Tuesday 3 August 2021

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

No comments:

Post a Comment