Author Archives: Belal Wang

Taiwan Ghost Experience

My friend, R, had gone to Taiwan on a program to teach underprivileged children English in the past, and this is his account of the ghost in his school:

B: Didn’t you have like a ghost story about Taiwan?

R: Let me think, shit, do you remember what it was about? I remember having one too and I remember….

B: I think it was like a classroom with a chair or something?

R: O shit! OK.

B: Hahaha, oh that girl that killed herself right?

R: Yea, on the third floor, and those kids who were badasses for kids. Like, no one would go near the school at night and one night, we snuck in and it was all dark and stuff and we were crawling up the stairs. Shit was scary, and then like, there was a scream from upstairs and we freaking ran so fast. It was ridiculous, I mean, but at the time, like, ok. So we didn’t know about the girl dying, like the kids just told us to stay away. And we snuck in and heard the noise and ran. But then the next day, we asked the village people and they were all like, “Ohhhhhh, did you go to the third floor? Some girl just recently died there. We’ve already sent for the priests to go and collect her spirit” Or something, and we were all like holy shit, cause we didn’t know about the dead girl beforehand.

R tells the story from a firsthand perspective, not to scare people, but rather to share his experience. Through this experience, his ghost story fulfills many societal functions, especially for a band of Americans teaching together in a foreign country, with only strangers around. For R, the adventure into the unknown with only his American peers could be defined as a socializing experience. Together, they sought to learn about their environment, and by sharing this common experience, and subsequently learning the history that could possibly explain the experience, formed relationships and grew closer together. Another function is to form a closer connection to the environment and their culture. When he learns of the dead girl, and the villagers’ customs, he becomes more aware of their culture, more integrated in their society. By partaking in this ghost culture and being a part of it, R is able to understand the Taiwanese a bit more, perhaps helping with his job of teaching, especially if he is trying to teach so called “badasses for kids.”

Another aspect to examine is that the existence of this ghost seems eerily possible given the conditions. R and friends go out at nighttime to a de facto restricted area, perfect conditions for ghostly phenomena. A girl had recently died there, presumably the source of the scream they heard. On top of that they are all in an unfamiliar place, where ghosts stories could serve to teach about culture and reflect social norms. Certainly, Taiwanese culture tends to believe in spirits, exhibited by the villagers’ responses. In fact, through their rituals, such as “collecting” the spirit, in their culture it appears obvious to the Taiwanese that a ghost is the reason for the scream.

The spirit itself is also an interesting feature of the story, which can highlight the organic nature of folklore and cultural differences. I had been told this story before, so when I asked R to retell it to me, I asked for the story of the girl that killed herself. Yet when he retells it, there is no mention of suicide or foul play, or any of the other factors that in American culture tend to produce ghosts. After thinking about the story for a while, I had changed it into an oicotype, to fit in with the American point of view. However, over time this is the impression I got about the story, because if there were no unfinished business, why would a ghost be necessary to the story? This impression would differ from a Taiwanese point of view, where their views on spirits and superstition would require different reasons behind the girls ghost.

Thus, R’s ghost highlights many features of ghost stories. First, it serves functions of social integration and building group relationships. Second, the story and sharing this story with others allowed R to learn others’ viewpoints and cultures by listening to their interpretations. Finally, the spirit highlights differences between cultures in their approaches to ghosts, and shows how a story can become an oicotype as it crosses regional bounds.


Straw Trickery

“Once upon a time, two nations were at war in Ancient China. One was a peasant nation, while the other was an invading force, attempting to subjugate the peasants and assimilate them into their iron rule. Both sides had been battling for many years now, and their armies had been whittled down to mere shadows of what they had once been. Now, it was time for a decisive battle, one that would determine the outcome of the war, and who would be defeated. The two armies camped across a river from each other, making preparations for this final battle. It was at this point that the peasant army realized that it was dangerously low on arrows. There was no way they could win a skirmish without arrows to support the army. The general knew he had to do something, and quick, or else the invading army would easily win. And so he thought of a plan. He ordered his men to gather all the straw they could find, and bundle these straw piles on all of the boats they had on the river. Then, he ordered his men to strip down and put their clothes on these straw men, and told his men to sleep and be rested for tomorrow’s long day. The next morning, before dawn, the general woke up a small group of soldiers, and ordered them to go with him to the river. They tied ropes to the boats and with a push, sent the straw men in boats on their way to the enemy camp. In the enemy camp, at dawn, the soldiers woke up to hundreds of boats carrying soldiers ready to attack. The general panicked, immediately concluding that the peasant army must have mobilized in the night. He ordered his archers to fire upon the boats, yet was shocked to see that none of the peasant soldiers fell. He ordered them to fire again, and this time the archers sent out an immense volley. At this point, the sun had risen a little higher, illuminating the battlefield better, and at this point, the general realized he had made a huge mistake. He had just expended a huge amount of his arrows shooting at the peasants straw decoys. The peasant army reeled the boats back in, and with a new found supply of arrows, went on to win the battle and maintain their independence.” (translated from Chinese)


