Buyers target Hong Kong's 'haunted homes'
It may not be everyone's idea of a dream home, but for bargain hunters in Hong Kong's turbocharged property market apartments that belonged to the recently deceased are proving irresistible -- and the more gruesome the occupant's demise the better.
Popular belief in a city awash with superstition runs that the ghost of a person who dies in unnatural circumstances -- a suicide, murder or bad accident -- inhabits their home, passing misfortune onto the new occupants.
The threat carries weight in a city where feng shui consultants do brisk business; families placate the "hungry ghosts" of their ancestors with offerings and people even refrain from whistling in the street in fear of disturbing lurking spooks.
By law, buyers are entitled to details on so-called "haunted houses" -- or hongza in Cantonese -- and many rigorously check the backstory to their potential purchase.
But not everyone is afraid of ghosts, and in the cut and thrust of Hong Kong's runaway property market some investors are actively following the tragedies, aware that dark incidents push the price down.
Discounts of between 20-40 percent are the standard for haunted houses with a knock-on for the rental yield, says Eric Wong of the squarefoot.com.hk property website, which has a channel dedicated to the phenomenon.
"Hong Kong people are sensitive to ghosts and bad luck," he says.
"They believe in feng shui -- if something bad has happened in a home people won't take it... but Hong Kong is small and very expensive, so if a good discount comes there are others ready to make the investment."
And for the savvy buyer there are plenty to choose from.
Among the hundreds of macabre listings on the squarefoot.com.hk website is the home of a local football player who, crushed by the weight of debt and relationship problems, jumped from his 36th floor flat.
Then there is the divorcee whose body was discovered a month after she poisoned herself with the fumes of burning charcoal, or the woman hacked to death and mutilated by her domestic helper in an exclusive apartment block.
Such morbid tales are a boon to investors who would not live in a haunted house themselves, but will gladly put it up for rent.
"There's a group of investors who bid for these places specifically and then rent it to people who don't mind its bad history," Wong adds.
More often than not those are foreign expatriates -- widely known in local slang as gweilos -- who are not overly concerned about the history of their apartment.
"Gweilos don't have the same beliefs as Hong Kong people and just want a cheaper price in a nice area," says Winnie Ng of Rich Harvest property agency.
Haunted houses may be sold for 40 percent below market price depending on what has happened there and how recently it took place, Ng says, equalling the impact of the 2003 SARS outbreak that had investors fleeing the city.
Also, while the market is slowing, properties remain expensive, narrowing the pool available to prospective buyers.
A deposit on an entry-level unit is more than three times a typical first-time buyer's gross household income, Barclays Capital Research said in a recent report.
Home prices have leapt more than 70 percent since 2009, while banks have increased mortgage rates five times since March, pricing all but the wealthiest out of the market.
With many young Hong Kongers forced to live at home deep into their 20s or 30s, haunted houses are providing an unlikely route onto the housing ladder.
Abby Lau, 26, who lives with her family and is saving to move, says many among her age group are looking at haunted houses as a realistic first-time purchase or cheap rent.
"Everyone knows they are cheaper and in four or five years people will forget what's happened there so it can bring a big return later," she says, laughing off the idea she herself would move into a hongza home.
But soon Lau and tens of thousands like her may find they have to live with the city's ghosts whether they like it or not.
As Ng of Rich Harvest explains, Hong Kong's seven million people cram into a small area where many buildings are old, raising the likelihood someone has died in "bad circumstances" in every block.
"Someone has to live in them... really there is no choice," she says. - AFP
New snake: 'Fierce, probably venomous'
The world's newest snake has menacing-looking yellow and black scales, dull green eyes and two spiky horns. And it's named after a 7-year-old girl.
Matilda's Horned Viper was discovered in a small patch of southwest Tanzania about two years ago and was introduced last month as the world's newest known snake species in an issue of Zootaxa.
Tim Davenport, the director of the Wildlife Conservation Society in Tanzania, was on the three-person team that discovered the viper. Thanks to his daughter, the snake will always carry a family namesake.
"My daughter, who was 5 at the time, became fascinated by it and used to love spending time watching it and helping us look after it," Davenport told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "We called it Matilda's Viper at that stage ... and then the name stuck."
Only three new vipers have been discovered across Africa the last three decades, making the find rare and important. The Wildlife Conservation Society is not revealing exactly where the snake lives so that trophy hunters can't hunt it.
Davenport said he is not sure how many live in the wild because snake counts are hard to do. Twelve live in captivity and a breeding plan is being carried out.
Davenport, a Briton who has lived in Tanzania for 12 years, said that while many people fear snakes, most are harmless and help keep rodent numbers down. Matilda's horned viper can grow to 2 feet (65 centimeters) or bigger, he said.
