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The Chinese Seer


Now, when SNAP JUDGMENT, the "Campfire Tales II" episode returns, it's not easy to scare a fifth-degree black belt and professional martial arts instructor, SNAPers. It's not easy, but it can be done. Stay tuned.


WASHINGTON: Welcome back to SNAP JUDGMENT, the "Campfire Tales" special. We're featuring some of our favorite stories for telling under a full moon. And you got to know that people in our home base of Oakland, Calif., they hang out from all over the world. And we've discovered that when you move in, you don't just settle with your family and your stuff. People bring their ghosts with them. Our next story was produced and lived by Stephanie Foo.

STEPHANIE FOO, BYLINE: It's a dark and lonely road somewhere around Santa Clara, Calif. My father's in his car, driving his friend, Lee, home from a dinner party. His friend Lee is quiet, staring out the window.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All of a sudden he said, don't look back, don't look back now - out of nowhere. And his eyes were big, big like lanterns. And I said, why not? And he said, there's a ghost in the backseat.

FOO: Now, hearing this would send shivers down anyone's spine, but my father has always been a rational man.

Why did you tell me that the tooth fairy wasn't real when I was 4?

MAN: I thought as a 4-year-old, you should know that all these things are inventions just to keep kids happy.

FOO: And at this point in his life, Lee was not the most reliable of sources. He was really going through a tough time.

MAN: He lost his job. He's psychotic. What it means is he hears voices. He sees things that are not there. He's mentally unstable.

FOO: The things he saw and heard would usually come out late at night, around 2 in the morning. He said the ghosts live in the chimney.

MAN: He just said, I hear voices. I hear things. I hear knocking, knocking, knocking.

FOO: My dad tried to convince him to see somebody, but Lee refused. And there just comes a point where your friends have to help themselves. But one day, on a business trip to China, he brings up his friend to some colleagues and they mention...

MAN: A seer.

FOO: What's a seer? Is it like a psychic?

MAN: I guess it's a psychic - a Buddhist priest.

He's a friend of a friend. And I say, hey, I don't want to pay money for a bunch of hocus-pocus, right? And my friend said, no, no, no, no, he doesn't charge at all. He won't take a penny. As a matter of fact, if he takes money, he will lose his power.

FOO: So my dad says, what the hell, it's free. He's already in China. Let's just see how it goes. They meet in a restaurant. The seer is this totally normal guy. He's wearing a T-shirt, he's a construction worker, and he's completely uneducated.

MAN: He knows zero English, and he knows nothing about Internet. I'm sure he doesn't. I'm not even sure he's very literate, this guy.

FOO: Which made his abilities all the more strange.

MAN: Actually, all I had to do was say, well, I have a problem with my friend. And he already basically started to talk like he knew what I was talking about. He says, yes, I see him, and I see what his problem is. He looked away for an instant and then he says, I see his house.

I asked him, you know, you don't even know where the house is. He says, oh, I know where the house is exactly. So he starts describing the house. OK, the house is bright in one spot, facing this direction. However, that doesn't prove anything, OK?

FOO: But just as my dad is getting skeptical, the seer gets more and more specific. He goes through what the floors are made of, where their hot tub is, the color of the couch, the shape of the coffee table. And each time, he's right. And then he uses his hands to illustrate the limbs of a strange, gnarled tree in Lee's backyard.

MAN: And when I went back to the house, I looked at the tree - my God, the directions the branches were pointing is exactly the way his arms moved. He's like a spiritual Google map. By then, you know, my goose pimples are starting to grow on my arms. This is really eerie.

FOO: Then the seer says that Lee wasn't even supposed to live in this house. He'd bought another house 10 years ago, but moved into this one instead because his wife wanted to. My father had not known any of this.

MAN: And there was absolutely no reason why the seer would know.

FOO: But later, he finds out...

MAN: It's true. The history is true. He can see across oceans, and he can see back in time.

FOO: OK, so the guy can see stuff - cool. But so what? What does this have to do with Lee's visions?

MAN: And this guy said, there are two ghosts in this house who's bothering your friend. One of the ghosts he described was an old white woman who's all hunched over, and she hops around like a bird. The other ghost he described was an old man. And the old white man had a big gash - a big, bloody gash right across his chest. And they hang out right next to the chimney.

I asked him, how do you see things? He said, you know, as I talk to you now, someone over there is seeing for me.

