Every year, in the seventh month of the lunar calendar, my mother finds an auspicious day to perform the rite of appeasing the dead. We do this at the company she built, bequeathing munificence to placate the hungry, angry, lost spirits roaming our yards, or those returning home to visit. In exchange, we ask for their blessings and pardons as they feast on our offerings.

Have you always done this? I ask.

No leh. We never had the practice, she says.

Then why did you start?

According to her, it started when an employee who had wanted to do a simple ceremony at the office brought back an incense holder. They placed the holder at an altar, lit the incense sticks, stuffed them into the holder, and the incense suddenly caught fire. Isn’t that normal? I ask. No, it went ablaze. There was something else in the holder, a small incense block, the kind that reveals four numbers when it burns away. And as the Chinese are wont to do when they see an extraordinary phenomenon, or a car crash, they bought a lottery ticket with that number.

Everyone who bought the number won. It had never happened before, and to my mother, it was a sign to begin paying her respects to the dead that month.

宁可信其有,不可信其无 - better to believe than not to. No harm what, if it’s just a little bit more effort, just do lor. Maybe if we help them, they’ll help us also. You never know when it comes to these things.

We both grew up surrounded by superstitions about the seventh lunar month—don’t step on the ashes of the offerings, don’t stay out past midnight, don’t swim at night, don’t kill insects, don’t take photos at night, don’t talk to yourself, don’t look back when you hear a voice calling you, don’t talk about ghosts because they like stories about themselves. Her mother passed these to her; she passed them on to me.

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