What do you get someone who is…you know…dead?

joss paper for after life as ghost moneyRegretting all the things you didn’t say to a loved one while they were still alive is pretty normal, I guess. But have you ever regretted not getting grandpa that camera he had his eyes on while you still had the chance? Because when someone has passed that means you can’t give them presents, right? This may well be the case in Western culture. In Chinese culture however, death is by no means any excuse to stop spoiling the people you care about.

One of the most fascinating aspects about living in Hong Kong was experiencing a culture that is very different from the one I knew from home. The British influence from colonial times is obvious but by no means dominant; Hong Kong is first and foremost Chinese. Along with a culture come its own holidays and celebrations, and the Chinese have a set of festivals and rituals that was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Also death is treated quite differently in Chinese culture with rituals that in my Western eyes were almost morbid. In all fairness though keeping in mind our innate sensitivity towards anything that has to do with death, I guess that any deviation from what we are taught to think of as normal would be considered somehow morbid.

The Chinese did never strike me as religious. That however does by no means mean that they do not believe in spiritual concepts. Far from it! The afterlife, ghosts, numerology, feng shui and other things that modern science would label as superstition are extremely important in the lives of very many Hongkongers.

One of the most intriguing aspects of this mythology I found to be the importance of making offerings to ancestors and other spirits. One way of doing this is to put out food and drink on little altars on the streets along with burning incense. You see these tiny red altars with bowls of rice, fruit and glasses with water if you look down on almost any street in Hong Kong. Keeping the spirits happy is of utmost importance, because if they get upset they could cause you great misfortune.

The more materialistic way of pleasing the supernaturals of the neighbourhood is to give them presents. And I am not talking about just any presents. I am talking about the good stuff. Like iPhones, cameras, flat screen TVs, iPads, cars (with a caucasian private chauffeur, mind you!), designer shoes and everything else you would need to have a comfortable life. But how do you send a pair of Gucci loafers over to the other side? Easy! You take a paper replica of whatever you want to give, burn it and voilà! Grandma is now walking around in style in the afterlife making all of her ghost friends jealous. Well, I guess that’s the general idea.

CandlesRedMosaicFor those of us who are not particularly proficient in the art of creating paper replicas of things, luckily there are plenty of shops that sell nothing but gifts for the dead. Anything your heart or stomach can desire is available in paper: massage chairs, table fans, Chihuahua dogs, laptop computers, propane bottles, wok sets, soda cans, air-conditioners, houses and anything else you can think of. All scaled down to a practical size for convenience of course. And if the one you are buying a present to is one of those who has it all and is impossible to buy to? No worries! You can also buy stacks of ghost money and burn that instead. Cash is apparently king in the on the other side too.

What I found the most refreshing about this is that it challenged my own perceptions of what the world is supposed to look like. Up until the age of 28 I had lived my entire life living and breathing Western culture with very few real life impulses from other parts of the world. Therefore seeing that other people other places had different ways to organize life really taught me that the world  is never black and white. Different is not necessarily more right or wrong. Sometimes it is actually just different. Nothing more, nothing less.

Although the culture shock of moving to Asia was very real, I learnt that keeping an open mind and maybe more importantly a sense of humour took me a very long way. This may sound like a cliché but you never learn more about your own culture than when you are away from it and notice the heaps of cultural programming that you never thought you had whilst at home.

Livingly Yours,

Kristian

The beauty premium

Beautiful girl with clean fresh skinBeauty is in the eye of the beholder is a pretty worn out phrase we have all heard countless times. But is it? Is beauty really subjective? Or is this just mumbo jumbo to make lesser looking people feel better? According to a lot of studies, this may actually be the case. During my last year of university I wrote a paper on if good-looking people were better negotiators, and consequently plowed through a lot of research on the field.

Although it is nice to think that someone considered ugly by one person may be found beautiful by another, this is may not be how the world works. At least not objectively. If you ask people from all over the world to arrange ten portraits of random people in order from ugly to beautiful, they are likely to make similar judgements. This means that if people think that your sister is more beautiful than you in Alaska, she probably will be considered more beautiful than you in Thailand too.

I can only speak for myself, but I quite like being surrounded by beautiful things. By things I also mean people. Shallow I know. But I do. By saying that, I don’t dislike being around not so beautiful people either. But beautiful people add an extra visual bonus to any setting. And I am convinced this attitude is far more common than most people care to admit.

What may come as a surprise to many is that persons endowed with an attractive exterior also make more money than the rest. Yup, that’s right. Physical beauty affects wages. At least statistically. Economists talk of a beauty premium, and this premium may in fact be twice as big as the corresponding, what should I call it, ugly penalty. In other words employers are willing to pay more to hire an attractive person than someone average looking or less. How unfair the world is. I can however see some rationale in this, if the worker will be face-to-face with customers and clients. People are actually easier persuaded by good-looking people. This was once tested on a campus in the US where both handsome and not so handsome campaigners were trying to have people sign their petition against meat in the cantine. Not surprisingly the good-looking ones were far more successful at convincing people, regardless of gender (I only hope the campaigners were not informed of which category they were in). Also, anyone who has ever worked in a bar has probably noticed how attractive bartenders often sell more and get more tips than the ones looking average. Because who doesn’t want to be served by someone dreamy looking if we have the choice? That’s only human, right?

Another finding is that good-looking people often communiate more efficiently than the rest. A possible explanation here is that beautiful people have received more attention from relatives, teachers, peers and others even from childhood. Being popular in their early years may therefore have made them more skilled in interacting with others, simply because they have had more opportunities to practice with more friends and attention. I remember speaking to a mom once who totally aware of this made a point of dressing her daughters in fancy clothes so that they would get more attention in kindergarten.

Ok, as I am writing this now I feel that this is enough. Because my point with this post is not to make beautiful people feel even better about themselves and leave everyone else feeling down. There is of course more to a person than his or her exterior. Another well-known phrase is that A beautiful exterior catches my attention while a beautiful interior keeps it. Because I really don’t care how beautiful someone is, if their attitude stinks, they can really piss off.

Beauty is not only what you have been given from nature; There are countless things each and everyone can do to up their market value, so to speak. Clothes, hair, teeth, make-up for the ladies, physical fitness, personal hygiene and more can be just as essential as genes. And my point is that I think many can benefit from caring a bit more about how they present themselves to their surroundings. Not only on a personal level, but also in their careers and elsewhere in life. Because the one losing out if you don’t is probably mainly yourself.

Since dashing out beauty tips is not really my thing, I will only give this one: You are always dressed with a smile. Even if your smile is not taken from a Colgate commercial.

Well folks, this has been an edtion of superficial Kristian. Next time I am going to write about war and peace and politics and stuff. You know smart thingys. Kinda. I think.

Beautifully Yours,

Kristian