Even among Singapore’s planned and compact landscape, pockets of abandoned buildings and places remain. Paranormal investigators give their take on why they still exist.
Paranormal investigator Benjamin Teo used to be scared of ghosts. A visit by what appeared to be his dead great grandmother when he was in primary school, left him with the creeps.
But years on, his job as a social worker challenged him to act on advice he often gave the youths he counselled – and to confront his fears.
“The more I researched, and with more information, I began to feel differently towards [ghosts]. And that’s when I started to explore to see if I could conquer my fears by going to these places,” he said.
Old, isolated and empty places beckon Benjamin. Despite Singapore’s small land area, pockets of untouched properties and swathes of deserted land remain – sometimes inexplicably so. Paranormal investigators like him seek to understand why.
According to Benjamin, 34, founder of Ghost Club SG, buildings may be abandoned because they were repossessed or the subject of a property dispute. But occasionally, darker phenomena are at work.
“A tragic event could have happened there, and sometimes people don’t want to buy it because of its history. It could also be that certain things that happened there, created situations such that people who stay there, don’t stay there for long.
“It could really be some paranormal incidents.”
Flagging the supernatural
Benjamin encountered one such incident five years ago at Kent Ridge Park’s parade square, the one-time stomping ground of British soldiers. Arriving after sundown, the daytime serenity of the park had turned to a silence that seemed especially sinister.
“That night when we went we could really feel that there was something different, it was especially dark,” he said. Intrigued, he and his club members began a thorough sweep of the area, eventually zeroing in on the parade square’s three flag poles, long disused. A persistent clanging sound abruptly started and went on for a few minutes – the middle pole’s pulley system hitting repeatedly against the pole.
There were no animals or birds nearby, and no wind to disturb the pulley, said Benjamin. Meanwhile, the ropes of the two flanking poles did not budge.
“We didn’t know what it was. At the end of the day, we deemed it as inconclusive, as an unexplainable thing,” said Benjamin. “That remains a mystery till today.”
Chief Paranormal Investigator with the Singapore Paranormal Investigators (SPI) Kenneth Jee, 37, believes the histories of abandoned buildings are what draw paranormal activity.
The fact that the building is abandoned also further draws unnatural presences.
“[Ghosts are] just like humans, we don’t like to be disturbed.”
Agreeing, Benjamin said conflicting auras make places that are devoid of people, a welcoming place for ghosts.
“People actually give off the yang qi, or positive energy, so places that have many people – usually ghosts will not want to be there because they’re considered the yin qi (negative energy), so there’s a clash, he said.
Investigators typically use a range of instruments to capture evidence of supernatural activity. These include sensors that measure electromagnetic fields, voice recorders to capture white noise or sounds of lower frequency known as Electric Voice Phenomena, and night vision cameras.
Kenneth, who also heads SPI’s Spiritual, Cultural Beliefs Research and Gadget Department, said the group usually brings five or more pieces of equipment, and assesses the likelihood of a haunting based on how many register positive readings.
Often, signs that forbid trespassing or that mark buildings as state property spring up overnight, said Kenneth, leaving fewer and fewer places for his group to explore.
Nonetheless, developing or renovating a building has little effect on its supernatural visitors.
“If there is really a haunting there, whether it’s developed or whether there’s a new building, the energies will still remain. These energies do not change when the physical surroundings change; they are still there,” said Benjamin.
A change of pace
It is not just the physical landscape that is becoming scarcer for abandoned places. To be sensitive to the supernatural implies a respect for the environment that is slowly fading among younger Singaporeans because of their hectic lifestyles, said Kenneth, who runs a chain of new age shops with his cousin.
“How many of us actually spend our time taking off our shoes, walking barefoot on the grass? What’s the feeling at that point in time? How many would actually relax, breathe?” he asked.
“Because when you talk about the paranormal, it’s no different from other things, like a connection to nature. A person who is connected to nature will be spiritual and a person who is spiritual will be sensitive to the paranormal,” he said.
To Benjamin, gaining insight into the paranormal has also been a window for him onto Singapore.
“Whether it’s exploring parks or going to these places, when I do my research, there’s tons of information I found that was also educational to me, like what happened in the 1950s or 1800s,” he said. Learning about the varieties of local ghosts also helped him to see other cultures in a different light.
“I think vice versa, when [my friends] hear about the seventh month traditions and superstitions, there’s a lot of learning and appreciation of each other’s culture,” he said.
Abandoned buildings and places have value as part of Singapore’s heritage and history; while their physical structures may have fallen into disrepair, their stories, even the tragic ones, should be preserved, said Benjamin. To understand Singapore, one needed to go beyond the shopping malls and cinemas, Benjamin added.
“I think there’s a lot more to see out there,” he said. And he doesn’t just mean in the physical realm.