Author Archives: CharmaineOng

Singaporean Joke Acronyms

Acronyms :

SBS

Singapore Bus Service

Side-By-Side

SDU

Social Development Unit

Single, Desperate, Ugly

MRT

Mass Rapid Transit

Mad Rush to Train

SAF

Singapore Armed Forces

Serve And Forget

PAP

People’s Action Party

Pay and Pay

PUB

Public Utilities Board

Pay Until Bankrupt

LTA

Land Transport Authority

Long Tio Ah (Crash)

 

These were a few acronyms that my informant heard from one of his ex-classmates from high school. The middle column is the correct versions of these abbreviations. While there are more than just these few, these are just the ones that he could remember off the top of his head. While this might not mean much to the average non-Singaporean, to most Singaporeans this would be rather amusing as it fits the stereotypes of the particular government function, according to my informant.

These are not meant to offend anyone, but just to poke fun at the establishment a little. If you have not noticed, all of those listed above are government owned or governmental establishments. The government in Singapore is also one of its largest employers and therefore most people are beholden to the government. Like people everywhere though, they enjoy making fun of their government and this is meant to do so.

Five Stones

A childhood game, played primarily by girls with five small cloth ‘stones’ that are either filled with sands or beans. Game involves throwing and catching the ‘stones’ while not touch the other. There are five stages to this games, the first stage is when you take one stone and throw it up in the air while snatching one on the ground without touching any of the other stones, and then catch the one that you threw up in the air. If you touched any other  ‘stone’ or missed the falling ‘stone’ you’d lose your turn. This goes on till the fifth round, which you have all five in your hand and you toss all five in the air, flip your hand and catch it on the back of your hand.  Additionally, with two or more people, the other player gets to choose the ‘stone’ that you need to throw up in the air.

 

My informant started playing this game when she was about six, growing up in Singapore during the early sixties. She played this game mainly because it was what girls that age did during that time, the boys played their games and the girls played theirs.

There are variations on the rules depending on what school you went to and who you played with and they are mostly about which hand to play with after the first whole round and the fifth stage. While there are websites and it is documented how to play, most people learn to play from their classmates and their parents.

While this game is relatively old, they still play this game today in schools. Even though it isn’t as widespread as it was in the past. One of the reasons why this game is so popular is due to the fact that it is convenient to carry around and it would not be confiscated by the teachers if they are caught playing in school, unlike video games.

Pontianak

Found throughout South East Asia, this is a female monster that appears at first glance to be a beautiful woman with long black hair. On closer examination though, she has sharp fangs and razor like claws.  Unlike most female monsters that only target males, the Pontianak kills and is rather indiscriminate in her choice of victims, though there seems to be a preference for pregnant females and men. Depending on her choice of victims, males tend to have their bodies drained of blood. Whereas, pregnant women usually have their unborn fetuses ripped from their bodies before the Pontianak eats the unborn baby and drains the mother of all her blood. There is no know way to subdue the Pontianak other than not to stop for her, as her preferred location tends to be on highways and abandoned roads late at night.

                  My informant first heard of this particular breed of monster was at a campfire when he was about 15 years old. The Pontianak is a classic horror story told to scare people from travelling alone at night. However, there are real stories of encounters with this monster. Often, they are in a taxi and they pass by a beautiful woman on the side of the road wearing a sarong kebaya and when they pass by, they usually see the pale face, sharp teeth and claws that characterize the Pontianak. Those fortunate enough to live though seeing a Pontianak are few and far between.

                  Like most creatures like this, they are often the center of many a horror film. According to my informant, there are at least 3 movies that involve the Pontianak; however, none of them were made in English but in Bahasa Melayu and Bahasa Indonesia. This is because this is a creature, primarily in Malay folklore and this extends to both Malaysia and Indonesia. There are variations on the Pontianak in the other South East Asian countries, but the Pontianak spans at least three countries on that area of the continent.

                  This can be viewed as a variation of the vengeful female demon/creature in most folklore. While there is various speculation on her origins, for in some, she is the embodiment mother’s who have died due to either childbirth or a miscarriage and she is the bitter result because she cannot stand other people having children when she couldn’t. In other tales, she is what happened to a scorned woman whose fiancé betrays her for someone else and she kills herself in response.

