CREEPY CORNER: The Red Light Next Door

That'll teach me to go peeking out my window in the dead of night.
Publish date:
September 3, 2015
travel, creepy corner, moving in, late night, Rituals, Cultural Differences

I've gotten really good at moving over the years.

After moving my cat, my husband, and myself around three different countries, I've got my "settling in" routine down cold.

Set up your bed, and choose your side (if you share a bed).

Set up your bathroom — I find quickly memorizing where your soap and toothbrush lives is key to feeling at home.

Find a "place for everything, and everything in its place," even if it's temporary. To me, nothing says "NOT HOME" more than piles of random shit cluttering the floor and sticking to my feet. Plus your cat will barf in those piles, mark my words.

The first night is always the weirdest. Your head tells you you're in your new home, but try as you might, the rest of you can't help but cry out a little for the comfort of what was. This used to really upset me, but at this point I've come to see it as a good sign. I adapted once, made a new place feel safe, and I can do it again.

And then sometimes you look out your window at 2 am, and the apartment across the way is all lit up in red and you wonder, "Where the hell am I living?"

Before I tell you about our first night in our Hong Kong apartment, definitely the most memorable first night I've ever had, I want to make it clear that I don't offer this story as a judgement on my neighbors.

I'm a relative stranger in a strange, new place. The people in my neighborhood, a historic and predominantly Chinese neighborhood, have been doing what they've been doing for far longer than I've been around. As with many beliefs and traditions, certain acts can appear "creepy" or frightening when viewed with new eyes.

For example, the belief of transubstantiation and communion, the consuming of the body of Christ in the Catholic Church, may be totally "normal" or acceptable to many people in the West. But imagine how bizarre that ritual might be to someone who has never seen it or heard of it?

There may be a foreign writer somewhere in the world writing, "Creepy Corner: That Time I Watched Americans Eat Jesus."

My point is, while I was a little unnerved by what I witnessed I fully understand that I saw it through the filter of my American eyes. Yes, this is Creepy Corner, and I was indeed "creeped out." But more than that, I want to share this unique cultural moment with you. Just because I found something eerie does not invalidate it or make it necessarily "weird."

If nothing else, this'll teach me to keep my eyes on my own apartment.

Okay, Louise, get to it. What did you see?

Let's go back to 2 am.

My husband and cat were asleep. Of course. They can sleep anywhere.

I was wide awake, sitting in the dark of my new apartment. It was the emptiest, most sterile apartment I'd ever come home to. White tile floors, stark white walls, and harsh overhead lights. Sitting amongst our three giant suitcases and two air mattresses, I both loved and hated Hong Kong that night.

I had turned off the lights and was trying to watch an episode of 30 Rock on my iPad to help soothe my anxiety. Something bright in the dark caught my eye.

I live on the 9th floor of a building surrounded by buildings. I have a partial park view, and the sliver of a harbour view, but otherwise when I look outside my window I see other windows. At this time of night, I mostly saw dark windows. Except for one. It was glowing red.

Looking up out of my gaping, curtainless apartment, I saw a surprisingly bright red light coming from what was probably the 9th or 10th floor of a building across from us. Curious, and grateful for something to take my mind off of my mind, I got up and walked to my window.

Looking across at the neighboring building, I could clearly see the living room of the red-lit apartment. In it, two people, it appeared to be a man and a woman sat at a table facing each other. The red light filled the whole room, and harshly lit the duo.

The pair continued to sit staring at each other for a couple seconds, when slowly, eyes locked on each other, their arms began to slowly rise.

The movement began at their shoulders, their arms rising relaxed but unbent, higher and higher. They stopped when their arms were raised straight, vertical above their head. They paused here, and continued to stare at each other.

At this point, I think I should have looked away. In retrospect, I was probably intruding on something I ought not to be intruding on. But between my weary brain and the strangeness (to me) of what I was witnessing, I was transfixed.

As I watched, the pair began to wave their arms, just their arms. Their heads remained unmoving, their torsos relatively still. Their arms waved and circled in the red light — controlled but quick, I detected there was a snapping motion in the wrists. It was this movement that really sent a chill down my spine.

They kept gesticulating for what was probably a minute or two, then suddenly their arms dropped and the pair were still again. Staring and sitting, all red in the dark, they looked almost like mannequins.

At this point I came back to myself. I had no idea what I'd just seen. It appeared ritualistic, but beyond that I was baffled. I admit there was a sort of beauty to it, while also being more than a little scary to me.

Feeling guilty for being THAT nosy neighbor, I turned away and went back to my iPad. Around 3 am, before closing my eyes to try and sleep, I glanced out my window at the apartment one more time. The red light was still on, but only one person sat still and staring in the dark.

Letting goosebumps trickle down my spine again, I rolled over and closed my eyes.

It's been almost two weeks now, and I haven't seen my neighbors since. Their window is dark at night, and empty during the day. I know someone lives there, as I see clothes hung up to dry, but I haven't actually seen them.

And I have curtains now.

Does anyone, with more knowledge of Chinese or East Asian culture, religion, or belief know what I saw?

Part of me is still very guilty for having peeped into some other peoples' lives in the dead of night — please believe me when I say it was practically accidental. Another part of me feels kind of fortunate to have caught a glimpse into a life I can't explain. I may not know my neighbors, but in a way, I'm grateful to them.

And still another part wonders if what I saw was the conjuring of a very stressed, tired, and anxious mind.

But that was my first night in Hong Kong. It feels oddly apropos.

What are your thoughts Creepy Corneristas? Won't you be my neighbor?

Do you have a spooky story you'd like to share? A great urban legend from your area? A personal scary story? Tell me! Send your stories to, and you might see it in the next Creepy Corner Reader Roundup! For guidelines see here.