Chi hung, a 21 year old theater student had just reached home from his daily evening stroll after dinner. Tired as he was from all the theatre lessons of the day he was ready to turn in for the night. He walked up to his closet and pulled out his nightdress and proceeded to change. He walked towards the bed side table and pulled open the draw and picked up a lipstick and started applying them to his lips. He then picked up an eyeliner and carefully applied it ensuring that it did not smudge. He dabbed a bit of face powder and applied a bit of blush. He reached out under the bed and pulled out a long blonde wig and carefully fixed it place and looked at himself in the mirror.
Chi hung was not practicing any of his theatre roles nor was he a cross dresser or effeminate. He wasn’t a transgender who felt like a woman in a man’s body nor was he leading a double life.
Chi hung switched of the lights, closed the bedroom window and crept into bed. He stared into the black as his eyes adjusted to the eerie darkness. His hands were trembling, his heart beat fast and his breathing quickened as he furtively looked about in the darkness. He prayed for tonight not to be his last night. He prayed to wake up alive tomorrow. Chi Hung didn’t want to die. He was scared of Pok Kuri.
The Japanese call it pok-kuri. Filipinos call it bangungot or batibat. For the Hmong people of Vietnam and Laos, it is called tsob tsuang. Chi Hung was scared of the Pok Kuri which is also called the ‘Widow Ghost’, a spiteful spirit who is said to steal away the souls of young men in their sleep. Chi Hung was trying to deceive this spirit by cross dressing as a woman before going to sleep.
Pok Kuri, also known as ‘Sudden Death Syndrome’ or ‘Nightmare Death Syndrome’ caused unexplained death among young healthy Japanese, Vietnamese and Taiwanese men while they slept at night. Thought post mortems did not reveal any underlying medical conditions, all these cases had one thing in common; all the dead were young healthy men who were sleeping when they died.
In 1960, Dr. Gonzalo Aponte was called to the US Naval Hospital in Guam to investigate the deaths of 11 Filipino sailors, who all seemed to have died inexplicably in their sleep after days of complaining about nightmares. Though the autopsies turned up few concrete details, Aponte looked into the case further and found reports regarding Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death (SUND) dating back as far as 1917.
Another research of unexplained deaths in Manila between 1947 and 1985 showed that the majority victims were about 21 – 33 years old, all died at around 3:00 AM in their sleep.
According to folklore, these mysterious deaths are caused by a malicious visiting spirit that kills men in their sleep. The spiteful spirit is said to be that of a widowed woman, stealing the souls of living men.
You may choose to dismiss this off as hocus pocus and mindless superstition but hey, it won’t hurt to say a prayer before going to sleep at night, right?