Author Archives: Daniel Rahmann

Ghost Story – Singapore

“I feel that there are a lot more ghosts and scary stuff in Asia, then there is in the states. It’s because most of the buildings here in LA are newer, and don’t have so much history. Whereas in South East Asia, just walking around the streets at night I really can really fear it. You just sense that fear a lot more, whereas here I simply just don’t get the chills. Like in my boarding school in Singapore. I woke up once in the middle of the night and our room for some reason it looked like a lab, like a science lab. And then this fat guy walked in, he was a soldier. And he was walking around our room. When I saw him I thought SHIT don’t come to me. Next thing I knew I felt very cold and I saw that he was standing at my bed. I pretended to sleep and was lying on my stomach. He kept leaning over trying to see my face and called “Alex!” and wave. I just ignored him. Suddenly I could feel his hands pressing down on my shoulders, it was SO COLD. I was trying to call out to my friend “Sam! Sam!” but I couldn’t scream loud I felt paralysed, it was a strange feeling. Suddenly I was able to break free and I said “SAM!” and I woke her up. She said she heard me the first time I called her but said she thought I was dreaming. That proves exactly that I was not asleep. To make matters worse, all along I knew that my school was and old Hospital during World War 2”.

As far as my informant is concerned, this story is 100% true. Having grown up in Singapore myself, I know that the idea of ghosts, especially wandering Spirits is a belief that is not questioned at all. This informant is an example of a Singaporean that despite being very exposed to contemporary western culture, where most of the people are sceptical, this story to her greatly affects her belief system on what she believes regarding human life, the afterlife, and whatever comes in between. I would further like to include in this analysis the following quotes from my informant:

“When I’m in LA I don’t sense the wandering spirits, but in places like London where all the buildings are old, I already sense that chill. It gives me a feeling of fear and I am automatically reminded that there are spirits here”

“There is definitely a war going on between angels and demons going on here on earth. Only those who have a third eye can see it”.

I would also like to add that in Singapore, although many people have adopted Christianity, they still do not denounce the idea of wandering spirits but instead incorporate this into their Christian beliefs, that is they would say that sin is all around us and that they often come in the form of spirits. This story and stories like these are not told on any particular occasion, but instead count as normal life experience, not necessarily everyday, as paranormal encounters are not frequent. Another quote I would like to add from my informant:

“My friend sees them all the time and is completely used to it. Sometimes we are sitting in the living room and she looks and my grandfather clock and says she sees an old man in there dressed in an old-fashioned suit. We told my mother, she thinks its just the clock maker”.

Although I grew up in Singapore, it is only my mother that is Singaporean whilst my father is actually German and thus I integrated a lot with the western community when I was growing up. However when I entered the Singapore military, the basic military training camp was said to be extremely haunted. There were countless stories of spirits walking around the soldiers’ bunks at night. What I found interesting was that our superiors never denied any of the stories. For an example, many instances where someone brought in a snack that was barbecued pork, a popular dish in Singapore, a ghost would always appear at night to the person who possessed it. Our superiors simply said “Do not bring pork in, just don’t do it”. I explain to you this story because I found it very peculiar that military superiors, who need to ensure that you get your 7 hours sleep between full days of rigorous training, would want to put thoughts like that in your head. What I did not understand was that denying something like that is an abstract idea to them. Therefore they simply insisted that you follow certain abstract practices or rules to ensure that you get your 7 hours sleep and pass through your basic military training time as soon as possible.

To refer back to my informant’s story, I have heard many similar stories to this, and particularly in Singapore they often involve themes of the Second World War, the Japanese Occupation, and the torturing of the prisoners of war.

Legend – Indonesia

“There is a story about a wandering spirit, who lives in the small villages on the Indonesian countryside. She has extremely large boobs and walks around the villages at night. Any children she sees playing outside after sunset are kidnapped and hidden between her enormous breasts. I do not know what she does with them but the children are never returned”.

To the informant, this legend is considered widespread in her country of origin, Indonesia. She was told this legend by her Indonesian maids, to discourage her from playing around outside. Although the story clearly serves the purpose of ensuring children’s discipline, the informant of my informant considered this to be true and thus also told the story with the purpose of protecting the child. Upon listening to this story, I was reminded of La Llorona, the Spanish legend of a wandering female spirit who also kidnaps children. Although my informant unfortunately was unable to supply me with the motive behind this character and her actions, I am sure that there is a story involved.

Myth – Singapore

“The myth about the monkey and the crocodile is my favourite, I learned it from my grandmother. There was a monkey that lived in a tree above a river and ate a delicious fruit. Then a crocodile came and the monkey threw down some fruits for him to try because they were so delicious. The crocodile agreed and asked the monkey for some more. The monkey threw down a few more fruits which the crocodile brought back for his family to try. However they complained and demanded that he bring the monkey to eat instead, they wanted his heart. The crocodile, feeling very guilty, agreed. He persuaded the monkey the next day to come down from the tree and jump on his back. As the crocodile brought the monkey on his back, he was overwhelmed with guilt and told the monkey what his family had planned. The monkey then said “Oh you want my heart! You should have said so I left it in the tree!” The crocodile brought the monkey back to the tree where he went back up and never came down again.”

