Tuesday 3 August 2021

The Riser Mummy

A typical dry riser outside a HDB flat: full of junk.

When a mummified body was found in a HDB riser, serious questions were raised. How come a resident can be so dehydrated and skinny when NTUC were giving out food vouchers in the area? Second, are residents avoiding state sanctioned columbariums to make their own closer to home? And were the residents so green conscious that  mummification was preferred than to be cremated in an (often useless) coffin?

Many questions were raised, and kopitiam talk bounced about like a steel ball in a pinball machine. No simple answers were found. One thing for sure, HDB residents had been using their risers as their 2nd or 3rd storerooms after the main ones in their homes. Often, husbands were asked to throw away their 'toys' only for them to feel unwilling at the last minute and stuff them into a riser for later "consideration" - often forgetting that they'd left stuff there.

And young parents were guilty too, often stuffing dirty and sandy stuff into the riser then bringing them home. Things like spade and pail, sandcastle building materials, etc. Beach stuff. Picnic stuff. Sports stuff.

A hurried investigation by the HDB unearthed many strange things people were keeping in their riser cabinets. Many items had nostalgic value, or TV resale, such as those Ab Busters, HappyCall frying pans, Power Juicers, etc. There was even one air mattress that somehow inflated itself into the confined space. Folks wondered if a certain Ms Josephine Teo and her hubby had used it to heisho-heisho, given their penchant for making love in tight spaces. With the mattress inside, the space was even tighter. People wah-say and acquired new respect for the oft-beleaguered ex-Manpower Minister.

"They should put her in-charge of family planning!" someone said. "Then we'll have a Riser Generation... One that can rise up to anything!" Malaysia might Boleh-kan. But Singaporeans can show they are even more Boleh kan-kan. Hokkien people can be forgiven for sniggering at that. 

Turns out, many cyclists also kept their spare tubes and tires in the risers too. And those who cycle and cook, pots and pans.

Recalled Mr Ayer Sampah, a HDB water meter reader: "I tell you ah, very jialat. Often we open the riser cabinets not knowing what will fall on us. If soft toys, fine. But one time, I had a ten-piece frying pan set king-klang king-klang fall on me, waking up the whole neighbourhood. Damn paiseh. Turns out the makcik dared not tell her husband she'd bought the set - macham maha like $300, and so she hid the set in the riser thinking to recover them after her hubby had gone to work. Guess what? Her sister kenna Covid and she plain forgot all about the matter!"

Another meter reader, Mr Dian Shi-nee, too had a similar encounter. "I've found bottles of medicine, pills...viagra, placenta, etc. Even protein powders...You know those huge black plastic containers of muscle building powders/shakes. That's how I become so buff and my hair... see, still black black and shiny. All thanks to these residents who treated their risers as their medicine cabinets. I've not felt better in years! I've also learnt that expiry dates don't mean a thing. As long as the stuff smells ok, I eat. See how the companies are cheating us by making us throw away stuff well before their actual expiry dates? Sure, I get skin rashes sometimes but that's a small price to pay for total wellness. And I also lao liao. Where got money buy from Guardian?"

The discovery of the mummy, cloaked in school uniform, national flag and a final layer of saffron robe - in that order - also stoked consternation within the Buddhist fraternity here. Which branch of local theological thinking supports mummification? Certainly not the Om-Padmi-Om-Mercedes Benz one? And is the mummy really Buddhist, despite the saffron robes? Is there plagiarism at work here? Who can we sue???

Was the mummy making a statement with the school uniform? A long demolished government primary school in Mattar Road with the enviable record of having the first ever aircon library (with terrazzo flooring as well). Why was such an elite school torn down? Oh, the building of the CTE. At this, people recalled fondly the old National Library that was torn down for the same reason. Cannot move brick by brick to another location one meh? The still-bitter ones complained.

To date, many who have gone there to pak-tor or draw on the toilet doors still reminisce about the place, obviously still a venerable spot of learning for many.

Recalled Mr Dick Prodigee: "I did call one of the many 'referral' telephone numbers listed on the toilet doors and got a great lesson in human sexual relations. I wouldn't have passed my A-levels bio if not for the old national library."

Another former library user was not so enamored: "Every time I smell old books, I want to berak. Every single time. Why I can recall intimate details on those door panels, including much original 'student art'. I knew from an early age that Singapore has much artistic talent!"

National philosopher of Singapore, Mr Pickam Saydem, mused that "maybe this is a moment of existential awakening for all Singaporeans." 

"The ascetic nature of the mummification is antithesis to our current consumer buy-and-throw nature. Perhaps this person is yearning for a return to minimalism and the non-desire for patented goods. But isn't an adherence to a theology a selfish desire too?"

With this remark, Mr Pickam Saydem received many brickbats. "Apa cakap orang goondu ini? Say one thing mean another....?"

Then there was the greater matter of what to do with the body, or bodies. A total of 50 more riser mummies were discovered including 10 of cats and dogs.

Was there a movement going on here? An underground movement of sorts to depart this world and yet not?

