‘Billionaire’ is one helluva collector

JOHOR BARU: Stationery shop owner Cheng Ah Meng is a “billionaire”.

The 64-year-old has collected “billions” in hell money for the past 30 years, a hobby considered taboo by many Chinese as it is thought to bring bad luck.

Cheng said his fascination with the paper money began when he found half a note in a pile meant to be burnt for his late father.

“I was given an earful by my mother when I told her I wanted to start collecting hell money as it was a taboo to keep such things.

“My friends and family criticised my hobby but I went on with it because I know that one day, all these traditional items will be gone,” he said at his shop in Taman Johor Jaya here yesterday.

The father of two said he enjoyed looking at the different types of hell money as they came in striking colours.

“They are a joy to look at. I usually buy one stack of hell notes and keep one piece for my collection. I often receive strange looks from shopkeepers when I tell them to help me burn the rest,” he said, adding that Qing Ming and the Hungry Ghost Month were the best time for him to scout for new hell money to add to his collection.

Hell money, printed to look like legal bank notes, is usually burned as offerings during these two festivals and at funerals.

Besides making trips to prayer paraphernalia shops in Batu Pahat, Kluang and even Singapore, Cheng sometimes takes pieces of hell money from the stack meant to be burned for his ancestors to add to his collection.

“I usually whisper a word of apology before taking the money,” he said.

Cheng said he presently had more than 500 types of notes in his collection, which he would display in photo albums for anyone who wished to look.

“It is a documentation of our tradition that I keep for the younger generation.

“Some people refuse to touch or even take a look at my collection as they are afraid of bad luck,” he said, adding that it was a cheap hobby as a stack of hell money only costs a few ringgit.

Asked if he believed that keeping these notes would bring him bad luck or misfortune, he said: “I do not believe in such superstition.”

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