In the lunar calendar, the seventh month (Aug 1-29 this year) is often known as the Hungry Ghost Month.
During this time, some Chinese people are extra careful to avoid engaging in "dangerous" activities, such as staying out too late or going to "watery" places, such as lakes and waterfalls.
To protect themselves, some families appease wandering spirits by conducting roadside prayers at night and presenting food offerings to them.
At this time of the year, too, ghost stories abound.
The forbidden room
Fifteen years ago, Mark Kwan (not his real name) went back to his hometown for a vacation.
His aunt decided to drop by the family’s rented home.
The property in George Town, Penang, was used as a house, a shop and a storeroom by four generations of his family. Eventually, it was abandoned as it was dilapidated.
Kwan, an events manager in his 40s, said: “My mother told me that there was a room which was kept locked up and even had a grill to prevent people from going in. It was my late great-grandmother’s room. But there was something in the room, even before my great-grandmother’s time. One could hear noises of things being dragged around the room.
“I have been to the house a few times. Once, the ceiling board fell on me.”
But nothing could prepare him for the day when he bolted out of the room.
He said: “We were visiting the old house which was eventually used as a storeroom. My aunt sent me to that dark room, lit only by a light bulb, to retrieve some old coins from a dresser.
"When I opened the drawer, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I immediately looked into the dresser mirror but saw nothing. I thought what I felt was a figment of my imagination.”
As he continued searching for the coins, he felt another tap on his shoulder. He turned around and, from the corner of his eye, he saw a hand. He quickly emptied out the contents of the drawer into a plastic bag.
As he got ready to leave the room, he felt the third tap – and fled for dear life!
Kwan said: "My aunt was aware of the ghost in the room so my mum was astounded that she didn't tell me about it but had sent me into the room.
"I wasn't actually scared but just had a feeling that I needed to leave quickly. Thankfully, I still had the sense to take everything before leaving. I got a treasure trove of coins and trinkets from that visit!"
The faceless ghost
Eleven years ago, accountant Matthew Chen (not his real name) went on a tour with his girlfriend, now wife, to Vietnam. They had booked a room in a budget hotel in Ho Chi Minh City.
Nothing creepy happened when they checked in. They stayed the night before travelling to Hanoi for a few days.
"On the return trip, we had the misfortune of staying in a haunted room,” said Chen, 44.
"The room looked ordinary. There were two beds. Next to the door, there was a small round coffee table with two chairs. Facing the main door was the toilet and the windows where you could see the neon signs outside."
Usually, Chen would leave the toilet light on at night. But this time, he did not, as the room was bright enough with the neon lights outside.
That night, he slept on the bed further away from the main door and closer to the windows, while his girlfriend occupied the other bed.
"I placed my spectacles on the bedside table and went to sleep.
"Later that night, I felt something pulling at me. I struggled hard to wake up but I could not open my eyes or move,” he recounted.
“I felt a ghost pressing down on me. I began to scold, curse, swear, and invoke the names of God and Buddha. Finally, I manage to wake up,” he said.
“I felt cold, and my hairs were standing on ends. My sixth sense felt a presence in the room.”
Chen could just make out “something” seated on the chair closest to the main door.
“It was a woman in a light green Vietnamese traditional dress (ao dai). She had long black hair and sat facing my direction. Without my spectacles, I was unsure if she was looking at me or out the window. The woman had no face!”
Chen kept staring at her while using his right hand to search for his spectacles.
“When I couldn’t find it, I turned around to look for it. When I put my spectacles on and turned to look at the chair, the woman had vanished.”
Somewhat dazed, he wondered if it was just a dream.
He said: “I thought of waking my girlfriend up but she was asleep.”
Chen then got up and switched on the toilet light and the television.
“Then my girlfriend woke up and told me she had had a nightmare."
Fortunately, it was their last night in the city before the tour group flew out the next morning.
At the airport, he told the tour guide his room was haunted. Another traveller in the group concurred as she had stayed in the same room on the first day the group was in Vietnam but had not dared to bring it up.
"I admonished her for not telling the tour guide so that none of us in the group would get that room on the return journey," he said.
Well, the creepy encounter did not just end there. The following day, Chen had a fever which lasted a few days.
After he recovered, his uncle brought him to see a medium. He was advised to do a cleansing ritual.
He said: “The medium gave me some yellow papers to burn at home. I had to walk all around the smoke, then go to the nearest crossroads near my house to burn another pile of yellow papers and walk encircling the smoke.
His uncle also bought him a Tibetan dzi bead for him for protection. He brings it along with him whenever he travels.