In Thailand and Japan, mummified bodies of priests seeking such a path to nirvana were royally worshipped. Did the Singapore mummies sought the same? As there were no names nor any sort of ID on these mummy persons, folks could only guess at the intention of these perpetrators.

Did many of these folks just want to be enshrined in a place they only knew their whole lives, aka the HDB flat? And their encasement inside the riser is a way to reach out, to escape (to rise above even) their human condition.

So, don't say the Singaporean only knows how to eat, sleep, and shop. They also know how to transcend. Transcend dying in an old folks home. Even a riser is the better option.

- the end (by TC Lai, 28th July 2021 (original date))

Previous story: I Married A Ghost Bride

I Married A Ghost Bride

I had not intended to, but I married a ghost bride. It was for the same old reason why every 7/10 Singaporeans do it: to apply for a HDB flat. 

At the counter, the HDB staff handling my case was taken aback. My bride was exceptionally quiet and pale. She also had dark circles under her eyes. "Oh, sorry, wedding make-up... It was quite the emotional affair," I lied. Thereupon I spitted on a tissue and pretended to remove whatever mascara that had melted away by that aforesaid emotional distress. The staff visibly recoiled at my very open display of affection. My "wife" reached to stroke my face and a nail fell off. "Fake nail for the wedding," I hurriedly lied once more, before picking it up and pocketing the somewhat ghastly cuticle for "fixing up" later.

"Fixing up" is what you must do for a ghost bride. Maybe it had to do with being jittery over being a new bride, a new daughter-in-law, and pet owner. I had no time to find out if she was a cat or dog person. My dog of five years gave me a look of contempt and left.

It also left a pile of shit in my loafer. WTF?

There is no manual for living with a ghost bride. I was also at a loss as to whom I should appeal to. The Taoist priest who solemnized our "marriage"? Or the matchmaker lady who put our bazi together? "Aiyah, you otaku-type one, she's stay-at-home type, very matching lor!" - and that was that. I wanted to give her hell money as angpow, but ever the realist, she said "Half real, half bluff one, ok?" $800 was pretty real (and painful), I'd thought.

One night I woke up to find a paper figure effigy sitting on the sofa in my living room, the TV showing late night static. Where did she go? It's weird to be possessive about a ghost bride, but as they say, if a woman does your laundry well and presses your shirts to military precision, you'll want to hang on to her! (I think that's what my grandpa used to say. He was always so presentable even when taking out the garbage!) Besides, sitting in a room with a paper figure that's more tubes than boobs is kind of eerie, no? I only wished the matchmaker had commissioned a better-looking one. "Standard model," was what that mu-yan por lady had replied when I later quizzed her. And I couldn't really fault her. After all, she did go to the best paper-joss craftsmen in Blk 34, Upper Cross Street.

Note to self: I will commission a better-looking effigy next time. 34-24-36. Only 34? I'm not greedy. Give me Dolly Parton and I'll start smiling like Joaquin Phoenix's Joker... - cracklines extending from both ends of my mouth. Pain, sia! 

Next time? Will there be a next time? The thing about ghost brides is that polygamy is not frowned upon. I could have a harem of them although imaging them all sitting in my hall looking sullen and not all sun-healthy can be quite the sight. At least playing Pictionary would be more exciting, no? 

"Circle...wheels? Multi-storey carpark!!!"

Eighteen-levels of hell. Oh.

Pictionary with ghost brides, I believe, can be challenging.

So, every time my ghost bride went back to the in-laws, I was left with her inanimate effigy. That kind of leaves me rooted to the spot unsure of what to do. I'd usually move her to the bed and cover her with a blanket. By the time she re-appears pre-dawn, she would be both cold and tired.

While waiting, I would go back to being an otaku. Turn on my computer and game a bit. Funnily, I'd had lost all interest in porn. Somehow, those women appear too frisky, too wet and all too "noisy". I kind of like my ghost bride and her quiet ways. I could sit and stare at her all day. Is that love?

- the end (by TC Lai, 6 Jul 2021 (original date))

Previous story: Geylang (Sims Avenue) House; next story: A Riser Mummy

Geylang (Sims Avenue) House


It was the only encounter with the supernatural I had till this day. Believe me, I've tried my darnest to meet ghosts, esp during Army and  Reservist days, but all I got were crickets chirping louder and louder and frogs making loud horny calls especially during the rainy season. Or parked cars testing their suspension springs. That usually brightened up an otherwise boring ambush exercise.

Even the time when I organised a treasure hunt in an abandoned colonial-time barracks (rumoured to be haunted) on Sentosa, in the dead of night, for my engineering classmates, did not turn up any strange stuff. The only pale-face beings there were my classmates who loved scaring themselves shitless. Know that the barracks were large and had been abandoned for many years. The property had no lights whatsoever, so it was eerily quiet and goosebumps inducing. We hid clues in the day and at midnight we set ourselves loose to go look for them, with either candlelight or flashlight.

A memorable sight under those circumstances was always the toilets. There, you will see all manner of previous human activity. Even writings on the wall. Sadly there weren't messages from the spirit world asking if at the next Qing Ming, one might "Eh, can kindly burnt some toilet paper down here, can or not?" I'm pretty sure during this pandemic, well-meaning folks have done that.