"This particular animal looks fierce and probably is venomous (though bush viper bites are not fatal)," Davenport told AP via an Internet chat. "However, it is actually very calm animal and not at all aggressive. I have handled one on a number of occasions."
The Wildlife Conservation Society runs the Bronx Zoo and the Central Park Zoo in New York, and Davenport said it would be a "great option" to showcase the new horned viper at one of those locations, but that nothing has yet been decided. - kasa
Catholic Exorcist Speaks Out
Father José Antonio Fortea is a Catholic exorcist who is ok with Harry Potter, has an aversion to blaming the devil for people’s wrongs, and wants people to understand the difference between exorcisms in the movies and real life.
A priest of the Diocese of Alcala de Henares in Spain, and an exorcist, Father Fortea is the author of several books including Interview With an Exorcist. He is currently based in Rome studying for his doctorate in theology.
He was at Assumption Catholic Church in Jacksonville, Florida, on January 4, to talk about exorcism and pastoral care, and sought to dispel what he described as popular misconceptions about demonic possessions.
Catholic priests and lay ministers attended the discussion. Father Fortea took questions from the audience, which ranged from children’s entertainment to addiction.
Father Fortea’s opinions differ in many areas from the well-known Father Gabriele Amorth, who has a tendency to see the devil under every rock, so to speak. The “Vatican exorcist” recently had some press attention when he repeated his opinion that Harry Potter was something children shouldn’t be permitted to watch.
In Father Fortea’s view, simply banning things can do more harm than good. A healthier approach might be to simply teach children the difference between fact and fiction, right and wrong.
“Prohibition has to be used carefully. People think we are more protected by forbidding things,” Father Fortea said. “If you forbid Harry Potter, why not Tolkien?”
Father Fortea specifically addressed worries about letting children anywhere near ‘Harry Potter’ books and movies. He said he thinks ‘Harry Potter’ is great fun as long as it is regarded as entertainment.
“I looked a lot like Harry Potter when I was a boy,” said Father Fortea, who has seen one of the films. “When Harry went to Hogwarts, it made me remember when I went to seminary.”
Jacksonville.com noted that Father Fortea didn’t discuss how to perform exorcisms. Rather, he “discussed how to gently care for those who believe they or a loved one are possessed.”
Questions from the audience focused mainly on how much of the world’s and society’s problems can be attributed to satanic influence.
Participants asked if the breakdown of the family, addictions and emotions like anger are the result of demonic forces.
“We tend to exaggerate the actions of the devil in the world,” said Fortea, author of “Interview with an Exorcist: An Insider’s Look at the Devil, Demonic Possession and the Path to Deliverance.”
He used his own chocolate compulsion as an example. Fortea said he usually can never stop at just one piece, especially when listening to classical music or playing chess.
“I do not blame that on demons,” he deadpanned, getting several laughs.
He said 90 percent of evil results from human actions. “It is time we learned again the meaning of free will.”
But Fortea said possession is a real phenomenon that is wrongly dismissed by some, even priests, as superstition. Such persons sometimes dismiss biblical accounts of possession as little more than “a poetic way of speaking of evil.”
Fortea said he always requires multiple witnesses to testify to a person’s possession and usually can tell right away if the account is credible. If during the rite the person begins acting like the possessed do in films, he knows it isn’t demonic.
Rather, people who are actually possessed, while sometimes displaying great rage and strength, usually just tremble lightly and utter gibberish when confronted, he said.
Many possessed suffer in silence and loneliness because many of their family and friends, and sometimes their own pastors, don’t believe them. It’s important that medical and psychological factors be ruled out before calling in an exorcist, he said.
A spokeswoman for the Jacksonville diocese said it has no documented cases of possession in Northeast Florida and the diocese does not have an exorcist, a job that can be performed only by specially designated priests.
Fortea said possessions are part of God’s plan because they are usually occasions for conversions and deeper faith by those who witness the exorcisms.
“Every exorcism is a gift that helps us believe,” he said.
That last bit grabbed Lilla Ross at Catholic News Service. The National Catholic Reporter published her article, titled “Spanish priest: Exorcism is God’s ‘gift to help us believe’”
Every culture has an understanding of demonic possession, Fortea said. “But they don’t have a solution for it. Jesus brought the solution. Jesus taught us to do exorcisms.
“Exorcism is a sign of the power of Jesus that the power of the kingdom of heaven is here on earth,” he added. “Every exorcism is a gift that helps us believe.”
The need to expel demonic spirits from a person’s body is neither common nor rare, Fortea said.
