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Books: Classic Southeast Asian ghost stories

Eminent Singaporean politician who tapped into the regional passion for horror

One of ultra-rational Singapore's founding fathers -- and a good friend of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew -- Othman Wok "loved scaring his friends with ghostly tales as a teenager," recalled a schoolmate.   © AP

BANGKOK -- In 1946, George Orwell opened his essay "The Decline of the English Murder" by describing the contented domesticity that follows a large English Sunday lunch. "You put your feet up on the sofa, settle your spectacles on your nose, and open the News of the World," he wrote. "In these blissful circumstances, what is it that you want to read about? Naturally, about a murder."

In the Federation of Malaya a few years later, tastes in Sunday afternoon reading went well beyond choice true-life murders to ghosts and demonic fare. In 1952, Othman Wok was working as a reporter under Yusof Ishak, the future president of Singapore. Yusof commissioned him to write Sunday horror stories for Utusan Zaman, the weekly he had founded and edited.

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