This treasure hunt was a cumulation of an end-of-semester BBQ and camping trip on Sentosa we organised for ourselves. Everybody had a blast and I must thank all my ex-mates for being so sporting. No one batted an eyelid, but hell, some were genuinely scared wandering about in that dusty and rubbish strewn abandoned barracks in the dead of night.

This old colonial-time barracks was later spruced up for use as a set  piece in that Master of the Sea TV series. I believe it masqueraded as the mansion of the "cockroach" lady (the matriarch played with evil glee by Margaret Chan)

Now, you might wonder why a young man like me at the time had such guts to go around traipsing about a place with such long and (probably) sad history? The answer is that I've seen ghosts before and was thus not afraid.

The ghosts I saw were not the ones out to scare people with their long hair, long tongue or even longer moans. They were pretty spectacular.

It must have happened when I was about six or seven. I couldn't sleep and was thirsty and heard some noise at the door. My first instinct was that rats were once again gnawing at the door.

My mom heard the same thing and was awake too. At the time, we were staying in one of those three-storey terrace units commonly  found in Geylang/Sims Avenue, you know, the ones with the spiral staircase leading down to a back lane. If you look closely, the kitchens are all "open plan" and folks back then had to use roll-up bamboo blinds to shield it from the elements, In the morning, roll up to let fresh air in and at night, roll it down to prevent bats from flying into the house. Because my neighbour's open plan  kitchen faced us, we would also string a pulley system across so we could share dishes or simply dip into each other's condiments when we run out.

On the night of the door noise, I was thirsty. It was a balmy night and my mom was also awake and in the kitchen to fetch me a glass of water. It was then we heard the noise at the door. We both thought it was probably rats gnawing at the door again. I went to open it slightly but could not see anything. It was pitch black. What I saw afterwards stayed with me for life. Know this: at the time, we were staying on the uppermost floor. Each floor held two units facing each other. There was no way to go further up. 

But that was what I saw in that pitch blackness. The sudden appearance of two individuals (a couple, actually) shimmering and holding hands and fleeing upwards.  Imagine a pitch black void on a wall and two characters fleeing as if climbing up a set of stairs.

I watched the scene for a while till it faded and closed the door. I then told my mom what I saw. "I think I saw two persons "fei siong hue" (Cantonese meaning "fly up there"). My mom took a look and then locked the door. She didn't say anything. My mom was quite fearless and not the "easily scared" type.  She usually took such phenom at face value. She always told us kids: "This world where got so many ghosts one." - She had a point. So many millions die each year, how come ghosts are few and far in-between. At least every 17 years we get a cicada harvest. 

Anyway, after my mom locked the door (as we often did before going to sleep) we discovered some cockroaches in the  kitchen. I smacked a few with a wooden clog; my mom simply caught them with her  bare hands and threw them out. My mom was fearless with cockroaches like that, but see a tiny lizard she'd melt into a damsel in distress. I could never understand that.

The few cockroaches we took care of were just the beginning. We found a flock (a "flock"?)  of them hanging onto the back of the blinds. Imagine that!

Yes, imagine that. A blind-ful of cockroaches. Since when was that a thing???

So that night was made the more memorable because me and my mom stayed up all night to smack off the cockroaches. 

Years later with much regret, we moved out of that Sims Avenue apartment. But guess what? Our across-the-open-plan-kitchen neighbour told my mom that our apartment was "very, very" haunted. They often saw a spirit old couple wandering about in that empty house. 

An old couple we never saw. 

But for a couple of years when we lived there, we shared the apartment with my grandma and her kids. Amongst them was a bright young lad. Sadly, because the family disapproved of him having boy-girl relations with a girl, they both went to Hokkien Street and jumped.  Hokkien Street was a popular location for suiciders in the 60s back then because of the Lim Yew Hock era-built flats there. They were the tallest buildings to go jump.

It is a sad story with these two kids (they were about 16 or 17 at the time). Both looked to have a beautiful future ahead.  I still pay my respects to them during Qing Ming at Pek San Teng.

There's been much demolishment and rebuilding in Geylang all these years, especially when old houses gave way to more lucrative apartment multiplexes. Geylang, after all, has about 44 lorongs in all. 

Our abode at Sims Avenue withstood change for many years. Our apartment is still there but has been rendered "lansai" (shitty) by the turnover of migrant Chinese workers over the years. The unit address is 140-B, opposite a famous durian stall. I hope to go back and buy it someday. no matter its "haunted" history. I had a wonderful childhood in Geylang... Despite that cockroach saga and seeing those shimmering beings. 

- the end (by TC Lai, 25th April 2021 (original date))

Previous story: The Medium's Son; next story: I Married A Ghost Bride

The Medium's Son


I believe the actual service no. was 70 or 72

One of the most alarming ghost stories I've heard is from a medium's son.

