Monday, December 15, 2008

How many roads must a Man walk down before he admits he’s Lost?

I do find it humbling, frustrating even.

The year is coming to an end and you are supposed to find some time to step back and look over all that you had accomplished or in my case... what I didn't.

With that little Blue Bird of Happiness sitting on your shoulder it's easy in January, to think ahead at all that you are setting out to achieve over the next 12 months.

Then come December, with the Vulture of Desperation crapping in your lap, that inescapable thought hits you. "WTF! Where did the time go?".

Then you realise that it would appear you have fallen far short of the mark.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Anatomy of Nothingness

Why is it that on those rare occasions, having nothing to do in the office is almost always accompanied by an inescapable sense of guilt?

Shit I work as hard as everyone else – in fact – heck a lot more than quite a few others in the office. I come in early unlike most people. I work thru’ lunch on many a day and when it calls for it – I take work home at night and over weekends.

Then every now and then you catch a bone and realize that WTF – I’m all done. There is really nothing else to tend to in my In Box, my emails are all cleared filed or deleted, My desk – well it’s as clean as it is ever gonna get. So that’s it.

You check the time – Fuck! – it’s 2.20pm.
Okay the boss is not around today. Shit – boss is on leave and I’m supposed to be in charge … Now I get to look dictatorial. Cool! Hang on he's a director so I guess I have to look directorial. Bleeaah! I rather look dictatorial. I already have a hairstyle reminiscent of Hitler on a bad hair day. Okay okay will settle to look directorial... Hmmm does that mean I can leave early? Damn why is there never a meeting in sight when you need one?

Time 2.35pm … I’ve already looked thru' just about very website I could think of. Trying to look busy for more than 10 minutes is really hard work.

Damn now it’s starting to drizzle … typical Christmas weather! Wish I were in bed sleeping … Who you trying to kid? If I were in bed.. I wouldn’t be sleeping … Nah the TV would be on to the History Channel on the development of rockets or some documentary on evolution. Well that’s still better than sitting here.

Ah good someone’s come to ask me something …. Okay look busy and irritated with the interruption … Shit all he wanted was a yes. That’s not even a four-letter word.

Discreet check on the watch – damn damn – 2.47… this day is never going to end …

Wish I had a proper office rather than a cubicle. You can cocoon yourself with a door. In an open office – that’s kinda hard to do.

Read a Gary Larson comic strip about cows ruling the earth … stop smiling .. you are supposed to be busy.

Ahh a peal of thunder … wonder which idiot thought of that – peal of thunder – quite a mismatch – peal sounding so flower-like and thunder – the male phlegm-induced voice of God … now I’m getting philosophical. Shit … automatic spell correction … takes all the guesswork out of life and my ever dubious spelling.

Type, type, type … half a page done. Am I good or what … I look busy. My forced frowning is starting to hurt. Stop smiling … you are supposed to be pissed, maybe I should hit the keys harder. Maybe I should type using all 10 fingers … Nah let’s not kill yourself.

Take a walk … walk fast and look busy muttering to yourself .. that always clears people out of my path.

Head to the toilet … that’s always a good place to go when you are trying to look pissed. And you can actually do it there... piss I mean. Speaking of piss, it reminds me of a quote I read like five minutes ago while doing "research". It went like this: "Friendship is like peeing on yourself. Everyone can see it but only you gets that warm feeling it brings" ... wow cosmic!

Okay back to my desk. Time check – 3.50pm

Hmmm making progress. Let’s see – quitting time is 6.30pm to that means … wait .. grab calculator .. that’s 160 minutes or .. wait … or 9,600 seconds … I can hold my breath for about a minute before I turn blue .. that’s 60 seconds killed for all time so it will be … wait 9,540 seconds left ….

Damn this is a long day ….

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Remembering Pearl

It was a Sunday morning too back then on December 7 1941 when the world was turned on it's head with the preemptive attack by the Japanese on the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbour heralding the official start of World War II.

*The atta
ck sank four U.S. Navy battleships (two of which were raised and returned to service late in the war) and damaged four more. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, and one minelayer, destroyed 188 aircraft, and caused personnel losses of 2,402 killed and 1,282 wounded. (*Source: Wikipedia)

Since then, the world has seen a number of Pearl Harbours. September 11 in the US, July 7 in the UK and most recently the attacks in Mumbai, India.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Irrepressible Irene!

I attended a talk today by none other than Irene Ang better known as Rosie from Phua Chu Kang fame.

Her's was to be motivational talk held at the grand National Museum of Singapore - part of the National Heritage's Board current campaign Explore Singapore.

"Motivational talk by Irene Ang? You gotta be kiddin' right?" - yup that was my reaction too. For someone who's TV persona was so frivolous, finding substance behind the character was to take a significant leap of faith. But I'm glad I did.

Yes there was the expected
Singlish jokes and the ever-present dash of in-your-face humour. But that aside, her story was still moving.

With unbridled honesty, she related the struggle of her youth. Her father was a smuggler of just about everything. Family tension drove her mother to drugs. She found herself homeless three times. She failed her O levels, and her A levels (twice) and when her little band of friends moved on to further their studies, she found herself alone once again.

