Female vampires. Shadowy figures at Singapore's tourist attractions. And visits from deceased love ones. Urban myths, or reality?
by Suhara binte Mohd Yusof
Yunos and his friend, Chee Kwang swear this is a true story. During their national service at Pulau Tekong (Tekong Island), both Yunos and Chee Kwang were assigned to do patrolling one night.
While they were resting under a tree at around 1.30am, they heard a loud, shrill cry of a baby.
Puzzled because this small Singaporean island is restricted to the public, the two young soldiers went ahead to investigate, thinking it might be a group of illegal immigrants staying there.
As they were getting nearer, they detected a strong smell. It was the fragrance of the kemboja (a type of flower). Both men knew what the smell symbolized.
According to Yunos's Malay ancestors, the smell meant that the pontianak (female vampire) was nearby.
And sure enough a short distance away, a lady dressed in white, was sitting on the rock as she was rocking what Yunos assumed was her baby to sleep.
Both men froze. Chee Kwang somehow managed to snap out of it, and ran away screaming.
Yunos just stood there. The lady turned and looked at him. Unable to overcome the fright, Yunos fainted, and therafter fell ill for a week. Poor boy. He told me that he couldn't get the image of the lady's face off his mind.
And who could blame him? The Pontianak is said to be the most frightening of all ghosts of South East Asia. It is said that the Pontianak, who died during childbirth, stalks at night in search of men or pregnant women, to suck blood from them or to eat the flesh of babies being ripped out from their mothers' wombs.
Stories like this are not uncommon, according to the scores of Singaporeans who say they have had supernatural encounters.
Reza , one of the SFOGS (Singapore First Online ghosts stories) team members, feels that Asians are strong believers compared to Westerners because of our different cultural background. "Even though some of us tend not believe in ghost, there is always a feeling of fear when you walk alone at night in a deserted place. Besides the fear that someone might attack or rob you, you also tend to have fear that you might see something which you don't want to see - a ghost!"
Furthermore, Asian ghosts are linked with our different cultural backgrounds. In other words, if you were to go into SFOGS website, you will across a list of ghosts belonging to different "association" or ethic groups.
In addition to the Pontianak there is also the Hopping ghost (the Chinese version) and Ashuras (the Indian version for the demons).
One person who has also experienced a supernatural encounter is Ai Peng who works at the Night Safari.
Ai Peng isn't any ordinary girl. She possesses a so-called "third eye", which enables her to see these "things". Out of her many encounters one sticks out as the scariest.
It was a Thursday night and Ai Peng was doing her commentary on the third last tram, at around 11pm. The tram was filled with people except for the last carriage.
When the tram passed the elephant exhibition, Ai Peng noticed a dark figure sitting on the last seat of the carriage. She squirmed her eyes in the dark, trying to see whether it was someone she didn't notice sitting at the back. But then she found out that it wasn't a person but a dark figure, which seemed to be glaring at her with red-blood shot eyes.
Thinking it might just be a hallucination, she ignored it. But after a while, she realized that the figure was actually there.
She tried to do her commentary calmly despite knowing that it was still staring at her.
Just as the tram was approaching the Entrance plaza (finishing its journey), the figure disappeared. When the tram came to a stop, Ai Peng immediately got off and went to the last carriage to investigate.
She came to the conclusion that it was a ghost.
But why do these ghosts want to make their presence known to us? Are they trying to make contact with us?
Over the centuries, ghosts have been seen roaming around in places such as dilapidated houses, abandoned castles and their favourite hangout place, yep you guess it, the commentary.
The earliest ghost report is from 2000 years ago. Roman writer Pliny recorded one early sighting when a figure in chains appeared to the Greek philosopher Athenodorus. Athenoduros followed the figure outside where it disappeared. The next day, Athenoduros dug the area where the figure had disappeared and found a skeleton bound in chains.
According to Reza ghosts don't just hang around or haunt us for fun. "Ghosts often have a reason to haunt us. Some may have an urgent message or warning to deliver. Others may seem to feel the need to visit loved ones just before they die, as if to say farewell," explained Reza.
But what about exorcisms, where the ghosts appear to be attached to a certain house? Do we have the rights to perform exorcisms, even though we know that they are original occupants of the place?
"Provided that we; the spirits and me, don't cross on each other line, I find no need to do that." explains Raden, another team member of the SFOGS.
Mass communications student Terry seriously believes he owns a haunted house. According to him these spirits would either "play" with the furniture or lights or make their appearances once in a while.
Terry finds it rather comforting living under the same roof with these spirits. "They are just being mischievous. I don't disturb them. They don't disturb me. Furthermore, we are best of friends." he smiles.
But unfortunately, not everyone has the same opinion as Radin and Terry. Ai Peng's colleague Lion King (he prefers to keep his real name confidential) is a tram driver at the Night Safari. He is of the opinion that it is better for us to perform exorcisms "because you never know what they may be up to even though they mean no harm to us."
If the spirits refuse to co-operate and continue to cause chaos in the house, then it leaves the occupants with little choice but to try and exorcise it - driving them out of the house and into the arms of God.
Easier said than done. Not all spirits are "nice".
Due to this, not all the exorcisms performed are successful. Some spirits just refused to leave the place maybe because they feel so attached to the house or they could be lost souls who are trapped, not realizing that they are already dead or they could be afraid to leave the house.
Afraid? Why would a ghost be afraid, you might ask.
Just like people, places too have a past. That house or place may be occupied with several spirits, be it bad or good and just like a bee hive, there is bound to be a queen or in this case, a dominant spirit, who is in control of the place.
In the television programme World's Scariest Places hosted by Exorcist star Linda Blair, a family went to seek help from a group of psychics about their house, which seemed to be occupied with several spirits. These distress spirits seemed to be disturbing them especially the youngest child.
As hard they tried, the psychics failed to chase these spirits away. It was claimed that a dominant spirit, whom they failed to pacify, controlled the rest from leaving. In conclusion, the house was left abandoned, leaving the tormented spirits to live "happily" in their so-called "castle". Who would have thought that spirits, too, suffer such ordeals as bullying even though they are already dead?
If you look up the word 'ghost' in the dictionary, it usually says something like 'spirit of a dead person'. Some people believe that ghosts are merely fragments of our imagination. Others believe that they are visions or apparitions of the dead.
Ghost may be visible, though only a small number of cases involve visual images. Generally, ghosts make their presences known through mysterious noises, smells, cold breezes and movement of objects.
My grandma would often warn me, "Jangan cakap apa-apa bila bau wangi pada waktu malam" (don't mutter a word if you happened to smell something sweet when you are alone in a place at night).
The reason? It is believed that if you were to mention or compliment the sweet fragrance, the ghost will possess you.
Does dreams keep you in contact with the dead? Jenny Randles, an author from the book, The Paranormal, agrees. She claims that "there are also many kinds of dreaming, some of which step across the boundaries of the paranormal."
In other words, dreams create a portal between the spirit and us to communicate. Noorjahan once dreamt of her late grandfather. At that time, her mum was suffering from lung cancer. Noorjahan's grandfather told her in the dream that her mum was going to die soon. A few months later, her mum passed away in the hospital.
Even Reza, the SFOGS team member, had a similar experience where someone warned him that something bad is bound to happen to him if he were to make a certain decision (he refused to go into details as it was confidential).
Ultimately it depends on the individual whose opinion and experiences determine his or her view of ghosts.