Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Singapore Legends, Rumors, Folk Beliefs

Tee Hun Ching, ed., Singapore Urban Legends[:] Myths & Mysteries. Singapore: SPH Magazine Pte Ltd, 2005. 92 pp. ISBN 981-05-4731-5

1-5 Rumour has it that to keep customers coming back for more, satay hawkers [at the Satay Club at the Old Esplanade] went to great lengths to spice up their gravy.

The story went that they borrowed from black magic rituals and added "special ingredients" like dirty underwear and soiled sanitary napkins.

"I'm not sure how it began," recalled bank officer Janice Chen, 32. "But when I was a kid, I heard from a friend who, as usual, heard from a friend's friend and so on, that someone had gone to the gravy pot for a second helping and fished out a soiled sanitary napkin."

6-10 An e-mail says that a 2km-wide asteroid will come crashing down in 2019 and take out a continent upon impact. [Asteroid 2002 NT7 will miss Earth, NASA assures us.]

11-17 A recruit who died during his Basic Military Training is said to haunt the barracks in Pulau Tekong. [Some say the recruit was discovered on the route march trail, his entrails laid alongside his body. In another version, the soldier was found impaled on an entrenching tool.]

18-22 Rodents crawl into vending machines and contaminate canned drinks, leading to sometimes fatal diseases for consumers[.] [...] An employee at a company which operates vending machines here revealed this after some persuasion: A few years back, some of the company's employees discovered a desiccated rat in one of its vending machines at a shipyard.

23-7 [A widely-circulated e-mail on how to identify a stroke victim could actually be "useful for the layman," a doctor suggests.]

28-32 [Breaking a mirror leads to seven years of bad luck.]

33-7 Some believe evil will befall anyone who steps on food offerings for hungry ghosts.

38-43 Buy pirated DVDs from Malaysia and you will find the police waiting for you back home in Singapore. [...] Circulated mostly by word of mouth from as early as the mid-1990s, it has become part of local folklore that plays on people's ignorance and fear of violating laws on video piracy.

44-8 An e-mail claims that a "mermaid" was found on a beach in India following the Dec 26, 2004 tsunami, and is now in a museum. [Mathavai Mohan, the education officer of the Government Museum in Chennai, denies the story. Juan Cabana, a Florida artist, claims the mermaid photo was taken from his website.]

49-52 [T]he Health Promotion Board [...] said there is little scientific evidence to support the belief that durian and alcohol make a lethal combination.

Most reports are anecdotal, said Dr Annie Ling, who heads the board's Nutrition Department. "There have been a very limited number of studies to verify the effects of mixing the two, and these have yielded findings that are contrary to common belief," she said.

53-7 Apparently, you can tell how long a man's penis is just by looking at other parts of his body, such as his hands and feet.

58-61 [A study supposedly published in the New England Journal of Medicine claims that staring at a woman's breasts is good for a man's health. The journal's media relations executive denies that any such research was published, anywhere.] The report also appeared in the Business Times in Singapore under a tongue-in-cheek column called Straws In The Winds on June 23, 2000. The journalist who picked the story had no memory of its source.

62-6 [W]hen we received an e-mail containing a health warning about cancer-causing disposable chopsticks which were made in China, we took it seriously. The e-mail came with a JPEG attachment which contained four paragraphs of text in Chinese, along with a badly translated English version.

Here is our translation of it: "This is a real case. If you want, you can try and soak a pair of disposable chopsticks in hot water for about three to five minutes. You will then see bleach dissolving in the water." [...]

[The e-mail quotes a Professor Chantal Chao Co-shi, who urges people not to use disposable chopsticks.] Unlike many other e-mail hoaxes which invariably use dreamt-up names to spin entertaining yarns, a quick check on the Internet found that Prof Chantal Chao Co-shi exists. [...]

When we called Prof Chao at the university, all we got was a recorded message saying she was not in.

67-71 A woman chances upon a lost child. The child has a slip of paper with an address and asks to be taken home. The woman decides to help the kid.

But when she rings the doorbell of the house, she gets an electric shock and faints. When she wakes up the next day, she finds herself in an empty house up on a hill -- naked. [...]

[T]he story disturbed Singaporean housewife Julia Gob enough for her to forward it to her friends, which was how we got hold of it.

When we rang her, she said she had received the e-mail from a friend. She sent it to others because "it reminds me of the Cantonese saying 'hou sum mou hou bou' (kindness does not beget kindness).

"If the story's true, then it's very chilling," the 38-year-old added.

[The writer asks an engineering professor and an electrician whether it would be feasible to rig up a doorbell to give an electric shock.]

72-8 What lurks in darkened cinemas? Plenty of ghost tales, including that of a little girl and the toys she leaves behind. [...]

Mr Charles Goh, the founder of Asia Paranormal Investigators (API), said another popular myth is of cinemas saving theatre seats for "hiah di".

"Hiah Di" is Hokkien for brothers, but can also be used as a term of respect for spirits.

"The ticket auntie at old theatres had floor plans and would mark out the seats we chose in blue crayon. But there would be seats marked in red," he said. "And when I sat close to these seats, I would find them chained up." [...]

Cinema operators explained that, yes, some seats are "reserved" in their multiplexes. But there is a simple, down-to-earth reason for it.

The seats are for last-minute emergencies, such as relocating patrons -- living ones -- who discover they have faulty seats, or when one seat has been assigned to two people.

This was especially common in the past when seat allocation was done using paper plans and pens instead of computers, as it is today.

79-83 Rumour has it that a female undergraduate drowned in a lake at the Nanyang Technological University and her spirit still haunts it. [Other campus ghosts are discussed.]

84-8 [Suntec City's Fountain of Wealth, listed as the world's largest fountain in The Guinness Book of Records, brings prosperity to visitors and nearby businesses.] Suntec City could not confirm if fengshui experts had a hand in the design, although it did not rule out the possibility.

89-92 It is late at night and you are on the last train.

It has been a long day. All you want is to head home, have a hot shower and hit the sack. The train, which is bound for Kranji, pulls into Bishan MRT station and you prepare to alight.

To your astonishment, it does not stop. Furious, you confront the driver and demand to know why. He asks you how many passengers you saw waiting on the platform. Ten to 15, you say.

He replies: "I saw more than 50 people and some were without faces. That's why I didn't stop."

Or so the story goes, according to an e-mail that landed in our computer inbox recently.

It claims that the last train that terminates at Kranji sometimes "does not stop and skips Bishan altogether," resulting in "a lot of people cursing, especially since it is the last train."