Posted by: Sam Olsen | October 29, 2012

Halloween special 1: discount ghouls

It’s almost time for Hallowe’en. As many of you will remember from last year Hong Kong goes mad for this imported celebration. Partytime aside, the Chinese (well, Asian) obsession with ghosts makes this a rather spooky time for many. Houses that have seen murder or any kind of death are sent to Coventry, and many a building lies abandoned because of its bloody past.

The locals here even have a specific word for it. Any property with a history of unnatural death is called a Hongza – a term derived from the Cantonese word hong, meaning violence, murder or calamity, and za meaning residence. They typically sell for 10-40% below market value, which in a city where house prices near doubled in the six years after 2006, this can make a real difference.

There are plenty of property speculators who realise that there is a bargain to be had here, if the right buyer can be found. Generally these are foreigners, although whether this is because they are not as superstitious as the locals or because the estate agent doesn’t tell them about the flat’s past is up for debate.

One agent is happy to publicise where things went wrong at home. Squarefoot.com.hk have a whole site dedicated to haunted houses. As can be seen from the extract below, the details are rather matter of fact – which is all you want I suppose if you are a hard-nosed property investor looking for a bargain.

By the way, for those of you confused by ‘death by charcoal’, it is not ingesting it or any such wickedness. It is instead where people burn charcoal in a sealed room to create a surfeit of carbon monoxide which slowly kills you.

As Wikipedia notes:

“As the charcoal burns, the concentration of carbon monoxide gradually increases. Because of its toxicity (and not the exhaustion of oxygen as sometimes thought) CO concentrations of as little as one-tenth of one percent of the air in a confined space are fatal if inhaled over an extended period. The incomplete combustion of carbon produces carbon monoxide, which binds strongly to haemoglobin, rapidly decreasing the ability of blood to deliver oxygen to the body. This results in death due to hypoxia brought about by carbon monoxide poisoning.

The method is described as “easy and painless” compared to other suicide methods. Unlike jumping from a high-rise building or cutting with a knife, the suicidal person does not have to overcome their fear of pain. To simulate the condition of those who accidentally die from CO poisoning, one might take drugs such as alcohol to induce sleep.”

Interestingly enough for 70s music fans, this is the way that Brad Delp, the lead singer of Boston, committed suicide back in 2007. (Although not as interesting a death as that suffered by the drummer of Toto, who popped his Africa-stomping clogs from an allergic reaction to weed killer after a heavy spray session in his garden.)

So there we have it. There’s nothing like profiting from someone else’s misfortune. But the last laugh is sometimes on these heartless devils. It has been known for them not to be able to find a witless (read: Gwailo) buyer of these haunted hovels, in which case they sometimes end up living there themselves. Doesn’t make for such an easy sleep, especially at this time of year…

 

 

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