Thursday, August 11, 2011

East vs West: The Hungry Ghost Month Part I

It is the inauspicious 7th month in the Chinese lunar calendar and every time this month rolls around, I think of John. Not because he's unlucky, no. John was my ex-marketing director and the 7th month was the first in many confusing cultural lessons for him.

The following is an actual conversation during the monthly sales and marketing meeting in one of my ex-companies. The marketing team is explaining to John the reason for sluggish sales in the past month. John was a first-timer to Asia and had just been transferred here from HQ in New York.

John: So why were the numbers low even though we had this event? I thought with spending on the event, we should be generating really big sales.
Marketing team: John, I think one of the reasons is that it was the Chinese 7th month.
John: What? 7th month?
Marketing team: (extremely enthusiastically, you know.. that enthusiastic tone we locals adopt when we realise we have a chance to teach confused gwailos a little something about our culture?) Oh John! It's the 7th month! It's the Hungry Ghost month! It's when the gates of hell open up and all the ghosts come wandering out on earth for a month! Chinese people tend to stay at home at night to avoid them!

There was complete silence after the Marketing team's explanation... which was incidentally extremely logical to all the locals present as we all knew some Chinese still avoid coming out at night during that month. If they don't come out, they don't buy stuff. If they don't buy stuff, we don't get good sales numbers. And everyone in Malaysia knows people come out at night/weekends to buy stuff because during the day, we're busy at work and busy being stuck in horrible traffic jams.

I was not in the meeting but I imagine John's expression must have been a WTF??? expression of the highest order. I'm sure he's wondering how to write a report back to New York on how sales are not picking up because of hungry ghosts.


  1. You know what? With the vampire culture now hot on telly, perhaps its not that hard to explain to NY ;) "Oh you know like Eric the Vampire? Yeah, the Asians have their version, only scarier because they are actually hungry for a whole MONTH!"

  2. As far as I know, my ex-company is still holding that event during the Seventh Month. Who knows... maybe now they brief the prospective marketing directors about Hungry Ghost month effect on sales before shipping them out to Malaysia, hehe.