Sunday 6 November 2011

Why I ain’t afraid of no ghost on Pulau Tekong

I know Halloween is over, but let’s talk about ghosts.

Sorry, not ghosts – since there’s no such thing as ghosts – but ghost stories. There are plenty of those. Specifically, army ghost stories.

Now showing in theatres is 23:59, a new local horror movie starring Mark Lee set in Pulau Tekong army camp.

I haven’t watched it, but I bet that at some point in the movie, soldiers see ghosts in the woods.

Why does that sound so familiar?

Perhaps it’s because one of the two stories in The Ghosts Must be Crazy released in January this year was also about soldiers seeing ghosts in the woods.

Ditto one of three stories in Where Got Ghosts? in 2009.

Ditto the 2008 made-for-TV Pulau Hantu, which MediaCorp aired again on Okto only a few months ago.

It’s like a mini movie subgenre unique to Singapore, films about soldiers seeing ghosts in the woods.

I’m old enough to remember one of Channel 8’s earliest dramas, Army Series, which included a memorable episode about, yes, soldiers seeing ghosts in the woods. This was back in the early 80s.

So for almost 30 years now, Singapore soldiers have been seeing ghosts in the woods – at least in TV shows and movies.

But how often does it actually happen in real life?

I doubt that Mindef keeps track of such figures, but I do recall when I was a recruit on Pulau Tekong, I got lost in the woods quite a number of times and during all those times – even the times at night (hated that) – I never saw any ghosts.

What’s more, I was in the notorious Charlie Company of the three-door bunk fame, which I wrote about in a column two years ago.

So instead of me repeating my version of the three-door bunk story, here’s what a reader wrote in response to that column: “My uncle also told me the story, but his version was a bit different.

“He said that the bunk had three doors initially and when the recruit died (they found him with his stomach slit opened and organs arranged out nicely), they needed a place for his corpse.

“So they put his body back onto the bed where he used to sleep, which was the bunk with three doors.

“Because spirits only know of two doors... his spirit was stuck in the bunk. After the sightings and haunting, someone invited a Taoist master and he suggested locking the third door so that the spirit could leave.

“My cousin said that the padlock is still there and very rusty.”

I can testify under oath that I have seen the three-door bunk and rusty padlock, but I can’t vouch for the rest of the story.

So how did I manage not to see any ghosts during my three months in Charlie Company on Tekong despite getting lost in the woods as often as I did?

I credit my mother.

Just before I went into the army, she gave me some unexpected advice. Actually, it was more like a specific instruction, which she made me promise to follow.

She told me that before peeing in the woods, I must always first apologise to the person who might be buried at the spot where I’m peeing.

Okay, a couple of things.

First, I found it awkward to be discussing urination with my mother. Yes, I know she used to change my diapers, but I was much, much, much shorter then.

Second, why did she assume that I would be peeing in the woods? Being extremely shy, I would be more likely hold it until I return to civilisation.

I would’ve felt more reassured if her advice was “If you ever feel the need to pee in the woods, don’t. People may see you.”

Also, since the woods is vast enough for me to get lost in, what are the chances of me peeing at the exact spot where someone is buried?

Why would people be buried in the woods anyway? I believe we have cemeteries for that.

And since people buried in the woods are probably dead, I didn’t think they would notice being urinated on or hear my apology.

But a promise is a promise.

I did as my mother instructed and thus avoided pissing off any spirits (so to speak).

Instead, I’m haunted by too many local movies about soldiers seeing ghosts in the woods.

How about a horror movie about Bedok Reservoir?


I want my mummy.

- Published in The New Paper, 6 November 2011