My Acquaintance with Ghosts

And why I choose the supernatural over the rational mind

Lisa Lau
The Shadow
Published in
5 min readOct 9, 2022


Image by FrankWinkler at Pixabay

It was another sweltering day in Guangzhou, China. My brother and I stayed in while my mom and aunt, with whom we were living, went to the market. While my brother ducked into the air conditioned bedroom, I morphed into Gumby and flopped over the arm of the living room couch, melting into the cushion.

As the rotating fan blew in earnest to diffuse the heat emanating from my molten body, I heard the sound of bells jostle up the stairs. The sounds grew louder and louder as the bells came closer and closer until the jingle stopped right outside the door. A soft knock jolted my head into alertness.

In my foggy state, I opened the door to a man with a ghastly exterior. He was gray, frail, and listless. I felt the misty humidity creep through the rusty steel bars that stood between me and his doleful eyes. He wearily announced that he was here to collect the garbage. Stunned and unprepared for his presence, I told the man that we did not have any trash. I closed the door and went to the bedroom to tell my brother about our strange visitor. He shrugged and I turned on the television to distract the spectral figure from whirring in my head.

That afternoon when my aunt and mom returned, I told them that someone had come to collect the garbage. My aunt responded matter of factly that the trash was only collected on Wednesdays. It was a Sunday.

A few days later, I was curiously leafing through a family album with photos of my uncle who had passed away several years before. In one photo, my uncle was amidst a group of young men. A row behind him stood a tall slender man who looked jarringly similar to the man who came to collect garbage. His sharp jawline pierced through the photo that was fading in details and contours. I asked my aunt who the man was. She told me that he was a very good friend of my uncle’s. He also passed away several years ago.

I pointed my brother to the photo album and told him that this was the man who visited us. Not knowing what to make of it, we closed the unsettling feeling into the book. There, I sat bearing queasy witness to a chain of eerie events that has since expanded my acceptance of the possibility of the paranormal.

I always pride myself for having a rational mind, but the supernatural has captivated me since childhood. Fortunately, I am not alone. According to recent surveys, 75% of Americans believe in the paranormal in some form, and nearly one in five claim to have seen a ghost.

To this day, I don’t know if the man who came to collect garbage was a ghost. Perhaps his visit can be rationally explained. Perhaps the heat had induced drowsiness in me in such a way that an old man who got disoriented traversed the boundaries of hazy reality into the imaginary space of a twelve year old mind.

Or, perhaps, the encounter fits into my hankering for a good spooky ghost story.

I would not embrace the supernatural as much as I do if I did not have another acquaintance with an apparition many years later as a young adult. This time, I was staying with a friend in her childhood home in Croatia. I slept in my friend’s childhood room and she slept in her brother’s. In between the two rooms was a bathroom. Every night, we turned off the lights and shut the bathroom door. From where I rested on my pillow, there was a clear line of sight to my friend’s fluffy head of hair in the opposite room. Sometimes we even chatted and recounted our day from our beds until one of us dropped off into deep sleep.

On my last night before my flight back to the United States, I woke up to the bathroom door ajar and a soft yellow light pouring from the gap. It appeared that no one was using the bathroom. Thinking that my friend must have forgotten the routine in her slumber, I thought I should get up to turn off the light and close the door.

Except, when I tried to rise, my body would not move. I turned my head and looked at the door that was blocking my view of my friend. I tried to call her, but I could not speak. I tried to move again, but a pressure on my chest weighed me down so that I was held captive in my bed.

Not knowing what to think, I consciously paced my breathing so that I did not let the terror overtake me. Eventually, I was able to shift my body slightly onto my side so that I faced the wall and away from the bathroom light that kept me vigilant and awake. Gradually, I fell asleep.

At breakfast, I told my friend that something strange happened when we were in bed — that I wanted to turn off the bathroom light and couldn’t because I could not move. It was as if some spirit was sitting on me.

After a momentary silence, my friend said — you know, my mother (who had passed away when my friend was a child) often visits before I leave home. You were sleeping in my room, so maybe she thought you were me. But in any case, she was probably just checking to make sure that you were safe before your journey.

I have recounted this story of a spirit trapping me in bed to multiple people throughout my life. I have learned that there is such a phenomenon called sleep paralysis. In fact, when I was growing up, I sometimes heard about sleep paralysis through the Chinese cultural lens known as “ghost pressing on bed” (鬼壓床, pinyin: guǐ yā chuáng), or “ghost pressing on body” (鬼壓身, pinyin: guǐ yā shēn). Studies of sleep paralysis in Chinese culture have concluded that ghost oppression and sleep paralysis both have strikingly similar characteristics and may, in reality, be identical experiences.

However, although aware that my inability to move that night could be scientifically and psychologically explained, I could not help but fancy myself for having the unique experience of having been in contact with the afterlife.

My acquaintance with ghosts have challenged my rational mind to be open to the possibility of the paranormal being real. Evolutionary psychologists have long posited that “human minds have a genetic predisposition toward supernatural belief.” Therefore, despite being a staunch atheist, I am unable to accept the finality of life and prefer to think of the consciousness surviving and existing independently of my body after death.

No matter how I train my brain to be rational, I am still endeared by the notion of being able to check on loved ones long after my physical existence — without spooking them too much.

Ultimately, I know that what I perceive to be ghostly encounters is actually my mind tapping into a primordial human instinct for sense-making. As if hard wired in the human condition, I am subconsciously pursuing a question that has plagued all of humanity — Is there life after death? Is there another world we enter into after leaving this material earth?

Clearly, I would not know until I reach that stage. And I intend to report back on what I find, whenever I enter that other plane of existence.



Lisa Lau
The Shadow

Insomniac, knowledge thrill-seeker, leisure and cathartic writer