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Real Ghost Stories

Grandma's House At Cairnhill - Part 2

 

Whenever anyone in my family refers to "Grandma's House", I would always think of the Cairnhill place in Singapore. The sprawling, half-acre property was presided over by a stately, three-storied colonial house, with white-washed walls and a gently-sloping terracotta roof. The house belonged to my paternal grandmother for over thirty years, except when it was used by Japanese army officers during the Occupation from 1942-1945.

The family had been fortunate that they were allowed at least a day's notice to vacate the premises. In those dark days, there were many instances where reluctant occupants were forcibly removed. Often in a terrible, final way. It may well be that my father's family received "special consideration" because First Aunt Elsie, the oldest and prettiest of Grandma's daughters, was also the mistress of an army officer at the time. Cousin Ned is half-Japanese. (All names mentioned have been changed).

The approach from Cairnhill Road to the entrance of the property was secured by a pair of ornate, white-coated metal gates. Thick bamboo groves behind the gates flanked the entrance, rustling and sighing with every passing breeze. The garden was a veritable jungle, spreading out on the left of the gravelled driveway that led to the house. It overflowed with richly green foliage and shrubs vibrant with red, pink, white and yellow tropical flowers. Lush banana plants lined the foot of the garden, providing shade on warm, sunny days.

As children, we thought the garden was a fantastic wonderland. Many 'kung-fu' battles were held among the bamboo forest, where we fought off wicked bandits, carried out heroic missions against enemies, trounced the bloodthirsty barbarian hordes and saved the empire. When we played nearer the house, the banana plants obligingly sheltered us beneath their wide leafy spread for thrilling games of "hide-and-seek".

Those were glorious, carefree days. There was no talk of darkness, plenty of food on the table and the sun kept a cheerful eye on us all day. We were generally allowed to "play havoc" (run wild), scream and yell as we pleased, blissfully unaware of any past troubles when we romped in that garden.

My father's family had inherited certain gifts from my paternal great-grandmother, as well as Grandpa. Grandma's mother was a village headwoman in Thailand, which meant that she was the Wisewoman who officiated over births, deaths, marriages and other formal ceremonies. In her position, she had to have knowledge of ancient traditions and spiritual practices; after all, she lived during the late 1850s to early 1900s, when people walked a lot more closely with their beliefs in the spirit world. But that is all I know about the Thai side of the family.

Second Aunt Maggie was a great source of information on all things weird and inexplicable (when Grandma wasn't around, that is). One Sunday afternoon, when Grandma was in the kitchen supervising the evening meal, Aunt Maggie said to my father that she needed to talk to him.

No one noticed my little "pointy" ears were in the vicinity.

My older sister and cousins had decided to race each other around the garden that day. At age five, and the youngest in our "gang-of-four", I was too short to keep up with them. So I was playing by myself on the wooden floor behind the large living room sofa, conveniently out of sight and mind.

My young ears pricked up at the odd note in Aunt Maggie's voice. With the instinctive skill of the very naughty and sneaky, I instantly went quiet and on the alert.

They spoke in a polyglot blend of Hokkien and Singlish (Singapore English), with a smattering of Malay thrown in. My command of Hokkien was better in those days and I could follow the gist of the conversation.

'I hear A-bó [ah-bu: mother] talking to someone in her room at night,' Aunt Maggie confided to Dad.

'Maybe she's listening to radio?

'When I asked her in the morning, she can't remember.'

'Don't be so kăypóh [ghay-poh: nosy, prying],' said Dad in a chiding tone.

Aunt Maggie persisted, 'I'm worried about her.'

'She's not going gila [gee-lah: crazy]!' Dad sounded annoyed. 'Why you not tell Ken?'

First Uncle Ken was the oldest in the family. However it was my father, the second oldest of the five brothers, that everyone went to with their troubles.

'A-bó listens to you.'