My informant found this tale meaningful in that it teaches a moral, and discourages deceitful behaviour.  She told me this story when I was very young, and the fact that the characters are animals makes it very interesting to children. The wit and humour in the plot would clarify that this is often told for entertainment purposes, even though the plot is clearly teaching the concept of honesty and deceit. Growing up, I found this story very fascinating, and the fact that the villainous character in this case is the predator, made it easier for me to relate to the story in that as a child you obviously would prefer for the monkey to be saved than to be eaten by the crocodile. I had heard this story several times from different people and knew that it was a piece of common Indian folklore even though I had learned this story in Singapore. In discovering the publication, what surprised me was the consistency of the verbally recounted story with the plot of the published story. I also found it interesting that the publication notes the story originated in Tamil, which is the language that my informant, my aunty, speaks as a Singaporean Indian.

Annotation:

Ramanujan, A.K. Folktales from India. 1991. The Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library. Page 53.

Myth – Indonesia

“There’s this myth that there was this woman who lived in a little village, to cut a long story short she ended up falling in love with A DOG YES A DOG. but this was no ordinary dog was kinda like half wolf type thing and would turn into a dog at dusk! so ne ways he had super powers and a status like a king (when he was a human) and was put on a curse. so ran off to this remote village and met this woman in the little village. FELL MADLY In love and had a half boy half man baby with a tail and all….i remember he had a bow and arrow with him all the time.

Although my informant might not necessarily believe this, in her country of origin, Indonesia, myths like these are extremely abundant and are definitely myths as they are believed to be true. My informant in this case stated that she would never say it was not true, as like many other South East Asians, even those who have grown up in western cultures and environments. My personal analysis would suggest that this is some form of lower mythology, and particularly with lower mythology, aspects of this story may vary from person to person. Another important observation I would like to make, is that my informant, does not like to tell this story which leads me to conclude that this is probably not told for the purpose of entertainment. I am sure, like many other mythologies, there is reasoning behind this story and perhaps a conclusion so as to serve the purpose of teaching a moral. However, within Indonesia and the rest of South East Asia, the actions of wandering spirits, ghosts and mythical creatures are questioned as little as their existence themselves. What I would like to point out with a lot of South East Asian mythology is that they have lived on through generations simply because these are assumed to be true.

Folk Custom – University of Warwick, Coventry, United Kingdom

„Whenever we put on a play at my school, we keep a copy of Macbeth on the stage. My Drama teacher insists it on it and now its common practice. Honestly I don’t know whether it has done wonders but at least it hasn’t brought about any problems yet”

This piece of occupational folklore is usually different in that the use of Macbeth within a Theatre apparently curses the performance. To the informant, and actor, this practice is carried out to bring luck to the production and the performance. Often a copy of the play will be used as prop or placed inside the drawer of whatever piece of furniture is placed on the stage. What I found interesting about this tradition at Warwick University is that they do exactly the opposite. I found this very interesting that it matches a lot of sayings that are supposed to wish luck, such as “break a leg”. My interpretation of this idea is that in encouraging something bad, you eliminate the curse in mentioning it so as to cause the opposite to happen. As far as thespian superstitions are concerned, this is a relatively controversial practice: usually bringing up Macbeth within a Theatre brings bad luck, and there are many practices discussed to counteract the curse, i.e. running around the theatre three times etc. I found this particularly important because it sheds light on the evolution of folklore and how things will adopt different meanings over time.

Legend – South East Asia

“The Pontianak is a woman who lives in a frangipani tree. She also wears the flowers in her hair, which has a sweet smell. Word has it that she died during child birth. You are given warning of her presence when you smell the sweetness of the frangipani flower. She attacks pregnant women out of jealousy”

This legend to the informant, serves as a warning for pregnant women not to wander around at night. This piece of folklore is not to be told for the purpose of entertainment, as it is believed that the recounting of these stories invokes the spirit in question. The Pontianak is famous all around South East Asia, particularly around Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia, where all countries speak a dialect of Bahasa. The official languages Indonesia and Malaysia (Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Melayu respectively) have very little differences and are grammatically identical.  With Singapore being the tiny dot situated between the two, it shares the folklore of its surrounding countries. Growing up in Singapore, I was warned of this spirit several times, also by my Indonesian nanny. However, I would like to provide the version that I know and relate to from my childhood:

“The Pontianak lives in the frangipani tree. Her story is that her husband left her and she committed suicide. This is why she always attacks men. Therefore if you are a man and you encounter her, you need to throw yourself onto the ground facing down, so that she can’t rip your balls off”.

This version, which I am more familiar with was much more applicable to me, seeing as I am of the male gender and grew up in South East Asia. I was made aware of the possible dismemberment though I never completely accepted the legend and considered it to be true. However, this could be largely a result of the fact that I am not only from Asian but also Western origin and therefore grew up with predominantly western beliefs.