When I was a kid (I was the typical ignored middle child, easy going) , my mom would inevitably take me along when she "goes out". Going out meant going to South Bridge to shop for jade (to resell) or to the goldsmith shops (like Lee Oon or Poh Heng) to goldalise the nicer pieces into pendants, brooches and bracelets to resell at a higher value.  That's how my housewife mother supplemented her allowance to raise the seven of us.

Sometimes one of these trips would take us the other direction, towards Upper Changi. The bus ride there would be thrilling - a siao rollercoaster ride.

At the time, the area around Kaki Bukit and Bedok were being cleared. What was left would be a narrow two-lane road leading to and fro town. Back then, buses were few so bus drivers drove like hell to make more round-trips.  They could care less if you were scared,  peed in your pants or got flung out. This vehicle (unlike today) had only one doorway - in the middle - with no door. No door? Yes, deal with it.

It was your duty to hold on tight if you want to reach your destination. Hold on to your marketing basket too if you didn't want it sliding and flying out of that void.

I loved sitting just beside the  doorway to see the ground rush past at speed. There was so much land clearing at the time that the dust and sand screeching under us made it seemed as if we were in some rally race. Or safari adventure.

It wasn't as death-defying as those on some ulu South American plateau. But bounding along, there was definitely some Looney Tunes madness going on.

Our destinations up that far east were usually two. A lovely Chinese kampung made out of light-blue houses nestled around a cul-de-sac up on a hill, If you had taken a taxi or "bawang che" (not onion car, mind you), it would drive up, let the ride alight, turn around and go back down. That kind of cul-de-sac. The same kind of island-less roundabout found outside Sultan cinema in old Chong Pang Village.

This Chinese kampung along Upper Changi Road sat high up. It was cheerful, clean and a joy to be at on a bright sunny day, Many a times I felt as if I was in some kind of Camelot. Trust me, I've been to some shitty kampungs before where the attap houses had stone floors that were cold, damp and infested with mildew.  This was from buying chapjikee for my mom. An 'intermediary" lived in one. 

The other destination along Upper Changi Road was a Chinese temple.

Back in those days, temples were wooden affairs painted mostly in fire engine red. Side walls were usually made of tall wooden planks slotted together. If you needed more open space, you simply remove these and put them to one side. Come nightfall, you put them back and sleep in a more secure enclosure.

This Chinese temple was probably the length of a HDB flat, medium sized and with living quarters at the back (as was often the case back then). They all started this way before $$$ from the patronage of Mercedes Benz owners turned them into monstrous concrete complexes with dragon sculptures and large stone tablets with sayings such as "Benzes hao, bai ma ma ma hu hu" (I think). Or they could actually be words of wisdom from some Taoist analect. 

Going to that temple in Changi was much like Army topo in the Ulu Sembawang plains much later. It sat desolate on sandy ground near a tree (that always seemed to want to run away like) . The few obligatory feral dogs that would woof-woof to announce approaching visitors and then flop down again in exhaustion from our unforgiving tropical sun. Like the rest of the area nearby, the kampung around this temple was being cleared. 

The sand raised by the wind only confirmed this fact.

Why my mom and I would bear such  a life-threatening bus ride to be at this temple was because of one skinny lady there. She's a well-known medium who would help you consult with, especially, the deity Tai Zi Yeh who is actually the spirit of a well-loved Chinese Emperor from the Tang Dynasty.

I was bequeathed to him as a godson, so more the reason for me to be there, even if it was to say a cursory 'hi'.  As a godson, I'd always hoped to be rewarded with angpows, but what I got pocketed away were mostly yellow talisman papers that I should burn, mix with water and drink. And rub a little of what's left on the forehead three times.

Later my exam results would be stellar or that my hernia would subside and I could jump the tallest building like Superman. Without this talisman water for long, I would become weak like Ultraman, blink blink in the chest and reach out my hand for the clouds. In the kitchen, that would be some marshmallows. More White Rabbit likely. Either way, they were just as restorative if not delicious.

In any case, a female medium is  quite the surprise for me. I had thought they were all male. With a rotund belly and commanding voice such as those you'd find around Geylang.

Indeed her slim frame, smiling eyes and soft smoky voice were very comforting. And she always welcomed me as a favourite child, which took away my fear of those fierce-looking deities on her altar shelf. That they were smoke-charred black only added to their look of disdain for the human kind.

I do not know how  my mom got to know this medium from such an ulu place, but given her outgoing personality she would have probably sussed her out from casual conversation, just as she did this hyper-accurate palm reader lady at Siong Lim Temple in Toa Payoh. Your first visit to her would send shivers down your spine. She would even know how many children you have had aborted or which kid in your brood wore spectacles and needed special care. 

Years later when this Changi temple ground was razed, this skinny, chain-smoking lady medium would, like the rest of the residents in the area be relocated  to spanking-new, Marine Parade Housing Estate. It thus became rather easier to reach her, or so I thought.

But by then we had moved nearer to JB than your uncle in Lim Chu Kang. It's what you'll say in Army-lingo, "lumpa-palun" - a kind of existential palindrome. No matter, I would same-same go along with my mom on every visit.

