Radio host Edmond Poon Siu-chung had little time for ghost stories when he took over the Horror Hotline show from a colleague at Metro Radio almost 20 years ago. He already worked the overnight shift playing music, and he was adding another hour to his working day – from 1am to 2am, five days a week – where listeners called in to share their spooky experiences.
“A few times I was too scared to go home because some of the callers’ stories were about ghosts in elevators,” says Poon, who is described as a “horror DJ”.
The 46-year-old says he gradually developed more of an interest in paranormal activity and began to ask himself questions – such as why a ghost would trouble the living.
“Maybe you have bad luck, so ghosts might affect you, or if you murder someone they will take revenge on you. But also, if you purposely go to haunted places to disturb ghosts, they will bother you,” he says.
One popular place in Hong Kong for ghost hunting used to be Sai Ying Pun Community Complex on High Street, nicknamed High Street Ghost House. The 124-year-old structure was originally a nurses’ dormitory, and then occupied by the Japanese during the second world war. Urban myth has it that the building was used by the invasion force as a place to house comfort women, or even as an execution hall. After the war it became a mental hospital, until it was abandoned in the 1970s.
“Many people died there,” Poon says. “And because of the lack of medical supplies [because of the war], or they couldn’t be saved, some people were there waiting to die, so there are many ghosts there.”
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In cases where ghosts haunt the living, Poon believes, it’s because they are in need of something, and their message can be deciphered by a sifu, or a spirit medium. “It could be that you made the ghost unhappy or interfered with something, and you need to burn offerings for them, such as incense, paper money or clothes, items they request.”
Three years ago, Poon took Horror Hotline off air and began broadcasting it online on his website, starting at 11.30pm for about 90 minutes. The show has thousands of dedicated viewers, the number peaking at more than 12,000.
Poon mentioned several other haunted sites in the city. On Mount Davis Road, for example, there is a former military mess where suspected Communist Party sympathisers were brutally interrogated during the Cultural Revolution. Some people have reported seeing or feeling ghosts along the road.
Meanwhile, in Tai Po district, there are the remains of an old village at Bride’s Pool. The story related to the settlement goes that a bride was being carried over a bridge in a sedan chair during a storm when she got washed away into the swollen river and drowned because of her heavy clothing.
According to Poon, her spirit is believed to constantly wander the area, at a particular stretch of winding road, where a number of motorcycle and car accidents have been reported.
Poon recalls how he used to have a friend who claimed he could see ghosts. When TVB City was located in Sai Kung, the friend saw a large outdoor set for a show set in ancient China, with a woman being carried in a palanquin and accompanied by 100 soldiers in traditional dress – except there was no show being filmed. No one else saw it.
Four years ago Poon and friends set up tour firm Amusing Travel, to take keen ghost hunters on trips around Asia. His partners are Frankie Chiu, who travels frequently to Thailand, speaks the language and knows spirit mediums, and Carmen Ng, a licensed tour guide.
Poon is planning to take a group on a five-day trip to Thailand on November 11. “Thailand has many ghosts because Thais are Buddhist and believe in spirits,” says Poon, adding that Taipei is another popular destination. “We meet mediums who may help our tour members with ghost problems, to try to change their luck by advising them on what to do.”
Tour participants are typically in their 40s, Poon says, and often come along solo. “They don’t tell their husbands they are going,” he says with a smile. A tour group may comprise as many as 60 per cent single travellers.
After hearing hundreds of ghost stories over the years, Poon is still not convinced of their existence. “I’m 50-50. I have to be sceptical, but if I can’t explain it then I will believe it. If you believe in ghost stories too much you will be scared, or become confused over what’s real and what’s not. That’s why I try to take my mind off it by exercising – going to the gym, running, playing tennis or Thai boxing. It’s quite amazing that I’ve made ghosts into a career.”
Here are some of Poon’s favourite ghost stories and experiences from around Asia.
On June 18, 1972 there was a disastrous mudslide in Sau Mau Ping, Kwun Tong district, which killed 71 people living in wooden shacks on a hill. The victims are said to have become water ghosts, and the government built a memorial park at the site of the tragedy. There is a temple in the area and, Poon says, every year a ceremony is held to placate the ghosts, with paper items burned for them to use in the afterlife.
The money to buy the offerings is usually donated by the community, but one year there was a shortfall. Afterwards, the temple keeper got a knock on the door and heard a voice asking why fewer offerings were given that year. Since then, the community has ensured there are plenty of offerings for the restless ghosts.
At the foot of Mount Fuji is Aokigahara, a sprawling forest where dozens of people are reported to go to commit suicide every year. Poon says it’s easy to get lost among the trees and even claims navigational equipment doesn’t work there; once you’re lost, it’s hard for people to find you.
He says it’s scary to visit Aokigahara at night. When he went to the forest on a filming assignment, he tied a red string to the trees as he went further into the forest so his team wouldn’t get lost.
In Taichung, there’s an urban legend of a girl who wears red and entices people to follow her up the mountain. One time an elderly couple followed her and went missing, but were finally found unharmed. They described the girl, saying she wore red clothing and even gave them something to eat and drink. The story of the girl in red has been made into a Taiwanese horror film, called The Tag-Along.
At midnight, Poon, a female companion and a medium went to a mountain in Bali to film a documentary. Their goal was to make contact with spirits that are said to have the power to take on animal forms.
The film crew arranged for Poon and the woman to be blindfolded, and then quietly hid themselves away. After a while, both Poon and his companion felt something slap them on the thigh. He thought the crew was playing tricks on them but in fact no one was there.
Afterwards, when Poon reviewed the footage with someone who claimed he could see spirits, he told Poon he saw a tiger stepping on his thigh.
Near the resort town of Pattaya there is a hospital building that was never completed, which is said to be cursed. Several years ago, Poon visited it with a medium who told him to sit and recite sutras and light incense. He also held a piece of thread at the end of which was a ball of cooked glutinous rice.
After a while, the rice started spinning rapidly, a sign, according to the medium, that spirits were present. Poon was scared but at the same time couldn’t let go of the string. Eventually, the medium asked the spirits to leave.
A female listener called Poon’s radio show to tell him about her spooky stay in the Hotel Presidente near the old Lisboa. In the room she could smell perfume, though she wasn’t wearing any. In the bathroom she laid out her cosmetics, but the next day they were in disarray. She later found out that in 1997 the room was the scene of a gruesome murder. A Chinese man had called a prostitute to the room. He had sex with her then killed her, chopped up her body with a knife and flushed the pieces down the toilet.