I received a call from a local friend who asked me to stop by his place to check out a gift he had for me. Propped up against the wall of the washroom was a graveyard marker; a Headstone. It was obviously very old and appeared much abused. Broken, deteriorated and crumbled at the edges, its dark water marks marred a surface that hinted at its former polished, granite beauty.
The carvings on the stone were worn to nothing, with vague scratch marks left like ripples on wind-blown sand. But in the center of the piece there was a string of Chinese characters that were still legible. Running vertically about 25 inches long and three inches wide the script was definitely old Chinese.
My friend Steve wanted me to take this away explaining his Mother-in-law believed it was cursed. So, as a friend I heaved its considerable weight down the block to my bookstore/home and installed it in the front hall.
The next day I had the busiest day at the bookstore ever. I made four to five times the normal revenue and there was a good vibe all around. The following day the same thing happened and I was starting to think that Steven’s bad luck was a good luck piece for me.
Then the business over the next few days tapered off and by this time I was not feeling well. Occasional bouts with stomach bugs happen all the time on the road here though I have rules regarding food poisoning while in Asia. The first is my own home cure: three bananas and a coke for breakfast. This usually worked but not this time. The stomach pains were starting and a mild fever was trying to find its way into my now uncomfortable day. Rule number two: if food poisoning becomes bad enough to cause fever go to the doctor immediately. The doctor prescribed the usual and all appeared to be well. All was not well. At 3am the stomach pains woke me. The whole thing started over again.
I had been thinking of my new housemate and letting the superstitions of the locals creep into my mind. I wondered if I was indeed, cursed. By 6pm I was back in bed. I felt listless and tired and slept fitfully. At 5am I woke exhausted – enough was enough, I was off to hospital.
I was shocked when the doctor told me my heart was completely out of kilter and showing an arrhythmia. They put me in intensive care instantly and I started to get worried when they couldn’t find a vein for blood work. My veins were collapsing due to extreme dehydration. They finally found a vein and started full monitoring and transfusions immediately. I came to the conclusion that evil spirits can really kick your butt. A day later I was released from hospital. But as soon as I walked into the house my stomach went off again. No more!
I called a friend to contact a local shaman. A wizard of some renown. He arrived later that day, dressed in a royal blue silk robe with matching hat. Age undetermined. Very old. A face that had road maps carved into it. He had small button eyes and an infectious grin that belied the dignity of his position. He swarmed past me, or should I say glided, seeming to know, without being told, where the Headstone was located.
His impression was that the spirit was angry that she had been neglected by the family. She wanted a place to rest and my house was the first one she had been in since her burial, several hundred years earlier. She did not want to leave.
He eventually brought out the big guns, with many presents and gifts for the spirit. An immense stack of money was burned at the front of the property. He also had containers of rice in which to capture the spirit. While droning along he sprinkled holy water by dipping a flower in a large container of rice wine. He started at the rear of the home and flung liquid to all corners of the house trying to drive the spirit toward the front and then out into the street. Incense was burning in all rooms, on the porch and at the street. Rice was flung into the street, as if seeding the avenue for next year’s crop. The rice had captured the spirit and casting it into the street was symbolic of her release from the home and being sent on her way.
We said prayers over the temporary altar and much bowing and chanting continued for the next hour. Finally, the wizard informed me that the spirit had been banned. The house was free of any evil influence. Still feeling under the weather I retired to bed and slept like a baby. I woke feeling completely refreshed. Coincidence? Yeah, probably. But when in Rome etc, you have to flow with the local customs.
I noticed my neighbors giving me the eye in the days that followed. Not in a bad way. Maybe with a little more respect than they had before. Of course it could have been my imagination.
Wizard indeed! And by the way, not even one cent changed hands.
Randy’s Book Xchange
Add: To 5 Thon Xuyen Trung, Cam Nam Island
Tel: +84 (0)936 089 483
Email: [email protected]
Originally published in Live Hoi An Magazine