(bet ya didn't know that!). So all she ended up with was a cut on her head when she hit a rock in her plunge to meet her fate.

But she picked herself up. Ended up acting (earning just about $900 a month as the lead actress on PCK) and later on when to start her own talent agency
Fly Entertainment 'cos she realised that many local entertainers in Singapore were getting a raw deal simply because they had no one to fight for them. And Irene hasn't looked back since.

I can't honestly recall all her Seven Steps to Success (or whatever she called it) but it went something like have faith in yourself, realise that the storm of ill luck will pass and when all else fails, put your trust in the God you believe in knowing that you had done everything humanly possible to help yourself.

Okay these weren't exactly earth-shattering revelations but I do have a lot of admiration for her as a person and in her disarming honestly in telling the world of her ... well "colourful" past. So hearing from someone who's fate dealt her a raw hand and yet was able to claw her way back up, adds to the credibility and her talk about self-belief, is a reminder we can all do with from time to time.

So was the hour-long talk worth it? - you bet!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Leopards in Singapore?

Back in school, we studied the early history of Singapore and the wildlife that once walked this island.

The most impressive beast by far was the Sumatra Tiger. Then there are the hordes of moneys that are still around, lots of snakes, the odd civet cat and the occasional scaly anteater.

Growing up in Bukit Timah right smack in the nature reserve, we always had our fair share of wildlife encounters - a baby python curled up on a chair, monkeys raiding our Rambutan trees when they were in season and every now and then I would spy a black cobra what lived in a pandan bush. But I never knew Singapore was once home to leopards.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

And the bells toll

There is something quite … well surreal I guess would be the word … about weddings. Even those that start at the unGodly hour of 9am on a Saturday morning when the rest of the world is allowed to sleep in.

That was how I spent this morning - in church bearing witness to an ancient rite of passage for a guy I’ve known all his life.

From his birth as a “blue baby” with a possible hole in the heart complication which thankfully didn’t materialise, to a very happy child with - at least to me - was a very large head!

While I’ve watched him grow up - and I’m sure I’ve changed a nappy or two of his - in many ways, he will also be that quite kid, always in the background, perfectly behaved.

And now he stood beaming in his suit waiting for his bride to arrive. It’s still hard to reconcile that this was the same sweet little guy who was moments away from taking a wife and starting down a new path.

Maybe it’s just me but the brain doesn’t quite comprehend the passing of the years. In many ways I don’t feel all that different from when I was 16. Okay maybe the eyesight has grown progressively worse such that I now need reading glasses, the mid-rift spread has long since happened and the act of sitting down isn’t complete without the age-telling “ahhhh”. But apart from all this - mentally perhaps - I don’t feel any older.

As I watched him take his vows and put the ring on her finger, something clicked in the ole brain … this was all real and time has marched forth for all of us. I’m happy for him… for them … but at the same time there was more than a tinge of sadness in the heart - that while a new chapter has begun, the pages which have gone before are worth embracing … just one last time.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Got the message?

TOH sent me this email a few days ago … the message is well …less than subtle …




The guilty mind (which is inherent in every red-blooded male of the species) tells me that I’ve probably done many things to deserve this little “reminder” … but just can’t help wondering which little secret she’s on to …

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Acting on instinct

You’re stupid enough to climb over a fence, wade across a moat, get into an enclosure with the largest livings cats on the face of the earth and now you’re dead!

Serves you right you fuckin’ idiot.

If you want to kill yourself there are many ways to do it. If you wanna grab your 15 minutes of fame in the process, well then, you should be happy. You made the front page of many newspapers and you upset some Big Cats who were just acting on instinct.

Animals, not unlike people, are territorial. If you barge into my home, start throwing things at me, irrespective if your pathetic mental state, you are going to pay the consequences.

So what causes a moron to act like this. Maybe the press was right - he flipped out, just lost it. Well too bad for you.

Why get worked up over such inane stupidity? It’s simple. The drama could have ended much differently in seconds. Think of a zoo keeper arriving with a shotgun in hand. He sees the man fighting for his life. He’s got no time to find out what happened minutes before. He wouldn’t know the asshole climbed into the enclosure of his own accord looking for a fight (or something to that effect).

The poor zookeeper is faced with a life-or- death decision - one he has to make in seconds. He has no choice. His finger moves to the trigger.

You can’t fire a warning shot in the air - each round of a shotgun contains many steel pellets sprayed out at a 60 degree angle. When they come down, innocent people may get hurt.

Fire into the moat and hope the sound will scare of the cats? Maybe but you can’t risk it. The “victim” is seconds away from death. Nope - it’s not an option.

You can’t shoot the ground - the spray could injure the tigers making them even more dangerous.

Your only option is to get in close, near point-blank range, put your own life on the line - squeeze and take that kill shot.

The end result? One or more tigers would be laying dead … and for what?

