Below are some of the most popular urban legends that charmed Singapore in the past few decades (not in any order).
With the progress of our society and improving level of knowledge, some urban legends died off over the years; a few, however, remains unsolved.
1. Kidnapping of Kids for Bridges
In the late seventies, during the construction of the great Benjamin Sheares Bridge, rumours of children being kidnapped for their heads to be served as the foundation of the bridge spread like wild fire.
The rumours might be due to frequent kidnappings in Singapore in the sixties/seventies, and people did not believe such a huge bridge could be built without any issues. The rumours even went to an extent that a dog-headed kidnapper was roaming in the neighbourhood looking for wandering kids at night.
There was no basis in the rumours but it was enough to stop the parents from allowing their children from going out after dark.
2. Underwater Tunnel to Sentosa
One of the biggest unsolved mysteries of Singapore: Is there a 600m underwater tunnel linking Labrador Park to Fort Siloso of Sentosa?
It is rumoured that when the British built the Labrador Battery in 1939, they also constructed a tunnel for easy access to Fort Siloso. However, the bunkers of Labrador was sealed in the fifties, while the interior of the tunnel has collapsed. The sealed entrance can still be found, but whether it is the door to the tunnel remains to be seen.
3. $1 Bagua & Road Tax Labels
It is said that when Singapore was building the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) in the mid-eighties, the then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew consulted the highly respectable Venerable Hong Chuan about the plan. The latter warned that the tunnelings would severely damage the excellent fengshui of the island, and the only solution was to ensure all Singaporeans carry a bagua (octagon diagram) with them.
But this was impossible among the different races and religions, so PM Lee thought of an excellent idea: to design the new $1 coin with the shape of a bagua, so that it would be carried by all Singaporeans.
This urban legend was made believable due to the coincidence of the timings: The new $1 coin was launched in September 1987, just two months before MRT began its first operation. A further addition to the rumour was the road tax label, also in the shape of an octagon, which means every car on the roads of Singapore would be carrying a bagua too.
4. Satay Addiction
Forget about the dirty surroundings and endless touting, the old Satay Club at Esplanade used to offer delicious chicken, mutton and beef satay that lured customers return for more. The club had moved from Hoi How Road (Beach Road) to Esplanade in 1970, and the makan place of about 21 satay stalls was so popular that a rumour, out of nowhere, started to spread around, claiming that the hawkers put something “special” in their satay gravy so that the customers would be addicted. That “special” ingredients were soiled sanitary napkins.
However, after an operation of 25 years till 1995 when it was closed down, no one really found the evidence at the old Satay Club, not even the frequent spot checks conducted by the National Environment Agency (NEA). After the closure, the stall owners moved their businesses to Lau Pa Sat, Clarke Quay, Pasir Panjang and Sembawang, and satay remains one of the favourite food for Singaporeans.
5. Hidden Treasure in MacRitchie
During the Japanese Occupation, it was rumoured that the Imperial Japanese Army hid an enormous amount of gold and treasure in the thick jungles of MacRitchie Reservoir. The treasure were looted and transported here from other countries in Southeast Asia, and its hidden location was marked by the Shinto Shrine of Syonan (Japanese name for Singapore, which means The Light of the South).
The Japanese did not move the treasure back to Japan when they retreated at the end of WWII, so that they can reclaim both the island and the treasure in possible future invasions.
The rumours prompted treasure hunting in the reservoir, but they were never found by eager treasure hunters; perhaps it never existed in the first place.
6. Marble-Playing Sounds in Flats
Many Singaporeans living in Housing Development Board (HDB) flats claim that they have somehow heard irritating marble dropping sounds above their units at night. When they try to investigate, it always turns out that their neighbours above have no children, or it is an empty unit, or simply children nowadays do not play marbles anymore.
Many try to come out with “scientific” explanations about this phenomenon; echoing sounds from the pipes, or sounds of expansion/contraction of the steels in the ceilings, but some will rather believe it is a young ghost dropping its marbles around, creating the tok tok tok sounds.
Another sound commonly heard is the dragging of furniture at the unit above.
7. The Sad and Smiley Face of $1 Coin
There are circulating emails that claim our $1 coins minted in 1990 had the Singapore crests’ banners, with the words “Majulah Singapura”, curved downwards, giving an impression of a sad face. Due to the Asian Currency Crisis in 1997, the banners were redesigned to curve upwards after fengshui experts were consulted. In this way, the coins present smiley faces.
Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has rebutted this urban legend by stating the crest on newer coins is the actual one. The older ones were minted in that way due to the limitations of minting technology, where the 3D effect of the crest could not be displayed easily. The changes was made in 1992 instead of 1997, when the new minting method was introduced.
8. Restless Spirits of Bishan and Novena
When Bishan MRT Station was opened in November 1987, haunted stories were rife due to the underground station being built at a former cemetery called Pek San Teng. Sightings of headless figures and phantom passengers were reported, although none were confirmed. There were also rumours that some maintenance personnel, while doing their duties in the tunnels at night, were terrified by ghastly images of coffin bearers on the tracks.
Novena MRT Station, opened a month later than Bishan, also experienced the same rumours as it was also built at a former graveyard.
Today, the trains get so crowded that probably even the ghosts don’t feel like squeezing with the passengers.
9. Pointing Finger at the Moon
The older generations used to warn children not to point finger at the moon, or else their ears would be cut off. Offering little explanation, most obedient children heeded the advice anyway, whereas a few naughty ones still had their ears intact despite disobeying their mothers.
This urban legend somehow died off in the early nineties.
There is, however, a Buddhist teaching about pointing finger to the moon, where the moon is the truth and the finger represents words. Words and language are symbols that express the truth, just like the finger that points to the moon is not the moon itself.
10. Haunted Teletubby Dolls
The cute-but-weird-looking humanoid beings, created by British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in the late nineties, gained widespread popularity in the world, including Singapore. The talking dolls were snapped up like hot cakes, especially among the local students.
However, stories about how the teletubby dolls started to speak in the middle of the night soon emerged from nowhere; others claimed the dolls were satanic, evil and possessed.
The rumours ended after just a couple of years when the dolls were no longer popular.
Published: 05 July 2011