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As I waited at the bus stop I was approached by (another) granny. She was very keen to know if Prince George was named after his great grandfather (probably), whether we thought Princess Kate beautiful (well, I do like her hair) and whether Prince Harry could be the love child of James Hewitt (hope not, for his sake). Then a man came out of the café behind us and started to make an altar with fruit and vegetables and lit some joss sticks. He then got some fake paper money and made a home-made brazier – all on the pavement and started to burn it.
I noticed up and down the street more people were doing the same.

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My granny told me that it is Ghost Month. August is not a lucky month. In fact she said, the gates of hell are open and everyone is coming up top to see what’s going on – to see whether there are souls to steal. The altars are to ensure that your ancestors upstairs aren’t part of this ghostly party from downstairs. You offer your deceased family members food and money that can be used in their afterlife. Then on the 15th of the month there is the Festival of the Hungry Ghost – To appease those ghosts who have no families to make offerings to them, a feast is offered with empty chairs for the ghosts.

As we walked home from school there were piles of burning papers up and down the Joo Chiat Road and the smell of incense everywhere. Kids were intrigued, Millie said it was a lot like Halloween. Indeed (but without all the sweets and kiddie hysteria).

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Today’s granny is Chinese but was born in Vietnam. After the Vietnam War she was evacuated but her family were split up – most went to the US, she went to Australia. Despite being incredibly well travelled she said she is still, even now, terrified to go back to Vietnam. Her English is still patchy yet none of her kids speak Chinese. Her eldest son lives in Singapore and she visits twice a year and her other son plays the violin in the Australian Philharmonic Orchestra. She was a delight and it was a privilege to sit on the bus with her.

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