'I'm not the păntāng [pahn-tahng: superstitious] type. I don't see things - '

I didn't learn any more because my listening post was discovered at that point. I was summarily scolded and sent outside to join the "gang".

When I asked Aunt Maggie about that conversation some years ago, she was surprisingly vague about it. All she would say was that Grandma was just "talking to the spirits".

First Aunt Elsie and her youngest daughter, Sonia had their own encounters. My aunt's bedroom was on the second storey at the front of the house, where the window with its cream-coloured shutters overlooked the garden. My cousin Sonia shared the room when she was very young.

One sultry night, Sonia (who was about four at the time) was woken up by distant feminine voices coming from the garden below. She got up and padded over to the window to find out who they could be.

The moon glowed bright and round in the night sky, shining on a bevy of ethereal Asian-looking women gathered near the banana grove in the garden. They appeared to glide over the ground, and were singing, laughing or talking among themselves.

Fascinated by the scene, Sonia quickly called for her mother. When Aunt Elsie saw what she was looking at, she hastily shushed her daughter and put her back to bed.

Decades later, Aunt Maggie brought up this incident when the family got together for Sunday lunch and were reminiscing about the peculiar happenings at the Cairnhill house. By then, Grandma and Aunt Elsie had both passed away, and the property was no longer in the family. Sonia had already married and gone with her American husband to California.

'Remember when Sonia saw the suí-suì [swee: beautiful] cā-bòh [cha-boh: girls] in the garden?' said Aunt Maggie.

'Yeah, she said it was the banana tree ghost,' said my Dad with a chuckle.

'I saw the cā-bòh myself,' Aunt Maggie announced. 'I also saw A-bó and Elsie.'

'Say again?' Dad was openly incredulous.

Aunt Maggie told us that she had problems sleeping on full-moon nights. As she lay awake in bed, she could sometimes hear women's voices from beyond her window. On a few occasions when she looked out the window, she was sure she saw Grandma and Aunt Elsie chatting with strange women in the banana grove below. At other times, she also glimpsed another group of women clustered near the bamboo groves at the gates.

There was much excited and rather heated discussion among the family. Everyone had an opinion and wanted to share it, all at the same time. I learnt a whole plethora of folktales, legends and spiritual beliefs from many different cultures that day.

Among them is a Thai legend that tells of wild banana groves haunted by the gentle "Nang Tani" or "Lady of Tani" [นางตานี]. On full-moon nights, these female spirits can be seen floating above the ground near their banana plants. They are believed to be protective of women who have been ill-treated by men. Such as the "comfort women" used by the Japanese who were kept at Cairnhill during the Occupation.

As a child, I've seen strips of cloth tied around the trunks of some banana plants in the garden. I now know they were warnings that the "Nang Tani" might just be around.

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The following comments are submitted by users of this site and are not official positions by yourghoststories.com. Please read our guidelines and the previous posts before posting. The author, Jubeele, has the following expectation about your feedback: I will read the comments and participate in the discussion.

AugustaM (2 stories) (458 posts)
 
2 weeks ago (2018-01-08)
Excellent research! I love that rush when a you dig up the answer to a research question that has been niggling at you! What a strangely portentous naming for such a complex place - an anonymous lovely hill cultivated by a man who gave it his name only to be twisted and jaded by future generations but the spirits of the land -there before any man- remain long after the first man has gone and linger still as succeeding generations bring both atrocity and innocence. Fascinating! The more I hear of this place the more the idea of a book seems so irresistible!
Jubeele (9 stories) (471 posts)
+1
2 weeks ago (2018-01-07)
Hi August - oh wow <blush> 😳. Thanks so much for your kind words! I do admire your crisp writing style and the insight you bring to your comments. If I do embark on this epic enterprise, I'd probably need someone with your keen perception and research skills to cross-check my references, and review my drafts.

My older sister has also told me that Grandma was often heard talking to herself (or someone else?) in her room. Aunt Maggie has mentioned more than once seeing Grandma and Aunt Elsie in the garden at night. It is a lovely thought that gentle spirits reached out in sympathy to them. May they rest in peace.

