The smoke from the burning of incense, the noise of the busy getai and wayang, and the offerings by the roadsides tell us that the annual Hungry Ghost Festival is here. According to the Chinese beliefs, the first day of the seventh Lunar month signals the opening of the “Gates of Hell”. The festival, practised by many local Chinese, has been a traditional custom in Singapore and Malaysia for decades.
In addition to The Top 10 Haunted Places in Singapore, RemSG sorts out Singapore’s 11 Most Enduring Local Ghost Stories, or at least in the past 30-odd years, where these hugely popular stories were passed down word-by-word and generation-by-generation. While some of the stories may have become over-exaggerated, others are favourite topics in chit-chat sessions or chalets. But one thing for sure, these favourite ghost stories will not go away easily in the next decade or so.
1. Tekong’s Three-Door Bunk
This might be Singapore’s most popular army ghost story ever, spread by batches after batches of national servicemen since the eighties. The story had several variations, but the most popular version goes like this:
The recruits from Charlie Company were having a tiring route march on Pulau Tekong. One of the recruits was feeling sick but he pushed himself to continue. The night was falling and it began to drizzle. Finally the recruit could not catch up with the rest and fell out from the company. At about the same time, another recruit who had reported sick earlier joined the route march. The sergeant did not suspect anything after a headcount check.
Concerned that the sick recruit did not catch up after some distance, his buddies decided to inform the sergeant. The route march was quickly called off and two search parties were dispatched to find the lost boy. But the search proved to be unsuccessful. It was not until the next morning when the recruit’s cold body was found sitting by a tree near the track, with his fullpack, helmet and rifle lying nearby neatly.
After the incident, other recruits from the Charlie Company started to experience sightings of the dead recruit in the bunk. A medium was consulted after several complaints to the officers. The medium proposed the opening of a third door in the bunk to allow the trapped spirit to escape.
The old bunks, including the “special” three-door bunk, had since been replaced by newer facilities in the early 2000s.
2. Hell Money for Taxi
While the Filipinos has their fair share of ghost stories of the notorious Balete Drive, where a female ghost in white scared the hell of taxi drivers, we have our own supernatural stories whispered by our local taxi uncles too.
For years, the story was almost certain to be one of the talking points during a kopi session. It usually took place after midnight at an ulu place such as Old Tampines Road, Punggol Road, Mount Pleasant Road, Old Upper Thomson Road or Lim Chu Kang Road, where a lady in white or red flagged down a taxi.
Her destination was always the cemetery, which made the innocent taxi driver wondering why on earth would someone visit the cemetery at such an ungodly hour. The journey was eerily silent even though the taxi uncle tried to strike a conversation.
Upon reaching, it seemed nothing was wrong when the lady paid her fare, but after the taxi driver finished his night shift, he received a big scare when hell notes were found among his daily income.
3. Oily Ghost
Not to be confused with the delicious and crispy you zha kueh (油炸鬼), the story of the oily ghost or orang minyak (known as 油鬼仔 in Chinese) was rife in the old kampong days in the sixties. Said to be a ghost, covered in thick black oil, who went around violating unmarried women sleeping alone. His power would increase if “it” succeeded in raping 40 virgins in a week. The method to counter orang minyak was to bite its left thumb and cover it with batik.
However, the more rational theory is that orang minyak was actually a human rapist who soaked himself in oil so that others could not catch hold of him. The legend of orang minyak has slowly faded away in Singapore of modern era, but it is widely believed that the oily ghost still occasionally disturbs the villages in Malaysia.
4. Selling Salt in Cemetery
Only a brave or a desperate man would do this. It was rumoured that selling salt in a cemetery was one of the easiest ways to earn money. Ghosts need salt, lots of salt, to preserve their decomposing states.
The courageous one first had to pack the salt in many packets for his business, so that his supply would not run out. Before dusk, he would make his way to a suitable spot in the cemetery. There he sat down comfortably with his head bowed, and waited patiently for his “customers”. There were two important rules for this business; he must never look up at all times, and he must never fall asleep or leave his spot before the dawn. Any violations would endanger his life greatly.
The brave man had to resist any urge to peep at his “customers”, who would place the money on his hands after taking the salt. When the first light arrived, the man must quickly pack up and leave with his stack of cash, which would not turn into hell notes, unlike the poor taxi driver.
5. Black Magic (Gong Tau)
Black magic, or gong tau (降头), was a popular topic for discussion especially in the Southeast Asia. Scorpions, centipedes, snakes, spiders, corpse oil, strands of hairs or bits of fingernails were often the items associated in making powerful charms for revenge, love enhancement or simply a change of luck.
Likely to be originated from Yunnan of China; some said it was the work of Maoshan Taoist priests, black magic flourished in Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand and Indonesia. Many locals in Singapore also believed in black magic, especially when things in life went wrong. It was said to be extremely difficult to heal a person suffered under a strong curse, and the one who placed the curse usually had to pay a high price in the end.