And for the bleedin’ hearts are so quick to blame the tigers for doing what they do to protect themselves from an intruder on their turf, or the Singapore Zoo for not being built to prevent the intrusion … all I can say is WTF people …you’ve got the picture all wrong.

A Date with a Tree

It's the 15th of November and in my family (okay it's really just me), this is the sacred date for the big Christmas ritual of putting up the tree.

The Nov 15 ritual started back in 1995 when I moved out on my own and had a four-room flat all to myself. I bought the biggest tree I could find - a seven-footer and decorated it - make that over-decorated it. I had always wanted my own tree and trimming it my way. So that was fun.

Since then, Nov 15 was has been decreed as Tree Day. I remember growing up with had this white tree. It was so old, many of the tinsel "leaves" had fallen, the decorations were positively ancient and we had to spread "angel hair" white fiberglass-like cotton-wool like veil over the tree to give it a look of snow. You don't see that anymore (I'm the one being carried at the back in this 1964 picture).

In later years, the magic of the tree still remains even though it's now a source of tension. Blame that on the cats.

We have 15 of these little buggers. For all of them, the tree with its twinkling lights is like a new toy. Many will just sit and stare, some will sniff and ignore... then there's the rabble Boys from the Hood who will try and claim the tree as their very own turf.

They will climb up the branches, bite bulbs, remove ornaments and hide them under sofas where they are discovered in July ... the list of misdeeds goes on ... (I can certainly relate to this video)

A few years back the tree nearly toppled over on one of their Everest conquests. Since then, I had to take the additional precaution of tying it to the wall with fishline. It helps the tree last the required time until January 6 when it all comes back down.

Ahh the joys of Christmas ... I'm sure the boys are waiting for me to get started ...

Watch that crack!

It's one of the quaint quirks of my childhood... Someone ... I think it was the Grandmother ... once told me that it's bad luck to step on a pavement crack.

I can't recall the rationalisation. Maybe it has to do with karma. And it always better luck to cross the crack with your right leg first rather than the left - something about wishes coming true if you do.

Yes, yes I know none of this makes any sense but there you are ... dusty folklore handed down through the generations was not something to be trifled with.

So there I was as a little kid ... believing just about anything I was told (hey it was the 60s - we respected elders back then - no questions asked) always walking with my head down looking out for cracks in the pavement, adjusting the pace so I'll cross it with the right foot. It must have been a strange sight indeed.

I'm not that conscious about it now but when I do happen to spy a pavement crack up ahead, some primordial instinct kicks in, the stride is automatically adjusted and it's still right leg first.

Hey why tempt fate! Did any of the wishes some true ... come to think of it they all did ... because the only wish at the time was crossing with my right leg first!!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Why do we have to wait till someone passes on ...

Today is November 2. My sister SMS-ed me to remind me it is All Souls Day - quite a big deal in the Catholic calendar if I remember correctly (yes it has been a while). It's the day we remember those that have gone before us especially those that have passed on within the past year.

For me that means two people. One was a relative that fought his cancer bravely for two long and obviously painful years. The last time I saw him in January, he was in a hospice. He knew his time was just about up. Still he smiled, we made small talk and pretended that all was well. He didn't bring up the subject of his condition, so neither did I. We shook hands warmly, said I'll visit him soon. He died the next week.

Then there was J, a few years younger than me. We were both senior editors in a publishing company. Hell we were smoking buddies and we never let work get in the way of our sacred retreat no matter how hectic times got. We lost touch for a few years - each going our own way. He gave up smoking a few months before he found that he had cancer. The gang - all ex-staff from that same company - found out about his condition when someone stumbled across his Facebook account in which he gave faithful updates to friends and family.

I saw him in SGH. He looked the same just that he had lost all his hair cos of the chemo. He spoke so candidly about his condition. Said it was fate. He said he didn't think it had anything to do with smoking. I didn't argue the point - it was moot anyway and would be striking to close to home. Told him we'll visit him soon, exchanged handfone numbers, I gave him a pat on the back and said we'll talk again soon - be strong and all the usual macho horseshit guys indulge in at awkward times. Well we never spoke again. He died a few weeks later. I never found out the details. Guess I really didn't want to know.

So I remember them in my thoughts today. More importantly I like to think about those people still around, still around me who have made a difference. If women wear their hearts on their sleeve.. well guys wear a mask of aloofness and soon the heart grows to fit it ... and that's sad.

Think I really should appreciate people more - family, friends, the people at work, the faithful dustbin at my smoking point, my smoking kaki from whom I bum the occasional ciggie, the people in my team, the security guard who keeps giving me the thumbs up for no apparent reason and lots of others. Life would be different without each one and that makes them well ... precious. Will I be any nicer to them tomorrow? - probably not. Well maybe my grunt as I walk by will sound more friendly. Maybe they'll notice ... probably not.

But since this is a blog post I should say a big thank you to my TWO loyal readers - strawberry (what happened to our Halloween date??) and blogolicious (last time I saw u, you were standing with a naked Italian) - I probably spelt both names wrong but you know who you are! Thanks for visiting this blog - don't know why you do - the last time I updated it a couple of months back- I was exceptionally pissed with someone and wanted to make a point - my way.

