Sat, Apr 03, 2010 - Page 11 News List

Gifts for ghosts changing from cash to flash goods


It seems that fake paper money is no longer good enough for the dead of Taiwan, where relatives traditionally burn make-believe cash to help ease the passage of their deceased loved ones through the byways of the netherworld.

Instead, many people now opt to provide ancestral ghosts with more elaborate paper gifts — models of everything from Ferraris to iPhones and even villas.

Many Taiwanese believe that burning a paper model makes a version of the item available to the dead in the spirit world. For centuries, fake money was the primary gift for the dead. The first week after someone died was reserved for burning thick wads of yellow-colored paper cash.

Recently, Taiwanese have increasingly turned to sophisticated paper models. They reflect a new desire to ensure that the dearly departed take with them what they need, rather than what may be useless wads of bills in a place where buying opportunities have never been convincingly documented.

Taiwanese firms making the new-style paper gifts report booming business ahead of Monday’s Tomb-Sweeping Day, when millions of people across Asia pay respects to their ancestors and dead relatives.

The Sky-Home Shop (天國之屋) — one of several shops advertised on the Internet — looks like an up-market salon for billionaires, but its prices are within reach of many ordinary Taiwanese.

Pet houses, slot-machines, racing cars, villas and even private jets go for anywhere between NT$4,000 (US$125) and NT$25,000.

“Everything is handmade,” said Sky Home owner Huang Chih-kuo (黃志國).

“A car has a steering-wheel and seats that may be made of paper but actually look like genuine leather,” Huang said.

He said he takes special orders, including those for guns to allow weapons collectors or gangsters to continue their lifestyle as ghosts.

SKEA (天堂配件公司), another firm in the paper-gifts-for-the-dead business, got its start in 2007 after the widow of a sumo wrestling fan requested a paper sumo platform for her dead husband.

“We saw how the gift brought a smile to the aging widow who had been crying her heart out,” SKEA manager Frank Han said.

SKEA has begun making an S model of the iPhone, complete with USB charger. Han said the company also is marketing an elaborate paper communications center that is supposed to ensure that iPhone calls can make their way between the dead and living.

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