The Chinese have a belief that those who are at a low point spiritually are likely to have ghostly encounters. It is believed that during this seventh lunar month (Aug 14-Sept 12), ghosts are released from the netherworld to roam the earth for a month, so it is best to stay home after dark…
It will follow you
It was raining cats and dogs. The downpour was relentless. Housewife Jessie Phua and her neighbour had waited some time for the rain to stop, but there was no let-up. As it was getting dark and past 8pm, Phua and her neighbour decided to go out to perform prayers by the roadside.
The prayers were to appease wandering spirits "so that they would not harm us", said Phua, 52. It was a common practice among some Chinese to offer prayers to these spirits for their safety. The belief is that once such a ritual has begun, it must be performed every year.
The women brought along prayer paraphernalia such as gold ingot paper, incense paper and candles. They also prepared rice balls, stir-fried beansprouts with tofu, sweets, peanuts and sourish fruits.
After the prayers, both of them went home.
A few nights later, Phua felt movement on her bed when she slept. It was as if someone was sitting on her bed, but she thought nothing of it.
Two months later, she returned to her hometown of Kuantan with her two young children and left her house keys with a neighbour.
One day, the neighbour opened Phua's door but left the grille locked to air out the place. Later, she glanced at Phua's apartment and saw a man by the front door. She thought Phua's husband had returned from out of town, but later realised she had seen an entity!
Coincidentally, at that time, Phua had gone to Kemaman with her husband to consult a medium as he wanted to obtain talismans for his 12 workers.
The medium told Phua's husband that his own apartment also had a being within, much to her surprise. He flew back to Kuala Lumpur and performed prayers at the main entrance of his home.
When Phua returned several months later, the apartment was cleansed. The neighbour only told her about the ghostly sighting later.
Phua's husband told her that the semi-detached house that he and his workers were occupying was also haunted. Even in the daytime, they could hear the sound of someone in high heels running up and down the stairs. Sometimes, the workers were pinched while they slept.
"None of them dared to enter the house unless everyone had returned," she said. "The ghost did not disturb them after they received the talismans for protection. But it did not budge from the house either, as they could still hear it on the staircase. Unnerved, they vacated the house after several months."
The waving ghost
One weekend after the roadside prayer, the neighbour's niece stayed overnight at her apartment. She complained that someone had pinched her while she was sleeping. The neighbour suspected that a ghost had also followed her home after the prayer.
The neighbour went to a temple and returned to perform a cleansing ritual. She burned a talisman, mixed it with rice, salt and tea leaves, and sprinkled the mixture at the four corners of every room in the apartment, commanding the ghost to leave.
"She told the entity that it cannot live in the human world and should leave," Phua recounted, adding that the ghost then left the house. The neighbour told Phua she saw the ghost take three steps on the staircase before it waved goodbye.
Hiding in the umbrellas
The women believed that two male entities had followed them home after their prayers by hiding under their umbrellas.
When praying to the spirits during the Hungry Ghost Festival, Phua said, "If you bring an umbrella with you, always knock its handle or tip on the ground three or four times. Then, open up the umbrella and close it again."
This action will help prevent the spirit from hiding under the umbrella and following you home, she said.
Another taboo is not to bring anything home after the roadside prayer.
"Whether it's prayer paraphernalia or food, leave it by the roadside. And when you leave the place, do not look back or the ghost may follow you home," Phua advised.
The lady in the mirror
Phua also recounted the story of the lady in the mirror which occurred some 13 years ago. Her friend Ah Ling, who is also from Kuantan, has "yin yang eyes" (a term the Chinese use to refer to the ability to see ghosts).
Listen to her tell the tale in this video:
Phua believes that when a person is spiritually weak, they will also have bad luck.
"One is also likely to see ghostly beings and experience paranormal activities," said Phua, whose first brush with the supernatural happened when she was 15.
"I felt a strange presence hovering near me," she said, adding that such episodes gave her goosebumps.
A medium had advised her to perform prayers at a T-junction to appease the ghost. It did not disturb her after that.
Shirley (not her real name), 39, recalled that when she was a student, her mother had conducted a ritual to appease the spirits after the ghost of someone she knew appeared before her.
"As she was pouring wine into red plastic cups to offer to the spirit, one cup cracked," Shirley said.
Taking it as a warning, Shirley's mother warned her not to stay out too late at night. However, she came back quite late that night after a night out with her friends.
"After a bath, I slept but I felt a force weighing me down. Terrified, I prayed to the Goddess of Mercy for help and tried to break free from that force," she said.
When she finally woke up, she ran to her mother's room to sleep with her.
She also had a ghostly encounter in Johannesburg, South Africa, 14 years ago.
She was sleeping face-to-face with her husband on the same bed.
"My husband started talking in a strange language.
"The man looked like my husband but the voice was not his. She screamed and slapped him many times," she said, adding that that night she had removed her necklace with its Goddess of Mercy pendant.
The next she remembers, her husband was shaking her to wake her up from a nightmare; but she remains convinced to this day that it was a malignant entity that disturbed her that night.