The Pantang Singaporean
You know you’re a Singaporean if you can incorporate 3 languages in a sentence, understand the prowess of a tissue pack at lunchtime, and smell Hello Kitty’s presence from afar by seeing unending queues at McDonald’s. But other than these eccentricities, another mark of a true blue Singaporean kid is the wealth of knowledge imparted by our elders.
Like how your mum said you’ll end up marrying a pimply spouse if you don’t finish every last rice grain. Or how dangerous it is to point directly at the moon because it’ll slice off your ears.
“Ma, who told you that?”
“They all say one.”
We later discovered that most of these beliefs are baseless. Why on earth would the moon travel 384,400 km for my ears?! But because “they all say”, every Singaporean kid grew up with an arsenal of old wives’ tales and taboos. Here’s sharing mine!
They all say that...
1. Shoes Make Terrible Presents
In Chinese culture, giving shoes as presents is seen as asking someone to walk out of your life forever! As such, the gesture of gifting shoes is synonymous with parting ways. So guys, those Steve Maddens you’ve been planning to get your girlfriend may not be such a great idea after all.
Come to think of it, there’s an awful lot of things offensive to Chinese people. Umbrellas, sharp objects, mirrors, clocks, green hats, anything in set of fours. Even pears!
2. Don’t Sleep Facing the Mirror
Most of us would’ve heard that one should never sleep facing a mirror - ever wondered why? According to fengshui, your soul leaves your body while in slumber. When it does so, you may inadvertently see your spirit’s reflection and suffer a rude and unsettling shock, because your spirit’s not going to look like you.
For the same reason, we’re often warned against photographing sleeping people. Unless you want to have their souls reside in the lens of your iPhone 6.
3. Coke + Salt = Fever Cured
When I was a kid, I was told that adding salt to coke helps to “cool down” your body - if you subscribe to the Chinese medicinal theory of heatiness. Obviously I abused this hearsay to no end; convincing my mum that this angmoh herbal tea is something my body needed urgently. I never knew the science of it, but it was awesome to be sick.
4. “Touch Wood”
“Touch wood!” is commonly heard when someone “tempts fate” by talking about the future, especially when misfortunes had been mentioned.
“Mum, the sky so dark, later will rain”
“Ah Boy, touch wood! Cannot anyhow say. I never bring umbrella today”
I used to think that “touch wood” was a Singaporean thing, but it actually originated from Germanic folklore. In greek mythology, female tree spirits with divine powers are believed to live in oak trees. One would knock on wood to seek protection and ward off misfortune, hence the term “touch wood”
5. Moths Visit You as Souls of Departed Kin
As a Shieldtox enthusiast with zero tolerance for insect intruders, I grudgingly make an exception for moths. Because according to my grandmother, they carry the spirits of your departed relatives.
If that’s true, I demand to know what was up with this last May.Source
6. Avoid Corner Rooms in Hotels
Being assigned a room upon check-in can be tremendously stressful for a pantang person. Some violently object to the 13th floor, while others shun the corner hotel room as if all the ghosts in the hotel convene there.
Nobody knows why the corner rooms are thought to be haunted, but there must be a reason Google autocompletes “hotel corner rooms” with “haunted”...
7. Mess Both Beds in Hotel Rooms Up
Knock before you enter. Place your shoes in the opposite direction. Never touch the bible if it’s opened. Think you’ve mastered the kiasi guide to hotels? Here’s one more. It’s said that in a twin-bedded hotel room, both should be messed up no matter which you sleep in. Apparently, unoccupied, nicely made beds extend an invitation for spirits to rest in them.
8. Rolling a Pineapple into a New House
Behind the excitement of a new house lies an elaborate ritual practised with various fruits, leaves and condiments that completely disregards logic. But if they all say we gotta do this for good fortune and a “clean” house to live in, sometimes being comical is small price to pay:
9. Durian and Beer: A Deadly Combination
Haters of durian, unite now. It turns out there may be something more lethal than its smell. According to hearsay, the king of fruit can cause death when paired with alcohol. Somebody should put this on the Dumb Ways To Die game. This myth has been debunked with science though, suggesting that the combination overloads your system with fats and sugar, thus causes indigestion and discomfort, but not death.
