MEETING Chai Moi Moi is definitely a delightful session as the retired schoolmistress has so many stories to tell.
Having served in many Chinese primary schools in Kuching and the Baram areas for almost 40 years, she is now a familiar face at the Old Man’s Street and Central Market of Miri.
When I met her recently, the Kuching-born woman, now in her late 60s, told me about her paranormal encounters back during her teacher-training days.
Chai still remembers her early days at Teachers Education Institute (IPG) Rajang Campus in Bintangor some 45 years ago.
“I was really excited to start my training at college.
“Little did I know that it was the beginning of these creepy stuff, and it was not just me – it affected my room-mate too,” she told thesundaypost.
Chai said she already felt the chills when she entered her hostel unit.
“It felt like somebody was watching me. I felt really uneasy.”
It did not help that the women’s block was right next to the jungle, said Chai with a chuckle.
Then back with a serious face, she said the unsettling feeling continued on for a month after registration, and one night, it just got worse.
“In a dream, I saw this terrifying vision – a ghostly arm, with its hand trying to grab hold of me. The hand had spike-like nails!
“Crazy as it sounds now, the arm was hovering over me, trying to strike my head. It was so vivid!
“Luckily at that very moment, I woke up. I quickly recited the prayers that my Grandpa Chai Po used to chant whenever we went to the temple when I was a girl.”
Chai said back in the 1960s, she used to accompany her grandfather to the ‘Tua Pek Kong’ (grand temple) at Mile 7 in Kuching.
“Grandpa Chai Po was very devout. He believed in the existence of both good and evil spirits.”
“Grandpa taught me the prayers to protect myself from bad ghosts and evil spirits. I would have never known that those very prayers would help me later in life!”
‘Room-mate not spared’
Chai said her room-mate was also ‘disturbed’ by ‘the situation’.
“There was one time when my room-mate screamed in the middle of the night, and then she convulsed, as if she’s in a trance.
“When she came to, she told me that there’s a scary being strangling her.
“Actually, just before she screamed, I was having this dream of me in a sea of snakes.
“I was gasping for air, and my heart was beating at 100 per minute!”
The following night, Chai was left alone in her room, which felt unusually cold.
“I had goosebumps all over, but gradually, sleep took over.
“I could not really tell if it was a dream, but I felt a breeze coming in from one of the windows.
“Then, it was there!” she exclaimed, almost knocking me off the chair.
“Immediately, I remembered Grandpa and began meditating, calling out to ‘Tua Pek Kong’ for help.
“I chanted every word of prayers, again and again. Then, it stopped.”
The hauntings continued on, but Chai endured it and stayed on campus until her graduation at the end of 1979.
However, there were other trainees who just could not take it, she added.
“I remember this Foochow girl – thin, quite tall with long hair. She cried almost every night, just before sleep.
“And she sleepwalked! It really spooked us all out!
“There was a fellow trainee who could ‘see the veiled realm’ beyond us, and she told us that there was a ‘creature’ – only she could see it – that was following the Foochow girl around.
“That’s not the end of the story. Much later, the Foochow girl said she was ‘seeing things’ – one of the visions was a girl with a baby. She saw this many times at the clothes-washing area.”
Chai said by then, everybody on campus already had their own theories about the situation, one of which was the area used to be a burial ground.
“Whatever it was, the Foochow girl could not stand it. She left before finishing her training.”
Chai also said the IPG Rejang then-principal, Encharang Agas, although a devout Christian, had brought in every group there was to conduct traditional rituals to ‘cleanse’ the place.
“I believe that he did his best, but the hauntings continued up till the day I left college in 1979,” she said.
‘Life after campus’
Before she was accepted to the teachers’ college, Chai had taught at her alma mater Kuching High School for three years.
After graduation, her first posting was in 1980 at SK Telagus/Jerok in Simunjan District.
Although she learned a lot about other communities and their cultures there, her body just did not agree with the place.
“I got ill, lost my appetite and was suffering from insomnia. I lost a lot of weight,” she said.
Chai then asked for a transfer to Kuching, which was granted immediately. She was assigned to SK Kenyalang in Kuching where she went on to serve for a few months before being relocated to SJK Chung Hua Mile 10.
In 1985, she married Wee Chee Leng, her long-time pen-pal from Long Lama in Baram. At the time, Wee was a sales manager for a marketing company based in Kuching.
“In those days, there was no dating agency or online dating – either the older folks did the matchmaking, or we had pen-pals,” she laughed.
“Wee and I corresponded for a few years, and that led to us getting married.”
That same year, Chai was transferred to SJK Chung Hua Lutong in Miri, where she would serve for the next 18 years and ultimately, she got promotion to permanent to permanent Grade DG32.
In 2003, she was again transferred to Hua Kong Chinese School in Bakong, where she was promoted to senior assistant. Ten months later, she was posted to Kee Tee Chinese School in her husband’s hometown Long Lama – this time, as headmistress.
She served there until 2011, when she transferred to SJK Chung Hua Pujut in Miri and stayed on until her retirement on March 24, 2015.
“Teaching is a noble profession,” she said.
“We get to educate our young generation and help prepare them for the future.
“I don’t have children of my own, but I regard all my pupils as my own.
“I am so grateful to have a very patient and understanding husband, always supportive of my work.”
Chai said her experience in several Chinese primary schools had taught her many things, one of which was the importance of developing good relationships with the board of directors.
“At times, they did not quite agree with my style of administration. How I addressed this was to prove to them that how I guided and managed my staff and my pupils could bring excellent results, all within the budget.
“I also learned the importance of always working closely with the District Education Office, so that I would never lose sight of the national educational policies and objectives.”
Chai admitted that she was a very strict educator.
“The pupils would stay quiet whenever I walked past their classes, and behave well whenever I was around.
“However, I knew that I had also encouraged them to learn well, to always be disciplined and to always respect their teachers, their elders and the non-academic staff. Once the pupils learned about and understood these things, they would uphold these values for life.
“This was the very thing that I wanted to inculcate in them. After retirement, many pupils and members of my staff team continue to stay in touch with me.
“I’m just so happy to see that my former pupils are doing really well in life. That is the ultimate reward.”
Another rewarding experience for Chai was her contribution to the community where she had served.
“I was so happy to be able to help obtain the extension of the school land, where Kee Tee Chinese School is now adjacent to Long Lama Public Park.
“Also in my nearly four decades of teaching, I am now fluent in Mandarin, Bahasa Malaysia and English.”
Chai would forever remember her early teacher’s training days, saying that as terrifying as they were, the paranormal experiences did help build her character and at the same time, taught her to always respect everything.