Two foreign tourists hitchhiking across the country while seeking free accommodation spent the Ghost Festival on Friday night on a bench — in front of a funeral parlor in Hualien City.
During Ghost Festival, which falls on the 15th day of the seventh month in the lunar calendar, most households across the nation perform a ritual in which they offer food while often burning “ghost money” for the spirits of their deceased ancestors who had no offspring and who it is believed temporarily return to earth and wander the streets during Ghost Month.
In Hualien, at the city’s municipal funeral parlor, night watchman Chen Yi-tsung (陳義聰) had rolled down the parlor’s metal shutters before laying down for a good night’s sleep.
At 1am on Saturday, however, Chen was awoken by a repeated knocking on the door. Chen was suspicious of the timing and thought it could be “ghosts from the underworld” seeking to make contact with him. Chen then tiptoed from his bed and opened the roll-up doors.
Driven by curiosity, Chen stooped down to peek at the “suspicious visitors” and was startled to see a long-haired woman clad in black staring back at him from the street outside the parlor.
“I was not really all that terrified. Someone more timid in that situation would have been scared to death,” Chen said, recalling the incident.
The woman later identified herself in faltering Mandarin as a South Korean, and explained — using body language — the purpose of her nocturnal visit, which was to find a place to sleep on the rainy night.
“She wants to spend the night in here? Does she even know that the place is a funeral home? What kind of bastard would direct a foreigner here to stay the night?” Chen asked himself.
Only after a while did Chen discover that the woman had a companion — a Russian man — and learned that the pair were hitchhiking across the country while seeking free accommodation wherever they traveled.
The two said they had first traveled to Yangming Mountain in Taipei City after arriving at the city’s international airport and then hitchhiked their way to Hualien City.
However, by the time they arrived, it was already the middle of the night, they said, adding that they just went toward the first building with lights on to ask for a shelter for the night amid the heavy downpour.
Chen then used his hands to explain to the couple that “the place was for dead people who have gone to heaven, rather than for the living to sleep.”
Having nowhere else to go, the pair begged Chen to take them in.
However, given that the office where Chen slept was off-limits to non-employees, Chen guided the stranded tourists to the funeral parlor’s memorial service hall, where more than 10 dead bodies had been temporarily stored.
Undaunted, the weary couple combined a number of chairs to make a temporary bed and had a sound sleep.
The next morning, Chen prepared a traditional Taiwanese-style breakfast, including rice milk and fried bread sticks, to help the “courageous” tourists on their journey. The couple continued their cross-island voyage to Taitung County.