Would I have to start planning outfits around the tattoo like I plan for weather?
The reason my friend Joy is an excellent travel companion is because I never have to explain to her why I want to do things. The fact that I want to do it is usually good enough for her.
"I want to stand in this line for an hour because of the dumplings."
"There's this cat cafe in this questionable building around the corner, but the cats are really mean, so..."
"I love it! Can we go now?"
"There's this dark alley I like that—"
So of course when I said, "There's this abandoned mansion I've been wanting to visit..." her eyes lit up. "That sounds perfect!" she said.
On a soggy but clear day, we headed up to Victoria Peak. At Hong Kong Island's highest spot, Joy could get her touristy audio tour fix (this where we differ; I really hate recorded audio tours), and we would have an excellent point from which to descend upon the Dragon Lodge.
Located high above Hong Kong in one of the island's posher "old money" neighborhoods, the Dragon Lodge is an overgrown, decaying, partially renovated but now-abandoned mansion located on Lugard Road. And, yes, it's supposedly haunted.
And while the location of the Dragon Lodge is not hard to come by (out of respect for the Lodge's remarkably friendly neighbors, I'm not going to give the exact address), figuring out the true story behind the lodge is a little tougher. It is one of those places where the urban legends have become so overgrown that any mundane truths are all but obscured.
Hong Kong loves its dark tales. Wealth, loss of wealth, war, death, ghosts, bad feng shui — the Dragon Lodge checks all the boxes that Hong Kong begs for in a good scary story. Why have an abandoned mansion when you can have a HAUNTED ABANDONED MANSION?
Though I wonder if the real estate agent saddled with selling this property feels different. With every square foot of property in Hong Kong being gobbled up by someone due to an enormous population in a very tight space, I'm kind of shocked that the Lodge has been abandoned and on the market since the mid-2000s.
Are even the very rich (and very not-superstitious) unnerved by the Dragon Lodge's mysterious past? Or does it have something to do with the steep, sloping, mountainside location of the mansion? (Supposedly the neighboring property has also sat abandoned for years too. Is the land bad or the juju?)
This is what I could discern about the "history" of the Dragon Lodge. Take it with a mug of salt. Every time I tried to follow a link to back up some claims, the link would be dead. So either that's SPOOOOOOKY or shoddy record-keeping.
The Dragon Lodge was supposedly built pre–World War II, despite the "database of private buildings" recording it as being built in 1945. Apparently 1945 is just a date given to buildings that were not previously, properly recorded? (The "database" was another dead link.)
So going off that...
At least the second home to stand on the lot (the first being called "The Eyrie," built in 1876), the Dragon Lodge was built sometime before 1939. According to no public record that I could find, but a whole lot of hearsay and "urban explorer forums," the first owner was very wealthy and then went bankrupt, while the second owner was very wealthy but then committed suicide on the premises.
The next tragic incident that supposedly took place at the Dragon Lodge was the purported execution of seven Catholic nuns at the hands of the Japanese during the occupation of WWII. Again, I could find no hard evidence this actually happened.
Please don't take my tone as dismissive. If such a thing actually happened on the grounds of the Dragon Lodge, it is horrific. The Japanese occupation touched my family; I do not take it lightly.
However, I would like to add that stories like these are a symptom of Hong Kong's enduring cultural bitterness and anger over the WWII occupation. There are so many "ghost stories" in Hong Kong that include the torture and execution of innocents at the hands of the Japanese. I don't know if all of them are true, some of them are true, or very few are true. But when scary stories are told about cursed or haunted places in Hong Kong, the Japanese are mentioned more often than not.
It doesn't make it OK, but it is a reality of how this culture has been shaped over many generations.
So whether or not the incident with the nuns actually happened, if the Dragon Lodge wasn't considered cursed before, it certainly was considered cursed after. Since Hong Kong is essentially an enormous small town, word started to spread (apparently) about the strange house on the peak.
In the 1960s, the Lodge was at the center of a "pump and dump" scheme. I had to look this up. It basically means falsely claiming something is of higher value through the use of "misleading positive statements" in order to sell something bought at a lower price, for a higher price. Businesspeople, did I get this remotely correct?
My first thought was that it had to do with breast milk.
Anyway, after the Lodge was "dumped" (???) it fell into more bankruptcy. In the 1970s, a woman reportedly lived in the house and claimed to see dead people. Specifically, "a child of 11 with long black hair, and she was wearing a white nightgown with Belgium lace about the collar." I would give you the link to this woman's blog, but, you guessed it, the link is dead.
According to this mystery blogger, the ghost child was "very sorrowful...and she seemed to be asking for help."
AAAAAAUUUUUUUGGGGHHH! Don't do this to me mystery blogger/Dragon Lodge! Don't make me get all skeptical on your ass. I don't need all ghost stories to be true, but COME ON, work a little harder!
(My sincere apologies to the ghost girl if this is true and she is reading this post right now. I hope you got the help you needed. Email me at CreepyCornerMail@gmail.com if you wanna gab.)
The Lodge was purchased for renovation in 2004, but from what I can deduce, no major renovations were completed (I spied some minor updates), and the house has been abandoned for quite some time. Rumors persist of squatters, occult goings-on, and interested parties who never follow through BECAUSE OF THE CURSE. Urban explorers (who were easily able to access the Lodge until a few years ago, when a gate and fence were erected) claim to find the house in disrepair, completely overgrown, and full of decaying late-'90s furniture.
And, yeah, they say it's hella spooky.
On the day Joy and I visited the Dragon Lodge (or at least peeked at it through the gates), I admit it was eerier than I had anticipated. Judging from what I'd read and the sort of "ooga booga" kind of writing about it, I expected it to be a bust.
I was surprised by just how much it grabbed me.
With the setting sun starting to shine through the clouds, and joggers passing us on the left and right, walking up to the gates of the Dragon Lodge felt deceptively cheery. "Aw, poop, I was hoping it would be creepier," I remember thinking.
Then I started peeking through the chain-link fence, craning my neck around walls, trying to get a good look. The Lodge did indeed look, and, yes, feel, foreboding.
Though windows were open, and I suspect there is some sort of caretaker checking on the property, it did seem completely abandoned. I don't know any other way to properly explain this: The Dragon Lodge felt lonely.
Even though I was there with my partner in crime, and I felt safe and calm, I did not feel necessarily at ease. While the stories surrounding the Lodge didn't really spook me too much, straining to see the grandeur beneath decades of neglect was what really unsettled me. I don't know if it was all the garbage and overgrown vegetation everywhere, but there was a heavy, longing quality to the property.
Whenever I see abandoned homes like this, I can't help but think that someone at some point cherished this place enough to add flourishes of personality and design. Someone was excited to call this place home. Someone took the time to make it special. It wasn't born in decay.
I mourn for these old houses. I mourn for the things they've seen that are lost to the ages — for better or for worse.
As Joy and I were leaving, we noticed some words spray-painted on the side of the house: GO BACK!
I know it was meant to be a warning to explorers, either about ghosts or trespassing. But I took it as a hint to get on our way. The Dragon Lodge was grimmer than I expected it to be, and it was time to move on. The sun was setting anyway, and I wasn't wild about hiking down the peak in the dark.
So that was my visit to Hong Kong's "cursed" Dragon Lodge. It surprised me, as these things often do, and even saddened me a bit. I don't know if the Dragon Lodge's curse is supernatural or just the creation of generations of whispered stories.
Whatever it may be, if there ever was a place that seemed to long for peace, the Dragon Lodge is it.