Author Archives: Min Cho

Bloody Competition

My friend and I were staying up late on a Saturday night, studying together at Leavey Library. It was half past eleven, and my friend, needing a break from studying for her biology midterm next Monday, whispered, “Hey.” She pulled up her chair closely to mine, and began to let her distressed emotions out, bemoaning the fact that despite hours of studying, she just couldn’t absorb all the information she had just studied.

To distract her from the stress on midterms, I asked whether she knew any ghost stories. Well, it probably wasn’t the best way to console her, but she pondered for a moment. “I know one,” she whispered, and began her story.

“I read this once in a Korean ghost stories collection book—you’ve probably heard of it. So there was a student, a high school student, who studied really hard all the time so that she could be the top of her class. But no matter how hard she studied, she was always behind the first place and was in the second place. Have you heard of this story?” I vaguely remembered several stories that began in a similar way but wasn’t sure, so I shook my head no. “Anyway, one day she was studying as usual, and after class she was on her way home. But on her way home, she encountered an old grandma—a really creepy-looking grandma, who asked her: ‘Would you like to be at the top of your class?’”

“The girl, surprised that the grandma would ask her such a question so fittingly, said yes. Then the grandma said that if the girl wanted to be a valedictorian, she would have to drop blood on the toilet for one hundred days—” “Wait, what kind of blood?” “Any kind of blood, like animal blood.” “How much?” “Just enough blood not to flood the toilet but on one condition that the girl must not look at the toilet seat while she is dropping the blood. Desperate to be the top of her class, she took the offer.”

“Every day after class, the girl caught a rat, killed it and dropped its blood on the toilet, careful not to look at the toilet seat. But as she caught more and more rats, she could no longer find any more rats. Realizing that she had just ‘run out’ of rats, she even killed her pet cat and her pet dog as a sacrifice. On the hundredth day, she literally didn’t have anything else to kill—so she decided to cut her own finger and drop her blood down the toilet. But after 99 days of repeating the ritual, she suddenly got curious as to why the grandma insisted that she couldn’t look at the toilet seat, and decided to take a peek. So she turned her eyes ever so slightly, and guess what she found—” she paused. “What?” “The grandma, with her mouth widely open, ready to drink the blood that the girl had offered!”

After my friend finished her story, I asked her whether she thought the grandma was actually a ghost. She whispered, “I think so—it must be! Otherwise, how could she be inside the toilet drinking blood?” We sat silently for a while, thinking about the story. I felt a slight goose bump on my arms. “So did the girl manage to get in the first place?” I whispered. “I don’t know. The story just ended with the girl discovering the grandma…Yeah, it’s freaky.”

This story about a girl relying on a violent and extreme means to be the top of her class is not at all surprising in a country like South Korea, where academic competition is extremely intense. According to a study by the Korean Statistics Institute, 39.2 percent of suicidal thoughts amongst teenagers in Korea arise from academic competition (“Adolescent Suicide Rate”). It is interesting to see that such a phenomenon is more commonly associated with females, rather than males, and this seems to be the case because from my observation, females in general tend to get more easily jealous of others than their male counterparts.

It is no surprise, then, that my friend brought up the ghost story at such fitting time and setting, as at the time of the storytelling she was extremely frustrated by her upcoming midterms. My friend was complaining about how difficult and frequently administered the biology and chemistry midterms were, being administered every three weeks or so. She was under the intense pressure of having to outdo her peers, repeatedly telling me how in science classes, it’s a win-or-lose situation: either everyone does well and is satisfied with the score, or everyone does poorly so the grade curve goes up. Under such intense pressure, she almost felt compelled to tell the ghost story where the protagonist was one whom she could identify with at an intimate level. Therefore it seems that the story almost reflects her mental state: the pressure to perform well on her upcoming exams, as well as her concerns that other students would outdo her no matter how hard she studies. In addition, though ghost stories usually cause psychological distress, this story ironically seemed to be cathartic for my distressed friend who, by retelling the story, let her frustrations out through the portrayal of the protagonist who, too, was completely overwhelmed by studying and the pressure of having to do better on the exams than her fellow classmates.

Although the story did lack a definite conclusion, it did conjure up a scary mood, thanks to the setting at which the story was told. At the time, it was about 11:30 at night and we were in the library, which demands complete silence and is generally known to be one of the more haunted places on college campuses because its archive of antiquated collections are a reminder of both happy and tragic past eras, and we were whispering so as not to distract other students from studying. In addition to the setting, our whispers helped create the creepy mood, which was also well fit for storytelling.


“Adolescent Suicide Rate Increases by 57%.” Herald Economics. N.p., 10 Sept. 2013. Web. 12

Nov. 2013. <>.


