Matter of fact ghost stories from Vietnam where we’re not talking fiction

VietnamGhostsBack in Vietnam, my grandmother and great-grandmother were often paid unexpected visits by inhabitants of the spirit world. My favorite of their stories is the one about three men from their small coastal village who were lost at sea during a particularly bad storm. For days everyone scoured the shoreline looking for the bodies and wreckage from their boat, but found no sign of it. And then, late one night, my great-grandmother was woken by a clanging, howling ruckus from the kitchen. When she crept down to investigate, she discovered that the three ghosts of the missing men had taken out all her pots and pans and were there banging away on them like a spectral percussion ensemble. Over the clatter they called out to her the name of the place where their bodies had washed ashore. The next day my great-grandmother and some of the other villagers ventured out to the location that the ghosts had named and lo and behold, the remains of the three bodies were there. The men were given all the proper funerary rites, and their spirits were finally laid to rest. …

The post-war ghosts don’t seem to follow the logical behavior of those ghosts of the old tales, and what’s even more unsettling about the stories is the nonchalance with which they are usually told. For example: “I finally got rid of the little ghost girl in my room,” one of my Viet friends announced to me over coffee some time ago, in the casual way that a person might say, ‘I finally got rid of the squirrels in my attic.’ My response to hearing this (spilled drink, dropped jaw, subdued shriek) must have seemed like an overreaction to him, but in my defense, I was still new to the land and to the idea that here ghosts weren’t a superstition, they were a fact.  …

“I would see her in my sleep,” he began matter-of-factly. “Not dreams, exactly. These felt too real to be dreams, but while having them I knew that I was sleeping. …That’s when the ghost–this pale little girl with braids and crooked teeth–would climb out of the wall directly across from my bed.

“The wall across from me would start splitting about three feet from the floor, and then it would part like a curtain and out she slipped. …After five nights of it I went to see a monk for advice. He told me that sleeping with a knife under my pillow would keep it away. I did, and the ghost stopped coming. It’s been almost a week now since I’ve seen her.” Then my friend finished his coffee, changed the subject of conversation, and never mentioned the incident again.


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