Wednesday, October 29, 2008

burning spirit money in my neighborhood

Yesterday I saw something strange when I was walking down our street, on my way to go teach at my school. There were these charcoal circles on the octagon sidewalk tiles, and little piles of burnt paper. I sort of pushed the image to the back of my mind, and then forgot about it until this afternoon.

In my World History class that I'm teaching to the Korean students we had a discussion last week about whether or not we should study the ancient China section in our book. Our textbook has a chapter on ancient China, but I skipped over the chapter earlier in the semester, figuring that my students must have learned about ancient China in their other literature and history courses, taught by their actual Chinese teachers. I found out from my students, however, that this was not the case. They really wanted to study more about Ancient China, so that's what we're doing. I actually took several courses in my honors program at Washington State University on ancient China. Still, it's bizarre to be an American teaching Korean students in a Chinese public High School about ancient China. "Unqualified" is the adjective that keeps running through my mind while I teach this unit. In any case, today my student "Abraham" asked me if I had seen the burnt circles on the sidewalks. I said that I had, and he explained to me that people are burning paper money for their ancestors to spend in the afterlife. We also talked about the practice in China of setting off fireworks to keep evil spirits and ghosts away. Abraham and my other Korean students explained to me that in China there are many traditions to scare away the ghosts, while in Korea, there are traditions to encourage the ghosts to visit. Abraham and my other students told me that in Korea the Korean people want the spirits and ghosts from the afterlife to visit them, because the spirits can teach them important things, or help them make decisions. About a half hour ago Erin and I were walking down our street after dinner and there was this amazing line of our neighbors burning little fires of paper money. We stopped and Erin asked a nice man from our neighborhood, in Chinese, about the practice, and he explained it to her. Once we were in our apartment I decided I really wanted to try and take a picture, but then when I got back out in the neighborhood I was nervous and didn't want to do anything inappropriate, or disrespectful. Some of our neighbors saw me and smiled and motioned that it was okay, but I still only took one picture. What an amazing evening.

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