But all the same - thanks for the faithful visits... GRUNT :-)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Dogs & Cats - a difference of perspectives


Day number 180











Day number 181












DAY 752 - My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while I am forced to eat dry cereal. The only thing that keeps me going is the hope of escape, and the mild satisfaction I get from ruining the occasional piece of furniture...Tomorrow I may eat another houseplant.

DAY 761 - Today my attempt to kill my captors by weaving around their feet while they were walking almost succeeded, must try this at the top of the stairs. In an attempt to disgust and repulse these vile oppressors,I once again induced myself to vomit on their favorite chair...must try this On their bed.

DAY 765 - Decapitated a mouse and brought them the headless body in attempt to make them aware of what I am capable of, and to try to strike fear into their hearts. They only cooed and condescended about what a good little cat I was... Not working according to plan.

DAY 768 - I am finally aware of how sadistic they are. For no good reason I was chosen for the water torture. This time however it included a burning foamy chemical called "shampoo." What sick minds could invent such a liquid. My only consolation is the piece of thumb still LODGED between my teeth.

DAY 771 - There was some sort of gathering of their accomplices. I was placed in solitary throughout the event, however, I could hear the noise and smell the foul odor of the glass tubes they call "beer." More importantly I overheard that my confinement was due to MY power of "allergies." Must learn what this is and how to use it to my advantage.

DAY 774 - I am convinced the other captives are flunkies and maybe snitches. The dog is routinely released and seems more than happy to return. He is obviously retarded. The bird on the other hand has got to be an informant, and he speaks with them regularly. I am certain he reports my activities. Due to his current placement in the metal room his safety is assured. But I can wait, it is only a matter of time...

- Author Unknown Source

I loved this the first time I read it - forwarded via email from another passionate pet person.

Whoever it was that penned those lines above - he certainly understands and appreciates the uniqueness of dogs and cats. Someone once said you can own a dog but you can only take care of a cat. How true this is.

If you own a dog - you are his entire world. Who else but your dog will do the dance of joy just cos you have finally emerged from the toilet and he hasn't seen your face in the last five minutes. Who else but your dog would be by your feet drooling just waiting for a little scrap to be tossed his way.
Who else but your dog can you count on to life your spirits after another crazy day in the office or when the wife throws her daily fit.

Cats on the other hand are literally a different beast altogether.

You may be able to tame a cat to a degree that living together with some semblance of harmony is possible but you can never truly change the nature of a cat. They are much smarter than dogs. They will manipulate you into
getting their way. A dog will be willing to wait for its dinner. Keep a cat hungry and you do so at your peril.

A dog while craving attention, will wait for you. Ignore a cat when it's got something to say or when he feels it time you did this or that for him, and the cat will take matters into his own hands.

My cat hates it when I'm at the computer. He can never figure out what is so fascinating with this box. The sound of the keys and fingers flying across the board triggers a chase response. The moment I step away from the computer, my little fuzzball feels a need to add her two cents worth to the blog post. You'll never catch a dog doing this.

It takes a lot out of you to look after a pet - be it a dog, cat, fish, rabbit or whatever. But the rewards are well worth the effort. It is sad indeed that in a country which promotes itself as being a great place to stay, we think so little of animals. They are for many people, no more than a commodity. Brought on impulse, we play with them only when we are in the mood and sadly it is all too easy for some to throw them away after the novelty has worn thin.

This is your pet's prayer ...
Treat me kindly, my beloved master, for no heart in all the world is more grateful for kindness than the loving heart of me.

Do not break my spirit with a stick, for though I should lick your hand between the blows, your patience and understanding will more quickly teach me the things you would have me do.
Speak to me often, for your voice is the world's sweetest music, as you must know by the fierce wagging of my tail when your footstep falls upon my waiting ear.

When it is cold and wet, please take me inside, for I am now a domesticated animal, no longer used to bitter elements. And I ask no greater glory than the privilege of sitting at your feet beside the hearth.

Though had you no home, I would rather follow you through ice and snow than rest upon the softest pillow in the warmest home in all the land, for you are my god and I am your devoted worshiper.
Keep my pan filled with fresh water, for although I should not reproach you were it dry, I cannot tell you when I suffer thirst.

Feed me clean food, that I may stay well, to romp and play and do your bidding, to walk by your side, and stand ready, willing and able to protect you with my life should your life be in danger.

And, beloved master, should the great Master see fit to deprive me of my health or sight, do not turn me away from you. Rather, hold me gently in your arms as skilled hands grant me the merciful boon of eternal rest - and I will leave you knowing with the last breath I drew, my fate was ever safest in your hands.

-Beth Norman Harris

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Do you believe in Ghosts?

I've been asked this many times ... okay actually it was just once by a colleague who I arm-twisted to read this blog – something I'm sure she has since regretted ... right Sylvia?

Short answer to the question ... sure! What's not to believe!

