Beware of old ladies selling crackers, your haunted MRT station and the evil eye. Here are some of our favourite urban myths.
Despite Singapore being a modern little city, we are also quite a superstitious bunch. We really enjoy ghost stories and we also have a bunch of local urban legends that have lingered since forever. Here are some we’ve unearthed: it’s okay to admit you’re a believer…
Attracting uninvited guests
We’ve all heard our mums telling us to head straight to the shower after coming home. Apart from instilling good hygiene habits, there’s another reason why keeping clean keeps you in the good books. Any guesses? It literally means washing away spirits that may have tagged along with you. Other variations include washing your feet (especially around the heel) and washing your face and feet three times and saying a prayer before entering your bedroom. Yes, very precise.
Things get a little serious if you’re coming back from a funeral. One can only enter their house after washing their hands and feet and sprinkling some water on their head.
The evil eye
Ever wondered why some newborn babies have black circular marks on their chin, cheeks, forehead or 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 that you’re envious of the baby (so much for being nice, am I right?). The mums of these babies would stamp a huge black circle with kohl on these spots to divert the onlooker’s attention.
When on vacation…
There are plenty of number-related superstitions that find its way in our travels. Many travellers 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 the number 13, many Asians also believe that the number four attracts bad luck as it sounds a lot like “death” in Mandarin.
Before you set foot in your hotel room or resort, remember to take your shoes off and place one of them with the sole facing up so that wandering spirits will not follow you inside.
Many hotels (especially old buildings) may 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 even seen the $1 Singapore coin? The coin is inscribed with an octagon, which looks like a Chinese bagua, the tool used in Feng Shui to learn which parts of a space – such as a home, office building, room or yard– correlate with particular areas of life. The bagua is 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 in Singapore said that it would have a negative effect on the country and her people. The cure? Carrying a bagua around at all times. As it would be hard to get the people in Singapore across all race and religion to adhere to this Chinese belief, the design was incorporated into the one dollar coin so that way, everyone would have a bagua on them. Apparently, this was the idea of none other than former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
All MRT stations are haunted
Are you even surprised? Singapore is tiny, so chances that your workplace, home or favourite hangout spot used to be a cemetery are pretty high. Brace yourself, because here are some MRT stations that used to be cemeteries: Orchard, Woodleigh, Newton, Bishan, Novena, Caldecott, Tiong Bahru, and we’re pretty sure there’s more. At Bishan and Novena, there have been sightings of headless spectres and phantom passengers on trains. Don’t be going home too late tonight!
Never open your door for the Makcik Keropok (that’s an old witch selling crackers)
It’s a story that surfaces time and time again, involving old makciks making rounds in the neighbourhood. Sometimes there will be a knock on the door with the greeting “kum kum” (a shortened version of the Muslim greeting “Assalamualaikum” – a makcik keropok can’t say this however because she is an unholy person) or sometimes it will be an old lady selling crackers. The Kum Kum is said to be a lady who is obsessed with youth and beauty so her main agenda is to feast on the blood of virgins (very original) and the Makcik Keropok is said to have a Pontianak as her ‘assistant’, so if you buy her keropok, the consequences will be pretty dire. No one really wins, and it does sound like an alternative marketing PSA formulated by the National Environment Agency not to buy food from unlicensed vendors.
Hungry Ghost Month
We go all out for the Hungry Ghost Month and observe most of the must-dos like avoiding stepping on the offerings or joss sticks on the ground, or stranger practices like not tapping on someone’s shoulder during that month. The explanation? The Chinese believe that there are three ‘flames’: one on the forehead area 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 also not to go swimming during the 7th month in case spirits might try to drag you down. It’s basically a month when the ‘Gate’ opens and all the ghosts are released to visit their loved ones or wander around. So yeah, just stay at home to be safe.
The Third Door
Anyone who has served National Service (NS) or know someone who has would’ve heard this infamous classic. The short version: a recruit who was ill went on a march through the forests of Tekong and when it was time to do a headcount, his platoon realised that he was missing. A frantic search later found his body under a tree, and this is where the variations come in. Some say that his field pack items were neatly displayed on the mud, and his internal organs torn out and arranged beside the tree. Gnarly.
Thing is, the recruit returned as an angry spirit to his bunk and disturbed the others sleeping there. Trapped in the bunk, upon consultation with spiritual advisors, a third door was built for the spirit to let himself out. We haven’t heard any follow-up yet, so let’s hope he’s found peace at last.
And some one-liners you may have heard before…
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 many divorces and rotten luck in love.