Spectators were warned at the beginning of the annual Chinese and Japanese Ghost Story Night that with each story, the veil between the realm of the living and the dead grows thinner.
As each story was told, a candle would be blown out, supposedly to bring the dead closer. There were nine lit candles at the beginning, which were extinguished throughout the night.
Some of the actors were dressed in approximations of traditional Chinese and Japanese clothes. Some were in bathrobes. Some were in drag. Girls were boys and boys were girls when the role called for it. And some groups knew their lines better than others; there were groups where everyone had their lines memorized, and there were some who were dependent on notecards and scripts.
People in the audience wandered in at different points during the program, helping themselves to a sampling of Asian snacks that lined three tables in the back of Ness Auditorium. The crowd talked and laughed amongst themselves between acts, but was silenced by the ringing of a small black bell signaling the next act. Students were all sitting in the middle of the floor, setting the outline where the “stage” ended, while there were still chairs for everyone else.
The stories told varied greatly. Although the Japanese and Chinese programs put on the show, there was also a Korean ghost story and a Dutch legend.
A Dutch student in a Chinese 111 class, along with his group, performed the story of “The Flying Dutchman,” a ghost ship that haunts the seas and escorts the souls of those lost at sea to the afterlife.
The Korean tale was of a Gumiho, a nine-tailed fox creature that could transform into a beautiful woman. The monster would feed on the hearts of travelers, but it is eventually stopped by a musician and a rendition of the Elton John song “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” that got a laugh from the audience.
There were traditional tales from Japan and China told. There was the Japanese story of the jealous ghost of a samurai’s wife who rips off the head of his new bride. There was the tragic Chinese tale of the “Butterfly Lovers,” where two lovers can’t be together and a fellow suitor kills the man. The girl longs to be with him again, even in death, and the two reincarnate as a pair of butterflies.
There were also more modern ghost stories. One group did a Chinese legend of a man who accidentally gets trapped on a bus that was returning ghosts to the spirit world following a festival. He had to spit blood in three directions and then run away from all the ghosts on the bus.
“I really liked this year,” Shelly Chan, a Chinese language professor, said.
She said that over the years, the performances have gotten more creative and sophisticated, and that this year was probably the largest turnout they’ve had yet.