Singapore ghosts and urban legends
Image adapted from Source, Source & Source
Singaporeans are generally skeptical people with a weakness for ghost stories. Some of us can feel their presence, the rest of us are like “where got ghost?” Regardless of whether you believe in them or not, we’ve always held a fascination for supernatural beings.
If you’ve already explored all the haunted places, you probably recognise some of them. If you haven’t, then here’s what you can expect to see. Personally, I would stay far away from haunted creatures, but if you want to meet them in person, well, here’s who you can meet and where to find them:
You’re walking home and it’s midnight. It’s a beautiful night for a walk, with the moon illuminating your way and the sweet smell of flowers in the air.
All of a sudden, you hear a child crying. It’s a keening sound, soft, but audible. The street light casts a sliver of light onto a young woman in a long white dress. You make your way towards her, intent on consoling her. She’s beautiful. It’s that unearthly sort of beauty – long black hair and skin so pale it’s almost translucent.
“Can I help you, m-” You barely have time to register shock as she lunges at you, fingernails digging into your stomach frenziedly. She laughs, or screams maniacally, you don’t know. You’re paralysed with fear, but – she rips out your organs and devours them as you sink into the welcoming arms of unconsciousness.
Who they are: Pontianaks are the Malay version of vampires. They were women who died in childbirth and who now look for male victims to enact their revenge.
Appearance: A woman with long black hair and very pale skin, wearing a long white dress. Some say they can take on a beautiful appearance, but their real ‘face’ is hideous.
Here got ghost: Fortunately, or not, they only prey on men. Soft baby cries, a whining dog and a sweet smell indicate the presence of a pontianak.
2. The Restless Souls of the Massacred
Orders are barked out in a language you don’t understand, you’re acutely aware of the barrel of a gun pressing into your lower back, your stomach is screaming for sustenance, but you don’t feel anything. Just the heavy weight of resignation. One shot, you think, and it’ll all be over.
Gunshots ring in the air as your body slumps forward. But it’s not over. How could you rest in peace in the mass grave, knowing that your death was unjustified, knowing that you were robbed of your right to a long and peaceful life?
Your body lies six feet under, but your soul paces the site of the massacres restlessly while the shadow of your voice wails at the injustice of it all.
Who they are: During the Japanese Occupation, thousands of prisoners-of-war, enemies of the Japanese army and innocent civilians were brutally massacred in mass graves. After being killed in such a ruthless way, their souls are unable to rest peacefully, but wander their death sites restlessly.
Appearance: Residents have reported hearing screams and wails, seeing bodiless heads, headless bodies and traces of blood at massacre sites.
Here got ghost: Sites of massacres include Changi Beach, Siglap, Punggol Beach, Hougang, Katong and Tanah Merah.
It’s taking over your life. You were supposed to control it, you were supposed to be its master. When did it become the other way around? Somehow, you’re caught in the Toyol’s grubby fingers and it won’t let you go.
You regret it all. Maybe you were really down on your luck, but whatever possessed you to buy a toyol from -that- magician? And now you’re imprisoned by this human foetus turned monster.
It demands attention. It demands affection. And if you try to run away… you know what will happen. That guy in the news, the one they found ripped into a thousand shreds. They say he was destroyed by his Toyol. Will you face the same fate?
Who they are: They are child spirits invoked from a dead human fetus by a bomoh. Instead of running far far away from these spirits, greedy people seek to buy them from bomohs (witch doctors) and command them for their own purposes, like stealing things or making mischief. In order to keep the toyol under control, you must perform certain rituals and make certain sacrifices.
If the toyol becomes jealous or feels neglected, it can turn against you. There’s no getting rid of it – the only way to escape a toyol is to destroy it, and if it finds out that you’re planning to leave it… your life will be in peril.
Appearance: A toyol looks like a newborn baby, with a big head, small hands and greenish skin.
Here got ghost: If you notice cash and jewellery going missing, there’s likely to be a toyol in your house. You can ward it off by putting needles under your money or leaving some toys around to distract the toyol from making mischief.
4. Hungry Ghosts
You’re starving. If only you had known that the afterlife was so unforgiving. You would have been much kinder during your time on earth.
