Aug 22, 2021

Couchfish: A haunting tale

Dog meet ghost meet pool meet Bali

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The Couchfish podcast. Following a day by day itinerary through Southeast Asia—for all those people stranded on their couch.
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Those who follow me on Twitter will know I now have a dog. A Bali dog, around four months old. Friends found her litter on a building site, they cleaned up the pups and housed them with friends. So it is that Skye Govinda came into our household.

A few nights ago I was sleeping in my office as I’d been working late. Skye was snoozing on the floor beside me. Around 2 am, she went off her head barking. It was silent outside—even our crazed neighbour wasn’t up sweeping at that hour. I told her to stop barking but she’d have none of it. She would not stop.

You want me to detect ghosts? Can. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

I gave up trying to sleep, and, figuring she was barking at our ghost, I got up and took her for a walk.

Yes, we have a ghost—it lives in our pool.

Ghosts and water often seem to go hand in hand in Bali. The kids’ old school campus had two paranormal residents. Evidence was low key—tacks rearranged on the noticeboard, or a vase moved. Staff believed the ghosts lived in two ceramic jars by a class entrance. A new staff member, not aware of the spirits, washed the jars out one day after school. She wasn’t to know, but this was a mistake. A teacher told me how, after leaving the classroom for a short time, she returned to find every chair placed atop the tables. Yes, the ghosts did it. Queue Twilight Zone theme music here.

Shifting light can play tricks with your mind. See the ghost? (I don’t mean Will!) Photo: Stuart McDonald.

When I asked on Twitter about ghosts, Made Adhi Pratama recounted a tale like many I’ve heard from around Bali.

“We’re training for theatre comp at school’s open ballroom past 6 pm. We forgot to ask permission at the school temple, and suddenly a wave of trance was coming; 4 ppl were “incepted”. I chanted Gayatri Mantram & I felt that strong wind who pushed and wanted to enter me.”

Bali isn’t the sole preserve of the supernatural of course. I’ve written before about the haunted hotel in southern Laos’ Sekong. Not a subscriber? Briefly, the story goes two travellers drowned on the nearby river and have been returning to the hotel ever since to try and reclaim their luggage...

Moody early morning mist on the Sekong River, Laos. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

In Indonesia, the supernatural weaves its way all through the lives of the living, in other countries likewise. Andrew Biggs has a tongue in cheek whos who of Thailand’s great cast of ghosts. Some well-known ghost sites have even become tourist attractions. Who hasn’t been to Bokor Casino and thought, hell this place has to be haunted.

Sometimes though, you don’t need to change countries for an otherworldly experience.

Quite a few years ago I was home alone in Bali, in bed, and the hour was late. Both the bedroom and a part of the lounge room face onto the pool. While the initial plan held for no doors at all, we went with cantilevered glass doors.

Bokor Casino is totally not haunted. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

I woke and could hear tap tap tapping on the glass doors in the lounge area. The sound, while not loud, was persistent. Figuring it was a frangipani branch brushing against the glass, I got up to investigate. When I walked into the lounge, the sound stopped.

Thinking I was imagining things, I went back to bed, but as soon as I was back in bed, the sound started again.

I got up again, walked out, and again, as soon as I stepped into the lounge room, the sound stopped. Confused and a little creeped out, I returned to bed.

Once again, as soon as I was back in bed, the sound recommenced.

And there we were thinking it was just the dry ice. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

I got up again, and as I walked towards the bedroom door, a chill came over me—there was no question—I was creeped out. By the time I stepped into the lounge, the hairs on the back of my neck and arms were standing on end.

As soon as I crossed the threshold into the lounge, the sound stopped. A chill washed across my body like a gust of wind. I was, for no sound reason, terrified. I darted back to the bedroom, slammed the door behind me, and jumped back into bed.

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Opposite my bed are a series of floor to ceiling open cupboards. The lower levels are filled with our clothes, towels and whatnot. The top-level, out of reach unless I’m on my toes, hold papers from the kids’ school. Tests, notes, scrapbooks, exercise books—that sort of thing.

Forget the Ghost of Mae Nak—check this cat out. Photo: David Luekens.

Laying in bed with my bed lamp on, my eyes fell on a pile of papers up at the top. I was staring into space more than at the papers particularly.

Then, all of a sudden, the pile of papers shot out of the cupboard, scattering all over the room. I almost jumped through the wall—and you’re probably not surprised to read, I didn’t sleep again that night.

I know plenty do believe in ghosts, and while I thought I did too, I wasn’t sure. Now however, I’m a believer.

Hanoi’s West Lake. There’s an abandoned cemetery below its waters. I’m sure there are no ghosts here at all. Photo: Samantha Brown.

The next morning, when our Balinese housekeeper arrived, I pulled her aside. She’s more in tune with these kinds of things, and she nodded as I told her what had transpired the previous evening.

“Oh bapak, that’s the ghost—they live in the pool,” she said.

This was the first I’d heard about a ghost living in our pool. She went on to tell me she had encountered it some time ago while minding the kids one night. It was dancing in the pool and she could hear it splashing around.

When I asked why she hadn’t relayed this information to me at the time, she told me, she felt, as I was a foreigner, I wouldn’t understand.

Nobody wants an angry ghost. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Dancing in the pool was apparently of no concern—the ghost was happy. My experience though indicated the ghost’s mood had shifted.

Nobody wants an angry ghost in their house.

Bali being Bali, the solution was to have a ceremony. If you’re not familiar with Bali, offerings and ceremonies, Fred Eiseman, in Bali Sekala & Niskala, has a good summary:

“The Balinese are not paranoid about the dangers of the world. But they are acutley conscious of them at all times—on their guard. These forces are around all the time, and one cannot say when and where they might penetrate a weak spot and cause problems. The result is that offerings are made to just about everything imaginable.”

All good now. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

A priest arranged (and paid for), he conducted a ceremony in the lounge room by the edge of the pool.

We’ve not heard from our supernatural boarder since.

That was, until two nights ago—or perhaps the dog was just barking at the wall. That would be the more scientific explanation.


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