What happens when a person dies in a haunted area?
Will his soul linger in the same spot, making the place doubly haunted? Or will his spirit displace the previous apparition haunting the place, making him some sort of supernatural squatter?
These morbid thoughts run through my mind as I walk into an abandoned mansion in Bukit Tunku, said to be one of the most haunted areas in the country.
The mansion certainly has a reputation. Crude graffiti is drawn on the walls of the main doorway: a hanged figure with what appears to be a girl’s name and the cryptic message “Orang sudah mati orang masuk ai”.
I watch my step and mutter a prayer as I enter. The mansion looks as if it has been deserted for decades. Moss and ferns have swallowed up much of the floor. Ceiling beams lie rotting on the ground. Empty drink cans and cigarette packets are discarded everywhere.
It is right then that I notice flickering lights on the wall around me.
I almost have a heart attack, before realising it is sunlight reflecting off the lens of my camera.
The things I do for journalism!
Bukit Tunku is a strange contradiction. Formerly known as Kenny Hills, it was renamed in honour of first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, ‘Bukit Tunku’ being the name of the house he lived in. The area has also popularly been nicknamed ‘The Beverly Hills of Malaysia,’ due to its abundance of luxury bungalows and lavish condominiums. As one look at the mansions mushrooming in the area will tell you, it is a mecca for yuppies, the hunting grounds of the city elite.
But the area also has a sinister side: rumours and urban legends persist that it is not just well-to-do businessmen that make Bukit Tunku their home. Darker things abound. A quick Google search reveals ‘Bukit Tunku’ is a popular candidate in ‘Most Haunted Places in Malaysia’ lists: there are stories of ghosts lurking in abandoned bungalows, and an unsettling aura pervading its shady roads. The most popular story, however, is of a phantom motorcyclist, who reputedly died while on a race one night. He allegedly still rides now, revving away at high speeds before vanishing into the darkness.
Fascinated by the area’s duality, I decide to dig deeper into Bukit Tunku’s haunted history. I look for background, historical information – particularly, first-hand accounts of people who have had encounters there.
My search leads me to Adam Vai, a ‘spiritual consultant’ whose website describes him as ‘Malaysia’s social media ghost hunter’.
Admittedly, I am both intrigued and sceptical at the idea of a ‘ghost hunter’. My initial imagining of one is not that flattering: a wild-eyed man, bushy haired and unshaven, black robes and sandals, rambling on and on about ‘third eyes’, ‘ectoplasm’ and so forth. It is with a bit of hesitation, therefore, that I agree to meet up with him at a restaurant in theCurve.
When he turns up, I realise only one part of my pre-conception is right: he wears black. But Adam Vai turns out to be an articulate, clean-shaven man in his mid-twenties, with an eye for ghosts but feet grounded firmly in reality.
“The joy of ghost hunting is when you catch something with your equipment, and you try to debunk it scientifically,” Adam tells me. “Whether it’s just a reflection of light, a shutter speed effects or something like that. But when you can’t explain it… that becomes interesting.”
Adam said he had been helping people as a spiritual consultant for about ten years now. A former managing director, he now carries out this work full time, conducting rituals for people. Interestingly, he said he is also often consulted by property developers, who seek his advice on whether certain properties are haunted or not.
“A lot of the stories are just rumour. But something did happen to a crew-member once.”
Asked about Bukit Tunku, Adam said he and his crew had experienced some supernatural phenomena while carrying out a ghost hunt there a few years ago. He added, however, that to his knowledge, there was only one haunted bungalow in the area.
“The area is not as hardcore haunted as you may think.” Adam tells me. “A lot of the stories are just rumour. But something did happen to a crew-member once.”
“We were in the living hall, trying to communicate with the spirits. And then, suddenly, we felt stones being thrown at us from the second floor. We heard the sounds, pap pap pap, and some of us actually felt the stones on our heads.”
“We thought it might be dangerous, so we left. And then we heard a female voice, making a humming sound, from the right side of the second storey.”
Adam said his research on the house revealed that a woman had hung herself from that corner of the house.
He added at that moment, one of his female crew-members started acting strangely.
“It was as if she being choked. She was squatting, and her eyes were red. She was going “please don’t do this to me, please don’t do this to me”. Her face was turning blue-black, and she was drooling.”
Adam said he quickly conducted a healing ritual, and left the scene. His crew managed to take some pictures first.
“There were thousands of orbs in one of the pictures. But one second before that, as we were taking burst shots, there was nothing there,” he said.
Adam said he suspected the crew-member had had a supernatural experience as she was on her menses on the time, which according to mythology, makes one more susceptible to spirits.
“She fell asleep in the car after that, and only woke up when we dropped her back at her house. After that, she had a fever for five days.” Adam said.
