Let’s be honest, ghosts of all walks of life – or should I say afterlife – are scary af. Most people who encounter them would probably agree, unless you’re a ghost hunter or priest of some kind.
That being said, ghosts in Singapore have always been more jialat as compared to Western ghosts, and we’re sure many would agree. To put our observations to the test, we’ve picked out some comparisons that will have you sleeping with your lights on tonight.
This is probably the most obvious difference between Singaporean and Western ghosts. After all, there’s a geographic union between actual jungle and our concrete jungle here.
Ghosts like Pontianak and other spirits are famous for inhabiting banana trees. But unlike us humans, ghosts don’t need to wait for BTO slots – some also take up residence in trees more commonly found in and around our neighbourhoods.
Hot spots like Bedok Reservoir Park and Pasir Ris Park are rumoured to be haunted areas with blood curdling stories about black magic and suicides. So if you’re out late and around places that are said to be haunted, don’t disturb the trees or you could end up getting a visit from Kakak Ponz.
The good news is that if you want to siam Kakak Ponz, you can check out places like Matilda House and get haunted by the extravagant angmoh ghosts instead.
Offerings and burning incense are a common sight even if it’s not the 7th Month.
Image credits: @issac_lkl
One of the reasons why Singapore only has one cemetery left for burial is due to our land constraint issue. Much of the land is used for urban development – therefore, over 20 burial grounds needed to be cleared for new projects.
Unfortunately, that means that quite a few places and buildings are sitting on top of former graveyards. Couple that with unmarked graves littered around the island before graveyards were introduced and you’ve got yourself a minefield of spooky activity. We’re pretty sure you’ve heard of sightings at MRT stations like Novena and Woodleigh, which is near Bidadari Estate.
Image credit: @saf.bmtc
This is especially true on the island of Tekong where major expansion and development is occurring for military training purposes. For ah boys going into army, it is critical to make sure that you’re not doing your, er, business at the wrong place during exercises. If so, you risk a f2f about how it’s not polite to defecate where someone else sleeps.
Western countries in contrast, have much more space to segregate graveyards and housing estates. You’re only really likely to offend a Western ghost if you visit an actual graveyard or if you’re one of the few unlucky people to move into a property built on the site of a tragic death.
Unlike most Western ghosts that haunt old mansions, castles, or hotels, most of Singapore’s population reside in HDBs. So, it’s only natural for us to encounter ghosts in our flats, especially flats whose previous owners have passed on but their spirit still lingers.
There’s literally no place to run in a HDB. You’ve got 3 to 4 rooms to hide in – a far cry from a landed residence with 2 or 3 levels and multiple rooms to keep the ghost guessing.
Image credit: @threadsoftheunknown
And since the layout of most HDBs are pretty much the same, the ghost can easily figure out your open floor plan. It doesn’t matter if you’re hiding in your Scandinavian style master bedroom or behind your custom-built PC in your man cave, the ghost will find you in no time. Unless, of course, you are higher SES and live in a maisonette.
They also make weird noises at night, like dropping marbles or scraping chairs against the floor, solely designed to convince you to pull up your duvet.
So the next time you’re convinced your house is haunted, maybe spend the night in a hotel. That way you have multiple corridors and stairwells to escape from the Western ghosts living on that floor.
Singapore is a melting pot of different cultures, so it’s no surprise that the ghosts we have are multicultural too. Our little island is jam-packed with ghosts from all walks of life. So regardless of race, language, or religion, there will always be a ghost that suits your worst nightmares – from Japanese ghost soldiers to Malay ghosts that lack a full body like the penanggal.
Image adapted from: SG Road Vigilante
They also take on uniquely local traits. Just like us, SG ghosts are kaypoh, kanchiong, and like to kacau or attack people, sometimes for no reason at all. They like to invade the personal space of unwitting people, follow them around, and sometimes stand in front of your car – because it’s just what Singaporeans do.
