Phg Li Kim Chases Down Asia’s Ghosts, Goblins on Syfy Channel
Jakarta. For paranormal investigator Phng Li Kim, Yogyakarta’s mystical traditions are a world of their own.
“In Yogyakarta, I realized that the ocean, mountains and even a huge rock are places of worship and spirituality. Its different from any other place I’ve been to, where only temples and [churches] are regarded as spiritual places for worship,” recalls the 44-year-old Malaysian of her time in Yogyakarta.
“This fact really sparked my curiosity for Yogyakarta. It also prompted me to investigate the mystical attributes of places like Mount Merapi and the legend of [Nyi Roro] Kidul, the Queen [of the South Seas, or Indian Ocean].”
While Yogyakarta’s folk tales and traditions are the main factors behind Li’s fascination with the city, she found its people to be equally fascinating.
“Yogyakarta is one of the most superstitious places that I have been to, but I don’t mean it in a negative way,” she says. “In fact, I find that there is a warmth and kindness at the heart of their superstitions that draws the community closer. Of course, there are some people who might not believe these age-old beliefs, but they are not disrespectful of them. I like that.”
Li Kim’s spiritual journey in Yogyakarta makes up the Indonesian leg of the hit reality show “The Paranormal Zone,” which she is hosting for a third straight season. Co-produced by Kechara Media and Publications in Malaysia, a publishing house Li Kim also heads, and NBC Universal International Network’s Syfy cable channel, the show follows the host and her spiritual adviser, Tibetan Buddhist monk Tsem Rinpoche, as they explore hauntings, exorcisms, sightings of mythical creatures and mystical traditions, as well as other mysterious phenomena throughout Southeast Asia.
Yogyakarta marks the production’s first foray into Indonesia as it continues to expand its scope in the region with each successive season.
But whether Li Kim’s paranormal investigations take place in the show’s core regions of Malaysia and Singapore, or more outlying countries like Thailand, its premise of dealing with the unknown remains the same.
“Many of the places that I see are best described as mystical, dark or suspicious ̶ even intriguing. But one place that struck me as ‘terrifying’ was a shop lot in season one where an exorcism took place,” says the Pepperdine University alumnus.
“The energy there was very dark and heavy, and I could feel the spirits trying to disturb me physically. But because I was blessed beforehand by my spiritual teacher, H. E. Tsem Rinpoche, and my Dharma protector Dorje Shugden, they couldn’t harm me. Still, it was draining having to fend them off,” she added.
While not all hauntings are as sinister, the element of the unknown continues to draw Kim.
“Investigating haunted locations continue to be the most exciting part of the job, as the spirits have a mind of their own and I cannot control them. I cannot ‘direct’ them what to do and how to appear,” she says. “They will do so as as they see fit, so at times I get nothing. But, as long as I exercise respect and compassion, I do get some responses, some of which are not necessarily captured by the cameras, and this can be frustrating for me.”
Discerning paranormal differences and traditions
For Li Kim, the paranormal phenomena she encountered and the notion of dealing with the unseen when filming “The Paranormal Zone” is distinctive to the countries used as its locale. Whether it be following up UFO and Bigfoot sightings in Malaysia, tracing the mystical powers of kris daggers, or walking the fine line between magic and medical science in Java, the allure of the unknown is one that the Malaysia-native knows all too well.
Other elements include finding them in the most unassuming places; among them Singapore.
“Singapore is distinctly different [from countries like Indonesia and Malaysia], because while its such a modern, cosmopolitan city, there are still beliefs in mystical and spiritual traditions and cultures that blend [into the city]. I was actually quite surprised by this, as I don’t think that such a modern city would still be still into spiritual and mystical phenomena,” says Li Kim, who worked at her family’s glove factory before going into publishing and TV with Kechara and Syfy.
“Malaysia and Yogyakarta are similar in that the healers and mystics I met have similar cultural foundations that shapes their belief systems. But I do appreciate the logic and reasoning behind Javanese mysticism [kejawen] in Yogyakarta; it made my experience filming there enjoyable and enlightening.”
During her travels filming “The Paranormal Zone,” Li Kim found that the living have more up their sleeves than the dead.
“One of the biggest challenges in making ‘The Paranormal Zone’ is finding credible sources for the stories we want to investigate. At times, I find individuals who are indeed have paranormal abilities themselves, while others over-exaggerate, making their claims suspicious,” she says with a smile. “While people can be interesting, they can also be less straight forward. Spirits on the other hand, are more direct.”
“[For the spirits, they can indicate a] ‘yes’ if they are there, and a ‘no’ if they are not. But I have had some unique experiences trying to film the spirits when they made their presence known, but the cameras could not capture any of it!” she remembers.
“At times we would have technical problems and the cameras would momentarily just stop working! That’s when I know we have to be patient until the spirits accept our purpose [...] and grant us permission to be in their space; the key is to have respect and compassion.”
While Li Kim has yet to set future plans for herself or “The Paranormal Zone,” she admits that broadening her horizons in mysticism and the supernatural, including in Java, are among them.
“Like other traditions, it takes years and even generations to understand [Javanese mysticism]. Its foundations, as well as the intricacies of its paranormal stories or legends, like one would find in other ancient traditions with a history. So yes, I will definitely come back to Indonesia in future seasons [of the ‘Paranormal Zone’].”
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