You’ve shrivelled up from hunger and neglect. Whatever family you’ve left behind seems to have forgotten you, left you to fend for yourself without hell money to live comfortably in the afterlife. Now you have no choice but to wander the spirit realm as a hungry ghost. Forever.
There’s a little window of hope each year, during the seventh month. You’re satiated for the first time in a year, nibbling at the little cakes by the roadside, taking your fill of the sumptuous feast laid out specially for you and the other ghosts. Life is good for that one month – getai and wayang in your honour every night, the freedom to roam the world you once inhabited… until the month is over and you’re trapped, once again, behind the gates of hell.
Who they are: Hungry ghosts are the spirits of people that were evil or greedy during their lifetime, or ghosts whose descendants have neglected them. Instead of finding peace, they’re doomed to be hungry and poor in the afterlife.
During the 7th month in the lunar calendar, these ghosts are said to roam the human realm. To appease the hungry ghosts, offerings are burned and front row seats are left empty during wayang and getai performances. When the month is over, the hell guards hunt for those who overstay on earth. Some hungry ghosts manage to escape. The rest don’t.
Appearance: Popularly depicted with distended bellies and a very narrow neck.
Here got ghost: Hungry ghosts can be found almost everywhere during the 7th month, especially at night. Try sitting in the first row of a getai performance. You might just meet one.
5. Banana Spirits
Legend tells of a man, unsatisfied with his lot in life and greedy for more. Like all desperate people, he turned to the spirits to change his luck. He learned a little here, a little there and learned about a spirit living in a banana tree.
A needle. That’s what he would control her with. He pierced the tree with a needle tied to a long red thread and waited. As night fell, the screams of the banana spirit rent the air. She pleaded with him, begged him to have mercy, to remove the needle and end her agony. He would not yield, but struck a deal: she would tell him the winning 4D numbers in exchange for her freedom. She had no choice but to agree.
The weeks passed, and the man grew richer and richer. And the banana spirit grew more and more miserable, for he still had not released her, as promised, but continued to extort 4D numbers. The man’s arrogance knew no bounds, his cunning character making him more enemies than friends. When his enemies found out the source of the man’s sudden good fortune, they removed the needle from the tree.
The next day, the man was no more. Dead, his body almost unrecognisable. It was the banana spirit’s time for revenge.
Who they are: Spirits are said to live in banana trees during the day and theoretically, may be harnessed for one’s financial gain. A variation of the story is that a man stuck 7 needles into the banana tree inhabited by the king of banana trees. The tree died, but the king’s spirit lived on, haunting the area.
Here got ghost: All signs point to Neo Tiew Estate.
6. Possessed Statues
There are whispers that Haw Par Villa is haunted, whispers that you scoff at, because how can garishly painted sculptures ever be scary? Sure, there are the infamous Ten Courts of Hell, but each diorama looks more like a cheesy cartoon than a scene out of a horror movie.
You’re not wrong – the sculptures on display are hardly haunted. But not all the sculptures are on display, and for a good reason. They’ve been hastily removed by the staff, but the possessed statues are still on site. They say if you walk by the area where the statues are kept, you hear things – spirits crying out for revenge, spirits wailing for a better life and if you’re lucky, they might just move.
And if you come too close, who knows, they just might possess you.
Who they are: Discarded statues in Haw Par Villa are rumoured to be possessed, but removed from the main exhibits by the staff to protect visitors.
Here got ghost: Check out the dumping site, where unused statues were discarded.
7. Ladies in White (or Red)
You’re a taxi driver. Your day passes uneventfully, but as the twilight hours descend upon the city, there’s an uncomfortable prickly feeling along your spine. You turn into Mount Pleasant Road, and is it just your imagination or do the trees seem more menacing than before? You turn the corner and there’s someone there, flagging you down. A customer? Here? What luck.
“Where are you going?” You ask cheerfully as a lady in white slips into the back of your car.
“Lim Chu Kang cemetery,” A raspy, not-quite-human voice replies and you don’t know why, but your blood runs cold. You try to make out her face in the rear view mirror, but it’s dark and you can only see her silhouette. Suddenly, a car going in the opposite direction passes by and headlights illuminate her reflection for one brief moment.
May the gods have pity on me! Her face is grotesque, unimaginably hideous. You fix your eyes on the road and drive as fast as you can to the cemetery.