But when it comes to Western ghosts, they are not kaypoh at all. They pretty much mind their own business until you invade their space and that’s when they come alive with the intent of chasing you out. So take it from us, it’s better to leave them be.
Image credit: Unsplash
We’ve all been there when you feel a strange presence through sensory alerts – like the hair on the back of your neck standing or a sudden chill down your spine. These are usually indicators that you have someone following in your footsteps, and not in a good way.
On the other hand, Western ghosts like to slam the doors shut or play with the light switch like a kid to scare you away, basically giving away the fact that they are there.
Image credit: Unsplash
In Singapore, the ghosts are more creative when it comes to getting you to turn around for a jumpscare. Just like how you’re compelled to turn when you smell a nice perfume, the ghosts here like to use their own brand of local flowery fragrance. Frangipani is often the first thing you smell in the dead of night – and that’s your cue to run straight ahead and not look back.
Other ways our ghosts bamboozle you is with their appearance. Essentially, they try to catfish you with their white skin and demure features that look like something out of a K-Drama. That’s before you walk closer and realise it’s a “damsel” deep red eyes that stare straight into your soul. Talk about the wrong type of ghosting.
Image credit: @hungryghostfestivalsg
The Hungry Ghost Festival is a big event for the Buddhist and Taoist community and probably one of the most haunted periods in a year. Literally thousands of ghosts are released from the gates of Hell and are out on the streets seeking food and money.
It’s a long-standing tradition that every family needs to burn offerings and present them with food and drinks because a hangry ghost is a scary ghost. Just remember not to kick, touch, or otherwise disturb the offerings or you might get a rude awakening at night.
Aside from food, hell notes and paper effigies of gold ingots are burnt to provide the ghosts with some form of allowance to take back to Hell. While the amount is usually fairly substantial, it’s important to remember that not even spirits can escape inflation, so it never hurts to burn a few more hell notes.
Another reason why Singaporean ghosts are scarier is the fact that Asian cultural practices remain a mystery to many new generations of locals. While knowledge of such practices may have been more widespread during the olden kampung days, much of it has been lost to time.
However, you’ll still find stories surfacing about how cultural practices have been used as a way of besetting bad luck on someone or in a bid to gain fortune or love. Often through darker means, these stories confirm that there are people with such knowledge that could potentially do us harm.
Black magic is surprisingly very common in Asian culture.
Image credit: @abundance168
This could be why our horror movies are that much scarier, because of the traditions tied to the storyline that is relatable to us. We can see ourselves being stuck in this ominous situation with no idea on how to shoo the ghosts away by ourselves, making us kind of helpless against the supernatural.
Getting possessed is another problem where we really have no idea how to resolve ourselves. The only way to stop someone crawling on the ceiling on all fours is to call a priest who is well versed in returning the spirit to the shadow realm.
Image credit: Unsplash
It’s no secret that Singaporeans love to book a private hire car for almost all their trips. Many of us have earned enough points to claim a high membership tier.
With that in mind, this could be why SG ghosts love to hitch a ride. Since buses and MRTs are not readily available near the ulu places, they often like to hail oncoming drivers for a ride. Drivers who had the misfortune of encountering “special” passengers tell a tale of a young lady sometimes with a child looking for a ride along roads like Old Upper Thomson Road
Image credit: foursquare
The driver would then be paid in hell notes after driving through a haunted road and stopping near a cemetery. So the next time you’re driving on a creepy road, remember to keep your car clean and have a charger ready if you want a 5 star rating from your long haired passenger in white.
Western ghosts, on the other hand, can fly and float about at great distances. Much like Casper, they have the zoomies and can get from one place to another without the need of transport. While that may seem scarier, no one wants a ghost sitting in their backseat – which is why our ghost wins, hands down.
While American ghosts are definitely spooky, we believe that our local ghosts are just that much more terrifying in every way possible and a lot of that is down to the cultural associations that we have with the folktales and the legends surrounding our ghosts.
So, if there’s something strange in your neighbourhood, who you gonna call?
For more ghost related stories, check out:
You can also use the e-gate when flying into Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
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