A Chinese ghost story…

The intent was to go to the museum and see the inside of the parliament buildings, but instead I wandered around downtown Victoria again.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Chinatown in Toronto, but it isn’t as colourful as this one in Victoria.


In Chinatown is a fascinating little alley, Fan Tan Alley.  It was originally a gambling district with restaurants, shops, and opium dens. It’s considered a tourist attraction now, with loads of little shops including a record shop (always trouble for me), barber shop, art gallery and cafe. (The opium dens are gone)


It also happens to be the narrowest street in Canada, only 90 cm (35 inches) wide at its narrowest spot.


I walked by this little alley a couple times on my first day here, but had to take a wander through. It was a bit of a nail biting walk, because I had been told the ghost of a murderer haunted it.


The story goes something like this…

In 1889 a 17 year old Asian man named Chan Ohan fell in love with a woman, Yao Kum, when he saw her sitting at her window. Yao worked and lived as a prostitute. Chan worked for the American hotel, making beds and cleaning rooms.  After seeing her sitting there day after day and talking to her, he shared his passion and love for her.


One day, he proposed marriage to her. Yao told Chan she couldn’t leave, because her owner would find her and kill her if she did. Chan tried to give her a vial of poison and told her to put it on the meals of her master and his wife, so she and Chan could be together. Yao realized Chan was serious, but he was penniless and she was trapped in her life of ill repute.  She also knew the penalty for murder, and told him to go away and never come back.

Chan felt publicly humiliated. He crept around the buildings with a friend and spied on her. One night he and his friend prowled near the window where Yao always sat, the friend grabbed Yao by the hair, and Chan cut off her head with a butcher knife. Chan ran away through all the little alleyways and escaped through the back of the hotel. He passed by the hotel owner, Tommy Burnes, as he fled.

Chan missed two days of work. Tommy saw a poster for a $150 reward “Wanted for murder in Chinatown.” It described Chan perfectly. Tommy went to the police who found Chan hiding in a coal bin, his clothes covered in blood, in the hotel’s basement. Chan was arrested and jailed, and then hanged himself with his shirt in his prison cell two days later.


After his suicide Chan was not afforded the same Chinese rites that ward off demons and ease the spirits of the dead. In encounters, people typically hear footsteps approaching, and then see Chan’s ghost passing through the alley with bloody clothes and a butcher knife. He pushes people blocking his way without seeming aware of them, and then fades away.



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