There's the ghost of an old lady following me around, consuming my life force.
This is one of the first things I learned from Senior Master Jeroen. I was in Singapore to meet with the father-and-son duo behind Ghostbuster 99, the most-famous exorcist service in the city-state. Their office was inside the Katong Shopping Centre, an unassuming blue and yellow mall full of vacant storefronts and agencies offering migrants from China, Indonesia, and the Philippines places to work. It was a weird spot to meet a couple of "spiritual masters," but I really had no idea what to expect. I figured that the real "Ghostbusters"—the Hollywood ones—worked out of an old firehouse, so is a beat-up mall really all that different?
Grandmaster Chew Hon Chin was in his office wiping down the sculptures and tightening the bolts on a table full of offerings and incense for the gods when I arrived. The 71 year old broke into a smile when he saw me. It was a few days before Chinese New Year—boom times for a pair of exorcists who sell a service that can cleanse your apartment of ghosts and malicious spirits and allow you to start the new year off right.
Jeroen mentioned the old lady early in our conversation. I tried to keep my cool. "You're not the first one to tell me that," I told him. And it was true. Back in Jakarta I once interviewed a woman who had been handling domestic violence cases for years. When the interview ended, the woman went on and on about how the spirit of my great-grandmother was following me, "protecting" me from harm. But here he was saying she was consuming my energy. Could it be the same woman?
Before I could ask him, he changed the subject, launching into a pitch of their services.
"We are specialized in enhancing luck,” Jeroen told me. “When we talk about luck, it’s about energy that moves around us. We change the energy around you, and it does not only change your perception, it also changes what people think about you. Your positive energy can affect people—we call it vibes—and those vibe can affect people who will become your friend or your enemy.”
Chew wasn't always a ghost buster. Eighteen years ago, he was a businessman, but when his business suddenly collapsed he suspected that something mystical was afoot. He told me that someone had cast a black magic spell on him, one that destroyed his livelihood but opened his eyes. When another spiritualist removed the spell, Chew's eyes were opened to a totally new world. He was determined to become a spiritual master himself.
“The reason you’re able to learn is because God has chosen you,” his son explained.
The pair take their calling seriously—the mystical arts are not something to fuck around with, after all. New applicants to Ghostbuster 99 need to undergo Chew's supervision for at least three years before the real training begins. The intensity of his process helps weed out the candidates who aren't sincere enough, Jeroen explained. Since the exorcism service was established, some 50 people have dropped out of the training program. Today, only three people work as official spiritual masters—Grandmaster Chew, Senior Master Jeroen, and Junior Master Calvin Chong.
It's these high standards that allow Ghostbusters 99 to handle the "big cases," Chew explained. His team had removed a hex placed on the home of Malaysian man who owned a massive conglomerate. They conducted a three-night ceremony in Thailand and even helped the family member of a Chinese prime minister. That last job ended with prominent members of the Chinese Communist Party telling Chew that he was one of the most-influential members of the Chinese diaspora, he told me with pride. His face was even on a stamp in China once, Chew said.
He offered to read my energy with a dowsing rod. The device was made up of two small metal sticks that allegedly pointed whenever they detected energy. Chew told me that whenever both of the sticks moved toward each other, it meant that bad energy was present. When the moved apart, it found some good energy.
So what kind of energy did I have?
"Your energy is not very good," he remarked. "But it's not bad either."
Next, he insisted on helping me vanquish the spirit that was following me. But first he had an important question—did my mother have a miscarriage?
It sent a chill down my spine. My mother did have a miscarriage, of a baby girl before I was born. How could Chew know this? I nodded and listened.
Chew told me that the old lady and my unborn older sister were following me. He said that their spirits were affecting everything, taxing my career, my love life, my finance, and even my relationship with my family. He said the spirit of my older sister was following me around because she was angry that she never got the chance to be born. Or get married.
I rolled my eyes at this last part. What is it about old men and their obsession with women getting married? But I kept my mouth shut. This was a free session that typically costs people $300 SGD ($226 USD) after all.
Chew then put my birthday into some software on his computer so that he could see my natal chart. He told me that I had a very strong birth date because I had both the fire and metal elements on my chart. If I wanted to get rich, I needed to wear red and yellow or red and white. Who knew my sartorial sense was keeping me poor?
Then Chew shifted his attention back to marriage. I need to marry "that guy" by 2020. What guy, I don't know—there is no guy—but I guess I have two more years to meet him.
"If possible, you should marry him in 2020," Chew said. "Don't miss the opportunity."
So who were Ghostbuster 99's clients? Jeroen told me that while their practice was rooted Taoism, most of their clients (70 percent) were Christian. That's because their service isn't really about one religion—it's about the energies and unseen forces that work exist around us. Almost all faiths have a concept of positive and negative energies, and a sense that you need to fight against the dark forces in your life, he explained.
After the reading, Jeroen and his dad took me to conduct a simple ritual involving a paper doll that represented my unborn sister. Jereon and Calvin took me outside to a small stone furnace looking thing near the shopping center and told me to say goodbye to my sister. Nearby two dogs suddenly started barking at each other. Their owners look startled by their pets' sudden anger. The dogs barked until the fire consumed the last of the paper doll.
Then Jeroen and Calvin took me back inside. As we walked Calvin turned to me and said, "Don't look back. If you do it means you haven't let go and she won't leave you alone. So just look forward."