Skip to main content

An Ipoh Ghost Story.

When I was growing up in Ipoh in the 90s, the only good bookshops around were Mubaruk's, which specialised in textbooks (and still does), and Novelhut, the second-hand bookstore that used to be in Yik Foong (and maybe still is there, but I haven't checked in years since I prefer going to their Ipoh Parade outlet when I'm in town).

There was also a pretty good bookstore in the Parkson Grand in Ipoh Parade which could have been a Berita outlet, but I don't remember. This was in the days before they expanded Ipoh Parade into what it is today. (And temporarily causing the Convent school next door to consider moving.)

I recall this because I was thinking of when exactly I started reading "serious" fiction, trying to pinpoint the years when I moved from young adult/fantasy/sci-fi books into non-genre fiction. I still can't remember, but it brought back memories of a book I bought from a short-lived bookshop in Old Town.

Mum had brought me there, because she must have been looking for some rare exotic spice or ingredient that could only be found with the almost-forgotten Chinese traders in that part of town. Even back then the shophouses looked tired, with the cream white paint peeling from the walls, the rotten window shutters ready to drop in the next rainstorm, but business ran as usual. These were the wholesalers and they survived because they stocked what others did not.

I remember feeling a little surprised to find a newly-opened bookshop among these traders. Between the smells of dried fish and traditional Chinese medicine, there was this shop which offered a different kind of smell - the smell of musty old books. It sold both second-hand and new books, and mostly in Chinese. I browsed through the shelves and a small paperback caught my eye. It was purple and on the cover was printed a photograph of a ghostly white shape in the form of a woman.

It must really have been ages ago. I don't even remember the title but it was probably "True and Chilling Ghost Stories" or something to that effect. I read the first story. I was hooked. I had to bring this book home. So I asked mum to buy it for me. I read it all the way home in the car. I read it until it was time for dinner. I read it through dinner.

"Don't read while you're eating," Dad said.

Usually I'd acquiesce but this time I couldn't.

"But, I have to read this, Bapak," I said. "I just can't put it down. I just can't"

To my surprise, he shrugged and continued eating without saying a word.

That night, I couldn't sleep. The book, aided with the claim that the stories within were "true" scared the bejeebus out of me. But I couldn't stop reading it! I read it under the sheets in bed. And the next day, I read it in school, between classes. When I finished reading it, I read it again.

The fact that I couldn't stop reading the book, that somehow that was some mystic force pulling me in to keep reading it must have spooked me. Never before was I so entranced with a book. I became convinced the book was haunted. I started seeing things. Hearing things. When I was alone in the house, I imagined shapes moving in the corner of the eye, plates subtly shifting downstairs in the kitchen, phones ringing for no reason at all...

I had to get rid of the book.

I first tried lending it off to friends. No one wanted to borrow it, because I didn't have friends who liked (or could) read English. Then I tried to sell it off to the school library. The librarian teacher didn't want it but she borrowed the book from me anyway, wondering what all the fuss about the book was.

When she was done, I asked, "It was scary, wasn't it?"

"Ah, it was okay lah. I don't know why you're so scared about it though. It's just a normal ghost story book," the teacher said.

"No! It's cursed, I tell you! Cursed!" I said.

But the teacher just shrugged. "If you're so desperate to get rid of it, why don't you try selling it off to Novelhut?"

Now that was an idea. But I couldn't go there without my parents knowing, and if they knew I was going to sell a book, they would really get mad.

So, what I ended up doing was hiding it behind my wardrobe. And the curse was lifted. Temporarily.

Years and years later, when I was in Form 4, I decided to rearrange my room, and I rediscovered the book. The curse came back. I was overcome again by a strange urge to keep reading and reading the book. Though I wasn't as scared as I was when I was younger, it was still very creepy.

Fortunately, I was already old enough to go to Novelhut by myself, so I did what I could finally do - I sold the damned book off... and the curse was finally lifted.

I wonder sometimes whether I would still be spooked by the book at this age. Maybe, maybe not. I tell myself I'm too old to be scared of ghosts, but I'm still on edge whenever I hear something go bump in the night, and I prefer not to read horror stories if I can help it. Maybe the curse never was lifted...