Interest in black magic reached its peak in Singapore in the seventies, thanks to the influence of many scary gong tau movies made popular during that era.
6. Toyol (Gui Kia)
Toyol, on the other hand, was a child spirit used to create mischief or steal money from others. It was also known as qi gui kia (养小鬼) in Hokkien. In the early days, there were consistent rumours that the hardcore gamblers would keep toyols to help them win money in chap ji kee.
The way of creating a toyol was gruesome. The bomoh would get his human foetus, usually just died from abortion or miscarriage, from the cemetery and placed it in a jar. After the some rituals, the spirit of the fetus was revived, and it was sold to anyone who wanted to keep it for his own personal gains. He would then need to feed it everyday, sometimes with his own blood.
It was not uncommon to hear stories that the toyol would later become too rebellious and uncontrollable. Or it simply went berserk after the owner forgot to feed it regularly. In the end, he was killed by his “money-making tool”.
7. The Haunted East Coast Yellow Tower
Many years ago, a loving couple was taking a stroll at East Coast Park at night. They arrived at the quiet and isolated Amber Beacon Tower near Carpark C. Suddenly a group of thugs appeared and knocked the guy unconscious. They brutally gang-raped the poor girl, and proceeded to stab her to death after that.
Ever since then, passers-by claimed to see sightings of a female apparition near the yellow tower. Others heard screams of help, but found nothing when they searched the tower. It was said that the criminals were never caught and the spirit of the girl was weeping about her ill-fated life every night.
8. The Banana Spirit
The desperate man heard a story on how to control the banana spirit to help him strike 4D, so he went and struck a needle into the trunk of a banana tree, tying a long red thread between the needle and himself. The man then waited patiently until the night fell. Soon he heard a wailing sound. It was the banana spirit pleading him to remove the needle as it hurt her terribly. Having the bargaining chips, the man asked for the winning 4D numbers in exchange for her freedom.
Weeks after weeks, the man’s greed grew and he kept asking for more winning numbers, failing to keep his promise to release her. Soon, he became a rich towkay. Arrogant and unscrupulous, the man soon offended many people. One of them found out the source of his wealth and subsequently removed the needle from the banana tree.
The next day, the man was found dead, in a horrible manner. The banana spirit finally had her revenge.
9. Haw Par Villa Statues
Today, it is a sad plight to a former popular place of interest and tourist attraction, but Haw Par Villa is more than a place that showcases Chinese mythology. Its lively statues, and the famous Ten Courts of Hell, are the source of nightmares to the young kids who used to come here for school excursions during the eighties and nineties.
It was once rumoured that Haw Par Villa was the location of the gates to Hell. Security guards would tell their stories that how the place became alive when nights fell. Others had heard painful screams from the statues depicting gruesome punishments in the Ten Courts of Hell.
Ghost stories had plagued Haw Par Villa for decades. There were whispers that some of the statues were actually dead humans covered with wax. And on a small deserted hill within the theme park existed a dumping site where several unused statues were abandoned for many years. Old staffs claimed that these unwanted statues were possessed by wandering spirits.
Real or just urban legends? Only the brave will attempt to find out.
The pontianak was perhaps the most famous supernatural being in Singapore and Malaysia. In Malay folklore, it was the vengeful spirit of a woman who died tragically during childbirth (or pregnancy). Long haired and dressed in white, the pontianak flew around between trees, sometimes taking forms of birds, looking for pregnant women to kill for their foetus.
In the early kampong days, young pregnant women were particularly concerned about the legends of pontianaks. Unusual wails or sounds of scratching at nights were signs that a pontianak was nearby, ready to prey on its next victim. Long nails were kept within the house as pontianaks were afraid of sharp objects.
There was a well-known story about pontianak in Malaysia, in which a couple travelled on the North-South Highway (NSHW) at night. Halfway through their journey, their car broke down, beside some ulu plantations. The husband decided to find help elsewhere, while his wife locked herself in the car. After a while, a police patrol car passed by and stopped some distance away. The policemen rushed out of the car and screamed to the woman, urging her to get out. The wife obliged and ran towards the police car. When she eventually turned back to take a look, she saw a pontianak eating the flesh of her dead husband on top of her car.
11. Spiral Staircase at the National Museum of Singapore
The Victorian-styled spiral staircase is reputedly the most haunted part of the century-old museum, first built in 1882. Sightings of the spirit of the former museum director, British doctor and zoologist Carl Alexander Gibson-Hill (1911 – 1963), were repeatedly reported. A diabetic and heavy smoker, Gibson-Hill suffered poor health in his latter years and was rumoured to have committed suicide in 1963.
Standing at the corner of the room, flanked by two large windows, the staircase, leading to the rooftop, is now inaccessible to the public. However, witnesses claimed that in the past, any daring souls who attempted to climb it were said to be stopped by an invisible force.
Even after the restoration of the museum in 2003, the spiral staircase still gives visitors a chilling feeling, or is it due to the aircon?
Published: 17 August 2012
Updated: 23 April 2014