Toyol

This is a familiar or an imp type creature. The Toyol is a spirit that is invoked by a bomoh (Malayan witch doctor) from a dead foetus. These people who possess a Toyol  usually use them to do mischief, like steal money and sabotaging people. As these are children spirits, they are not very intelligent and are easily distracted by toys and things they can play with. People who have these creatures usually have an urn in their home with the dead foetus with embalming fluid in their homes. However, it is said that you cannot get rid of a Toyol once you have one and it is passed down from generation to generation. To keep these creatures happy, you have to feed it a few drops of your blood once a day and give it offerings of toys and a lot of attention. Supposedly, these are able to be seen without having the evil/magic eye and look similar to House Elves in Harry Potter.

                  My informant was informed of this when she was growing up in Singapore in the 1990s. This was something that she heard while at Primary five camp at her school at Camp Christine, which was rumored to be haunted. So, as kids are wont to do, they shared scary ghost stories in their beds and one of her classmates told her this story.

There are many variations of this particular creature as well. One of which is that the person can buy these spirits from the bomohs, in others people have to create them. A variation says that people can get rid of them by throwing the urn into the sea, or burying them with the proper rites and respect.  Also, feeding a Toyol in one version, has to be fed from blood from the owners big toe, in another it requires fresh rooster blood.

                  As superstitious beliefs run rampant over most of the countries with people that are mostly uneducated and have strong beliefs in Black Magic and the woods. This was also a convenient excuse for things going missing and bad luck. However, while there is no concrete evidence for anything supernatural, according to my friend, there have been reports of sightings of these creatures.

La Diablita (The Demoness)

The name literally means female demon. La Diablita appear late at night, only to male travelers. They appear to these males as one of the most beautiful women they’ve seen in their entire lives, and these creatures like to tempt these men off road and kill them. No man who have followed the La Diablita have survived to tell the tale. If, by some chance, light shines on them, they appear to have horns and a hoof instead of a foot.

            This was first told to my informant from her father. Her father is a first generation immigrant from Mexico. According to her father, these creatures were either the minions of the devil or the devil itself in female form. Even though she has had no first hand stories about the encounters with the La Diablita, there is more than a slight possibility of these creatures existing because Latin America is a place that that there are more than a few occurrences of black magic happening on this large continent. Additionally, it is also largely rural in nature, with much of the population being uneducated and superstitious.

            Latin America is mostly Catholic and from the name, those influences can be seen. La Diablita is translated into The Devil(Female), as Diablo is male, Diablita is female. Additionally, these stories could also serve as a warning to people not to wander the roads alone at night. From the fact that the victims were all men, also serve to show the roles of both male and female in societies, showing the fact that the unseen danger is a woman, but the visible one is male. This is due to the fact that many Latin American countries are rather turbulent and suffer dictatorships with men disappearing all the time. This particular ghoul could be a way for the folk to explain how people just disappear at night, to be never seen again, except in maybe a mass grave.

Orang Minyak or “Oily Man”

This is a male creature, commonly shaped as a human. As can be inferred from his name, he is covered from head to toe in black oil. Sometimes, he is described as naked and sometimes he’s wearing a black pair of swimming trunks. In many stories, he plays a significant roles as a rapist that only targets virgins. There is some dispute over his origins though, it is unclear whether or not he is of human origin or is a creature from the spirit world. Some speculate that the Orang Minyak is the result of a spurned lover that has powers due to his solicitation of either a bomoh (Malayan Witch Doctor) or a contract with a creature from the spiritual world. The Orang Minyak is commonly found in Malayan folklore with appearances made in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

This knowledge was imparted to my informant when she was on a school camping trip at the tender age of 16 in Singapore in the late nineteen sixties.  The Orang Minyak is commonly one of the perpetrators and has been blamed for many rapes especially in the 1960s, early nineteen seventies, even though the reports have been few and far between since the 2000s.  According to my informant, the more superstitious Malay students would wear sweaty shirts to give the appearance of someone who had just been with a man.

Strangely enough, while the Orang Minyak has always been part of Malay folklore, there was a surprising amount of hype produced after a series of movies about the Orang Minyak were produced in the 1960s. Before this, there was an occasional sighting and crime committed by the Orang Minyak, however, there was a sudden onslaught of cases and sightings of the Orang Minyak after the movies came out. This prompts many to question if the Orang Minyak became a convenient cover-up for many rapists and rape cases.