Photo nicked without permission from


  1. Novelhut responsible (mostly) to introduce me into worlds of books and comics.

    I remember went to Novelhut with my mum every weekends. I had to admit that actually i prefer comics rather than books (that time). But i did eventually grew more interest for books after that.

    I also remember Novelhut because the owner is my mum's friend. I didn't remember her name though. hmmm...

    You entry does bring back those nostalgic sweet memories in Ipoh. Thank you.

  2. Yeah, it was the comics, mags and the Magic cards that pulled in the customers most of the time. I've never been into comics much (I prefer borrowing from friends) but I did buy a lot of game mags.

    Hey! My mum knows the owner too. But then, it's hard not to know the owner if you've been going to Novelhut for the past 15 years...

    I've never bothered to ask the uncle's/the auntie's/their daughter's name either. As long get discount, sudah la. Kekeke

  3. this is such a really nice bookshop story - v. atmospheric.

  4. There's no more Novel Hut in YF. That section of the complex is in a sad state. I expect bandits to appear around the corner when I'm there.

  5. You know, Ted, what you wrote was really interesting! You could make this into a story and sell it.

  6. Sharon: Thanks! I was hoping to get that "nostalgic" feeling going...

    Oceanside: I'm not surprised. Yikfoong always looked like a bandit haven, but I thought things would improve when it started becoming Ipoh's answer to Imbi in the late 90s. Guess Kinta City and Ipoh Parade is too much competition.

    Xeus: Glad you liked it! I could ya? No worries... more where that came from. Lots of stories to mine from Sleepy Ipoh... just need to remember them...


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

HOWTO: Get Rid of Silverfish

The bane of every book collecting person: the Silverfish. DUN DUN DUNNNNN!!! How to get rid of them? If one book has been infected, place it inside an air-tight plastic bag along with some silica gel desiccant. The silica gel is important to get rid of moisture, because you will now place the sealed plastic bag with the book in it inside the freezer. Leave it in there for a couple of days so that those bugs catch their death of cold. If you're feeling particularly paranoid, (like I usually am) feel free to leave the plastic bag in there for a week. If they're not dead, then you might likely have an infestation of zombie silverfish , which is out of the scope of this blogpost. But what if a whole colony of silverfish decided to invade your whole bookcase? Then you have to make sure you're ready for war. Place a generous amount of silica gel (or if you can find it, diatomaceous earth) behind your books at the back of the shelves so that moisture levels remain low.

Hitting 1000.

Last night Sharon quoted Raman of having said to writers when they bring him their manuscripts for publishing, "How many books have you read? Have you read a thousand books? If not, get out and go read a thousand books, then come back with your manuscript." His point being, you've got to have read a lot if you want to be a writer. And I thought to myself, a thousand books isn't so bad. I've probably read more. Er...Wrong. After some quick calculations, we determined that if a person read a book per week, it would take around 20 years to reach a thousand. I'm a slow reader. I'm only 25. There's no way I've read 1000 books my whole life! When I got home I counted the books in my house. I estimate I own around 300 books, probably another 300 left at my parents's house. That's only around 600 books that I own... and a lot less that I've read! So with that number in mind, I have resolved to start keeping track of my book reading. I ne

REVIEW: Pinball, 1973 by Haruki Murakami.

UPDATE: My Wind/Pinball review can be found here . ISBN: n/a Publisher: n/a Paperback: 160 pages In Murakami fan circles, simply owning a copy of Pinball, 1973 is a mark of hardcore-ness. Like Hear the Wind Sing before it, Haruki Murakami does not allow English translations of Pinball, 1973 to be published outside of Japan. Back in the 80s, Alfred Birnbaum translated it into English and Kodansha published it as a novel for Japanese students who wanted to improve their English. While the English edition of Hear the Wind Sing continues to be reprinted and sold in Japan (and available for a moderate sum via eBay, see my review ), Kodansha stopped its reprint runs of the English edition of Pinball, 1973 and has now become a collector's item, fetching vast amounts of money on auction sites and reseller stores. Last time I checked, the cheapest copy went for USD$2500. Of course, Murakami addicts or the curious can always download a less than legal PDF of the book, painst