For much of my childhood days in Singapore, my parents often worried about me as they felt I was "sensitive" to spirits and prone to "seeing" things others couldn't see. My mother thinks this may stem from the fact that Dad's grandmother was the village head woman in the old days back in Thailand. I don't know much about my Thai relations though, as I have not kept in touch with that side of the family after my father died over a decade ago.
Mum only mentioned this incident during a visit back to Singapore some years ago, a few decades after we were all grown up and left home. It must have been during the late 1960s and I was about 4 years old at the time; I'm sure I hadn't even started kindergarten yet. My parents, older sister (who was about 7) and I were walking along Cairnhill Road (near where Cairnhill Hotel now stands) after weekly dinner at Grandma's house. Singapore was a lot quieter in those days; cars were an expense most families couldn't afford, so there was not much traffic on the road. It was already dark, about 8 or 9pm.
We had walked halfway to the bus-stop when Dad asked why I kept looking back. I told him there was a tall man in black following us. It was so long ago, I honestly can't remember too many details about what I thought I saw. Only that it was something darker than the shadows under the few streetlights. I do remember this growing feeling of unease that made my chest feel too tight. My family couldn't see anyone or anything and I burst into tears because no one believed me.
Even at that young age, I wasn't in the habit of making up tales to my parents. They were very strict with us and frowned on any fanciful 'nonsense'. Children should be seen and not heard, and all that. When in public, we were not allowed to create a scene that may embarrass them. My behaviour seemed so odd to Dad that he hailed a passing taxi (a luxury for us at the time) to get us out of there. As we piled into the taxi, my sister looked back from the back seat but said she still couldn't see anything out there.
When the taxi driver heard what had upset me, he nodded sagely at Dad and said that Cairnhill was particularly "unclean". He advised Dad in Mandarin against having the family out on that stretch of road after dark in future. He reminded him that during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore from 1942-1945, the Japanese military secret police, the 'Kempeitai' committed many terrible cruelties on the locals. As a consequence, restless spirits were thought to linger in areas where great violence had occurred.
We visited Grandma's house many times after that, but I don't remember any other incident. I have to ask Mum if Dad took precautions after that, i.e. Like leaving earlier or only staying for lunch? Coincidentally - or not - Grandma's house in Cairnhill was said to have been used as a base for the Japanese military (but that's another story).