Basically I'm old enough to realise that there are lots of things we don't understand and perhaps never will. (like how according to a certain person who said sometime back, my G2000 shirts and spiffy hairstyle which I've had since I was six, ain't no longer in vogue) but I digress ...

Back to the legions of the netherworld, we've all seen and experienced things we can't explain – a fleeting image from the corner of the eye, that indefinable sense of dread (like the boss is walking by), deja vu, feeling a connectedness to a place you have never visited before, having the hairs at the back of the neck stand for no apparent reason, feeling a presence comforting or otherwise ...

It happens ... okay maybe not very often ... but still when it does, it gives you cause to pause and think if only for a few seconds, that there may be something else out there. Then of course, our rational mind takes control and we scoff at the thought.

Ghosts, spirits, the afterlife – they could exist whether in this realm or another. In every religion and culture, humankind is linked to those who live in another dimension, souls who once walked the earth, who have touched our lives and since departed.

I guess all of us would want to believe that we will one day, in some place not too far away, rejoin family and friends who have gone before us. And if you believe that, then it is not too hard to imagine that for whatever, some of these “souls” (or their energy) choose to remain in this world – presumably their business yet unfinished.

I personally think it is comforting to believe that there is more to life than well ...just this. Would I ever want to come back in spirit form? Sure! At least a brief visit would be great – you can't be sitting on clouds playing the harp (badly) all day. Hell I've already got a long list of people to spook, to slap the back of their heads, to push down a flight of stairs ... yeah that kinda thingy.

So if one day many, many years from now you glimpse out of the corner of your eye someone looking like an extra from That 70's Show , wearing a G2000 shirt from the late 90s, supporting a hairstyle reminiscent of Ronald Reagan, then you’ll know … I’m back!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

In Praise of the Ugly Duckling

Compared to the majestic architecture of the National Museum, the grandeur Singapore Art Museum and the understated opulence of the Asian Civilisations Museum, the tiny Singapore Philatelic Museum must surely be the runt of the litter.

Collecting stamps in Singapore is for all intent and purposes, a fading pursuit surviving only within the hallowed ranks of purist collectors. Housed in what was once a bookstore, I returned this old building on Coleman Street a few months ago after an absence of many years simply because I was passing by and had some time to kill.

I never professed to have any interest in stamps. To me it was nothing more than a bit of printed paper you stuck on the corner of an envelope without a second glance. I had intended my return visit to be a quick one – just poke my head in, see what has become of one of my old stomping grounds and be out the door in 10 minutes.

Then I met Jocelyn – a nice lady who works there. She offered to take me on a tour. Okay – I could be out of there in 15 minutes, I figured. The galleries were small but the tour, with all the details thrown in, seemed like it would never end. Still I was struck by two things.

One, the place didn’t look anything like your typical stuffy museum. Quite unlike the dark corridors of the National Museum where I always fear I’m going to trip over a dead body (see In Search of ...), here there was a comfy sofa, nice soft music and a warm, inviting atmosphere.

The other thing I like about the Philatelic Museum was the passion of its staff. They genuinely believe that every stamp has a story to tell if only we took the time to listen. Thanks Jocelyn, you didn’t exactly make a convert out of me but the next time I’m licking a stamp, I’ll at least pause for a second or two to appreciate the picture – promise!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Never Keep a Coffin Waiting

Folklore has it that it's bad luck to display an empty coffin. Now most of us would never be faced by this problem but the National Museum of Singapore was when it created an exhibition to showcase Chinese funeral rites.

On display was a real coffin on a real hearse used here in the "old days". Not wanted to tempt fate, the museum filled the coffin with pieces of wood just to be on the safe side.

If you look at the picture above carefully, you may notice several paper umbrellas at the head of the hearse. According to legend (and this was news to me - thanks Angeline ...) if you want to bring a spirit outdoors (for whatever reason), it needs to be protected from the rain! So you need to provide the spirit with an umbrella for it to seek shelter while on the go.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Can you prove spirits don't exist?

Singapore may be modern country but there are still many people – ordinary, level-headed folk who lead normal lives – and yet, when caught in circumstances beyond their control, they are willing to believe in the supernatural and the effects they can have on the lives of the mortal.

In the early to mid-80s there was a spate of police reports - people said they were cheated out of jewellery worth thousands of dollars and cash by self-professed mediums who claimed that they could see spirits.

The typical story went like this ... the medium (for want of a better term) would befriend someone... usually a person down on his luck and eventually gets himself invited to the victim's home. Once there, the medium would claim that the home is haunted or that a spell was cast on the victim which accounted for him losing his job, his failed relationship, losses at the track – basically whatever was ailing the poor man at the time.

Now in the cold light of day when someone tells you your home is haunted or a hex was placed on you, it's easy to say "Nah - I'll never fall for that". But when misfortune tends to lurk at every corner in your life, you begin to wonder if there could be some truth in this. To make his case even more convincing, the medium usually throws in a dose of proof. Sometimes this can be in the form of "magic stones" that change colour when dipped in water (a sure sign of the supernatural at work - claims the medium) or slicing open a fruit only to expose some bloody innards. These are the usual sleight of hand tricks but they work on those who want to believe that some external force is responsible for their run of bad luck. Once in a while, as in a case I had, the victim would actually be shown the spirit in person. How this was done beats me.

