I’d say that some of our traditions are somewhat odd to those that are not familiar with our culture. One that stood out to many of my American friends was Tum Boun (merit making), especially if we were doing it to send material items to our passed loved one. Since I’m part Chinese, my third sister wanted to do the Boun 100 Vanh differently, I guess to make sure that my mom would get whatever items we’re sending her.
My third sister told me about ‘Hell Money’ or Hell Bank Notes, and also paper items that Chinese people would burn as a way to deliver these items to the spiritual world. I’ve heard of the concept but never paid much attention to it, mainly because I never have the need to send items to the spiritual world, until recently, but we ended up doing it the Laotian traditional way. I was curious as to what my third sister was talking about, and I vaguely remember that one of my Chinese friends did the same ceremony when her grandmother passed away, but it has been over 15 years ago.
I came across a website that talks about ‘Hell Money’ or Hell Bank Note, the author gave interesting insight as to how the term came about.
The word Hell was introduced to China, my friend’s parents told me, by Christian missionaries who claimed that non-converted Chinese folks were all “going to Hell” when they died — and the Chinese, thinking “Hell” was the proper English term for the afterlife, adopted the word. Thus, Hell Bank Notes are simply Afterlife Monetary Offerings or Spirit Money.
As they explained it to me, when people die, their spirits or ghosts go to an afterlife where they continue to live on, doing the same sort of things we did while alive, eating, drinking, wearing clothes, playing with their children, and so forth. In order to ensure that they have lots of good things in the afterlife, their relatives send them presents, and one of the best things to send them is Hell Bank Notes — money to spend in the afterworld.
In addition to Hell Bank Notes, some Chinese grocery stores also sell elaborately-made and multi-coloured paper watches, clothes, cars, Hell Credit Cards, and even refrigerators for the purpose of burning in the belief that doing so sends their essence to the afterlife world, where the recipient will be glad to receive such material goods. Read the rest of the article here.
After reading the explanation, I can understand where my third sister is coming from, her husband is Chinese, therefore has a lot of influence on her. The Lao/Thai also believe in sending things to our passed loved one, but the method of sending is different. We’d mainly Tum Boun (sending items) at the temple, in which the monks would perform a ceremony and the items that we’d bring/send are everyday necessity items that can be used by the monks at the temple, such as bag of rice, tissues, toiletries, dried foods, waters, books, pens & pencils, bath towels, yellow sweaters (for the monks to wear inside their ropes during the winter time), coffee & tea; this type of Tum Boun is called Sungka Tarn. For some, they’d try to send items that couldn’t be used by monk, such as jewelry, female clothing, make up, and after the monks perform a ceremony of sending the items, then they’d do another ceremony called Bung Sa Khoun in which you’d then give a sum of donation to get these items back (sort of buying it back), no use of leaving them at the temple.
The world is evolving and many cultures believe that there is life after death, and that’s why the Lao/Thai, and other cultures Tum Boun (merit making) to make sure that they’d have everything in their next life, and hoping it’d be better than this lifetime; wishful thinking I’d say. How true about next life or afterlife, we don’t know if it exists, but most of us have faith that it does, so people would try to come up with different ways to send things to their passed loved one, such as Hell Money, which the Lao/Thai people called Gong Tak, which I assume that it’s a Chinese terminology.
With so much demand, this creates an industry of these items called Kra Dard Gong Tak (paper items to send to the spiritual world) These paper items mimic our everyday gadgets that we are using, such as purse, cell phone, lap top, car, boat, jewelry, and my third sister even mentioned about human doll, sending as maid, miniature mansion made out of wood or paper, and anything that they could possibly think of, they’d send to make sure that their passed loved ones have everything that they need in the spiritual world, a way to send these is to burn the items.
I think it’s a very odd concept, still keeping up with the Jones, even in the spiritual world and mainly the one that is keeping up is the living, but if it’d give the sender some comfort, then I guess there’s nothing wrong of doing it this way.
I personally would still Tum Boun (merit making) the Laotian traditional way, by donating usable items to the monks at the temple, I honestly don’t know if it’d get to my mom, but at least I know it’ll be used.