Even the dead can't avoid the financial crisis

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 April, 2009, 12:00am

It seems that it is impossible to escape the economic meltdown even in death - people are buying paper offerings in smaller denominations for the Ching Ming festival this year.

Twenty-dollar notes, issued by 'Hell Bank Corporation', could be found at various shops yesterday. They were placed next to $10 billion notes - in underworld values - which have been much more common in recent years.

'It's the financial crisis. Even those in the underworld are saving up,' joked Mrs Lee, of paper offering shop Ta Kon Hou in Sai Wan Ho.

The $20 notes are not new, but more of them are showing up in shops as an alternative for customers.

Another difference this year is that more youngsters are visiting the shops. Mrs Lee's husband, Lee Ta-kon, said: 'There used to be more elderly customers, but nowadays I see more young people coming.'

People traditionally burn paper offerings and worship their ancestors during the grave sweeping festival. Mr Lee suggested that more young people were buying offerings this year in the hope they could be blessed by their ancestors when it came to finding a job.

'Traditionally, if people are happy when they worship their ancestors, they will have a better year,' Mr Lee said.

That was why people were spending as much as in previous years on offerings, despite the economic downturn.

One of his new paper products, an assorted package of roasted goose, pig and steamed chicken, costing about HK$30, was nearly sold out.

Other new goods include a 30cm-high miniature massage chair and steamed glutinous rice desserts - all paper art.

Customers could also order personalised handmade products, said Mr Lee, who showed a pair of metre-long gold ingots for HK$160.

Mrs Lee said people preferred paper offerings to real food, as they did not want to eat offerings that had got dusty.

A bustling scene could be seen at various paper offering shops in Sai Wan Ho wet market, with people choosing their paper notes, clothes and accessories to honour their ancestors on the day before the festival.

As the yuan had appreciated over the past 12 months, the paper products - all from the mainland - cost 10 per cent more than last year, said Ah Mei, who works at one of the shops.

Business before the traditional festival was as hectic as in any other year, she said, but trade had dropped by 10 to 20 per cent on normal days.