"There's forest fires in Sumatra", S. said with an airy wave of his hand. (He can still drink alcohol.)
The next day, back on the ground and on my way to pick up E., I noticed lots of people putting out ginormous quantities of food* and burning stuff in the street. Then I realized: it's the Hungry Ghost Festival. The Chinese believe, according to what I've picked up so far, that during the 7th month of the lunar calender (which would be now) the Gates of Hell are open and the souls of the dead roam the earth. Apparently, these ghosts are hungry and need to be appeased.
There are also puppet shows, operas and comedy performances put on for the ghosts to enjoy - living souls are allowed to watch as well, but the front row is reserved for the visiting souls. In temples and houses rituals are observed to honour ancestors and to absolve them of (possible) misdeeds so they might return to a higher realm instead of the lower one they came from originally.
It's generally thought not to be a great time for new beginnings, as the ghosts might interfere - they might move into your new house, or new office, and get so comfortable they won't leave again at the end of the month. Also, the ghosts don't appreciate their offerings to be taken or used by the living, which is fair.
But how to explain to E. that all the lovely red joss sticks stuck in the ground at random intervals, not to mention the cake and cookies lying around unsupervised are not meant for toddler entertainment?
*So, what do Singaporean ghosts like to eat? Everything and anything really, but they are apparently particularly fond of (according to my not very extensive survey i.e. what I saw en route to daycare): pineapples, Milo, soy sauce, oil, cake, oranges, cookies and milk.