On the trail of hotel spooks

Seasoned travellers share a tale or two about things that go bump in the night.

MELISSA Wong sank into her bed at a five-star hotel in Kensington, London. It was winter and darkness fell early. The 28-year-old air stewardess with a Middle Eastern airline was exhausted from a 12-hour flight. Sleep overcame her with ease.

Some time in the night, a gentle triing triing of the phone being dialled woke her up. It was the 1990s and the phones were still old-fashioned ones with round dials. Wong groggily picked up the handset. There was only a dial tone. She went back to sleep.

But there came the sound again. Wong opened her eyes sleepily. Panic seized her. For a dark figure was standing silently by the window. A crack of light through the curtains revealed that he was clutching a knife.

Wong leapt out of bed. She banged frantically at a colleague’s door and fell into the room hysterically. Both women made their way to the leading stewardess’ room, where the terrified pair stayed till dawn before heading downstairs.

“The duty manager just dismissed the incident,” recalls Wong.

“Later, a young receptionist told us that a man had committed suicide in the hotel years ago. I wasn’t harmed but that was the last thing you’d want to see in your room in the middle of the night!”

Uninvited guests

While hotels commonly deny the presence of paranormal patrons, spooky sightings and unexplainable encounters are rife among frequent travellers.

An entire airline crew at one of Tokyo Narita Airport’s hotels last year was kept awake by what they described as a banshee wailing over the air-conditioner ducts.

“It didn’t surprise us because our rooms were located in the vicinity of a room that had been left with its door opened and a red tape strung across it,” recalls one of the crew members.

Insurance agent Mary-Jo Thomas, 38, felt an eerie sensation upon stepping inside her room at a popular Taipei hotel.

“I can’t explain it, but I just felt a chill,” Mary recalls.

“We’d just come in from a long-haul flight and we were beat. The room was oddly angled. The small window partially faced a courtyard wall so little sunlight penetrated the room. It felt cold and musty. I was tired so I ignored my instincts. Plus my luggage had been sent up.”

Mary slept till 5pm and went out for dinner. She returned at 9pm and watched television. As she leaned back on her pillow against the headrest of the bed, she felt a presence doing likewise by her side. The pillow next to her was conspicuously sunken in.

Mary started breathing fast. But she refused to budge.

“I’d heard that restless spirits visit when we’re drained physically, emotionally or spiritually. Whatever it was, I refused to give in or they’d probably visit me more often! Plus, it didn’t feel sinister. I started swearing as I heard that spirits are turned off by bad language. After 20 minutes, I saw the pillow puffing up again as if the weight that was on it had been lifted.”

Paranormal activities sometimes manifest physically.

Fashion buyer Syarina Yusof, 25, took a nap before dinner after checking in at the same Taipei hotel. She woke up to find her cosmetics scattered all over the dressing table and floor. Perplexed, Syarina recalled a colleague who’d spoken of Taipei’s constant earthquake tremors, and assumed it must have happened while she was asleep.

After dinner, Syarina returned to her room and called it a day. But the stillness of the night was punctuated by a distinctive click of a lipstick tube opening in the dark.

She quickly flicked on the lights. Again, her make-up and skincare were scattered all over the dressing table when she’d earlier lined them up neatly for her morning routine. And she had not felt any tremor. The next morning, a fellow guest said he’d seen a little girl sitting alone in the lobby at midnight, which he’d found odd, as nobody else had seen her.

Syarina’s encounter wasn’t an isolated incident as frequent travellers have related numerous experiences in the same hotel, leading to rumours of the site being a former burial ground. With stories of haunted hotels so rife, it can be difficult to sift fact from fiction, reality from imagination, or urban legends from truth.

Former air stewardess Yvonne Lee, who related her hilarious experiences in her book The Sky Is Crazy! recalls: “I was watching television at an old hotel in Sydney when I heard the kettle gurgling. The mirror behind the mini-bar was fogging up with vapour. I started praying! Now I rationalise that perhaps the kettle was on auto-timer.”

But Lee could not explain the incident at the infamous Taipei hotel.

“The dimly lit rooms are creepy with lots of dark mahogany wood,” she recalls. “In the morning I was wakened by a colleague. She was concerned why my door had been left open. I remember locking it! But my experience wasn’t as bad as a colleague’s; she went to bed and woke up on the floor by the door at an Ipoh hotel. And no, she hadn’t been drinking!”

Lee laughs, adding: “All of us have heard so much about ghosts in hotels that we subconsciously anticipate an encounter at some point. Sometimes I think it could be jet lag, exhaustion, poor lighting or just bad hotel design that made us ‘see’ things.

“For example, I was at a Narita Airport hotel in Tokyo that had long stretches of dark corridors. I was walking alone to my room at an isolated annexed building in the middle of the night. A loud ‘crashing’ sound made me jump. When I calmed down, I realised it was just the ice-making machine!