I remember you asking in my account "Shadow Man on Cairnhill Road" about the origin of the name "Cairnhill". I've found that it's named after a plantation owner, Charles Carnie. The area was once known as "Carnie's Hill" (see excerpt below). But I think the idea of a hill with rows of burial cairns or markers seems more appropriate under the circumstances.

Https://expatliving.sg/a-history-of-shophouses-in-singapore/
"The name Cairnhill is a derivation of the name of the man who built the first house in that area, Charles Carnie, in 1848. He was the owner of a nutmeg plantation on a hill near the Orchard Road area, and the hill on which he built his house became known as Carnie's Hill. In 1884, the house was demolished to make way for a bank, and after that a number of big mansions and Peranakan shophouses were built, some of which still exist."
AugustaM (2 stories) (458 posts)
+1
2 weeks ago (2018-01-07)
Here here on the book odea! Add me to the list!:)

You write so beautifully! I have always been enamored of old buildings and houses and the house on Cairnhill sounds absolutely enchanting!

I wonder if it actually was A-bo and Aunt Elsie out in the gardens with the spirits. Perhaps they spoke to them or had some sort of regular interaction with them... Perhaps it was a way of showing honor and female solidarity in a way.
Jubeele (9 stories) (471 posts)
 
1 month ago (2017-12-22)
Geez, RC, no pressure, huh? It took me months before I was even able to write Part 1.

I'm glad you enjoy that rendition of "Shining Moon". It fits the mood of the scene. I just searched for Thai folk music and the song title immediately popped up and said: "Listen to me!" Sometimes, I think something extra guides my search engine.

But thanks so much for the vote of confidence everyone. 😳 The book may take me years. Hmm, I may need 'ghost writers' to help me... 😜
RCRuskin (7 stories) (281 posts)
+1
1 month ago (2017-12-22)
I think that you are correct, yes, Jubeele. I lack any evidence to the contrary, and can't think of any tests for alternate explanations.

Holding grudges means living in the past, not the present, so it is better to let go. It is also good for those who err to repent, but I'm not going to hold my breath on that.

And as I sit here listening to Shining Moon (via your first link), I want to put in an order for your book. Please write it.
Jubeele (9 stories) (471 posts)
 
1 month ago (2017-12-22)
Oh-oh lady-glow, I think you're being summoned by the First-and-Foremost Lady I-Melda. Failure to comply will result in 3,000 designer pairs of size 7s being thrown at you! 👠

Melda, we'll keep you posted with Rex-T's health status. He can't travel too far just yet.

Lady-glow, we'd love to have you along with us on the Mountaineer. You can fill me in on the latest K-dramas... 😘
Jubeele (9 stories) (471 posts)
 
1 month ago (2017-12-22)
Emma, I loved that house. There was such a distinctly "female" presence to it. Not that it was full of frills and fanciful decor, but it was like a strong lady with a stately grace. I'll have to raid my Mum's old family albums to find if there are any surviving photos of the house.

I'd love to write a book but I may have to change far too many details. As in all families, there are whispers of things best left unsaid. Maybe I can write something based on the family lore. After I ask for permission, that is.

I was confused at the time when my aunt spoke of seeing women under the banana plants, then other times said they were at the bamboo grove. But I've been thinking along the same lines as you. It could be that the women from the banana plants were elemental tree spirits (like the Greek dryads), watching over the the other women, lost souls wandering in off Cairnhill Road to find refuge in the bamboo grove. Bamboo plants are considered auspicious for the Chinese and Japanese. Maybe that's why they attracted those wandering spirits?

Your spidey-senses were pretty close to the mark about Rex-T and Jubeele. I bet your son can never get away with hiding anything from you!

