City of Ghosts

Ghosts. They really catches up with us up by times. Our ghosts, they haunt us, they  involve us, and they embrace us. Usually we go to them.

It wasn’t until I was I went to Fengdu Ghost City in China, that I asked myself,  where do they go? I guess I had always believed in ghosts – a child of the eighties reared on good old fashioned Unsolved Mysteries (Robert Stack), not to mention Demi Moore, the Ghostbusters and a whole host of other eighties paranormal flicks. I had never wavered on the fact that, well, there was something more.

According to the China Travel Tour Guide, Fengdu was considered a “grave yard” for Taoism, as Tao believes that when people die, their spirits are gathered there – at Ming Mountain. The first thing I notice is temples – and hundreds of them. Tourists and heat accompany the day; a Mandarin speaking guide shuffles me along.

I find this spiritual place fascinating, with its an energy-centric temples and detailed sculptures. First, we walk up the two hundred steps up and into the realms of the great Chinese heavens. I know I’m a romantic, and I’m swept away in the rich mythology that surrounds us. Mitch, on the other hand, fakes that Leila has to pee and tells the guide that he will meet her at the bottom, not giving her the chance to reply. I can’t go with them. I really want to see more, to go up and up the steps of this unusual place.

We come to a huge character set in stone, Yi-er-sun -se. The characters individual meant kindness, comfort, and to make peace. When you put them together, they make: “Only Kindness Makes Peace”. All of the older Chinese people on the tour looked really impressed, flashing photos and sighing, “Ahhh, ahhh.”

Directly across from it was another giant character, meaning literally, “Happy Birthday Mom, 70.” This is the character for longevity. I wish we had the same system in English  of putting words together, equaling more than the sum of their parts. Haiku definitely comes close.

The tourists gather around each one getting their photo with the stone, and insisting that I get mine taken, as well. For luck, they say. I don’t want to offend the spirits here, dead or alive, so i comply. (Later I decide that the photo diminishes the eeriness).

I walk on, through a small temple and into another, observing the intricacies of this place. I’ve reached the Ghost Torture Pass, where the ghost report to Yama, the King of Hell. His goons stand out front – a goblin for just about every sin you can name.

Enter Lushy, Lusty, and according to the kid from Hong Kong that I ask,           the Professor -whose sin as far as I can tell – is that he thinks too much.

Judgement Day, I think to myself. Sheesh. Tough crowd. It’s funny what the living depict in the dead. Personally I’m hoping to go towards butterflies and star shine in the afterlife . Judgement by the King of Hell? Sounds pretty serious.

But wait- there’s more. I meet Yama, who doesn’t seem like too bad of a guy himself. He’s big, and red, and fiery – but I’m a fiery Sagittarius – so I think we’d get along. But once I pass Yama’s tests, there are more yet levels to the afterlife. (As if I didn’t have to prove myself enough in death).

Here we come to the torture chamber – where the spirits of the dead (in living color) come to judge all the ghosts that walk through. I have flashbacks to the Cavendish Wax museum, a place that used to scare the heck out of me. I’m glad that Mitch took Leila away.

It’s dark and it smell old and musty in here. I can only imagine the number of people that have made the pilgrimage to this dark place. Were, they scared, too, to meet their maker?

A culture obsessed with death. I look around. I’ve lagged behind the group, and I’m left alone with this guy, to face my own mortality. Would I pass his test?

I poke my head out the door of the temple and back into the light. My eyes hurt briefly as they readjust. Uh-oh. A reincarnation of what happens to those who don’t make the cut into the spirits’ good books: Hell.

I take a deep breath and peer behind the old wire barrier, broken in some places. Yikes. Be warned, dear human! What follows may irk your soul.

Here’s the entrance, I’m guessing where the poor tortured souls try to get back to their living lives. Double yikes.

I gaze into the display, somewhat unsure if I should approach the guide for explanations. Part of me is taken away, to this unearthly world of mad spirits.

Talk about putting the fear of god into people. I’m suddenly really sad for all those who fear this judgement, or any judgement for that matter. Can’t we all just get along?

Who’s the blue guy and how did he get the job?

I walk through ten different torturous deaths, all resembling the horror of the first. And I smile when i get to the end, because in good old fashioned Chinese style, when you’ve completed all the tasks, the Devil gives you tea. I like that. Maybe that means they call it a truce.

The final pagoda is a tall and intricate one. I catch up with the guide and ask about what the character says above the entry way. She explains that it is a safe place for the spirits, a way to transition them into the spirit world so that they don’t miss their lives too much. It says all that? I question. There are only two characters. Well, no, she explains. The characters say “Your [home] Kitchen Table.”

That’s awesome.

Well for the 80 kuai (about ten bucks) that it cost me to get into this place,  i’d say it was really worth it. I walked through life, was given longevity and strength, passed through my own mortality, and possibly through my very own death and judgement, not to mention that i had tea with the devil. And where do i end up? My kitchen table.

Anybody got a ghost story? Leave ’em here, and I’ll take ’em to the campfire. In the meantime, wishing you “happy birthday Mom, 70 years.” [longevity].


  1. As usual well written and intriguing….I must rethink Dad’s ghost stories that Mom begged him not to tell us as bedtime stories…Liz

  2. That sounds like a trippy place. I’ve heard that facing your ghosts makes you a better person and the imagery in this strange place looks like it would have a powerful effect. I really enjoyed the photography, the pic with that blue guy throwing somebody kind of looks like live action.

    1. What I kept thinking was, how terrifying would this have been for those who lived in the area. It was a really error place, but also kind of enticing as we so rarely have the chance to face our own demons. Thanks for the visit. M

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