“We’re here,” You breathe in relief. Without a word, she tosses the fare into your tray, slipping out of the car.
I must have been dreaming, you think, as you pick up the cash. Surely she’s just a normal customer… but what’s this? Hell money!
Who they are: Taxi drivers have reported instances of young ladies wearing white or red flagging down a taxi on a secluded road at night, asking to be taken to Lim Chu Kang cemetery. At the end of the ride, the lady would make her payment and disappear, but the taxi driver would find that she paid in ‘hell money’. No word of Grab drivers experiencing the same phenomenon yet.
Appearance: A lady passenger wearing white or red. Some accounts tell of her ugly face.
Here got ghost: If you’re a taxi driver, you can find these ladies waiting in the most ulu areas in the middle of the night. Encounters have been recorded around Mount Pleasant Road, near the Choa Chu Kang army base and Old Upper Thomson Road.
8. Marble-Playing Children Spirits
It’s late at night and you’re trying to sleep. You can’t sleep. It’s that dratted clanging sound from the ceiling. As if someone upstairs was dropping marbles on the floor. It’s probably the children, you think as you shake your head, the parents must be crazy, letting their children stay up so late. If you strain your ears, you can hear the faint sound of children’s laughter. Soon, they’ll go to sleep, and you too will be able to sleep in peace.
But the sound doesn’t stop and you’ve had enough. Angrily, you march up the stairs to give your pesky upstairs neighbours a piece of your mind. You ring their doorbell, but you’re ignored. Frustrated, you hammer on their door, yelling for them to have some control over their kids, for your sanity’s sake.
“What are you doing?” The family’s next door neighbour pops his head out, visibly irritated. You complain about his neighbour and he rolls his eyes.
“You must be hearing things, they moved out a month ago. The house is empty,” He snaps, shutting his window. You’re visibly pale – if the flat is empty, then who’s the one playing with marbles?
Who they are: HDB residents have complained of being disturbed by sounds of marbles or coins dropping on their ceiling. Although the phenomenon is usually attributed to the piping network, the spirits of children are also cited as a reason for these unearthly noises, especially when the flat above is unoccupied.
Here got ghost: The “marble dropping” sounds are more commonly heard in older HDB flats.
9. Student Spirits and Ghosts
We sit through days of lessons and lectures, looking out of the windows and wishing we were outside. When the bell rings, you eagerly run past the hallowed halls of learning and out to freedom. But there’s a reason why these halls are “hallowed” – some students never leave.
Every school has a story.
There’s a toilet cubicle in your school that’s always locked. It’s never been opened, not once, and it’s impossible to peek over or under. You’ve always wanted to know what’s in there, ever since your first day at school. It’s not like you haven’t tried, but the lock won’t budge and every time you ask the cleaning auntie, she gives you a dark look and chases you away with her broom. Or mop, depending on the day.
It’s the night of the school camp and you’re the only one awake. You can’t explain it, but you’re drawn towards the toilet with the locked door. You enter, as if in a dream, and somehow, the cubicle is unlocked.
You take a step forward, reaching forward to push the door open, but before you can do so, the door swings open, creaking at the hinges. That sight is one you will never forget – a girl slumped over the toilet bowl, her throat slit, surrounded by a pool of blood.
Who they are: Student spirits and ghosts are the restless souls of students who died in school. Whether it’s a suicide or a freak accident, these unearthly students have been robbed of their youth and now glide along the hallways bemoaning their fate.
Appearance: Dressed in uniform, they look like creepy students.
Here got ghost: Probably every school, especially the abandoned ones. It’s been proven – the longer your school history, the more ghosts haunt your classrooms.
10. Spirits of Mental Patients
The first thing you notice is the almost pungent scent of frangipani in the air. Then you hear the voices.
They roam through the halls, murmuring, whispering their stories to anyone who listens. Stories of the demons in their heads, stories of how life was like in the past, when Woodbridge Hospital could no longer house them.
They’re harmless. As you stand there, surrounded by voices of long dead mental patients, forever trapped in the hospital, you feel an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia.
Who they are: When Woodbridge Hospital reached its limit, a second hospital, View Road Hospital, was built to house the mental patients in 1975. Just like how the mental patients were trapped in the hospital during their lifetime, their spirits remain in the hospital until today, with no means of escape.