The story of the Pontianak has shown up in many publications and Asian Cinema. Most notably, it can be found in the following:

Moey, Nick. Pontianak: 13 Chilling Tales. 1990. Times Book International

Proverb – Hamburg, Germany

German:

“Wenn es in London anfängt zu regnen, macht man in Hamburg den Regenschirm auf”

Translation:

“When it begins to rain in London, we open our Umbrella’s in Hamburg”

I have only heard this phrase since a year, from my grandmother, the informant who claims that this is a popular saying in Hamburg, north Germany. It corresponds to the weather similarities that Hamburg and London share as cities in different countries. Hamburg in Germany is famous for its famous “Nieselwetter” or “Drizzle/Rain weather”, so much that I have observed it in German learning textbooks when they discuss culture and Geography. Similarly, London across the world is also known for its rainy weather all year round. I think this saying simply speaks discusses the similarity of the two cities. I would like to make the observation that this term came around with the development of Europe and the European Union. As travelling became a lot easier between European countries, it was much easier to make observations about culture and weather. As both cities are extremely cosmopolitan, the already established similarity in culture is strengthened by the similarity in weather, when comparing the two.

Legend – Singapore

“The origin of the Singaporean symbol is when a Malay Prince, named Sand Nila Utama discovered Singapore, it still belonged to Malaysia and was known as Temasek. His boat at brushed against a big rock and began to sink. When he was swimming ashore to Temasek, he saw an animal which looked like a lion but had a tail like a fish. He then decided to call the island Singapura, “Singa” meaning lion in malay, and “pura” meaning city, so Lion city”.

This legend according to my informant is untrue and “was constructed by the government to instill patriotism into the people”. As she grew up in Singapore however, she was told this story by her teachers at a local school and as local schools involved a lot of patriotic traditions, such as flag raising and lowering, singing the national hymn and other related songs, this to her was a part of understanding the identity of Singapore. This is often a major issue as Singapore has been independent for only 40 years. Also as there is a blend of many different races and origins within Singapore, it was difficult to form a national identity in that the country was already so diverse, and not to mention at once belonged to Malaysia. The creature in this legend however, has become the national symbol of Singapore and is known as the Merlion. I find this story personally very important because it provides the country with folklore that every citizen shares in common. I was attracted and discovered this story however in inquiring how the Merlion came about and why it is the country’s national symbol

Music Genre – Silverlake, California

Tecktonik is a music style I observed in a Nightclub in Silverlake, Los Angeles. My informant claims that it is a style of dance that is a combination of hip-hop and techno dance style. It is done recreationally and is apparently extremely new. My informant claims to only have discovered it over the past year, as it has become extremely prevalent in Paris. Although tecktonic is not a genre of music but simply a dance style, the music that it is performed to is a genre of Electronic music, mainly Electronica and specifically French Electronica and Disco Pop. I say the word French electronica because the music that is used for this dance is mostly from French Artists and DJs. My informant told me that because this dance style is very new, it is witnessed extremely rarely even within the mainstream Electronic music community. It was emphasised that Tecktonic cannot be performed to House music, as the culture of that genre does not match the more “niche” electro culture. I would like to point out that footage of Tecktonic dance can be found on the internet, i.e. youtube and would like to make the assumption that it became widespread through the internet. I would like to point out that my annotation is a music video of a French pop artist named Yelle. In a remix to one of her songs, the official music video features Tecktonic dance entirely throughout the performance. My informant stresses that this music video is a major catalyst of the Tecktonic dance culture as it had never used and acknowledged on such a grand scale. As the artists success and popularity grew worldwide, the informant said that “tecktonic grew on an international scale”. On the official website, the video is advertised to “feature Tecktonic”. Internet research tells me that the Tecktonic has been copyrighted and that this is the first dance style to ever achieve copyright status. Attached is an image of the official Tecktonic logo.

Annotation:

Artist: Yelle

Song: À Cause Des Garçons (TEPR Remix)

Director: Bastien Lattanzio

Album & DVD: À Cause Des Garçons [Maxi] [Single]

ASIN: B000ZNW75S

Legend – Japan

“Yorimasa is a warrior who always had very good aim and used to shoot with his bow an arrow. Most warriors used Samurai swords but in this case he once saved an Emporer who was being attacked in his bedroom by this huge evil monster. He basically killed the monster with his first arrow and the Emporer rewarded him generously for saving his life and that’s how he became famous”.

To my informant, this legend appears very distant to her and although she is a native Japanese, does not believe in mythical creatures and therefore rejects the story as being the truth. She does believe however that Yorimasa like many warriors existed and that the story was simply embellished and that by the time it was passed down through generations had incorporated mythical creatures. The informant, who takes a keen interest in Japanese warrior tales finds this story particularly interesting in that she feels it says a lot about her culture and the portrayal of someone humble and heroic. Yorimasa, is present in several Japanese folk tales and that this is only one of many, or could be a combination of several. I discovered this interpretation to be quite accurate with a published version, which differs only in that it is more descriptive. I make the personal observation in that people who are from a certain origin but have never lived in that country, take an extremely great interest in their country of origin’s history and folklore and often religious beliefs.

Annotation:

Davis, F. Hadland. Myths and Legends of Japan. 1992. Dover Publications. Page 38