2019/10/03

The Place of Wind and Ghosts

Hong Kong

The spooky season is almost upon us, so the time seems right for a good old-fashioned ghost story. In keeping with Kairos tradition, this tale recounts actual events.

Back in my days working for the local cinema chain, there was a Chinese restaurant tucked into the same shopping center as our second run/sub-run theater. Though located in an otherwise respectable part of town, the strip mall had gained infamy as a place best avoided at night. Near as I can tell, it picked up that reputation after a couple of WWF wrestlers got jumped in the mid-90s. The shopping center has since undergone extensive urban renewal, but that's neither here nor there.

Owing to its close location, the Chinese place became a favorite lunch spot for the theater employees, myself included. Their egg rolls were especially delectable. When his son came of age for his first job, the restaurant owner sent him to work for our cinema chain. Contra Asian stereotypes, the kid outweighed and towered over me despite his relative youth. He loved Star Wars, as everyone was starting to do again, and we became fast friends.

One early autumn night on the closing shift, when darkness, drizzle, and thick fog were keeping the customers away, the restaurant owner's son told me this story.

Years before he opened his restaurant, my friend's father--whom we'll call Mr. Lee--left his native China for America in order to pursue his education. He attended culinary school and worked tirelessly to become a professional chef. Having established himself in his profession, the time came for him to marry. At the urging of his family, Mr. Lee returned to the motherland to find a suitable wife.

Of Mr. Lee's travels in China, only the last enters into this tale. He had won the hand of an eligible young lady and was set to return with her to the United States. On the eve of his departure, some old friends with whom he'd reconnected threw him an engagement celebration in the city from which he was to depart--Hong Kong.

Drive any thought of crystal towers awash in LED light from your mind. This was before the Handover from Great Britain to China; before the glittering skyline and international banking money. It was still the Hong Kong of the Shaw Bros. and the dime rack spy novels, if such a place ever existed.

Mr. Lee's bachelor party consisted of a truly epic pub crawl by any reasonable standard. The festivities began in the brighter, more touristy parts of the waterfront. As the evening progressed, the band of old school friends delved deeper into the dim, noisome bowels of the island's winding streets.

Sometime after midnight, Mr. Lee found himself in a hole-in-the wall dive bar crammed into a block bounded by streets scarcely able to accommodate a single car. Nature called--unsurprising, considering the quantity of libations consumed--and Mr. Lee slouched away from the handful of friends who remained in his party.

The search for a men's room led Mr. Lee to a locked door behind which someone was being loudly ill. Necessity drove him through a much stouter door at the end of the hall whose deadbolt he had to unlock to exit.

Mr. Lee found himself standing in the Platonic ideal of a Hong Kong back alley. The oppressive air swallowed all sounds of drunken revelry from the bar behind him. A melange of cabbage, stagnant water, and vomit assailed his nose. Walls dotted with dark windows rose up to a narrow strip of sky half-covered with tattered clouds.

Seeking as much privacy as possible, Mr. Lee ambled over to a collection of garbage bins clustered at the dead end a few yards to his left. There he unzipped his pants and got down to his urgent business.

A low, forlorn groan from the shadows before him brought a sudden and involuntary stop to the waterworks.

Mr. Lee hastily zipped up and loudly asked who was there. Only a doleful sigh answered.

Concluding that someone nearby needed help, Mr. Lee made a search of the immediate area. Even for a man in his state of inebriation, the task presented little difficulty. Aside from himself, a dozen or so garbage cans, and random heaps of detritus, the alley proved empty.

In his puzzlement, Mr. Lee wondered if the mournful voice hadn't come from one of the windows facing the alley. But no, the sounds' point of origin had definitely been right in front of him--close enough, in fact, to piss on.

A voice called out Mr. Lee's name, nearly startling him into emptying the rest of his bladder's contents into his pants. The voice, it turned out, belonged to one of his friends, who'd ventured into the alley in search of him.

When asked where he'd been, Mr. Lee related the preceding events to his friend. The local man paled and fell quiet, except to insist that the two of them return inside.

After fully reliving himself in the now vacant restroom, Mr. Lee met back up with his friend, who'd waited for him in the hallway. He pulled Mr. Lee to one side and in hushed tones, issued a dire warning.

"That was a ghost you ran into out there," said the friend.

Mr. Lee hadn't the sobriety or the patience to hide his incredulity. "A ghost?"

