Monday, 12 March 2012

The Bogeyman and Co.

As a fantasy fiction writer, I personally love the supernatural and everything that goes bump in the night. Growing up in a country as steeped in myth as I did, it’s really no wonder. Ghosts and vampires belong inevitably to the night and evil spirits will roam the beach after sunset whether you like it or not. Some of the nefarious creatures that we learn about as kids are downright creepy while others are simply ridiculous and even I can’t find the imagination to believe in them.

Some of the more palatable Asian creatures of the night:
Pontianak: vampire
Toyol: something like a goblin but way creepier because it looks more like an evil baby
Hantu Air: ghosts that reside in rivers, oceans or swamps
Hantu Raya: a protecting demon of black-magic practitioners
Hantu Pari-Pari: fairies
Orang Bunian: whispering spirits that lead travellers astray in jungles

Who the heck came up with these preposterous fellows?:
Orang minyak: an oily, rapist ghost
Hantu bungkus: a ghost shrouded in dirty cloth said to feed on the blood of children
Hantu galah: a long, pole like ghost that hangs around bamboo trees

See what I mean??

As a teenager, walking down a dark street at night, I used to try and convince myself that my Malaysian parents simply filled my head with nonsense because children from respectable families should not be patronizing the streets at night. However, when everyone believes in something—and most Asians do believe in one form of crazy or the other—you tend to walk around looking over your shoulder. Despite all logic, I fell for it too and grew up shivering at the thought of the Hungry Ghost Festival, but secretly looking out the window in excited anticipation to see if any of them would try to make contact.

I remember spending weekends watching blood-curdling horror movies and hair-raising thrillers with my cousins, scaring ourselves to death. We lay awake half the night, praying for the sun to rise quickly before the shadows got us. Every time I swore to myself, “Never again.” Needless to say, the very next weekend we would be off to the video store renting the next emetic, heart-stopping DVD that would put the previous ones to shame. I almost walked out of the cinema during The Ring, but that crazy voice in my head forced me to stay and I spent the rest of the week looking in mirrors, taking photos of myself to see if it would come out blurry and practically losing consciousness every time the phone rang, convinced that I had merely a week to live.

So what is it with people and the need to scare themselves senseless? A psychologist friend of mine says that it’s because of our inbred need to survive which brings on an adrenaline rush (awesome feeling!) when we feel threatened. So in other words, we go mad for roller-coaster rides, scary movies and dangerous men because our deepest, ingrained instincts make us adrenaline junkies? Nice! Bring it on.