Beings of Fire
After hearing such a fascinating story, I decided I would have to visit the place for myself.
The place was not very easy to find. Located in a quiet road close to Tugu Negara, it took me almost forty minutes (and countless wrong turns) to find it. I decided to visit during the day: I’m brave, but not that brave.
Despite the bright sunshine, I am quivering. I do not know how many prayers I recite. I don’t even believe in ghosts: why am I so tense all of a sudden? In fact, why do so many of us become weak-kneed at the thought of the supernatural, despite supposedly having rational minds?
According to Dr. Patricia Hardwick, traditional Malay belief systems often featured pre-Islamic understandings of the world (often glossed as animism) which attributed a soul or spirit (semangat) to various elements of the natural world.
Dr. Hardwick is a folklorist who holds a dual Ph.D. in the fields of Socio-cultural Anthropology and Folklore from Indiana University. She is also my aunt by marriage.
“Many supernatural beings, like the pontianak and her friends, are understood by contemporary Malay Muslims as Jinn or Syaitan – they are the “beings of fire” described in the Quran,” said Dr. Hardwick.
“These supernatural beings are understood by many bomoh to exist on a different plane than we do, but sometimes our paths can cross. Sometimes these beings can also be harnessed to do the bidding of humans.”
She stressed however, that it was always understood that there were serious prices to pay for messing with these forces.
“A person must divest themselves of supernatural helpers before death, or they may be unable to die, or the ‘bumi tak boleh terima’ their body and they too could be doomed to an eternity of wandering as a lost soul.” she said.
However, Dr. Hardwick added that from what she had read of Bukit Tunku online, she felt the stories of hauntings had little to do with traditional Malay beliefs about supernatural beings, and more to do with western ideas of haunted areas.
Into the Spirit World
For a second opinion, I turn to Augustine Towonsing, a paranormal researcher based in Sungai Petani.
Towonsing has been a paranormal and ghost researcher for the past nine years, with 281 solo and 36 group ghost research projects under his belt. He holds diplomas and qualifications in (among others) Certified Ghost Researcher (CGR), Certified Paranormal Investigator (CPI), and Certified Paranormal Counsellor (CPC) from the International Ghost Hunters Society (IGHS), the largest online ghost reseach organisation in the world.
“Ghost research is similar to other academic research. It has its own objective and hypothesis.”
Towonsing said he got into ghost research after personal experiences.
“Basically I have had the ability to see spirits of the dead since I was young. At one stage prior to getting involved in this field, I bumped into them almost daily, which made me confused. Yet, at the same time my confusion triggered off a feeling of deep curiosity towards the existence of spirits, especially after I saw the spirit of my wife’s mother and her aunt’s spirit prior to their demise,” he said.
Towonsing started searching for information about ghosts online, and stumbled upon the website for IGHS. From there, he started his research under the guidance of the group’s founder Dr. Dave Oester, eventually becoming an IGHS member in 2005.
“Ghost research is similar to other academic research. It has its own objective and hypothesis, but the difference is the objective and the hypothesis is not written. In ghost research, the respondent is the spirit of the dead, which is beyond our tangible senses, and certainly requires more intricate procedures,” he said.
Towonsing said he believed ghosts were the continued essence, soul or spirit of a person after death, including animal spirits and other non-human life forms. He said he believed that when people die, they would cross over into a ‘Spirit World’, which was a reflection of our physical world.
“Spirits of the dead will be seen in a human form that resembles their personality while they are alive. However, their appearance is not long, they will disappear the moment we recognise them,” he said.
“Unfortunately, there are forces beyond our control that cause many negative things to happen. Sometimes a person may die leaving behind unfinished business that holds them unable to continue their spiritual journey until they attain personal realisation.” said Towonsing. He said that while ghosts could not harm someone physically, they could bring about negative spiritual effects to a person.
Back to the good part
I stick around the allegedly haunted mansion for about an hour.
I visit every inch of the grounds. The maid’s quarters behind the house. A guard’s booth by the entrance. What appears to be a garage, or stables. A musty bathroom swarming with flies and grubs, the only sign of life in this place. I even attempt to get to the house’s second floor, but give up after discovering the house’s stairway has almost rotted away.
Nothing out of the ordinary happens during my visit.
As I return, I look through my photographs. Thirty shots of the interior of a dilapidated house. No strange lights, figures or shadows anywhere.
I am not sure to be relieved or disappointed.
On my way out, I run into a group of tree cutters, who say they have been stationed here all day and night for the past week. I ask them if they have seen anything unusual here, but they shake their heads.
“But then again, that’s because we were in a big group,” their head says. “If we were alone, who knows what could have happened. Not good to play around with these creatures.”
Listen to Terence Toh’s interview with Adam Vai the spiritual consultant on the BFM Radio podcast, I Love KL.