"I’ve seen them myself", reveals a young woman who works as a graphics designer in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's sprawling capital. "They ran across the road in front of my car and caused an accident. They look like people but they’re not-they’re smaller and faster.
The nether world of ghosts and spirits in Peninsula Malaysia comes to the fore dramatically during the eighth Lunar month, normally around August or September, when the Chinese community celebrates the Hungry Ghosts Festival.
Offerings burn outside houses and businesses premises throughout the region and temples throng with crowds paying respects to their ancestors.
Spirit mediums sometimes roam the temples during this period dispensing their wisdom to an eager public.
People jostle and shove to get a chance to speak with these strange people who are said to inhabit a nether world halfway between the living and the dead.
The mediums dispense advice to those who seek solutions to problems, volunteer a glimpse of the future for the inquisitive or divine lucky lotto numbers, direct from the spirit world, for the gamblers who come to talk with them.
Feared and admired these individuals command enormous respect.
The festival coincides with the birthday celebrations of the fiercest looking God in the Chinese pantheon, Fat Chi Cong, which seems appropriate since he is assumed to have power to control malevolent spirits.
Celebrations reach a climax when Fatt Chi Cong possesses the body of a senior member of the temple hierarchy. At this point, it is believed, the God is present among the people and the possessed person acquires all the powers attributed to Fatt Chi Cong.
They are reputed to have a divine insight into the future, are able to offer advice to troubled people who come to talk with them, and are said to acquire superhuman powers of strength and endurance.
This story chronicles the celebrations in Malacca, a 90 minute drive south of Kuala Lumpur, and looks at the rituals of fire walking, possession and acts of bravery by temple priests.