Beware of old ladies selling crackers, haunted MRT stations and the evil eye. How many local superstitions have you heard of?
Despite Singapore being a modern city, we’re quite a superstitious bunch. It’s true; we enjoy ghost stories and we’re home to urban legends that have lingered since forever. Here are some local superstitions we’ve unearthed: It’s okay to admit you’re a believer…
Local superstitions and urban legends
Attracting uninvited guests
We’ve all heard our mums telling us to head straight to the shower after coming home. Apart from it being a good hygiene habit, there’s another reason why staying clean keeps you in good books. Any guesses? It literally means washing away spirits that may have tagged along from the outside world. Other variations include washing your feet (especially around the heel) or cleaning your face and feet three times and saying a prayer before entering your bedroom. Yes, it’s very precise.
Things get a little serious if you’re coming back from a funeral. Urban legends say you can only enter your house after washing your hands and feet and sprinkling water on your head.
The evil eye
Ever wondered why some newborn babies have black circular marks on their chin, cheeks, forehead or the soles of their feet? It’s believed that these marks ward off the evil eye. In the past, it was a grave offence to compliment one’s newborn as it meant you were envious of the baby (so much for being nice!). The mums of these babies would then stamp a huge black circle with kohl on these spots to divert the onlooker’s attention.
Avoid gifting clocks or shoes
In Mandarin, the phrase “giving a clock” sounds the same as “attending a funeral”. Hence, giving clocks or watches as presents is considered taboo in Chinese culture as it’s a reference to death itself. What about shoes? Also originating from Chinese beliefs, the pronunciation of the word “shoes” sounds exactly the same as the word “evil” in Mandarin. That’s why it’s not advisable to buy a new pair of kicks on the first few days of Lunar New Year. Not to mention, gifting someone a pair of shoes is a sign the receiver will walk away from your life. We won’t take any chances!
When on vacation…
There are plenty of number-related superstitions that find their way to our travels. Many holiday-goers avoid staying on the 13th floor as it’s deemed bad luck. Some even go as far as staying away from flight seat numbers. Apart from that, it’s also believed the number four attracts bad luck as it sounds a lot like “death” in Mandarin.
Before you set foot in your hotel room, it’s apparently advisable to take off your shoes and place one of them with the sole facing up so that wandering spirits will not follow you inside. Many hotels (especially old buildings) are believed to have spirits attached to hotel rooms, so you’re encouraged to knock on the door three times to announce your presence and apologise for intruding before entering.
We all carry a lucky charm with us
Have you ever seen the $1 Singapore coin? It’s inscribed with an octagon, which looks like a Chinese “bagua”. That’s the tool used in feng shui to learn which areas in a space – such as the home or office building – correlate with particular aspects of life. It’s also used as protection against negative energy and creates good fortune and harmony.
When the construction of the MRT tunnels through downtown Singapore first began, feng shui masters said that would have a negative effect on us. The cure? Carrying a “bagua” around at all times. However, since it would be impossible to get everyone across all races and religions to adhere to this Chinese belief, the design was allegedly incorporated into the $1 coin. That way, everyone would have a “bagua” on them. According to hearsay, this was the idea of none other than the late prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.
All MRT stations are haunted
Are you even surprised? Singapore is tiny, so chances are high that your workplace, home or favourite hangout spot used to be a cemetery. Brace yourself, because these MRT stations were apparently former cemeteries: Orchard, Woodleigh, Newton, Bishan, Novena, Caldecott and Tiong Bahru. We’re pretty sure there are more, too. At Bishan and Novena, there have been alleged sightings of headless spectres and phantom passengers on trains. Don’t go home too late tonight!
Never open your door for the makcik keropok
It’s a local superstition that surfaces time and time again, involving makciks making the rounds in a neighbourhood. It apparently starts with a knock on the door and the greeting “kum kum” (a shortened version of the Muslim greeting “Assalamualaikum” – a makcik keropok can’t say this because she is an unholy person). But sometimes, it’s an old lady selling crackers.
The kum kum is said to be a lady obsessed with youth and beauty, so her main agenda is to feast on the blood of virgins (very original). The makcik keropok is said to have a pontianak as her “assistant”, so if you buy her keropok, the consequences will be pretty dire. All that said, no one really wins. And it does sound like an alternative marketing PSA formulated by the National Environment Agency to stop us from buying food from unlicensed vendors.
The superstitions of Hungry Ghost Month
During Hungry Ghost Month, people observe most of the must-dos like avoiding stepping on offerings or joss sticks on the ground. Stranger practices include not tapping on someone’s shoulder during that month. The explanation? Chinese believe that there are three “flames”: One on the forehead and one on each shoulder. It’s bad for these “flames” to go out, which can happen when someone pats you on the shoulder.
Another belief is to stop swimming during the seventh month in case spirits try to drag you down. It’s basically a month when the Gates of Hell open and all the ghosts are released to visit their loved ones or wander around. So yeah, we suppose you could just stay at home to be safe.
The third door
Anyone who has served their National Service (NS) would’ve heard of this infamous local superstition. The short version: A recruit who was ill went on a march through the forests of Tekong. But when it was time to do a headcount, his platoon realised he was missing. One frantic search later, his body was found under a tree – and this is where variations come in. Some say his field pack items were neatly displayed on the mud, while his internal organs were torn out and arranged beside the tree. Gnarly.
The thing is, said recruit allegedly returned to his bunk as an angry spirit and disturbed the others. He was trapped in the bunk, but upon consultation with spiritual advisors, a third door was built for the spirit to let himself out. We haven’t heard any follow-ups yet, so let’s hope he’s found peace at last.
Don’t point at the moon
We’re not sure how this folklore came about. But as the saying goes, you shouldn’t point directly at the moon, especially a full moon, as the back of your ears will be snipped off while you’re asleep. Pretty sure this urban legend is busted with no reports of mutilated ears. But hey, if you want your little kiddos to behave, you know what to do.
Don’t piss in public
When nature calls, you have to answer. But if there’s no toilet in sight and you happen to relieve yourself in a public space, do take note that firstly, the act is punishable by law. And secondly, you might actually be disrespecting a spirit’s home. So if you can’t really hold it in, it’s best to apologise – that’s the least you can do when you piss on someone else’s property.
More one-liner urban legends you may have heard of…
- Don’t look directly at trees when walking at alone night unless you’re up for a surprise.
- Sleeping with your feet or bed facing the door brings bad luck.
- Don’t shake your legs; you’ll lose your luck.
- Don’t take photos in three as the person in the middle will be the first to die.
- Don’t change seating arrangements when having a meal, unless you want multiple divorces and rotten luck in love.