The Haunted Tunnel

My friend and I were on a regular night walk the other day after dinner. It was only around 7 p.m., but due to daylight saving the campus was already dark and each passerby’s face hardly visible. As we were passing by the Viterbi area, one of my favorite places on campus and one covered with many trees, I brought up the question on whether she knew any ghost stories.

At first she said she didn’t, that she never had a ghostly encounter in her life. When I assured her that it didn’t have to be a personal experience and asked her again, she said, “Hold on,” thought about it for a moment, and began to recount.

“So I heard this story from one of my Korean friends. This is how the story goes. There was this tunnel in Japan—Shit, I forget the name, but anyway, it was a haunted tunnel. Apparently this tunnel is one of the three—oh fuck, I can’t remember—but it’s one of the most haunted places in Japan. So one day, this man was driving his car through this tunnel. And he heard a screeching sound [while driving] halfway through. Freaking out, he speeded up and tried to exit the tunnel as fast as he could. But then he started hearing this bustling sound outside of the tunnel, although he was pretty damn sure that he was the only one inside the tunnel. But no matter how fast he drove—he drove at like 100 km/hour—the tunnel was, like, never-ending. I mean, he could see this beam of light at the end of the tunnel but no matter how much he drove, he just couldn’t get past the damn tunnel.”

“Then suddenly, he saw this man pass by his car in a glimpse of a second. He doesn’t remember what the man exactly looked like, but the guy was wearing some kind of traditional clothes—it wasn’t—shit, what was the traditional Japanese clothes called again?” “Kimono.” “Right! It wasn’t kimono, but more like the Korean traditional clothes—what are they called?” “Hanbok.” “Yeah, that. So after seeing this creepy ghost, the man freaked out and stepped on the accelerator pedal as hard as he could. But you got to realize that this was a tunnel, built a long time ago and very dim aside from the flashing light at the end. The more he accelerated, the faster the ghost chased after his car, until bam!” She paused, holding her hands out, “The ghost caught up with the car, appeared in front of the mirror and completely covered the front view. The man then turned his handle to the left to get rid of the ghost, but he crashed into the cement wall and died instantly.”

“So it turns out that this tunnel was built a long time ago by Korean laborers who were forced by the Japanese to do labor during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Many, many Koreans died while doing the labor, and so the ghosts spotted in this tunnel are wearing hanbok to show their Korean heritage, I guess. Because there were so many cases of ghost appearances, the Japanese government then decided to shut down the tunnel.”

After my friend finished storytelling, I asked her what she thought about the ghost story. She said that the idea of haunted tunnel was not too original and that she had heard stories of other haunted tunnels and places before. Nonetheless, she was amazed by the past injustices revealed by the ghost story. Thus to my friend, the ghost story had more than just high entertainment value; it was an alternative perspective to and retelling of history, which ever so often glorifies accomplishments of the victorious and covers up the past injustices and wrongs committed to achieve that level of success.

Upon research, I found that the tunnel is called the Inunaki Tunnel and is situated in Fukuoka, Japan. According to Korean sources, this tunnel is one of the three most widely known haunted sites in Japan (Hwan). During the Japanese occupation of Korea, the Japanese forced Korean laborers to build the 433m-long tunnel, and during the construction many Korean laborers died while mining (Hwan). Rumors say that instead of giving the laborers proper burial, the Japanese simply interred the bodies in the cement walls of the tunnel (Hwan). Since its completion in 1926, the tunnel has been notorious for ghostly appearances of Korean laborers, screeching and wailing as if to express the ineffable grief of forced labor and separation from the family. Due to the many ghostly appearances, the Japanese shut down the tunnel in 1994 and trespassing is strictly prohibited today; yet written on the tunnel walls are messages such as “I want to go home [Korea]” and “I miss my wife and children” in Korean (Hwan).

East Asian ghost stories in particular seem to put much emphasis on the motif of grudge. South Korea has a poignant history of being conquered and brutally persecuted by its neighboring countries including Japan, and therefore it is no wonder that considering the improper burial and forced separation from family, they bore grudge upon death that could not be alleviated and made them return to the living world to haunt the living. Thus regardless of its truth value, this story reveals the history unique to South Korea.

Other motifs seem to be shared across cultural borders. The motif of an unappeased soul due to improper burial or infringement of the burial ground, for example, shows up in just about every culture. American college ghost stories on Native Americans, for example, are intended to reveal the disruption of sacred burial grounds for Native Americans and the callousness of Americans who excavated or built college campuses on the graveyards. In addition, “The Haunted Tunnel” resembles the famous Hispanic ghost story, “La Llorona,” in which the protagonist mother wails and mourns her children’s death. Both stories use crying and wailing as a symbol of the ineffable pain of both individual and social tragedies.

Hwan, Patrick. “Inunaki Tunnel: One of Three Most Haunted Spots in Japan.” Chung Myung

            Hwan’s Note. N.p., 9 May 2013. Web. 12 Nov. 2013. <>.