So, convinced something was afoot, the victim would hand over valuables or whatever was left of his life's savings in a sad attempt to be rid of the back luck, spirits – whatever you wish to call it. The medium then says some prayers, makes some offerings allegedly bought by what the victim had given him. He later pronounces the home spirit-free. The victim eventually confides in someone else what happened, realises (or thinks) he was conned (or he feels just foolish) and a police report is made.

The cops treat such cases as cheating under Section 420 of the Penal Code. Statements are taken and sometimes someone is caught. I investigated one such case while at Ang Mo Kio Police Division around 1984/85. The suspect was arrested on a warrant late one night (these things always happen at night) and I was called in to question him.

Questioning usually takes a couple of hours at best - you go back and forth, getting him to repeat the story in minute detail looking for inconsistencies. Handcuffed to a chair, this guy looked ordinary enough and he freely admitted everything ... well almost - meeting the victim, going to his home, telling him that the flat was haunted, taking cash to buy some stuff for a cleansing ritual - the whole works. But he stuck to his guns resolutely stating that he indeed saw the spirit, even showed the spirit to the victim (who admitted this) and he got it to leave after saying some prayers.

Okay... fine... describe the spirit, says me. Female, young, long hair (of course!), dressed in white (no surprises there) with long fingernails. I was bored ... so how long were they? "Five feet long" he says in a very matter-of-fact way. Hmmmm - no wonder spirits walk thru' walls - they can't work the door handle with nails like that!

"You don't believe me? I can call her up now - here - in your office!"

Damn - It must have been about 2am, my coffee was cold and I wasn't expecting such a challenge! "Nah, its okay - you'll get your chance to prove it in court." Quite safe an answer I thought.

So I finally get the paperwork done and I charge him in court a few hours later. In keeping with my luck, he claims "not guilty". The case goes through the system and eventually a trial date is set. Now investigators have to discuss up-coming trials with a Deputy Public Prosecutor assigned to the case. Let's just say mine was less than enthusiastic.

You see the difficulty is this... everyone's innocent until proven guilty and the onus of proof lies on the prosecution. To prove his guilt, you need to satisfy the court that there was never a spirit in the house to begin with (and my star witness - the victim - was going to swear under oath that he saw one - damn!!); that the money given by the victim did not go to the intended cause - buying the stuff for the ritual. Unfortunately the victim in his statement said he followed the man to buy whatever it was that was needed for the ritual (I can't remember what these were). The third criteria was that we needed to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused knowingly and with premeditation, intended to deceive the victim. Now I had no doubt in my mind that the accused was guilty as hell - just out to make a quick buck at the expense of the gullible but suddenly what seemed to be an open 'n shut case started to fall apart.

“So we need to prove that there wasn’t a spirit? Damn damn!” The case was beginning to look rather -iffy. Nobody likes to lose. On the day of the trial, we had a little discussion with the accused. We reduce the charge to a lesser offence, he pleads guilty and because he had some prior convictions, spends three months in prison. Sometimes things just work out that way.

It was only several weeks later when I happened to be chatting over a beer to the cop who was in charge of the lock-up that night when the guy was arrested, that the rest of the story emerged.

It was a slow night and the cells in the station were empty when I brought the suspect up to my office. According to the cop, just after I left, he heard someone banging on the cell bars and a woman's voice coming from what was supposed to be an empty cell. Why he didn't freak out? - I have no idea - he said he's been "through this before". Great! Anyways the hitting of bars and occasional wailing continued until just before I brought the suspect back to his cell. After that all was quiet.

Folklore has it that some mediums can "keep" spirits to do their bidding says the cop.

Now – years later – I wonder what would have happened if I took the suspect up on his offer and said "Okay prove to me that you can call up a ghost" Well I'm glad I didn't. There's a fine line between bravery and stupidity ...

Friday, July 18, 2008

The "Haunted" Staircase

Here’s a little more about the infamous spiral staircase at the National Museum of Singapore …

Legend has it that the staircase was originally found in a private residence. The engraved patterns are said to resemble a similar staircase in the Victorian Albert Hall in London.

The staircase at the second level, is reputed to be the most haunted part of the museum. Apparently many sightings have been made at or near the staircase.

The best known spirit reputed to reside in the museum is none other than its last expatriate director Carl Gibson-Hill. He was a keen naturalist and dedicated scientist. Plagued by ill health and personal problems, he was thought to have committed suicide in August 1963. His death was covered in a small front page report in The Straits Times. It said he died of an overdose of sleeping pills in a bathtub at his home in Seton Close. However some believe the man actually hanged himself in his museum office. Why the discrepancy is anyone’s guess. Since Gibson-Hill’s death, many museum staff, according to legend, have seen his spirit in the halls of the museum.