"Yeah, this part of town's full of them. You just pissed on one."

His years of study in the West hadn't blotted out the ancient traditions Mr. Lee had eaten, breathed, and lived in his youth. Raised in a Confucian household, he knew the misfortunes that could befall a man for disrespecting the dead.

Though he and his fiancée had an early flight, Mr. Lee rose still earlier to make a formal offering as expiation for his transgression. He then returned to the US, started a family, and in time opened a restaurant of his own.

We may take this to mean that the ghosts of Hong Kong can be most forgiving.

For more atmospheric horror, read my award-winning Soul Cycle.

Nethereal - Brian Niemeier

22 comments:

  1. Well, it haunted the back alley of a dive bar. It was probably used to that and was just happy Mr. Lee apologised.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That was the impression I got as well. Lee the younger related that his father was impressed by the locals' rather nonchalant attitude toward ghosts. His friend was anxious not because Mr. Lee had encountered a ghost, but because he'd peed on it. The subtext I caught was that such things happened often.

      Delete
  2. It's amazing the amount of these type of stories you have. You seemed to have surrounded yourself with people who have had very strange encounters.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I used to be puzzled when people told me that. Then the advent of Facebook showed me how bland most people's lives are.

      It's not that I claim to be a globetrotting adventurer. I've never left the continental US. But I've always had a strong aversion to the conventional. Nothing grates on me more than tedious company, so I choose my friends carefully. As a result, the people I associate with tend to be more interesting than most.

      Delete
    2. I can completely understand that. For the longest time I was surrounded by people that when confronted with even talking about this subject matter would want to hush the conversation. Although, I don't think it's wise for people to seek this type of things out on a regular basis.

      Delete
    3. How awful for you. That's the kind of boorishness that would have me making a beeline for the exit.

      And you're absolutely right about not seeking these things out.

      Delete
  3. A fascinating tale, and quite the unfortunate place for a ghost to end up

    ReplyDelete
  4. Another great tale, Brian!

    I have many Chinese friends that I owe to my study of martial arts over the years. One had his own restaurant that he inherited from his relatives when he came of age. He is a native of Hong Kong and came to the US when he was 17. A terrific man and friend.

    And, something that usually surprises people, a staunch Roman Catholic, from a family of staunch Roman Catholics. My actual Sifu of 22 years is half Chinese (father) and half native Hawaiian (mother) and is probably the most devout Catholic I have ever known. He survived Viet Nam as a US Marine. Very, very interesting guy.


    My Chinese and Asian friends never had any good ghost stories, though. But they all had proper respect for the supernatural.


    Also, I too worked for a Movie Theater chain when I was in my late teens. I was a projectionist. Good times, indeed. I saw so many movies for free, it was nearly a dream job. Except for the pay. But for a 19 year old, the fringe benefits were awesome.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Emmet Fitz-Hume

      My wife and her family are the same and they're Catholic too.

      They haven't lost the respect for their ancestors or that a deeper reality exists and hold that ghosts still walk on earth.

      I tend to be skeptical about ghosts as I take them to be demons on the prowl. Brian posted an much earlier ghost story piece and remarked in the comment section, a ghost can still serve the Lord's purpose as either a warning, to right a wrong or to fulfill a 'quest'

      So I try to take into account that ghosts can still walk the earth to carry out some mysterious plan of the Lord's

      xavier

      Delete
    2. Christ never rebuked the apostles for mistaking him as a ghost, and Christ would have done so to lead them away from superstition....so ghosts are real. There are also some fascinating ghost stories of spirits from purgatory warning people to clean up their ways and to request prayers speed their way. I recall seeing a table in Spain with a burned in hand print...it was the purgating’s way of showing the legitimacy of the fires of purgation.

      Delete
    3. Also, Samuel's ghost was summoned by the witch at Endor.

      Delete
    4. The similarities in our late teenage work histories almost qualify as synchronicity, Emmett! I never qualified to be a full-fledged projectionist, which in my state requires union membership and a formal apprenticeship. For readers who don't know, old movie projector bulbs can electrocute or blind you if you change them wrong, and getting a single fingerprint on the bulb can potentially start a fire.

      I was trained as a booth op, though. That meant I threaded and started the projectors and spliced newly arrived movies together. You are right. Nothing compares to the fun of assembling, threading, and screening a new movie. Getting to see a hot new film before early ticket holders, the press, or anyone else is the sweetest perk of the projectionist/booth op's job.