Drop us a line or 2 when you're in the mood: jubeele.ygs [at] yahoo.com. ❤
Melda (9 stories) (796 posts)
+1
1 month ago (2017-12-21)
lady-glow - I'm planning to visit Canada as well to see my son and his family. So, perhaps Jubeele and Rex-T can arrange to meet up with me and we can all do the Mountaineer trip together.

No waving from the tracks - you get your pretty little Mexican butt up there as well 😐 We'll confirm the date.

Regards, Melda
EmmalineTexas (10 stories) (148 posts)
+1
1 month ago (2017-12-21)
Hi Jubeele - What a wonderful tale of your childhood. I'm with everyone else, this would make a fantastic book. The people and places come alive in your tales. I can easily see the story starting with your Grandmother moving into the house and concluding with it going on to other people after she passed. The years of the occupation were a dark time. It always reminds me of those terrible scenes in Empire of the Sun; beautiful mansions emptied and bothered only with the wind and with the ghosts of the people who were taken away.

I wonder if the Nang Tani welcomed the comfort women into their grove where they were at peace or if the spirits were entirely ethereal and sometimes let your relatives join their moonlight dance.

It's all very magical. You have a wonderful heritage from your Grandmother and Aunts. I can't wait to read the third part of your story.

P.S. I had been saying to myself it's too bad that Jubeele and Rex-T aren't friends in real life. Shows how much I know.


Thanks,
Emma
Jubeele (9 stories) (471 posts)
 
1 month ago (2017-12-21)
Hi lady-glow, I've threatened to write that book before! I think if the family history in that house were to be fully chronicled, it would take up a whole bookcase. I suspect I've only heard the tip of the giant iceberg. Who knows what else the family knows? 🤔

I'm planning a trip to Singapore next year. I'm hoping to catch up up my older sister, a few cousins and Aunt Maggie herself (she's now a great-grandma). If I hear of any new accounts, I'll be sure to share them with YGS.

The Rocky Mountaineer is on my "bucket-list". I'll be sure to look out for you! 😘
Jubeele (9 stories) (471 posts)
 
1 month ago (2017-12-21)
Hi Bart, I think the legend generally refers to the wild banana plants known as the Kluai Tani (กล้วยตานี). Did you plant a male or female one at your place? From memory, I think the plant needs to be "female" (and pollinated) to bear fruit.

Regarding those other tales, I've also heard that it's generally not advisable for men to have any prolonged close contact with the spirits. Not too good for their health. 😉
Jubeele (9 stories) (471 posts)
+1
1 month ago (2017-12-21)
Hi BGP! Glad you enjoyed my bit of family lore. I suspect the warnings on the banana plants were mainly for men who ill-treated women. The "Nang Tani" were believed to take revenge on such erring men. 😜
Https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nang_Tani
Jubeele (9 stories) (471 posts)
 
1 month ago (2017-12-21)
RC, I'm very grateful that my parents never brought me up to blindly hate another race or culture. Especially for things that happened so long ago. Perpetuating the "hate" cycle in the next generation simply blights their future.

So you think my idea might be possible - that Aunt Maggie could have seen some doppleganger or projection? My Mum thinks that Aunt Elsie also knew a thing or 2 about spiritlore (but that's not my place to tell about it). But I like the idea of "spirit-dancing" to the musical strains of "Shining Moon", played on the gu-zheng (Chinese zither). 😉
Jubeele (9 stories) (471 posts)
+1
1 month ago (2017-12-21)
Dear Melda, I had some wondrous years in that house at Cairnhill. Despite the strange experiences, I generally felt "protected" as a child there. ❤

But I did have some pretty scary moments growing up at my parents' flat in Queenstown. All those night terrors and recurring dreams. 😨

Despite all the dark ugliness of the Occupation, I'm very glad we have Cousin Ned in the family. He's the oldest of the grandchildren, but was always kind to us when we were "younglings". He must be in his late 60s or early 70s by now.

