MANILA - The world has never been the same after Sept. 11, 2001 - the day when a series of synchronized terrorist attacks aimed at America's famous landmarks claimed the lives of 2,966 people.
Then again, on Aug. 23, 2010, the world witnessed the siege on a hijacked bus in Manila, filled with Hong Kong tourists who were taken hostage by a former policeman.
Three years ago, on Aug. 18, the aircraft carrying Philipppine Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo crashed in the sea of Masbate in Southern Luzon.
These tragedies, although extreme cases, coincided with Ghost Month, says feng shui expert Johnson Michael Chua. Ghost Month is believed to be an unfavorable time in the Chinese lunar calendar.
Ghosts - souls who are restless because they can't find a body for their rebirth - are said to emerge from the underworld.
Their agitation produces bad omens for people who encounter them.
To appease these spirits, people must offer food and entertainment.
Ghost Month is the seventh month of the lunar calendar, based on the moon's cycles. A moveable date, it runs this year from Aug. 14 to Sept. 12.
A highlight is Ghost Day, which falls on the 15th day of the seventh month - Aug. 28 this year.
Its origins draw references from the Buddhist scripture, Ullambana Sutra, based on the teachings of Gautama Buddha to the monk Maudgalyayana.
Buddha told his follower that his mother could be liberated from her punishment of being sent to the realm of the hungry ghosts.
Buddha instructed him to offer his mother's ghost with food blessed with Buddha's mantras. The offered food would satisfy her hunger.
Maudgalyayana was also advised to offer food to the religious community on the 15th day of the seventh month. The practice would finally allow his mother's spirit to experience rebirth to a noble family.
Hence, Taoists and Buddhists carry out such rites on this day to free the dead from their anguish.
Business transactions, marriages, moving house and other important events are taboo this month. It is believed that the ghosts would create obstacles.
"During a contract signing, the ghosts might hover and can interfere. It doesn't necessarily translate to 100 per cent bad luck though," says Chua.
He cites instances when businesses and relationships didn't work at this time.
Once, a new milk tea shop opened in Binondo, an old town in Manila, on Ghost Day.
"We thought the owner was brave. The business was doing well in the first three months, but for some reason, it closed shop in less than a year," Chua notes.
A client moved house on Aug. 8, 2008, believed to be lucky since it fell on the eighth day of the eighth month in the Western calendar. Friends surmised that the eights in the date meant good luck.
On the contrary, when he moved during Ghost Month, he lost his job and his fiancee dumped him.
Despite sceptical partners, a businessman opened a real estate brokerage firm in Ghost Month.
The people in the office reported an eerie presence and other mysterious occurrences, such as a sudden gust of cold air in a totally enclosed area. The businessmen and his partners eventually had a falling out.
Inquirer Lifestyle asked Filipino-Chinese friends in the fashion industry if they believed in Ghost Month.
Anthony Nocom, SM menswear designer of his eponymous label, has an altar in his home dedicated to the gods. It has been a family tradition to offer food and fruits and burn joss sticks on the first day of Ghost Month in the Chinese calendar.
"I grew up honoring the tradition, remembering the dos and don'ts during this period. One has to take caution at this time," says Nocom.
Designer Peter Lim and his family avoid visiting hospitals, attending funerals, moving homes and undertaking major business transactions.
"The gates of hell are open so that the souls of the other world are free to roam in ours," says Lim.
"Our daily rituals during the Hungry Ghost Month include offering sacrifices so that the hungry ghosts won't harm us. We offer rice, meat and fruit. Some families eat vegetarian meals and set extra place settings for each deceased family member. Red candles, incense and paper money are burned on Aug. 28, when it is believed the hungry ghosts return to hell.
"Miniature paper items like cars, houses and clothes are also burned as the living want to ensure the deceased have all the material goods they need for the coming year."
Although knitwear designer Lulu Tan Gan isn't as superstitious, she still takes precautions. "I avoid construction and renovation during this period. It's like you've been warned, but you challenge it."
To neutralize the negative effects of Ghost Month, the Chinese also put up entertainment for ghost audiences, aside from food offerings.
"There are places where a performance is going on, but the chairs are empty. Ghosts are believed to be seated," says Chua. "The more we entertain and satisfy these spirits, the happier they become. If they are happy, good fortune will come. Once people make offerings, business will improve."
A popular resource person in media, Chua was exposed to feng shui by his father. He honed his craft by studying under such grandmasters as Lillian Too of Malaysia and Raymond Lo of Hong Kong. Chua holds consultations, life readings and date selections of auspicious days for special events, checks floor plans and assesses lots for good chi or energy.
During Ghost Month, he advises prevention such as carrying an amulet of Chung Kwei, the Taoist deity who is said to trounce bad omens. Black tourmaline, obsidian, tektite and jet stones supposedly filter negative energy.
"Ghost Month is nothing to be afraid of.
My last word is that negative thoughts or ill will invoke these vibrations," says Chua.
"These will go away when our energies are positive."
Meanwhile, astrologers such as Georgina Solina don't believe in a Ghost Month.
"We go by the transits or movement of the planets and how their energies affect us and the solar return (birthday horoscope for the year).
If there is a bad transit, it is an individual case," she says.
Still, Ghost Month coincides with Venus retrograde, which runs from July 25 to Sept. 6. A retrograde means that a planet is moving backwards on its axis around the sun.
The counter clockwise movement of the planet causes a weakening of the energy. This results in sudden upsets and delays.
If it falls on Venus, the ruling planet for professional and personal partnerships and money, expect obstacles, blockages, financial challenges and volatile interactions.
"It has the same effect as the Ghost Month," says Solina. "It's not a good time for marriage or starting any kind of relationship. However, the retrograde has a substantial meaning."
She explains: "The law of Venus is to prosper in business and in other relationships. But the energies don't seem to move because something needs to be examined.
It's a time to retreat and turn inward. We are being called upon to look into our spiritual values and realise why certain things happened.
Developments are being blocked at this time. When Venus moves forward after Sept. 6, doors will open."