Foreigners bewitch Aisan cities with Halloween spirit


Warlocks and ghosts and things that go bump in the night Tuesday prepared for the witching hour, as ex-pat communities bring Halloween and an excuse to party to some Asian cities.

Although Halloween has its roots in pre-Christian and Celtic culture and is commonly seen as an American tradition, today it is being openly embraced by many across the region as a commercial exercise.

Night clubs and bars see it as a way of drawing the crowds, while shops keen to cash in sell a wide array of masks, sweets, pumpkins and costumes.

In Singapore and Bangkok, Halloween spells party time for adults, although ever work conscious Singaporeans made sure they got their fun at the weekend rather then upset the mid-week office rhythm.

The Venom disco, which views Halloween as its annual showcase event, spent nearly 200,000 Singapore dollars (114,000 US) on a three-day extravangaza entitled the Brain Dead, which included the Australian all-girl band, Bardot.

The Zouk nightclub hosted a “Abominable Giant Man Eating Zombie Tea Party” on Saturday, while thunder and lightening added to the atmosphere at the Sentosa Resort’s bash in a dilapidated military barracks.

In Bangkok, devilish fashion shows were put on and ghoulish displays erected in shops, with staff disguised as werewolves and ghosts.

Bars and restaurants catering to foreigners also held Halloween theme nights, while large parties were planned in back-packer tourist centers.

In the former British colony of Hong Kong, a night of events was planned in the popular bar district of Lan Kwai Fong.

But the Western festival commemorating the night when the spirits are supposed to walk the earth, is still in its infancy here, even though the Chinese are notoriously superstitious.

One Hong Kong shopkeeper asked why her toy shop, Whing Wah toys, did not sell Halloween costumes and accessories said it was too short a festival and she would be stuck with any unsold stock.

Halloween was “only popular for Englishmen,” she said, adding she was not sure what it meant.

“It’s not like our Chinese ghost festival,” she added, referring to the Ghost Month which begins on the first day of the seventh lunar month.

The Chinese festival draws from both Buddhist and Taoist beliefs and supposedly marks the opening of the gates of hell when the spirits come out to party for a month.

The Chinese burn paper money and goods to ensure the ghosts have a pleasant stay.

In mainland China, Halloween is also regarded with suspicion as some people fear that those who dress up in silly costumes and perform strange rituals are part of an evil cult.

However, bars and clubs in big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai were throwing Halloween parties Tuesday with costume contests, pumpkins and scary games for the growing expatriate communities.

The U.S. embassy also handed out a list of addresses for children to target with “trick or treat” demands, and children in ghostly costumes roamed Beijing’s diplomatic quarters.

Despite a tendency to import Western traditions, Halloween has made few inroads into Japanese life, except among those who have lived in the States or have foreign spouses.

However, 1,000 children did turn up at the residential compound for US embassy staff in Tokyo.

And on Tuesday, visitors to Tokyo Disneyland were allowed to dress up as Disney characters — a once in a year privilege, said spokeswoman, Shigemi Okumaru.

In Manila, the event took on political overtones amid the woes besetting President Joseph Estrada with slum dwellers due to put up mock head stones outside the gates of the Manila North Cemetery to symbolize the eventual death of the presidency.

But two women in New Zealand, fed up with the constant trick or treating, had a surprise hit with their party pooper signs featuring a crossed-out pumpkin.

“It’s not Halloween we’re against. It’s people coming and knocking on our door,” one of them told a newspaper.

“We want New Zealanders to think about whether they want this American commercialization.”