Appearance: Being spirits rather than ghosts, they have no physical form. You might not be able to see them, but you’ll know when one’s around…
Here got ghost: View Road Hospital, renamed View Road Lodge when it was converted into a foreign workers’ dormitory, currently lies unoccupied.
11. Water Ghosts
The surface of the water is calm. You’re not sure if it’s the heat or the serenity of the lake, but you’re longing for a swim. One foot in front of the other, you tell yourself firmly as you jog past the reservoir. There’ll be plenty of time for a soak in the hot tub later. And yet your traitorous feet deviate from their course and you find yourself nearer and nearer to the water’s edge.
Just one dip, you tell yourself, as you gingerly remove your shoes and socks. You poke a toe into the water. It’s irresistibly cool. You can’t help but step willingly into the water. Just a little more, whispers a voice in your ear, and you are drawn further and further into the lake. That voice reassures you as you wade deeper, powerless to resist.
You’re chin deep when you begin to panic, but by then it’s too late. You try to kick out, but a vise-like hand grips your ankle; your arms seem to be held down by invisible chains. You try to scream, but before you can even utter a word, a hand clamps itself over your mouth. One foot after another, you’re marched into the depths of the reservoir.
Who they are: Water ghosts, or Shui Gui, are the ghosts of those who have drowned. Their spirits lie in wait for unsuspecting victims who attempt to cross the water, dragging them to their deaths.
Here got ghost: Bedok Reservoir – runners have felt some invisible force drawing them nearer to the water’s edge – and East Coast Park.
12. Makcik Keropok
A rap on the door; a voice in Malay, “Selling keropok…selling keropok”. You open the door tentatively to see an old makcik grinning at you. It’s just a peddler, you think.
“I don’t need keropok, thanks,” You say as you try to close the door.
She’s still grinning, “Selling keropok… selling keropok.” You turn away, but the hairs at the back of your neck prickle. You turn back, only to see the smiling makcik gone. In her place is a pontianak, the curse of the makcik keropok.
Who she is: She’s an old lady peddling keropok around HDB estates, said to be some sort of witch. If you don’t buy keropok from her immediately, your house will be cursed or she’ll unleash a pontianak into your house, depending on the account.
Appearance: Old lady wearing white, with black hair, holding two plastic bags.
Here got ghost: Sightings of makcik keropok seem to have dwindled, but the story was popularised by Ria 89.7fm, making it one of the most long-lasting urban legends in Singapore. If you believe in her existence, then it’s best to keep your door closed, just in case.
13. Warrior Ghosts
Many many years ago, there were two powerful warriors. The powerful always want more and more power, and so the two warriors were always butting heads, fighting to be the one to rule the seas.
Their last and final battle was the bloodiest. As their men battled it out, countless lives were lost on both sides, turning the sea red with blood. The sea genies were less than happy with what happened and sent a massive whirlpool to be rid of the two warriors once and for all. And yet the warriors would not stop fighting.
A genie flicked water onto one of them, and seeing his chance, the other warrior thrust his sword into his opponent’s abdomen. The wounded warrior dealt his adversary a death blow, and their battle was at an end.
The gods felt that genies should not interfere in the affairs of mere mortals, and so the genies transformed the warriors into islands, where their spirits could live on, creating the Pulau Hantu that we know today.
Who they are: The legend of how Pulau Hantu came to be features these two duelling warriors. Pulau Hantu is actually made up of two islands – Pulau Hantu Besar, the larger warrior, and Pulau Hantu Kechil, the smaller warrior. They say the spirits of these warriors still wander the shore.
Here got ghost: Pulau Hantu! A famous snorkelling destination, with ghostly origins.
Go on a ghost hunt!
Source Do we know who we’re making offerings to?
I can’t see why you would want to meet a ghost, but in case any of these supernatural beings sounds like someone you want to be friends with, then you now know how to find them. Enjoy your ghostly encounters, but don’t forget to take a ghostly selfie to prove that these beings do exist.
If you’re more of a scaredy-cat like me, then it’s best to avoid these encounters at all cost. Staying indoors at night, avoiding women with long black hair and finding scientific explanations for strange noises are just some tips to deal with the supernatural.
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