By Margaret Liu

Hearing the dozens of ghost stories on college campuses, one might conclude Hong Kong's campuses are haunted. But local ghostbusters think the spooky stories say more about university students than about paranormal events.

Here is a widely circulated ghost story from Hong Kong Polytechnic: "Strange things have happened frequently ever since a boy who was a son of a foreign lecturer drowned at the school's swimming pool," said Mr. Ken Au, a student at Hong Kong Poly.

"Some students say they always see several foreign boys swimming at the pool, even during closed sessions. Some have reported and complained that they saw a drowning boy, but the lifeguards did not try to save him. But the reason for the lifeguards' not saving the child is that nobody is drowning. Because of the strange things that have happened, the lower halves of the glass of the canteen are now covered with semi-transparent stickers."

The "haunted" pool: A widespread ghost story prevails among students at Hong Kong Poly.

Another Hong Kong Poly student added this to the story: "The glass of the canteen is covered with semi-transparent material because some students said they saw a boy swimming at the very bottom of the pool who never come up again."

And then there is this from Mr. Paul Chung, also a student at Hong Kong Poly: "Some students found a boy swimming in the pool during a closed session, but he soon got out. Driven by curiosity, they followed the boy to the changing room, yet nobody--no sign of any person---was found, as the floor was totally dry. It is said that the boy was the ghost of the lecturer's 12-year-old, drowned son."

Another venue of ghost stories is The Chinese University of Hong Kong. One of the best-known stories there is about "the girl with the braid". "A girl who wears her hair in a braid is often seen (on the campus)," said Mr. Pegasus Mak, a Chinese University student.

"If you approach her from the rear and she turns around, you can only see a blank place where her face should be. It is said that, many years ago, the girl took a train from China to Hong Kong. She jumped off the train somewhere near Chung Chi College at The Chinese University because the lights there made her think she had arrived at the City. Unfortunately, her braid was torn off by the train, and she died," said Mr. Mak.

The braided-haired girl figures in another ghost story, this one near the Lotus Pond at Chung Chi College. "Yes, it is the same ghost," said Miss Amina Pang, a student in the Japanese Studies programme.

"Whenever there are people walking near the Lotus Pond at night, she will come up and ask for the time, but you should never answer back. The girl's heart was broken because her lover did not show up for their elopement, so she jumped into the pond and died. Therefore, if you answer her at anytime after midnight, she will take you with her and jump into the pond, because this is the time she should have met her lover," said Miss Pang.

Another much-publicized story originated at Grace Tien Hall---a student hostel at The Chinese University's New Asia College. "A boy who failed to win a girl's heart decided to kill himself," said Mr. Mak. "He asked his roommate to teach him how to set up a timer that would allow electricity to pass through at a preset time. He actually made the timer for himself. He wound some wires around his body and was killed by electric shock in his room. Since then, I learned that strange things always happen at the Grace Tien Hall," said Mr. Mak, "like dark shades always wandering in the room....''

The story was elaborated upon by another student: "The boy had left a suicide note for his roommate that said, `I will come back soon,'" said the student, who asked that his name not be used. "At the time the boy was committing suicide, his roommate was having dinner at the canteen, and a chicken head on the table said to him, `I will come back soon.'"

However peculiar, mysterious and unbelievable campus ghost stories may seem, they nevertheless reveal something about student culture and values, suggested Dr. Joseph Bosco, an anthropology lecturer at The Chinese University.

"When I got a group of students together to tell ghost stories in my class, they always argued where they originated from. Then the students started to realize that ghost stories may not tell them anything about the ghosts, but, rather, something about their culture and values," he said.

Dr. Bosco has now collected over 50 different versions of ghost stories. "What I am trying to do is to look at the variation of these stories and understand what the structures and real meanings of the stories are," he said. At present he has only preliminary ideas. One notion he is exploring is that the psychological tension in students can be discerned from ghost stories. "On one hand, students have to study hard, get a good grade and then get a good job. On the other hand, they might feel they have to socialize, meet friends---which may lead to a sense of conflict between these seemingly contradicting goals. "So there is a favorite story about `oxtail soup'. This is about a boy and a girl who decided not to meet each other during the examination period. In order to show her love, the girl cooked a bowl of soup every night and lowered it down for her boyfriend, who lived on the floor just below her in the same hostel. One evening, the boy received a bowl of soup as usual, but only later did he realize the girl was killed in an accident on that morning.

"I am not entirely sure, but I suspect that there is a sexual symbolism in the story," said Dr. Bosco. The "oxtail soup" incident has many versions. They typify what Dr. Bosco called "the typical urban legend". "The stories are 'true' to the student-tellers because they reflect something about student relationships and life in Chinese society. Hence, they reflect some common sub-cultures. And it is in this sense that the stories are authentic and believable, but not in the literal sense of whether the events in the stories are physically possible or not," said Dr. Bosco.