Hungry Ghost Festival auctioneer sees lull period
Boisterous and loud, the traditional Hungry Ghost festivities used to kick off with a banquet dinner, followed by auctions and stage performances in the heartland.
Committees hold auction dinners to sell auspicious items, which include the “huat chye lor” (prosperity urn) and “or kim” (black gold), a decorated piece of charcoal. The money raised is used to pay for the dinners and getai shows.
To work the crowds are auctioneers like Mr Lim Ming Kian, who said the seventh lunar month used to be his busiest time of the year.
But since the pandemic hit last year, Mr Lim, 38, has seen a lull period.
Last week, multi-ministry task force co-chair Ong Ye Kung said Hungry Ghost Festival gatherings can proceed if they do not include dinner arrangements, and abide by safe management measures.
Mr Ong said: “Participants can be seated mask-on and participate in auction activities. Of course, the auctioneer will have to be tested and vaccinated to make sure he is safe.”
Mr Lim used to conduct up to 25 auctions during the month-long festival. Each session would earn him between $500 and $800. His last auction was in February last year.
Luckily for Mr Lim, his job as a private-hire driver allows him to support his family and two young sons, aged four and seven.
Mr Lim began conducting auctions in 2013 when he was 30 years old. He is still one of the youngest getai auctioneers in Singapore.
He said: “A lot of young people do not understand what we do and think it is just an old religious ritual. But more and more (temples and organisers) are also giving back to the community through charitable acts with the money raised.”
Getai auction is the predominant method for temples and organising committees for Hungry Ghost Festival celebrations to raise funds for the following year’s operations.
“People are not just bidding for the item itself, they’re paying for the culture and the goodwill behind it that brings good luck,” Mr Lim said.
He explained it is difficult for auctions to pivot online, as the lack of a celebratory atmosphere and the differentiated bidder profiles make it hard for auctioneers to sell items.
“We also have to be careful of fake profiles online, who may not pay the amount after bidding for an item.”