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A Local Ghostbuster
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ANACHRONISM hangs like a musty draught in the basement of Katong Shopping Centre.

It’s a rabbit warren of mom-and-pop shops peddling mops and pails, maid employment agencies, shoe stores, dressmakers and gaming outlets.

The tenant mix is quaint but shops No. 13 and 28, in particular, are wont to stop a casual passer-by in his tracks.

A pantheon of Chinese and South-east Asian deities stare out of the shop windows on which are pasted newspaper and magazine clippings in English and Chinese.

The signages are dramatic – gold and red affairs with the English word ‘Ghostbuster’ emblazoned boldly.

Both shops belong to Chew Hon Chin, 59.

Short but sturdily built, he wears his greying follicles in a neat crew cut.

His eyes are piercing and his chin is distinguished by a mole which sprouts strands of white hair.

He started the business about three years ago and sells himself as a specialist in, among other things, marriage and family harmony, career enhancement and, of course, exorcism.

‘The ghostbuster sign is my friend’s idea,’ he says in Cantonese. He speaks various dialects but no English.

‘I managed to register it as a legitimate business. It’s great because people find it both daunting and humorous at the same time,’ he says.

‘It has also attracted a lot of educated professionals,’ adds the enterprising man, who even has an English website, www.ghostbuster99.com.

When Master Chew, as he is known, strides purposefully through Katong Shopping Centre, some tenants acknowledge him in friendly greeting or with a respectful tilt of the head.

It has not always been the case.

‘I’ve actually been here 21 years,’ he says.

Chew, you see, also owns Miki Snack – a very popular eatery in the building famous for fish-head curry and prawn-paste chicken.

‘About 10 years ago, I’d sit at my stall, staring into space. I was thin, pale and sickly. People thought I was a drug addict.’

He wasn’t. The father of two sons and a daughter, aged between 27 and 32, believes he was hexed.

He explains: ‘I used to own a KTV lounge in Batam. I had a problem with one of the mummys and told her I would not be renewing her contract. I ate something that she gave me.’

His life, he claims, was in tatters after that.

‘The business started to bleed and I had to close it after losing a lot of money. For more than 10 years, I vomited mosquitoes, needles and iron filings. I couldn’t eat by day and I couldn’t sleep at night.

‘You can’t imagine the agony. I even tried to kill myself,’ he says, showing a 4cm scar on his left wrist.

He spent thousands of dollars seeking cures from shamans but to no avail.

Finally, if you believe him, the Jade Emperor deity possessed a priest who cured him by pulling needles from his shoulders and a long white thread from his stomach.

The deity, he adds, appeared to him in dreams and adopted him as a ghost-busting disciple, but only on the condition that he uses his skills to help – and not harm – others.

Chew also trained under monks in Thailand, and went on long meditation spells in Indonesia.

When he decided to set up his business, many – including his wife – thought he had gone bonkers.

‘No one believed me; my wife certainly didn’t,’ he says, laughing heartily.

‘But people came. Through word of mouth, more are coming.’

It’s a calling he never envisaged.

The second of six children of rubber tapper parents, he grew up poor.

With only a Primary 5 education, he worked variously as a coffee shop assistant and rubber tapper before becoming a welding apprentice at 16.

Enterprising and smart, he became a sub-contractor three months into his apprenticeship.

‘I soon had a welding business in Ubi. Ha ha, I had my days of glory, you know. I drove Celica sports coupes which were quite flashy,’ says Chew, who adds that the $24,000 gold, diamond-studded Rolex on his wrist was acquired during this period.

He later diversified into labour supply in Thailand.

‘Somehow, I had a premonition that the business would fail, so I decided to open Miki Snack. Even if I lost everything, I would still have meals when I’m back in Singapore.’

When his business in Thailand folded, he started the KTV lounge which would lead to his brush with black magic and mortality.

He is well aware that some people will accuse him of hocus pocus.

‘It doesn’t matter. People come here of their own accord. I don’t force them. I help only those who are in trouble.

‘I don’t do curses or spells to harm others. I have kids and grandchildren and I know the unspeakable agony when you’re hexed,’ says Chew, who sees about eight clients of various races and religious faiths a day.

He charges between $30 (for simple fortune telling) and four-digit amounts (for elaborate rituals involving otherworldly forces).

More than half his clients, he says, are English-educated professionals who seek solutions to woes, from sackings to hauntings and possession.

His work requires him to travel often around the region; he has even ‘cleansed’ houses in Sydney.

In his office crammed with the various paraphernalia of his trade – sacred knives and ‘celestial brushes’ – he shows me and the photographer Tupperware cases filled with spells, needles and vials of nasty-looking fluids.

He claims they have been unearthed from the houses of black magic victims.

He senses our discomfort and laughs. ‘Don’t worry, they’re safe.’

Not all cases, however, require his special powers.

He recalls a married engineer who came to him, lamenting that his mainland Chinese mistress had absconded with $30,000.

‘I asked him how long she had been his mistress. He said three years. I told him: She’s given you three years of her youth. I think $30,000’s a fair price.’ And I sent him packing.’

The chatty man invites us to Miki Snack for lunch.

Over his wife’s delicious prawn-paste chicken and very lemak fish-head curry, he says: ‘You know, I’m not afraid of malignant spirits. But I’m afraid of malignant human beings.’

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