Exorcism, Singapore Style
The corner looked empty.
"There's an old woman standing there, wearing an old blue dress, and she has curly hair," professional exorcist Chew Hon Chin told his stunned client in the brightly-lit living room.
"Let's ignore her for now. Let me clear your house of dirty stuff first and I'll move her out later," the 64-year-old Chew told housewife Zhang Qiao Zhu, who hurriedly led him to one of the flat's bedrooms.
Inside, the stern-faced Chew produced a pair of metal rods bent at a 40-degree angle, stared at the black balls swaying gently at each end and finally pointed to a closed cupboard.
"There is a blue towel with a striped pattern inside," Chew told Zhang in Mandarin. "Take it out and remove it from the room."
Zhang, 56, complied meekly, not questioning Chew's pronouncements or his apparent ability to peer through closed wardrobe doors to identify "tainted" objects within.
Zhang called Chew when she sensed there was something strange in her neighbourhood, or more specifically her house, after feeling someone -- or something -- choking her every night whenever she tried to sleep.
Chew exorcises ghosts and repels curses for a living, and the word "Ghostbusters" is spelled out in English in a red sign with gold lettering above the entrance to his shop.
The stout man with tinted spectacles and a crisp crew cut says business is good in predominantly ethnic-Chinese Singapore, where religion and superstition remain deeply rooted despite mass affluence.
Chew, who says he handles three to four cases a day, offers services from "luck enhancement" costing 88 Singapore dollars (68 US) to "deceased appeasement" at "100 dollars per soul" -- although more difficult spirits command prices reaching into the thousands.
But the BMW-driving former nightclub owner said had to pay a high price to get where he is.
Chew said he acquired his skills after being cured of a curse placed by a vengeful former employee whom he had sacked.
He vomited blood, mosquitoes and metal filings for more than 10 years, Chew claimed.
After his recovery, Chew said the supreme Taoist deity known as the Jade Emperor visited him, made him a "godson" and told him the secrets of divining and exorcism, which entailed 108 days of meditation on a deserted island in neighbouring Indonesia.
But unlike the characters from the Hollywood movie, Chew does not use fictional technology in his ghostbusting efforts.
"I have the eye of the heavens -- when you come into my office I can immediately see the bad things behind you," the devout Taoist told an AFP reporter, pointing to the supposed location of a "third eye" on his forehead.
Chew said this enhanced vision allows him to detect malevolent energy emanating from specific items which he describes in painstaking detail to customers visiting his shop.
At a recent house visit, Chew used his metal rods to pinpoint what he said was the spirit's location, then flung coarse salt into a small bronze urn filled with burning charcoal.
A helper tossed in onion skins to produce an acrid burst of smoke.
"Ghosts are afraid of this smell, when the salt crackles it's like an explosion to ghosts and they will run," Chew said confidently.
He took his clients to a quiet clearing in suburban Singapore, where he lit a ring of fire around them and instructed them to step over it. After the ritual, the clients were soaked in a tub of herb-spiced water.
"Fire burns away all the evil from your body, water cleanses the soul," Chew said.
Chew's shop, situated in a shopping mall a 15-minute drive from the financial centre, also doubles as a ghostly jail, with sealed plastic "cells" containing objects discovered during his work lining a wall beside an elaborate altar to the Jade Emperor.
Vials containing dark liquids, macabre finger-sized dolls and wooden carvings of faces beneath an ominous sign saying: "Nice to see, fun to touch. Once broken, more business for us!"
Chew was sanguine about his close proximity to the spirit world,
"As a policeman or soldier, I should not be afraid of criminals or war. As a ghostbuster, I should definitely not be afraid of ghosts, in fact ghosts should be afraid of me!"
* * * * *
Published on 4/23/11