Here’s another take on the haunting of the spiral staircase … rumour has it that someone died after tripping and falling down the staircase. Eye-witnesses have reported seeing a “priest-like” figure roaming the vicinity. People who have tried to climb the staircase said they felt an unseen hand pushing them down – and that’s why it still remains closed off to the public.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Village of the Beautiful

I grew up in a house in the prime Bukit Timah area. It was a great house - big - huge garden - lots of "wildlife" - snakes, monkeys and such and a dark history to boot.

It was a long way from the main Dunearn Road. To get there you either had to drive or walk along Binjai Park and pass the homes of millionaires or take the other road called Jalan Kampong Chantek.

To me Jalan Kampong Chantek was just a name. The translation from Malay means - Road to the Village of the Beautiful - or something like that (my Malay still stinks). It didn't strike me as anything significant until much later when I began hearing the stories ...

At the very end of Jalan Kampong Chantek is a small Malay village - a kampong with about 200 people staying in atap houses. Our driver Dollah was the local village bomoh/witchdoctor/sharman - whatever you call him - he probably was the one that came out with these stories in the first place.

So anyway - as the story goes - the beautiful people refers to the ever-popular Pontianak - she appears as a beautiful young woman who then changes into a horrible old decrepit lady ghost (like some of my primary school teachers I guess).

Now Jalan Kampong Chantek is a long and winding road - over a mile long much of it cutting through jungle. Hitchhiking was common back then. People didn't think twice to stop their car and offer a lift to some poor soul walking the long road. There is a sharp bend in the road before you get to a hill.

This bend is Pontianak territory. You have to slow down at night - it's almost a 90 degree bend - and that's when - if you are unlucky - you will see a young woman trying to flag down your car (Ghosts like the rest of us probably hate walking too).

So a cute girl - late at nite looking for a lift - okay so you oblige. You stop the car, she gets in. Of course she wants to go to the kampong at the very end of the road. When you get there, you turn to her and she's gone - disappeared. Sometimes there's a sweet sickly smell in the air, sometimes just leaves are left on the seat.

And so you freak out - drive like a bat out of hell and swear never to stop for another hitchhiker no matter how good she looks.

Are these stories true? I have no idea. Taxi drivers avoid the area like the plague. But I did come across a woman at that bend late one night sometime in the mid-80s. I'm not sure if she was thumbing for a lift or just minding her own business as she walked home. Still the sight of her with the instant reply of Pontianak tales in my head, did give me a fright. Of course I didn't stop - my mother didn't raise no fool!

The area has changed now. The jungle is largely gone replaced by bungalows. The name of the road still remains along with that infamous bend - I wonder if the people who live there today are aware of the area's unique ... errm .... history?

Let's Scare The Kids

Growing up in the 60s and 70s - before computers, the Internet, cable TV and all, people - I mean adults - needed to find inventive ways to have fun... and what better way of doing just that than scaring little kids. It wasn't very much fun when you are on th receiving end. Anyways ... this was one such story I remember... it doesn't make much sense now but they scared the crap out of us back then ...

Don't play hide and seek at night - the momok (that's Malay for some kind of ghost - I don't know why a bunch of Eurasians couldn't just say 'ghost' - maybe the Malay word make it sound more authentic) will get you. That's what all kids my age were told. I guess our parents didn't want us running all over the place when it was time for dinner.

And what would happen if you disobeyed this rule? Well the story went like this...

There was a family living down the road (they always give you a local setting to make the story more convincing). There were two young girls who played hide and seek late one evening (well after the witching hour of course).

The first few rounds of the game were quite normal. Then in one round, the "seeker" couldn't find her sister no matter how hard she looked. Worried, she eventually told her parents. A search party was organised (Notice back then we always did things the proper way. We didn't just run about in panic - we organised a search party - now that's what I call style - okay back to the story...). They searched through the night but came up empty-handed. (Must prolong the suspense you see for all the kids listening in eager anticipation ...).

The next day she was found ... well what was left of her... her body was found squashed into a small milk tin - apparently this was a well-known calling-card of the momok.

Like I said, the story doesn't make much sense now - how a whole human body can be squashed into a condensed milk tin is beyond me.. but for scare tactics on gullible kids, it certainly worked like magic!

The long-term psychological damage all these stories of ghosts, blood, gore and guilt had on us kids (and yet they still wondered why so many of us were afraid of the dark!) probably didn't account for much back then ...

Memories of Times House

Just about every old building in Singapore has its supernatural history or so it seems.

The old Times House at the junction of Kim Seng Road and River Valley Road was no exception. The area dates back well before World War II. It seems Allied POWs were forced to build part of River Valley Road during World War II.

Staff working at The Straits Times newspaper occupied the lower building while the Tower Block housed most of the other English and the Malay newspapers.

The ghost story goes like this .. if you work late at night - well after the "paper has gone to bed" and everyone has left the building, you will hear some strange noises - like someone banging away on typewriters or keyboards (depending which decade you were in when the story was retold).

