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Saigon Urban Legends: The Ghost of the Fine Arts Museum

The Ho Chi Minh Fine Arts Museum, an ornate, colonial-era building at 97 Pho Duc Chinh, District 1 stands elegantly and quietly in the less-traveled area of District 1. Beyond housing some of the country’s best examples of woodcut paintings and Cham kingdom relics, the building seems to be cloaked in mystery, originating with its 1920s owner.

Hui Bon Hoa, a Chinese immigrant, moved to Saigon in the late 19th century. A penny-less man when he arrived, he went on to become one of the city’s wealthiest men. Some allege he stumbled upon some treasure when gathering recycled bottles in garbage heaps, while others claim he found precious antiques and traded them. However he accumulated his wealth, he became Saigon’s “king of real estate” and his business bloomed in the early 20th century. It's said that his assets reached the value of 20,000 houses (basically, he was very rich).

Hui Bon Hoa and his family were respected for their involvement in building public places such as hospitals and pagodas. Some of their buildings are still in use today such as the Government Guest House, Tu Du Maternity Hospital and the Majestic Hotel.

Hui fathered many sons, all of which studied abroad in Europe, but only one daughter whom he treasured. All of a sudden, she was nowhere to be seen but people started hearing distressing sobs coming from the Hoa’s house, the building that currently houses the Ho Chi Minh Museum of Fine Arts. One morning, residents learned from an announcement that the girl had passed away due to a vicious illness, and that the family wanted a quiet funeral.

Ever since, strange things started occurring around the house. Many people said that they have seen a shadow floating through corridors and closed windows. Some heard from a mechanic, hired by the Hua’s that there is one very beautiful room on the top floor of the house. Although fully furnished, this room seemed more like a mystical chamber. He was certain that he saw a maid deliver food through a hole in the closed main door.

Perhaps the most believable story (comparatively) is as follows. Although Saigon was a center of trade and modern medicine in the 1920s, an incurable and monstrous spate of leprosy hit the city hard and destroyed many lives, among which was Hui’s daughter. As rumor has it, the fair girl was transformed into a horrid creature then quarantined in a room where maids served her food through the aforementioned hole. Maddened by isolation, she screamed helplessly from that chamber and withered away to her lonely death. So deeply mournful, Hui could not bury her in the ground and instead built a stone coffin and put her inside. It was said that people could still hear her crying at night.

On the one year anniversary of her death, Hui bought a white dress, a doll and had a maid to bring them together with a plate of rice to the chamber where the coffin sat as a superstitious tribute to his daughter. When the maid came back to take those things away, she was spooked to see that half of the rice had been eaten. She curiously sneaked a peek through the hole and found the girl in the white dress sitting up in the coffin, holding the doll. The maid ran and screamed with all her might, ‘’My lady is back!’’ Hui decided then to bury his daughter’s body secretly.

Hui Bon Hoa never spoke of the incident.

Today, the Hua’s elegant house exhibits artwork for the pleasure of locals, tourists and, when night falls, perhaps the ghost of their fair daughter.

Editor's Note: Much of the information used in this article was found on forums, personal websites, and a number of less than ideal sources. As is the case with many Saigon urban legends, dates and names may be wrong or altered by the sources to make the story more believable.

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