She wanted a ride
The incident that occurred 33 years ago is still vivid in his mind. It was around 5am when charcoal supplier Choo Long Meng, then 28, met a ghost.
Very early that morning, he had left his Desa Aman flat in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, to meet up with his parents in Pudu for Qingming (Chinese All Souls Day) prayers.
Soon after he had left the car park and made a U-turn, he could see that the road was clear. Then suddenly, after 50m, a woman appeared in front of him and gestured to him to stop.
“I wound down my window. The woman asked in Cantonese, ‘Where are you going?’ She wanted to go to Taman Connaught in Cheras but I told her that I was not heading there,” he recounted. She shook her head and moved away.
The woman seemed normal. But what freaked him out was that she had long hair, was dressed in a long white dress, and was carrying a baby wrapped in white cloth. She had blood oozing from her mouth.
Soon after, he had the jitters and quickly wound up the car window.
Choo said: “I blasted music from my cassette player and drove off. I kept looking to the back seat to make sure she was not hitching a ride in my car!”
He was shaking and stuttering when he related the incident to his parents; they were speechless.
After Qingming prayers at Sg Besi, Kuala Lumpur, he told a neighbour in her 50s about his encounter.
“I told her I was going to die,” he said.
The neighbour comforted him saying, “No, you’re not.” She told him not to be afraid and that she could help appease the ghost so that she would never attack him.
He paid her about RM30 for joss sticks and incense papers.
“That night, my neighbour performed the prayers and asked me to stay indoors,” he said.
He was relieved that the ghost never returned to haunt him and that he is still alive.
Three years ago, marketing consultant Kareno Zainal Abidin, had an unusual encounter of the ghostly kind.
It took place in his apartment in Gombak, Selangor. He had lived there with his family for 14 years and nothing strange had happened until that day.
That fateful night, Kareno, 44, had returned home after midnight.
The air in his room was hot and humid. “I walked to the window and opened it. Then I sat on my bed, and I saw a strange cloud of smoke entering through the window. It had a pair of eyes like those of red saga seeds. I was paralysed by fear at this unusual sight,” he said.
His bedroom light was not switched on. As he had left the door ajar, the bedroom was partially lit by the light from the kitchen.
Instinctively, Kareno started reciting verses from the Quran, and felt his strength returning.
“Instinctively, I used my hands to push the smoke cloud away. Strangely, the cloud felt like a mass and not thin air. I then took a deep breath and exhaled, using my breath to try and blow the cloud away at the same time."
As soon as the cloud was out of the window, Kareno quickly closed it.
After the harrowing experience, he went to wash his face. He sat down in the hall to relax and read the Quran for peace of mind before returning to bed.
Kareno said: “I did not wake my wife as she was fast asleep in the room.”
That night, he was sure that he had encountered an entity for the first time in his life! Fortunately, the scary episode did not occur again.
It was the eve of National Day, 15 years ago. Traditional Indian dancer Sri Ganesan, in his 50s, went to see a young businessman one night for sponsorship for his upcoming dance show.
Two days later, he heard about his death and attended his funeral.
He heard that the businessman, who was 12 years his junior, had been attacked by a group of gangsters.
“He had gone to a pub on the first floor of a shoplot for drinks. He invited me but I did not join him,” he said.
It seemed someone called to meet him downstairs. When he went down, he was attacked by his assailants sometime past midnight,” said Sri Ganesan.
After returning from the funeral, Sri Ganesan felt as if an entity had followed him home. He could feel his body turning icy cold, now and then, as if a presence was nearby, whether in the day or at night. He was scared out of his wits. He believed the businessman was haunting him.
“Sometimes, I felt someone was in the front passenger seat as I drove home,” said Sri Ganesan. “There were times when I looked at the rear mirror and thought I saw a fleeting shadow on the back seat. Was it my imagination or was it the ghost of the businessman?”
At home, he could feel the chills when he saw the dead man’s face in one of his dance photographs. When he looked again, it vanished.
“I also felt someone sleeping next to me or sitting by my bed,” he said.
The only time he did not feel a ghostly presence was when he was taking a bath or in the toilet.
“The black thread from the temple which I wore for protection did not keep the ghost away,” he said.
After 10 days of ghostly encounters, Sri Ganesan confided in a friend who also knew the late businessman. The friend then informed him that the family of the dead businessman decided to hold a 30-day prayer ritual for him.
The Indians believe that the prayer ritual is to appease the soul of the dead which still lingers on earth even after burial or cremation. It is only after the ritual that the soul would find peace and leave this earth.
“Strangely, exactly after 30 days, I did not feel afraid anymore,” he related. “I did not feel any presence around me. It was a big relief.”
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