Okay so odd noises in an old building are not unusual and can be explained away. Then came the kicker ... be aware of the "Subs area" at the back - where sub-editors worked. "Many people" - I don't know how many - have seen a British soldier walking around in that area. Now apparently this guy is not very people-friendly and literally just walks by you without a glance. He probably has greater things on his mind.

I haven't come across anyone who actually saw this spirit firsthand - it's always "I heard it from someone who saw it" ... but the story is just one of the endearing memories of that old sickly yellow building which sadly, is no longer with us.

I've often wondered what became of that soldier ... I guess he's still on guard somewhere in what is now an overpriced condo.

In Search of ...

The National Museum in Stamford Road is an imposing building. More than 120 years old - she's certainly the grand old dame of Singapore.

Reopened again in 2006 after extensive renovations - the innards of the museum reflect Modern Singapore - new, sleek, high-tech but it also seems to have lost part of its soul - that old charm that made it special.

Back in the "olden days" for me that was the 70s, a trip to the museum (all our schools were within walking distance from the museum and entry was free) was actually a codeword for "let's go look for ghosts" and a great excuse for some mega goofing off. Nevermind it was 1.30 in the afternoon (when school was over). The National Museum was always dark and ethereal-looking at any time of the day. And it didn't hurt that there were corpses everywhere.

You see the old museum was very into "natural history" so there were lots of stuffed animals and birds in dusty showcases. Hell there was even the skeleton of a whale suspended from the ceiling. And so with death already in the air, what better setting could one ask for when doing a spot of ghost hunting!

Now bear in mind that none of us ever saw anything remotely spooky, no disembodied voices or headless corpses floating by. It really didn't matter. We were there to manufacture our own kind of fun. So when there were no visible ghosts to be had, all you are left with is the imagination. And being kids, ours were always locked into overdrive.

We questioned things that we did not know and since there was never anyone around to tell us different, the more ghostly the answer the better.

I remember there was one of these old winding staircases that leads up to the attic I guess. The entrance was always blocked off. That makes sense - today - you didn't want a bunch of nosey kids trooping all over your attic looking for ghosts. But to us, the reasons were always more X-File-ish, always more sinister - "It's blocked off because someone died there... kids went up and never came down ... a coffin was found there with a body inside. Any reason we had to speculate, must have a some ghoulish explanation. So it was fun making up stories as we went along.

If memory serves me correctly, there was a room filled with body parts stuffed in those bottles you find in science labs. One contained a human fetus floating in some yellowish liquid - probably formaldehyde - Okay maybe it wasn't actually a human fetus - it could have been an animal.

But to an eight-year-old ... wow ... think of the possible stories. Does the baby cry at night when no one was about? Does it climb out of its bottle looking for little children to take its place? You would drive yourself silly thinking up stuff like this and that was exactly what we did - exactly the whole point of the outing.

So is or was the National Museum ever haunted? .... Nah but I would like to think that the spirits of some innocent kids out on an adventure, still live on somewhere within those hallowed halls ...

St John's Island

Trust the cops to always dish out a good yarn ...

Working in a newspaper in the early 1990s (or thereabouts), I had an assignment once to follow a Police Coast Guard boat out on patrol for a night to see our guys in blue in action again illegal immigrants which was a hot topic at the time.

So with a photographer in tow, we set off for what we hoped would be an eventful night. It didn't quite turn out like that. The seas were calm, the moon was big 'n bright (apparently not a good time for these people smugglers to be out and about) and well... nothing happened.

So to pass the time, we started yakking with the crew on the bridge (I guess you could call it that but it was a pretty small boat ...) about nothing in particular. Of course being stuck on a boat in the middle of well ... nowhere, the conversation eventually drifted to what else ... good ole tales of the supernatural. Okay I was game... I don't remember all the details of the many stories but one stuck in my head all these years.

Now remember that these were the days before a handfone became an essential body-part - at least it was when this "incident" happened. The crew was made up of some young officers I guess. The night-shift must have been another bore and so someone had the notion to give his girlfriend a call.

The boat stopped off at St John's Island at the end of a pier and the guy trotted off to a public fone booth at the end of the dock. Midway through his conversation, he glanced up and saw his crewmates waving frantically for him to come back. Apparently he wasn't too bothered (or he didn't want to waste his 10 cents) and continued with his call. Finally (I guess he ran out of coins) he returned to the boat and it sped off.

Only when they had put some distance between them and the island did they tell the now confused chap what they saw. While he was engrossed in conversation, his mates could see (apparently quite clearly) a woman in white - yes complete with long hair and all, standing next to him ...

Geez thanks guys for sharing that story and scaring the @#$%^& out of us...

Notice once people get on a roll telling ghost stories, it just goes on and on.... I decided to call it quits and grab some shut-eye at my usual seat outside on the open deck near the engines.

Of course they had to wait for me to get nice and comfortable before one of the older officers "advised" me that maybe I shouldn't sit on the starboard (right) side of the boat. The reason ... later on that nite (yes we are now back to the original ghost story) ... they all saw the same lady in white ... sitting there ... looking out to sea.

Now this got me thinking ... since spirits can float - why are they always looking out for free rides from us mere mortals??