“Another time, I woke up to a shrill sound in the night. I was terrified. Then I realised it was coming from the air-conditioning vent. The fan or some wires were loose inside.”

Laura Pennace, lead investigator for the New York Paranormal Society, explains in an e-mail interview, that over a century ago, wealthy families in the West commonly leave the cities where they lived and worked, to holiday at hotels for the summer.

“Many families would return to the same hotels year after year, and develop an attachment to the area. Some hotels are haunted because although departed guests do return to their own homes, some spirits linger where they were the happiest,” she says.

Tom Cooney from the Foundation for the Study of Paranormal Phenomena, adds that the existence of ghosts cannot be proven from a purely scientific point of view.

“In order to prove anything scientifically, it must be studied in a controlled setting and should be possible to be duplicated at will. This cannot happen since spirits will not allow themselves to be studied in a lab. Still, there are mountains of evidence that point to the probability of ghosts existing. There are simply too many examples to ignore. Ask anyone who has seen one,” he says on his website.

Sightings on our shores

Shanthini R. was on the graveyard shift at a luxury resort in Langkawi last November when she caught sight of a “white misty figure” floating past the reception.

“I was frozen to the spot and my blood ran cold. At that moment I knew what that phrase meant,” she recalls. “I knew what I saw. But I couldn’t reason what it was.

“Several colleagues have seen the same thing. Another time we got calls from the spa in the early morning although the building was locked up. When we picked up the phone, all we heard was a humming tone. But the truth is all hotels and resorts have ghostly beings. It’s common knowledge within the industry. After all, we never know what the land was or who inhabited it before it was developed. A resort spreads over acres of land and we know that spirits dwell in trees, rocks, streams, even on the land. Why should we expect them to leave just because a hotel was built?

“Guests are never informed whenever we call in a trusted bomoh to appease these patrons. They are dressed like anyone else, except that they are here to quietly conduct their rituals.”

Joyce Lee, another hotel employee, recalls an incident at another beach resort in Langkawi.

A teenager was taking a bath in the outdoor shower of her seaside villa while her parents were watching television in the living room. Suddenly the girl’s screams rang through the villa, sending her parents sprinting to the outdoor shower, which was a small, walled-in garden extending from the bathroom.

“She was still hysterical when security arrived, but managed to report what appeared to be a man standing by the wall staring at her while she was showering,” says Lee.

“We didn’t know how to assure her. The walls are 8ft (2.4m) high without ledges or niches. There was no way anyone could have climbed over it. But that means it was a different kind of visitor, which was worse! Security found no footprints on the sand around the wall or any sign of human disturbance. We upgraded the family to a bigger villa but the girl freaked out upon seeing the outdoor shower. So we put them in a standard room on the second floor of the main building.”

Thomas Lian, a seasoned air steward, recalls: “I was checking out at a hotel in Johor Baru one morning when another stewardess queued behind me. She was pale and uncharacteristically quiet. She related that she hadn’t slept all night. She was watching television when from the corner of her eye, she saw a vague white mist gliding from her bathroom into the closet.

“Moments later, her closet began rattling. She was too scared to go outside as it meant having to pass the closet.”

The story didn’t end there.

After the crew checked into their Penang hotel, the phone interrupted Lian’s sleep.

“It was the same colleague,” he says. “She was screaming, ‘come to my room, come now!’ My legs were trembling as I hurried to her room. When she opened the door, she was distraught and crying. All she kept repeating was, ‘she is here’.

“I didn’t dare to enter her room so I coaxed her out to the corridor. We ran to my room and I called our captain. He is a devout Muslim known for strictly adhering to his prayer times. He came immediately and started quietly reciting prayers. Then he looked up and calmly said: Dia dekat pintu (She/he is by the door).

“I went, Oh my God! This is terrible; there was no way I was going to sleep in my room now. Our captain arranged for my colleague to be sent home as she was quite shaken. I stayed at another colleague’s room. That incident six years ago changed my travel pattern. Previously I slept in total darkness. Now, I must have two lights and the television on.”

In the 1980s, at a Terengganu beach resort, Shaheen Burhanuddin, a retired sales trainer, recalls being awakened in the night by something biting her legs. She flung back the duvet. To her horror she found herself staring into a pair of gleaming bloodshot eyes belonging to a small “gremlin-like creature”.

“It was about five to six inches (12.7-15.2cm) tall. I kicked at it and it scurried off from my room, shrieking. My Malay colleagues explained that it was a toyol, a goblin-like creature that performed secretive tasks for its owner. The locals said they were common throughout the island.”

“I think I would prefer to have met a ghost.”

The names of the airline crew and sales personnel have been changed.

Do you have a personal, unexplained bizarre experience in a hotel? Tell us about it! E-mail startwo@thestar.com.my.

Related Stories: Nothing to fear It happened in a hotel

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