On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Fascinating culture of ghosts and phantoms

It has also been reported that some visitors walked 1km
from the nearest LRT station and jumped across railings to cross the highway to
the museum. They are certainly a spirited bunch.

There have also been reports that about a dozen people fainted in the 200m-long
queues outside the museum.

The Exploring Ghosts: Mystery and Culture Exhibition which opened on June 26
has so far attracted – or lured – over 300,000 visitors, a record for the
museum, and will be extended another month.

Many have questioned the massive interest among Malaysians in ghouls and
supernatural beings in this era of globalisation.

But it comes as no surprise to me. It has a lot to do with our psyche,
regardless of race. Consider this: the feuding factions in the MCA spent 14
months quarrelling over allegations of phantom members.

Foreign political scientists can be pardoned if they have never come across
such a term. Phantom members are those who have died but their names are still
on the rolls, thus the term.

But the politicians were grumbling over members with different addresses and
those supposedly untraceable. These phantoms, it seems, are alive but cannot be

Politicians who are used to disappearing acts after the elections are, of
course, familiar with the term "ghost writers."

The term refers to academics, journalists and special assistants of politicians
who write impressive speeches for their bosses to read out.

Come every election, the ruling coalition would often be accused of using
"phantom voters" but when the Opposition wins they strangely ignore their
earlier claims, saying the people have exercised their democratic right.

But not before both sides hurl abuses and allegations during campaigning, with
insults like syaitan and iblis. It's frightening but true in the Malaysian
political context.

And when the political temperature shoots up, politicians have been known to
flash the jari hantu (middle finger) to their rivals.

Should the ruling party lose, the Opposition would then justify its actions by
saying the former never had a "ghost of a chance" in the first place.
Opposition politicians would have conveniently forgotten that they often cry

Sometimes, articles and even books are written by these unseen figures in the
name of these politicians. Occasionally, these figures appear in public but
like the penunggu or spirits, they are supposed to stay behind the scenes.
Those akin to the hantu tinggi, the press can often pick them out if they crane
their necks a little.

Lately, Malaysian crime reporters have come up with a new term – phantom cars.
It refers to vehicles that were "registered" but did not have any documents to
show at the Road Transport Department (JPJ).

Last week, The Star reported that the police smashed a syndicate – comprising
JPJ officers, used-car dealers and a mechanic – involved in forging and
falsifying the registration of military vehicles with those of suspected stolen
and smuggled vehicles.

And if you think that's the end of the Malaysian obsession with the underworld,
you're wrong. Next month, the Chinese community will celebrate the Hungry Ghost
festival where the King of Hades is supposed to roam the streets in search of

Understanding the importance of the event, no Chinese politician in Penang
would want to miss any of the dinner gatherings. The penalty for being absent
can be grave.