FOO: The seer tells my dad that the ghost world is kind of like a bureaucracy. Areas in the world, divided up like cities, are ruled by deities who see everything that happens there, and they monitor the actions of ghosts. Ghosts are souls that don't have enough energy, or qi, to re-enter the cycle of reincarnation, so they loiter around the world like it's a 7-11 parking lot. But if a ghost claims that you did something to him horrible in a past life or maybe if he just doesn't like you, he can submit a request to the deities to take revenge on you.

MAN: So I did ask him, you know, OK, are there spirits around all the time? And he looked around. He was in the restaurant. He said, oh, over there next to the door are two of them hanging around. And I said, oh, my God.

STEPHANIE FOO, BYLINE: But the ghosts can't get to you unless you're low on qi.

MAN: OK, your energy level is like an immune system. If you're happy and if you're a strong person, no ghost can come anywhere near you.

FOO: But if you're depressed and low on energy?

MAN: (Laughter) Oh, you're in deep [expletive]. So I asked him, what can you do? What can we do to help him?

FOO: And the seer says that since he's thousands of miles away, he's afraid to send a spirit to chase off the ghost because he doesn't want to get them even more angry. But there's a really easy solution - Lee should just make tea from leaves of a Pomelo tree. In Chinese culture, Pomelo leaves are supposed to ward off bad luck. There's only one problem.

MAN: I don't know. There are no Pomelo trees, not in California.

FOO: So my dad's like, OK, I'll smuggle some in through customs.

MAN: And this seer says no, you don't need to. There's a Pomelo tree in the back of his house. I said no, there are no Pomelos in California. And he says no, no, no, no - there is one. On the way back, I am really thinking, holy smoke, if there is a tree, really a Pomelo tree, I wouldn't know what to think.

FOO: So he gets back and he goes to Lee's house. He doesn't tell him about the bloody gash and all that because Lee's already unstable, and he doesn't want him to flip his lid. So he just sort of glosses over the seer's visit and says, so what does it take for a guy to get some Pomelo leaves around this joint? And Lee's wife says...

MAN: ...Of course, there's a Pomelo tree! When I heard that I almost freaked out. I mean, absolutely freaked out. How the heck do you explain that? I don't know how to explain that. I'm not a - whatever - unreal being type of guy. In my own life, there's never been any evidence of ghosts. Man, this is as close as - to physical evidence that I can think of.

FOO: Nine months go by, but Lee isn't getting any better. Since he doesn't really know the whole story about the creepy couple in his house, he's not drinking the Pomelo tea. Late one night, he gets up and starts to pound on the walls of his house with a hammer while screaming the entire time. Lee is starting to go completely insane. They're desperate, so my father takes Lee to China with him to go see the seer in person. This time, the seer knows exactly what to do.

MAN: The ceremony. You know, the Chinese burn gifts to the spirits. We burned a car (laughter).

FOO: (Laughter). You burned a car?

MAN: Well, not a real car - a paper car. The 3-D models - very elaborate. So you burn all this stuff - of course, lots of cash...


MANNIE FRESH: (Singing) House real big, cars real big, belly real big, everything real big.

MAN: ... A passport with a big American visa in it.


MAN: Piles and piles of cash and the paper Mercedes-Benz.


FRESH: (Singing) I'm rich, [expletive], I'm a real big-timer.

MAN: A Mercedes costs $10, the Volkswagen cost $8. So what the hell? You (laughter make sure you get the best - treasure chest full of cash.

FOO: And the seer dressed-up to conduct the ceremony.

MAN: Oh, man, he looked the part. He's got these Taoist ropes. He's got a sword. He's got a Taoist hat. He's got a belt.


He went and chanted all these things for a full hour. At the end of it, they said, OK, as long as you live in this house, nothing great will happen to you. But for now, the ghost will not bother you anymore.

FOO: For now? He doesn't see ghosts anymore?

MAN: Not that I know of.

FOO: Have you seen him recently?

MAN: I saw him a few months ago. He doesn't have that panicked look around him anymore. Well, you know, he never - he didn't see things anymore.

FOO: Maybe I should go and try to see if there were really an old lady and an old man - look up the history of what happened there.

MAN: Well, that's not a very good idea. First of all, you probably won't see anything, and if you did see something, you're totally screwed.

FOO: Why?

MAN: (Laughter) Because they might come home with you. Why would you want to screw around with things you absolutely have no understanding with? That's not a good idea.

FOO: How are they going to come home with me? In the backseat of a car?

MAN: They'll come home with you any way they can.

FOO: I was raised to be a rational person. But now when I'm driving home late at night, I keep an eye on the backseat.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.