This lady medium, as you can imagine, continued her trade in the new flat, a three-roomer, I think. Altar, offering table and her "dragon' chair draped over with her quintessential golden threaded medium's cloak. She would wear this cloak whenever she conducted her seances.

I remember one time my mom consulted her on some personal matters and I was sent out of the room/hall/flat.  

Outside, squatting hunched over was her youngest son. We were a little apart in age but he was friendly. He spoke Hokkien but we somehow managed. Kids in those days learnt a smattering of dialects from the playground.

There was something that bothered me that I needed to clear up. Every time me and my mom visited this medium, we would notice more slippers outside than actual people inside the flat. Where did the people go?

It was then he gestured to a NZ Apple cardboard box nearby. It was full of slippers of all kinds.

"They come and consult her, and leave."

It took me a moment to realise that the owners of those slippers were from the spirit world. The boy then went quiet and continued to doodle on the ground with his twig, lost in his own thoughts.

Many questions raced through my mind that day. All the what, why, when, etc., all the kenninehs. How was life with a medium mom like? Did he inherit her special skills? Did he have a "third' eye? Ooh la la.

I decided then to sharpen my Hokkien to ask him more questions the next time. But what I learnt from the playground were just more swear words. "Super white!" Kennasai.

- the end (by TC Lai (27 April 2021 (original date))

Previous story: One Balmy Night ; next story: Geylang (Sims Avenue) House

One Balmy Night

I was cooling off at my HDB corridor one balmy night when a lady with long hair, white gown and questionable make-up glided up towards me. Ok, maybe that was because a bead of sweat had also glided into my eye, blurring my vision and causing me to wink excessively as well.

That "graceful" apparition saw and winked back. Oops, did I just make a chance connection? 

Immediately, a chill blew over me. Quite typical, no? of this kind of "strange" encounter. It was then I realised the next door aunty had moved herself out of her flat with stool and KDK fan to cool herself off.

She saw me and scoffed. "Harrumph!" Not very Singlish, I thought, but that was the sound she made. She was probably unhappy that was I dating a ghost girl again.

"TC, why don't you go find a proper girl like everybody else, huh?" she once told me.

"Aunty, they are really nice girls lah. And if they want the 5Cs from me I can get them under $30 at the joss shop. Maybe throw in a pack of facials as well. They are selling those things now. Estee Laodee, SKII++, Revlong, etc. You want?"

That usually shuts her up. 

"You siao ah?" she would retort, and stomp back into her flat, not without turning to also give me her usual (and disapproving) harrumph. "Harrumph!" She has a knife sticking out her back, but since she didn't mind, I didn't say anything.

At the corridor, me and the ghost girl would hold hands and stare straight ahead. Her hands would be cold and clammy. At times, slimy. 

 "Sorry ah," she would apologise. "Slime very popular with the tweener kids now. They learn to make them on Youtube and then sell online. The pearlescent ones are especially very pretty!"

She stares at her hands and seems lost in thought. At length, she would not elaborate further, just grip my hand tighter. Adversely, that drains blood from my face making me very compatible with her. At this, we would look at each other and smile. She squeezes harder. I look more pale. Couple happiness moves to another level.

At the opposite block people sometimes gather to stare at us. Many a time they would take pictures and post to a hantu FB page. Because my corridor has been updated to those movement-control lights, the pictures these people take often appear dark, unclear. Mightily tinted with a hue of skepticism.

- "Eh, too dark lah."

- "Why ghost picture always dark dark one?"

- "Wah, is that ghost couple last time jump from same spot one?"

- "I think they waiting for Grab Qing Ming (GQM) delivery service, haha" Ha... ha.

Maybe we shouldn't have jumped. Did I? Did we? But who can decide what Fate might bring. The moonlight fades and we are gone.

Till the next time.

- the end (by TC Lai, 8th May 2021 (original date))

Previous story: A Night A The White House; next story: The Medium's Son

A Night At The White House

The White House hotel in Kluang

I once spent a night at the White House and came away with a ghost story.

I know what you are thinking: The White House? Sure, since it is an old building there has to be an odd story here and there. Persons too significant to fade into the night, events too important to not replay. What did you say? You heard soldiers marching in the courtyard in the dead of night? A painting that keeps hanging itself askew as if to make a point? Always a wet patch on the carpet as if to indicate something buried beneath?

The White House is a veritable icon, more so because it stands out quite prominently at the crossroads of a busy junction. There in bold white letters on a red board, White House. Not red, not blue, but WHITE House.

In Chinese, it reads bai gong. Yes, from time to time you see PRC tourists about. But that was before the pandemic hit and the Movement Control Order kicked in.

What? MCO also have over there? 

Yes lah, because Kluang is in Malaysia mah, and the White House is a very prominent traveler's motel there. Tired of being on the road? Just check in and have a laydown. Get a decent breakfast the next day and continue on with your journey, wherever that might be.

Had a lover's spat and by the time you made up, it is too late and past midnight? The White House looms large then Bill Clinton and Monica, you both think. But more likely, it is make-up sex that is on both your minds. You squeeze each other's hands and giggle unabashedly at being so in-sync with one another, like soul mates should. Same idea, same thought. 