10. Keep Calm and Buy 4D
Singaporeans would do a lot to strike 4D. Tracking down the Singapore Pools branch with the highest success rate. Wearing red underwear while shading the gambler’s “OAS”. Making out numbers on the scales of a fish. Also, every mishap is bound to be a windfall in disguise - we’re sure of it.
Witnessed a car accident? Buy 4D. Pooped on by a bird? Buy 4D. Stepped on dog faeces? Buy 4D. We’re a nation of opportunists.
11. Keeping a Long Fringe Blocks out Luck Source
They all say that long fringes can block potential windfalls. This hearsay stems from Chinese beliefs of yin and yang; the forehead is seen as the spot where yang (good) energy concentrates, and obscuring the heavenly celestial dragon can deter wealth.
Yes, those bangs could be the reason why you’re not winning 4D. But no, I’ve no idea what a heavenly celestial dragon is.
12. But Meeting a Funeral Procession is Lucky
You read this right. Death is a bad omen and one would imagine meeting a funeral procession to be the unluckiest thing ever - but the reverse is true. It’s said that the yin (negative) energy shrouding the procession can free you from bad luck by carrying it away.
Don’t look at me - I’m just as confused. Superstitions are weird.
13. No pad should be lent FOC
Apparently, you should never borrow a sanitary pad without paying your friends 20 cents, or risk the demise of your friendship. This peculiar hearsay isn’t widely practiced, probably because there’s no way to collect that 20 cents without sounding like a scrooge.
Whoever coined these theories clearly make great friends. Or entrepreneurs.
14. Biting Shoes Prevents Blisters
They all say you gotta bite your new shoes before they give you blisters. It sounds nasty to put your footwear in the same place you put your food, but it’s believed to soften the back of shoes so they don’t hurt your feet! A less extreme but equally illogical alternative is to step on them.
Or you could resolve this with more sensible means.
15. Pregnant? No Horror Movies For You!
Or movies with weird-looking characters, lest their babies turn out to resemble them in any way.
My mum told me that while she was expecting me, “A Chinese Odyssey: Pandora Box” wouldn’t stop screening for some reason. The 1994 film starred Stephen Chow as the Monkey God alongside comrades and demons who were generally ugly. She was highly perplexed and cut back on TV altogether.
16. Touching a Baby Bump - An Express Route to Fertility
It’s said that feeling an expectant mother’s tummy will boost your chances of expecting. Tell that to the people flying to Hakone to touch the fertility tree! I never knew about this pregnancy superstition till I reached out to feel a friend’s baby bump one day when
“OMG why you touch?? you will get pregnant!”
Strong contender of the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard, followed closely only by “you’ll get pregnant by kissing a boy!”.
17. Baby Shower Goodies Make You Stupid
During a baby shower, it’s a Chinese custom for parents to give out boxes of cakes and red eggs as a sign of good luck and fortune. However, it’s believed that children should consume none of these goodies, or they’ll fail badly in school.
It sounds absurd, but this is why I’m banned from eating them till I graduate from university.
18. Never Step Over Schoolbags or Textbooks
Here’s another one with the power to ruin your grades.
It’s highly frowned upon by some adults for students to step over schoolbags and textbooks, or even leaving them on the ground. These sacred things are vessels of knowledge in their eyes and by doing so, you are disrespecting the value of education and will therefore fail every subject even if you attended tuition 7 times a week.
Seriously, what does a kid have to do to survive school around here?
Fact or fiction?
There’s no concrete way to prove if old wive’s tales are true; that breaking a mirror or walking under bamboo poles will bring you bad luck. Nevertheless, many of us were raised by a generation whose mantra is “better be safe than sorry”. As such, we’ve grown to be iffy about opening an umbrella indoors, or placing our chopsticks upright - just because.
This post was brought to you by the Central Provident Fund Board.