The informant is from Taiwan, and it is easy to see how the Taiwanese would come up with a story where a smaller, less equipped army defeats a larger invading force with their wits. As Taiwan has been at odds with their Chinese neighbor across the strait, such a story would be a nationalistic tale to inspire the people of Taiwan in their own struggle to gain independence as the underdog achieves victory. It is also a story that parents would likely tell their children in order to promote pride and resourcefulness as qualities to pursue.

Whether this battle actually occurred, or the story is the product of fakelore is a question that cannot be easily answered. In both cases, we see motifs such as the brave good leader defeating the looming imperial force with overwhelming numbers, never giving up and beating incredible odds.

Ghostly Experience

“In third grade we went on a field trip to this place called the Heritage Farmstead, which was like an old abandoned farm that had been restored and turned into a museum I think. We were walking around outside looking at all the old tools and machinery and stuff they used in the past and the tour guide was talking about the people that lived there in the 1800s. But I swear when I looked up at one of the buildings, I saw an old man staring out of the second floor window. He started to turn away and I grabbed my friend but by the time he looked, the old man was gone. The tour guide told us that no one lived in any of the buildings anymore, and when I asked, they said rarely anyone ever went inside except the occasional maintenance person. I’m almost sure I saw a ghost that day, the dude was really white and looked almost transparent. I was kind of freaked out, and even telling you now I get the shivers thinking about it.”


The informant has turned his experience into a memorate, an experience affected by social conditioning to fit the mold of a well known archetype. He is the only one to have seen the man, saying it was gone when his friend looked. Also, he describes the ghost as white and almost transparent, saying it was of an old man. While these all may have been true facts, it is probably that his experience was changed to fit the description of “ghost.”

Also, the conditions in which the experience occurred are prime for ghostly sightings. Old, abandoned farms are places where ghosts reside, liminal areas where the old inhabitants have left but the new have not yet come in. While it could have been a janitor or maintenance person, the informant chooses to believe that it was an encounter with the supernatural.

The Manananggal

“There’s this monster called the Manananggal, it’s like a monster that feeds on pregnant women’s babies. So what happens is at night, the monster detaches the upper body from its legs you know to eat the babies. The only way to kill it is to put salt on the lower part of the body. So like when the monster is out eating, you put salt on it so it doesn’t have a lower body to come back to. Just some widely known superstition in the Philippines. Everyone just knows.. tells it.”

The Manananggal is a monster in Filipino folklore. It is similar to the Western vampire as, according to sources on the internet, it is afraid of daylight and garlic cloves. Furthermore, it feeds on the blood of humans, and it can spread its condition by forcing others to drink its own blood. It is interesting that the informant did not include these facts, perhaps knowing only the oicotype of his region. According to the wiki pages for Filipino folklore, the Manananggal is closely related or even synonymous to another monster, the Aswang, and it is said that the Aswang originally appeared as a result of a pandemic, dystonia parkinsonism, and the natives’ misunderstanding of this illness.

The Mumu

“My mom used to scare me by telling me about the Mumu. Like a Filipino monster sort of that would take you away in the night if you didn’t behave. Like a boogeyman. Supposedly it was a miniature monster that looks kind of like a cat, and it knew when all the kids are misbehaving and not sleeping and doing all the things moms tell kids they shouldn’t be doing. And if you did do that thing, when you went to bed it would come to your house and kidnap you.”

The informant tells us of a creature called the mumu, which sounds just like the boogeyman. It is something parents tell their children in order to get them to behave or listen to directions. It is convenient for parents to have a monster that can keep watch over the children at all times, and this theme is found in many other stories parents tell their children, including the boogeyman or even Santa Claus. It is also interesting that these creature will always attack after bedtime, when the child is most vulnerable unless they are in bed under the covers. The effect is all the same. Kids are afraid to stay up past their bedtime, read with a flashlight, or misbehave in general.