We are so compatible! You both concur with smiling eyes.

How did we quarrel in the first place? That's history!!

You park, check in and make glorious love. In the morning the car is gone, carjacked. In your haste last night you had forgotten to apply the steering wheel-lock, a must when driving in Malaysia. You two quarrel over it, oblivious to the wet hair both of you still spot from the we-shower moments ago.

People gather and whisper. "Hiaz, young people these days. Little bit thing also quarrel... And stand in the street with towel on some more. Really no shame one!"


As you can imagine, the White House in Kluang must have seen its fair share of residents. Some on legitimate business, others maybe not. Some loitered on a temporary stay, others a week or more. A refuge perhaps for husbands kicked out of bed. A place of solace for that bar girl who had had enough of lecherous men and just want to be alone to think of her next steps.


I was once like many folks out there clueless of Kluang - much less that it had a White House over there.

But a good friend hailed from that place and we would drive in once a month to play golf. Kluang had a small country club in town, a nine-holer. It was more a place for old-timers to putt a few and catch up with friends over coffee or beer. The country club is so small, your primary school is probably larger in comparison.

The serious golfer in Kluang would head over to PAMOL, a palm oil plantation that curiously had a recreational hall and a nine-hole golf course built smack in the middle of all 'em money-making trees.

Although a nine holer on paper, this PAMOL golf course was much larger than most 18-hole ones. Such an anomaly could only come from a distant past and it was. The PAMOL golf course was a leftover from Malaysia's colonial days when real estate was carved out with little regard. Especially when it had to do with leisure, the Brits would OK it without a second thought.

Any bit of leisure and comfort to make up for the "blasted humidity" that the tropics bore on them.

And thus, PAMOL golf course was born. And as with any backyard recreation, foremost on top of the hill beside the course was the plantation manager's bungalow. 

It was a magnificent setup. 

Playing at PAMOL, we always fantasized about owning that bungalow. How sweet, if at the end of a day, we could just strut onto the golf course and play a few.

Or just spend the rest of the hot afternoon relaxing in the recreational hall nearby to play some pool with a cold beer in hand. 

And eat a gorgeous plate of nasi rendang (the caretaker's wife cooked a mean one served with rice dumplings or ketupat - very Malaccan style). Afterwards retiring to the bungalow once more to see the evening out with a Cuban cigar and Scottish whiskey (single malt, no less). The next day, start the cycle again and repeat.

Wah, what a life that would be!

However, if you can forgo a weekend of golf and simply explore Kluang, you will find that it is a nice town with a few satellite neighborhoods. Kind of like a North Bridge Road do if, within a short distance, it is linked to a very much downsized Siglap, Sin Ming, Chai Chee or Boon Lay, you know, quieter places that you head to to get other other things done. In town, you might visit the Chinese medical hall or babyware shop. But at an outlying neighborhood, you could get your car fixed, your body massaged, etc... That sort of thing.

In our case, we'd head out to get a haircut, as well as buy a bottle of Kluang's superb black sweet sauce. Malaysia's famous Black Hokkien Mee would not be the same without this splendid Kluang concoction.

On food, Kluang had plenty to offer, from Hakka style beef noodles to a turquoise-colored thunder tea rice. Why that color? A Japanese tea, I was told.  

From curry noodles to kaya and toast and soft-boiled eggs - a set of which had been served since 1938 at the coffeeshop at Kluang's very intimate railway station.

If you fancy a very good wanton mee, you could get it on the way to the PAMOL golf course. It was served from a roadside shack that doubled as a home as well. Eat wanton mee and watch a shabby baby crawl in its own playpen.

Kluang was of course not the first Malaysia small town I had fallen in love with. There were others. 

I love driving into Malaysia to visit them because they have all given me a kind of comfort missing from living in Singapore for so long. The old Singapore ambience that has been swallowed up by ever more glass and concrete, and that something called "progress".

When the old National Library was torn down, I think a bit of my soul went with it too.  I had spent quite a bit of time there to improve myself, explore other worlds. It being torn was just as if someone had thrown away a pair of my fave shoes without telling me. The shared memories, the journeys we had together. 

The same with the mom and pop shops along North Bridge Road/South Bridge Road. Without them, without the families to add life to the area, the shops and their attached upstairs units simply became just economic barter for higher profit. Familial real estate to be traded for more expensive office spaces.

I tried to relate to a present-day shop selling industrial pumps once. It wasn't very successful. I didn't even know how to begin to say hi, ask how's your day, your children.

Will they all one day grow up to be big and strong and pump out world-changing sludge? CB.

Of course, with everything good, one must "jio" others to enjoy.

Of Kluang, this is what I told a girlfriend:

"If you sit at the kopitiam, a lady will bring you a platter of kueh. You know, those Chinese kuehs we love so much that is now being sold at Bengawan Solo? Same same. After you have had your coffee...and mind you, Kluang coffee is one of the best in Malaysia. Even Penang and that Mark Lee one cannot fight. You pay for whatever kueh you had eaten. How sweet is that? They just leave it there for you to pick and choose!"