月饼 (Mooncakes)

During the Mid-Autumn festival, it is customary to eat mooncakes (月饼) while drinking tea and admiring the moon. Mooncakes are essentially pastries that are filled with lotus seed paste, red bean paste or mung bean paste and a salted duck egg yolk. It is said to originate during one of the dynasties to ensure that a secret message to coordinate a rebellion were hidden as a message in the mooncakes.

                  This was practiced by my informant ever since he could eat solid food. It has been part of Chinese culture since at least the Yuan dynasty. However, this practice has been becoming less frequent due to the fact that one of the essential ingredients to making traditional mooncakes is lard; and in today’s health conscious society not many people would like to eat something so very fattening.

                  Even though mooncakes are a very traditional sort of food, it has begun to change in the last couple of years. Now, there are all sorts of mooncakes made with all sorts of flavors and materials. In Asia, Hagen Daaz sells chocolate coated, ice cream filled mooncakes and in recent years, there have been snow-skin mooncakes with the outer ‘skin’ being made out of glutinous rice paste.

                  It is interesting that the mooncakes have changed so much in the recent days with the introduction of more varieties in fillings and crusts. There are even mooncakes for the heart healthy because as mentioned above, many people now don’t want to eat fattening mooncakes.

Red Packets (红包 or 利市)

During Chinese New Year, children are given red packets filled with money. In the past, the red packets were placed under the pillow for good luck in the New Year and to ward off evil spirits from invading the dreams. The money inside of the packets is always an even number like 8, 10, and 20 because good luck comes in pairs. The packets are red because red is a lucky number.  Only unmarried people can receive these and only married people can distribute it, regardless of age.

                  My informant has been receiving these packets since birth and was required to pass these out in Singapore since the 1960s. Most people in Chinese communities all over the world practice this particular custom. Most Chinese kids see it as a way to get money during the New Year season.  To get one of these red packets, kids need to greet their elders with auspicious phrases and wishing them good luck.

                  This is not just limited to the Chinese, but there are many other countries that have variations of this custom as well. The Malays also give money after Ramadan, during Hari Raya, but in green packet with odd numbers. The Vietnamese giver something similar to these red packets and the Japanese have white packets with the names of the receiver written on the outside. It’s interesting how customs like this are spread all throughout Asia because it is an example of diffusion and adopting customs.

Singaporean Chinese Wedding

When the groom and his entourage comes to the brides home to collect the bride, the bridesmaids lock the front door and refuse to allow the groom or his groomsmen entry to pick up the bride until they pay a small sum. Usually, the amount of money paid is an auspicious number, like 88 or 888 or 999. The haggling is usually done between the groomsmen and the bridesmaid, and the bride and groom themselves hardly ever participate in this exchange.

                  This was first introduced to my informant at her cousin’s wedding when she was about eight during the sixties. It is not known to my informant whether all Chinese perform this particular custom or just Chinese in the Singapore/Malayan peninsula.

                  The numbers are ‘lucky’ or auspicious because of what these numbers sound like in Chinese. For example, the number 8 in Chinese sounds like the word for strike it rich, while the number 9, bears phonetic similarities to the word for a long period of time. Therefore , it starts the wedding ceremony off with a good start.

                  Customarily this is to ensure a happy start to the wedding because with the exchange of money, this is the ‘modern’ version of ‘purchasing’ the bride from one family and bringing her into another. Even though this tradition is rarely seen nowadays, as Church weddings and Western culture is pervading more of the lives of younger Chinese.

Chinese Naming Superstitions

The older Chinese tended to nickname their children after animals and give their boys, a girl’s name or a girl a boy’s name.

My informant knew about this custom because his older sister was given a boy’s name to ensure that the next child would be a son. His sister was born in the 1940s, and he learned about it in the 1950s when he was very young.

There are many reasons for this. In the past, people used to name their children after animals to avoid the demons from taking their children away because they would get confused when the parents would call them animals in hopes that the spirits would take the animals instead. Another reason is that the spirits would think that there was something wrong with the children if they’re called names for the other gender. Often though, Chinese families would call their older girls (especially families with no boys) by boy names in the hopes the next child would be a boy.

This is because, boys are very important for more traditional Chinese families. In the past, the daughters would become part of the family they marry, but the son would remain, carry on the family name and take charge of the farm and parents.