to make it up to the cone-shaped tips made of bamboo which are adorned with ghostly gifts and piled onto the platform. The first daredevil to cut off the flag that completes the towers makes his team a winner of… a brand new car, sponsored by the county – transportation – culture – forest – and communication ministries. Believing the tales of the elderly, it must have looked way more primitive back in the days, when solid men wrapped in tribal fashion were hasting unsecured towards the top in disregard of their fairly injured and bruised extremities – Long forgotten people who have probably known better about the symbolism of this all, compared to the thousands of onlookers around me trying to snatch photos, rather than ghosts.
Originally, the Qiang Gu ceremony was organized to fetch all the straying ’good brothers and sisters’ which after all the Pudu feasts were still on the loose. Many feared, that the ghosts may have enjoyed the love bombing in the previous days a bit too much, and would therefore rather stick around here to trouble the living than meandering back to the inferno. Well, who can blame them? It’s like you’d be showing your kid a lolly, and then taking it away again. I’d be outraged too! The saga then indicates, that thanks to the very moment when the first contestant reaches the top of the bamboo trestles, the crowd breaks into cheers and screams, and together with the chanting of Taoist priests and loud drums, the ghosts would be scared to death and vanish. Time claimed the authenticity and replaced it with a modified version. Now, safety nets and safety ropes are in place, moreover, are cranes at the ready to pluck the exhausted from the poles. Everything from snack stalls, sacrificial pigs with pineapples in their snouts, the offering tables, the truckload of hell money, even the Taoist priests, thus basically the whole event, seems to be backed by generous commercial banks, car dealers and electronic companies. Some decades ago, these corporates wouldn’t have wanted their logos associated with one of Taiwan’s messiest rites. Eventually, features in travel magazines or TV channels, and increasing tourism helped to reshape the original meaning to a commercialized competition where even Australians or Indonesians may want to participate. Oh, they actually did participate.