"You mean they would just bring it on a big plate?"

"Yes, you know the enamel metal ones your Ah Ma use for prayer outside to the sky god Tian Gong? The one-size-fit-all kind that's usually pink with some rose flower motif?"

"Oh yes!" 

"Yes, that kind. And do you remember the family sized dum briyani we had at Upper Changi Road? That Pakistani one where a huge portion of rice is scooped onto that rose patterned enamel plate so a Tom, Dick and a few Harrys could just dig in with their hands? Yes, that kind of platter. But slightly smaller."

"I see."

I could see my GF being intrigued. She had a mole on her upper lip and as was often the case, a mark of someone regarded as very "tam chiak".

In fact, friends call her Ms Tam Chiak, more in affection than "eh, don't touch my food in the pantry."

The next Friday night, we decided to set off. I often drove into Malaysia at night. It's cooling and the traffic jams much less; or even non-existent.

As usual, the drive there took about 1.5 hours. Once you reach Sungei Renggam,  Kluang is not far off.

We hit upon the White House soon after entering the township and crossing under the arch that read, "Selamat Datang di Kluang".

In my previous trips, I would bunk at my friend's house. He had a spare room that came in 70s decor as well as plenty of mosquitoes perhaps nostalgic for Sgren blood.

I didn't think my GF could stand for that. She would complain to no end and demand I do something about it.

I also did not want to bring her there knowing that my friend's sister was interested in me. Best not to cause hurt when there's no reason to. Plus, I still like to feel welcomed at my friend's home. His mom cooked a mean Hakka meal.

Until I know that this sister has not mastered any of those timeless dishes, I would then be more forthright with her about my feelings. At the moment, best to keep the one bird in hand and the other singing happy in the bush. I think there's one saying to that effect.

Or, don't cut off your exit route, that sort of Sun Tzu wisdom.

Although we arrived late, there was someone to check us in. But before we made any commitment, I asked if we could check out out the rooms first (knowing how finicky Sg girls could be about hotel rooms. I felt it was best to get her approval first.)

The room turned out to be quite decent. Clean and not too cramp. 

There wasn't a private bath but since it was a step or two away, we didn't mind. It was clean, the heater was working and the water flow rate better than a child's pee.

"Sure you don't mind the bathroom being out there?" I asked my GF just to be double sure.

"No, it's fine. Not like we need to use it tonight. Besides, I've got plenty of wet wipes," she winked as she said that.

That got me aroused a little.

The check-in clerk then proceeded to turn on the air-condition. It was one of those old fangled window units that rattled to start but afterwards would give off a mighty blast of cold air.

Wonderful, and it was pretty quiet. Says a lot about the maintenance effort this hotel must be putting in.

"Do you want to see the other rooms?" the clerk asked, a bit superfluous I felt, as he had already turned our room's air-con on.

"Er, no need," I said, and added, "But are these rooms empty as well?"


Great, I thought. Peace and quiet throughout the night.

So me and GF unpacked the essentials from our luggage and fell into bed soon fast asleep. The wet wipes untouched.

In the middle of the night, I was awakened by my GF who seemed a little concerned.

"TC, wake up, I hear voices!"

"Whaa..what? Where?" I was pretty much getting into REM sleep and felt groggy having been awoken up so unceremoniously.

"A couple talking!"

True enough, I could hear the muffled voices of a couple deep in earnest conversation. But at this time of night?

"Maybe the walls here are thin," I suggested.

"But didn't they say the room beside ours is empty?"

"Yeah, but..."

I could see now that my GF's eyes were wide open and very alert. I didn't think I could sleep again if something was not done.

"Look, just ignore it. Maybe they have just checked in."

"Cannot be," my GF reasoned. "I was awake the whole time and nobody came up to check them in. No key turning in the lock, no doors opening, etc., etc."

At that moment, the voices suddenly stopped. Not a single word.

"See see, it just goes away. Where got people talk like that one?"

I thought about what my GF said and found it funny. I laughed.

She quickly gave me a smack on the shoulder.

"Eh, serious leh, is this place haunted?" Once more her eyes were wide open and very very curious.

Just then water in the bathroom ran.

My GF gripped my arm harder. "Hear that? People in the bathroom. Where got people bathe at this hour one?"

"Er, people with dirty dreams?" I ventured.

Once more a smack on the shoulder.

I've seen ghosts before as a child and since then, had always wanted to see more just to affirm that in this world, we are not alone. I mean for some people, want to see ghost also kang kor. Don't say once. Many times: never.

So I opened the door to our room and peeped out. 

The outside toilet/bathroom was still the same. Door ajar, lights off. Just as how it was when we first checked in. Only the incandescent bulb outside shedding some thin light in. You could assume nobody was using it.

But that's the cruncher. I could hear someone splashing water inside as if taking a bath. Yet no water flowed out into the drain hole that was clearly visible by the door.

I closed our room door and calmly assured my GF that somebody new had checked in.


"Really." I said, clearly stating a lie.

In another part of the same night, the conversations started up again. But by then my GF had fallen asleep.