      Delete
    5. P.S. Please give your esteemed sifu my fraternal regards and my thanks for his service.

      That the Chinese made several major technological discoveries but didn't do much with their inventions until they were further developed in the West, I attribute to traditional Chinese philosophies' steady state/cyclical views of history. Now China is on course to becoming majority Christian by 2050.

      Recall that the ancient Greeks, too, devised wonders like the steam engine which likewise sat idle until the Christian doctrines of a rational God who created an ordered universe sparked the unprecedented rise of Western civilization.

      When China goes full Christian, I think we're in for something truly special.

      Delete
    6. @Durandel & D.J. sound exegesis with which I agree. I highly recommend tracking down Dr. Peter Kreeft's essay on ghosts. He researched something like 400 credible ghost accounts and made much the same conclusion as you two did.

      Delete
    7. Brian

      I recommend to our commentators a book by Fr Stanley L Jaki: the Saviour of science
      http://www.realviewbooks.com/catalog8.html

      It's still in print.
      Stacy Trasancos wrote a book on the Father's work on science. It's available at Amazon.

      xavier

      Delete
    8. "For readers who don't know, old movie projector bulbs can electrocute or blind you if you change them wrong, and getting a single fingerprint on the bulb can potentially start a fire."



      We didn't have a projectionist union in my state. I'm not sure if we do now.

      But back then, we had a private contractor service we called who changed and worked with the bulbs in the projectors. In addition to all the dangers you listed, I seem to remember that the bulbs we used could kill (over a fairly large radius like 10') the same way a grenade's shrapnel does. The guy who used to come change ours had to wear a suit of body armor similar to a bomb squad tech! And the projection booth (in my theater, it was a long long, wide hallway with 7 projectors, due to it being a 7 screen place) had to be off limits while he was up there. Everything came to a halt.


      "You are right. Nothing compares to the fun of assembling, threading, and screening a new movie. Getting to see a hot new film before early ticket holders, the press, or anyone else is the sweetest perk of the projectionist/booth op's job."


      We called those 'Rundown Parties'. Since most movies premiered on Fridays, and since the film canisters were delivered the day before, I would splice the pieces together on Thursday afternoon.

      For those unfamiliar, in the pre-digital age, movies used to be shipped to theaters in pieces (the longest film I remember splicing in my time there was 'Selena'- it was 8 canisters IIRC, which was A LOT). The projectionist splices them into one film and it goes on a large 6' horizontal platter.

      And then, you have to watch the movie, to make sure you put it together in the correct order and did a clean job of it.

      That's where the Rundown Party comes in. My manager allowed the staff to invite family and friends to the theater late Thursday night, after the last show of the evening, to watch movies before they premiered. We got to be very friendly with a nearby pizzeria and they would bring 10-15 pizzas and soda in exchange for their entire staff being allowed in to the Rundown Parties. Very fun times.

      Back then, being young and dumb and usually more interested in hanging with my friends, my dad couldn't believe how happy I was with my job! The pay was crap but I still miss it.

      I remember Rundown Parties for:

      Apollo 13
      Braveheart
      Seven
      Billy Madison
      Tommy Boy
      Crimson Tide
      Johnny Mnemonic
      Species
      First Knight


      Good times, good times...

      Delete
    9. Sounds like you got a sweet deal. Our theater didn't have official parties except for big releases like Star Wars movies and the like. We didn't get to bring friends and family, either.

      Most of the time, the booth op put the movies together late the night before long after everyone else had gone home and treated himself to a private showing.

      Delete
    10. For another solid book on ghosts and related phenomena from a Catholic perspective, see Adam Blai's "Hauntings, Possessions and Exorcisms." https://www.amazon.com/Hauntings-Possessions-Exorcisms-Adam-Blai/dp/1945125594/ An earlier version is available free for those of you who have Kindle Unlimited.

      Delete
  5. Whew lads, what a time and place to materialize.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I have relatively little exposure to Chinese culture, but what I have seen suggests to me that the term we translate as "ghosts" does not necessarily refer to spirits of the dead, but generally to what we would call spirits. Thus, if it was a ghost, it might not be the ghost of someone who'd died there, but it could be a spirit that happened to inhabit the area.

    Can someone tell me if I have this right?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm not sure in general, but in the context of this story, Mr. Lee's son specified that it was indeed the spirit of a deceased person.

      Delete