When his bishop first called on him to study exorcism in the late 1990s, Fortea said he thought exorcism was a rare event that might occur once or twice in a century.
But when more and more people came to him for help, he realized demonic influences were much more active, especially in those who associated with witchcraft, magic, Santeria and some New Age practices.
Unlike the movies, most possessed people seem perfectly normal, he said. The signs are usually subtle — trembling or spitting.
The church has specific prayers and rituals for conducting an exorcism, he said. But when he is training priests, he tells them not to worry about technique. “I tell them to surround the demoniac with the glory of God,” he said. “Center on God.”
Demonic spirits take over the body, not the soul, he said, which is why the sacrament of confession is more important for the average Catholic than exorcism.
But he said anyone can be approached by evil spirits, even Jesus.
He urged people to use moderation and common sense and to build up their faith with the sacraments and devotional practices of the church.
“A lot of temptation isn’t from the devil. It’s from the individual,” he said. “In fact, 98 percent of temptation comes from our heart or the world. You can avoid sin because God is willing to give us grace.”
And if they feel the need to consult an exorcist, they should call their bishop. Only certain priests have the training and the permission to conduct exorcisms and the list is not made public.
Fortea, a priest and theologian specializing in demonology, studied and graduated from the University of Navarre with a degree in history. In 1998, he wrote his thesis on “The Exorcism in Modern Times” and defended it before the secretary of the Commission for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Spanish bishops’ conference. - jacksonville
Interview With an Exorcist
1977 UFO crash - west of Yeehaw Junction, Florida
Case Number: 34781
Log Number: US-01112012-0002
Submitted Date: 2012-01-11 11:15 GMT
Event Date: 1977-06-01 00:00 GMT
Distance: 100 feet or less
1977 Afternoon sometime. While traveling West on Hwy 60 just west of Yeehaw Junction with my family (mom and 2 brothers) when we noticed the ground was on fire. The fire was stretched from the south side to the north side of the road. The fire ended next to a shinny dark disc shaped object (dome top) that was laying at a slight angle on the ground. It looked like it had crashed landed or made an abrupt landing. There was no landing gear seen. As far as we could tell the UFO must have let off some kind of energy that sparked the dry ground on fire as the ufo was going down. Approx. size of the object 50 ft diameter and 10 ft tall. Approx 100 ft away. It was an medium cloudy day, dry. We stood there for a minute or so looking at it - when we got really scared and decided we all should leave. I was just about 10 yrs old so my date and exact details like size/distance may not be accurate. But the incident is factual. - MUFON CMS
The Man Behind the Jerusalem Orbs
Rick Phillips, who is going to be our guest this week on 'Beyond the Edge' Radio writes about the man behind the Jerusalem Orbs footage at The Return Of Eligael Gedalyovich
Natalie Wood Death Was An Accident, Says LASD
No new evidence has been uncovered in the death of Natalie Wood that would point to foul play, authorities said Tuesday.
Los Angeles County Sheriff's chief of detectives William McSweeney told the Los Angeles Times that several weeks of interviews and other investigative work have not uncovered any evidence the death was a homicide. It had been ruled as an accident.
Cold cases like Wood's are never really closed and detectives are still looking at some aspects of the case, said McSweeney. The investigation was reopened in November, when detectives said several sources came forward with new information.
Natalie Wood died sometime after the evening of Nov. 28, 1981, when the 43-year-old actress was boating off Catalina Island with her husband Robert Wagner and actor Christopher Walken. The evening before the drowning, Wood, Wagner and Walken, who was Wood's co-star in the film "Brainstorm," had dinner at a restaurant on the island.
Authorities said they returned to the yacht and had drinks and that Wagner and Walken got into an argument.
Walken went to bed, according to Wagner, who, after staying up with boat captain Dennis Davern, went looking for his wife and couldn't find her on board. He then noticed that a dinghy attached to the boat – and his wife – were gone.
Lifeguard captain Roger Smith told the Times in November that the actress could have been saved if officials had been called sooner to search for her. Smith said he was alerted that Woods was missing at 5:11 a.m. the next day.
Based on the condition of her body when she was pulled from the water, Smith said he believes she survived for some time in the water and was washed out to sea. - THP
Natalie Wood Collection (Splendor in the Grass / Sex and the Single Girl / Inside Daisy Clover / Gypsy / Bombers B-52 / Cash McCall)
Brainstorm (Remastered Edition)
How much do you enjoy receiving 'Phantoms and Monsters'? Is it worth an offering of a few dollars for a daily dose of the strange and unusual occurrences in our world?
BTW, I am always open to blog content suggestions and well-detailed submissions of your experiences. Thanks again...Lon