I stared at the half-opened wet wipes on the side table and thought hard.

Truly, who the heck is up at this time of night. And who would once again bathe?

I didn't get any answers that night, nor could I make out what that conversation was all about. It was just something earnest between a man and a woman. It almost sounded the same, as if recorded and replayed again and again.

Before dawn arrived, I too fell asleep.

The next day, my GF was adamant that the place was haunted and refused to stay another night. No need.

Kluang wasn't so big as to bother with another night unless you go hiking at two of their very popular recreational hillsides and streams. 

Well, with this GF and her fear of mosquitoes, that's definitely out of the question. I enjoyed her fair skin too so keeping her out of the sun was fine by me. I've climbed enough mountains and beachcombed enough seasides for the two of us. But hey, what about golf? PAMOL was just such a sweet sweet place.

- the end (by TC Lai, 2nd May 2021)

Previous story: The Gate; next story: One Balmy Night

The Gate

When you see ghosts often, you can get fed-up. Fed-up with their skin tone (often pale), fed-up with their wardrobe (macham cut from curtain), fed-up with their posture (often hunched), fed-up with their attitude (often morose). You would hope to find one with at least a "glass half full than half empty" attitude, but no. They all seem to hang on to some grudge, some unfulfilled wish, like waiting long outside a LiHo bubble tea shop only to be told they have run out of your favourite order. Nabeh.

Isn't death a release? Isn't that why people commit suicide? To end it all and ascend to that place with the fluffy clouds and harp music? Or 72 virgins (who must be pretty aged by now) standing next to a K-Y Jelly dispenser that is still expecting its first token?

Apparently suicide isn't all that sweet a way out. 

I know because I asked one. He was standing on the other side of a gate of a driveway whose house I was tasked to look after. My friend Ben's old family home.

The ghost young man said: "With suicide, you are in limbo. You cannot be somewhere until they figure out if you have offended Heaven's Mandate. If your fate is to be the next LKY of Sg and you suddenly decide on your own to be just as dead as he is, then Heaven will not be happy and will punish you. If they find out that your ambition was to be the next Anabelle Chong, then they will say "C'est la vie", or suanleba. Coz there's already too many Anabelle Chongs out there for you to matter."

"But why the sour face?" (I had to ask.)

"When you first die, your human functions are still pretty much intact. These urges will only slowly fade over time. You still pee, you still pung sai. And do you know how frustrating it is to reach for that toilet paper only to see it slip through your fingers? Obviously being dead we lose connection to the physical world. So, our first shit, no toilet paper. Many then walk around afterwards with a dingleberry hanging on like some dear friend. As you can imagine, not very comfortable. -This is also why some prefer to wear gowns with an open crotch. And why many a place with spirits often have that pungent smell. You had come along when "somebody' was doing his or her "business".

So now you understand why we all just-died-one spirits have that "look" on our faces. We are not constipated; we are just tulan/paiseh/boh pian all rolled into one. I was a very good graphic designer before I decided to take my own life. Even I could not have designed an emoji to reflect that...that look!"

A certain Disney animated movie came to mind. But quickly, I was like Wow, that was some sharing! I did not expect that. Meanwhile the gate beside me groaned as more spirits appeared on the other side. I checked if the lock would hold. It rattled but held firm.

"Is that all?" I said, not sure what to ask next.

"Well, after your final dump, that's not much of any earthly attachment left. You feel a sense of relief actually, so much so that you feel as if you are floating. That is why some spirits you come across have their feet off the ground. That is why you don't have to be frightened like some girly taxi driver along a deserted road. No need to be scared scared one. Laugh if you can because that ghostly bugger had just pung sai!"

Hahahaha, this young man ghost chortled. If he had space, he would have just collapsed on the floor ROFL. But the driveway was getting crowded. The young man soon corrected himself because the other spirits were giving him their best death stares. He soon became morose again - just like them.

"Sorry, got out of character there just now."

What? Did he say he just got out of character? I was beginning to think there was some conspiracy afoot.

I stepped back to have a think about that. Meanwhile, I kept a raised eye on the gate. Through the slits I could see plenty of bodies and shadows moving about. All waiting as if there was going to be a Black Friday sale.

According to a Taoist priest who came, asked for the toilet and then disappeared, he told me that my friend's house was along a spirit highway of sorts. And that the longkang river behind was actually the River Styx of Chinese mythology. You know, a place to wade in and forget what your life used to be. A total reset.

A famous bridge (guarded by an old lady) spanned it.

"If you ask your friend, he would have seen that old lady walking about sometimes," said the Taoist priest, a tad too nervous for my liking. That was when he excused himself, went into the toilet and never came out.

That was before I told him that I had already seen one old lady. She used to drop by quite often to ask if got old clothes, old newspapers and old radios. A karang guni kindred who pushed a trolley cart full of discarded cardboard. I asked her once how much per kilo for the newspaper and she said, "Forgot liao." Typical.

- the end (by TC Lai, 18th May 2021 (original date))

Previous story: Ghost Girl; next story:  A Night at the White House