When my mom and her adoptive family first arrived in Malaysia in the 1930s, the only place they could afford to rent was an apartment above a Chinese funeral parlour. It was cheap because the owners had problems leasing it out; living among the dead is taboo within most cultures; even more so among the highly superstitious Chinese.
In line with Chinese belief that the spirits of the deceased remain on earth for some eight days after death, I’m told mom would often see ghostly figures in their apartment. These were supposedly the spirits of those whose funerals were taking place downstairs.
There was the apparition of an old man sitting in their living room on one occasion, and another time, a young girl who wouldn’t stop crying. My mom asked why she was upset and she replied that it was because she had to leave this realm and she didn’t know where she was going.
My eldest sister remembers looking on in fear as mom consulted spirits by laying out some kind of cloth with writing on it, and seeing the divining bowl move by itself and land on the answers as she asked questions. I’ve never seen it myself, but it sounds like some kind of Chinese Ouija Board.
Then there was the day the principal at Choong Fee’s school had to summon my parents to school to tell them their young son was in his office, so terrified he had refused to go home. The reason? He’d had a premonition that he was going to die young. After that incident, it was well-known that Choong Fee lived his life with a death fixation, seeking out fortune tellers and trying to get in contact with the other side, like my mom before him.
I don’t know about my siblings since I’ve generally lived my life quite apart from any of them, but I too have a death fixation. I guess it started with my mom’s passing. To have to spend 3 nights at the foot of her coffin in the funeral parlor and to be instructed to tell my mom to ‘cross the bridge’ if I saw her ghost would make an indelible mark on any six-year-old, I guess.
I remember my older sister recounting a vivid dream she had not so long after my mom’s death, about mom sitting at the foot of her bed and telling her she was very cold where she was. Not to mention my own morbid dreams about mom that continue to pop up every now and then.
When I was a teenager newly arrived in this country, a friend, whose dad was a renowned fortune teller, gave her a chart with my life path drawn out – completely unsolicited. Despite my dread and trepidation, my curiosity got the better of me and I let her explain its meaning. It highlighted 3 years in which my life would be threatened; if I made it through each of those years, my life would continue unharmed until the next date on the chart. Two of the three years have come and gone, and his forecasts have been accurate both times. The third year is yet to come.
Because of this kind of history, I’ve never been of the ‘all psychics are fake’ or ‘there’s no such thing as ghosts’ schools of thought, but rather that there is something out there, even if their origins and nature are unexplained.
The strident church teaching I was raised with, that frowned on any dabbling with spirit communication, meant that my fascination with the after-life was limited to watching scary movies and, when the genre took hold, paranormal reality TV shows.
At my first Australian school camp, I even tried to get exemption from a compulsory yoga class on account of my religious beliefs.
For the best part of my life, I saw people who consulted fortune tellers as weak-minded individuals who were susceptible to fraud, and held them with equal measures, I guess, of derision and pity.
That was, until late last year.
(to be continued)