Setting the scene in the banana grove to music? You know, I've imagined that scene with eldritch-sounding music. Listen to the Thai folk song, "Shining Moon":
Https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r1JoRtP7t4A
Https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jB69-U0CPZQ

I've also sent in Part 3 - <spoiler alert> it contains our farewell to the Cairnhill house. 😢
lady-glow (9 stories) (1702 posts)
+1
1 month ago (2017-12-21)
Jubeele: if you could write a book about your and your family's experiences in that house, I bet it would be an instant best seller.
Fascinating experience!

A side note. Let me know if you guys get to do the trip in 'The Mountaineer', I might stand by the side of the train tracks and wave at you.
BART43 (3 stories) (16 posts)
+1
1 month ago (2017-12-21)
Interesting story Jubeelee.
Now I remembered, I did heard a similar folklore about the connection of ghost and banana trees. Something about tying yellow cloth or strings from the banana tree into the house, and te ghost lady would come that night to fullfill the man's wishes. Something like that I guessed.
Now remembering it makes me more worry as I had started planted one on my property. I could see it from my bedroom window. Hoped the story not real.
babygoatpuller (4 stories) (390 posts)
+1
1 month ago (2017-12-21)
Another fascinating read from you Jubeele. I'm wondering though, why the strips of cloth tied around the banana trees was a "warning" indication of the "Nang Tani". If she was a gentle soul there to comfort women who have been abused, why would others need to be "warned" about it?

Thanks for sharing and I look forward to the next installment. 😊
RCRuskin (7 stories) (281 posts)
+1
1 month ago (2017-12-21)
Fascinating read, Jubeele. Thanks for the clarification and link. Also a bit disturbing, but I've long ago ceased to be surprised by the ways people have of hating other people. 😢

And the language lesson too. Boh or bo means girl, I'm thinking. Female at least.

As to ghost things, some sort of doppleganger or projection, perhaps? Maybe their spirits joined the dance while their bodies slept. They did seem to have a connection to the spirit world.
Melda (9 stories) (796 posts)
+2
1 month ago (2017-12-21)
Jubeele - I'm so pleased to see the second part of the trilogy.

What truly wondrous experiences you must have had at that house as a child. I'm jealous, really! I think what appeals to me most of all is that it's so different on cultural levels. I'm so happy that I joined YGS or I would never have heard of, or even tried to understand how large and different and almost unbelievable the other world out there is.

Then include the Japanese occupation - wow, what horrendous times they must have gone through. Thanks to the aunt who was a mistress - it might be questionable in some minds but it turned out for the best, not so?

The banana trees and the floating, chatting, laughing ladies? Add some suitable music to that and imagine what a video it would make. I'm not joking or making fun of you, I'm serious!

Looking forward to part 3.

Regards, Melda
Jubeele (9 stories) (471 posts)
+1
1 month ago (2017-12-21)
Morning RC, I was wondering who would be the first this time - you win again! 😊

I actually asked Aunt Maggie about this too. Both Grandma and Aunt Elsie were still alive when Aunt Maggie saw them in the garden (or she thought she saw them). Could it be she saw their doppelgangers or astral projections?

After I had written, "Shadow Man On Cairnhill Road", I found this news article on Cairnhill:
Https://mothership.sg/2017/07/comfort-women-were-housed-in-cairnhill-during-japanese-occupation/

Recently, I came across another article of how "comfort stations" for the Japanese military were often set up in ordinary residential dwellings. It contained a diary entry written in 1944 by a clerk mentioning the Kikusui Club located at a Japanese residence on Cairnhill Road.

I wonder... Maybe it's best to leave that be. 🤔
RCRuskin (7 stories) (281 posts)
+1
1 month ago (2017-12-21)
Good morning, Jubeele. I see new ghost experiences posted, and then I saw the title and knew it was your experience so I had to read it first! 😁

"Comfort women." 😠 😭 That's all I can say on that subject.

Question to make sure I'm reading this correctly: A-bo and Aunt Elsie were both alive when Aunt Maggie saw them in the garden?

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