Spooky nights a chilling treat in South Korea

Wed Sep 5, 2012 2:00am EDT
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By Jane Chung

YONGIN, SOUTH KOREA (Reuters) - On a rainy South Korean summer night, Na Won-ju, eyes shut tight, is glued to her boyfriend in a desolate village in Yongin as pale figures in white with loose black hair dart out at them from the shadows.

Unlike in the West, where spooky activities like Halloween are concentrated in the darker months of the year, visiting haunted houses at amusement parks and watching horror movies are a popular summer pastime in South Korea, with people believing a good fright will help them keep cool.

Na, 25, is one of the thrill-seeking young Koreans spending the night in a village in Yongin, 40 km south of Seoul, where people dressed up as ghosts roam at will.

"I came here just to beat the heat, but it was spookier than I thought," said Na, clutching her boyfriend's arm.

Summer is the season of horror in South Korea, when traditional spooks called "gwishin" - the souls of the dead trapped on earth - are believed to roam the countryside.

The Yongin village - otherwise used to shoot historical dramas - puts on the ghosts for the summer, the only such event in the country. But people interested in spirits also gather to visit houses that are said to be haunted.

Most Korean ghost figures are female or so-called "virgin ghosts" with long hair who wear white sobok, traditional mourning clothes. They existed for years as a warning to society, since to die a virgin - which in those days meant single - was a disgrace in patriarchal Korean society.

Children thrill each other with tales of a bathroom gwishin, who lives in squat toilets and asks people if they would prefer blue toilet paper or red toilet paper. Urban legend has it that one recording studio is haunted by the silhouette of a ghostly singer or echoes of songs - though seeing a ghost while recording is believed to guarantee a hit.   Continued...