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Real Ghost Stories

Grandma's House At Cairnhill - Part 3


Grandma's house at Cairnhill had its share of secrets from the Occupation in 1942-1945. My family suspected that certain atrocities took place under its roof when it was a base of operations for Japanese army officers, but we were glad that the full history was never made known to us. Sometimes, it was best to let the past stay in the past.

I loved Grandma's house. It was a lovely three-storied colonial-style house, with its stately façade of white-washed walls and reddish-brown tiled roof, standing on a property that spanned a generous half-acre expanse. The garden was like the flowing skirts of a regal lady, a lush spread of green foliage, dotted by vibrantly red, pink, white and yellow flowering shrubs.

For a little girl, the house hid an exciting mystery behind every nook, corner and cranny. On days when I couldn't tag along after my older sister and cousins, I would spend hours exploring the house instead. I liked how the darkly gleaming, worn floorboards felt cool and smooth beneath my bare feet. The creaks and cracks of the settling wood were like the cosy prattle of a beloved friend. I would wander along the long, shadowy hallways until I made it right through to the back. There, a wooden staircase descended onto a square, stone-paved courtyard.

The courtyard divided the house from the huge kitchen, which was located in a separate building. The kitchen had only three walls, being wide open at the side that faced the main house. Over to the left of the kitchen were the servants' quarters, a room shared by the cook and the housemaid. I once curiously peeked inside their quarters and was shooed off by the adults for being cheeky.

My paternal grandmother was the supreme matriarch of the house. She was very particular on protocol and civilised manners, as befitting our status as a respectable family. As children, we were not allowed to "order" the servants around or be rude to them - it was not our place. Even my boisterous cousins, Tim and Perry, sons of First Uncle Ken, obeyed Grandma's directives. Well, most of the time anyway. (All names mentioned have been changed).

Tim and Perry were close in age to my older sister, Lily; we often played together as children and were known to the family as the "gang-of-four". Lily usually played the role of Princess-of-the-Hidden-Fortress, and I was her faithful handmaid. Perry was the reluctant "villain"; his older brother, Tim was our "hero" and the undisputed ringleader of all our childhood exploits.

One fine day, Tim thought it would be fun for our "gang-of-four" to explore the basement. This secret room comprised the entire first storey (or ground floor), with access from a small door concealed beneath the wooden staircase in the courtyard.

As fortune would have it, when we decided to embark on our little expedition, someone had left the door unlocked that day. We needed no further encouragement.

Quick as a flash, Tim, Perry, Lily and I slipped into this mysterious realm. Tim flicked the switch beside the door and we gaped at the contents within. Dimly lit by a single, dangling light bulb was the treasure chamber - the household storage area!

Everywhere we looked was a magical-seeming item. Funny-looking clothes from a different era, colourful mismatched crockery, old furniture pieces, odd-shaped little boxes and other fascinating trinkets we could not name. We touched or lifted each item to marvel at the unfamiliar shapes, textures and colours.

There was a resounding BANG!

The door slammed shut on us and we could hear a girl giggling. We thought at once it was Cousin Ava, First Aunt Elsie's second daughter. Ava was only a few years older than Tim, but she thought we were all "babies" and hence beneath her notice.

'Ava, we know it's you - AVA!' Tim hollered.

'Let us out!' yelled Perry.

'We'll tell A-má [ah-mah: grandmother]!' Lily threatened.

They banged on the door, but to no avail. It was shut tight. Ava had locked us in.

Panicked, I began to feel the walls closing in. I thought the light from the bulb was slowly fading, even as the shadows lengthened and seemed to gather around us expectantly.

I promptly burst into tears.

Lily tried to calm me, even as the boys continued to shout and thump on the door. It felt like hours, but was probably only a few minutes later when the door opened.

Aunt Elsie's oldest daughter, Tia stood looking at us in the doorway, quite puzzled. 'What are you all doing inside?'

All of us were reprimanded of course. The basement was forever barred to our "gang", while Ava was scolded for locking us inside.

The curious thing was that Ava was adamant the door slipped out of her hands and slammed by itself. She had only meant to shut the door to give us a little scare. Even when we were all grown, she still maintained that story.

We didn't like Ava as much as we liked Ned, Tia or Sonia. The four of us thought she was lying through her teeth. But once in while, I also remember how weird the shadows looked and the way they had frightened me.

One of Grandma's rules for her grandchildren was that when the sun was shining and up high in the sky, we were allowed to run amok in the sprawling jungle that passed as a garden. But once the sun began to set, regardless of where we were on the property, we all had to return to the shelter of the house.

The reason for this probably goes back to the time when Tim and Perry were a bit tardy in heeding the call to head back indoors. They had been thoroughly engrossed in shooting marbles on the flagstones in the courtyard between main house and servants' quarters. The sun had started its slide over the horizon when something caught Tim's eye.

'See that?' He pointed up at the sky.

Perry craned his neck. 'See what?'

'That bird thing, you gorblock [gor-blok: fool, idiot] head,' said Tim with an older brother's withering scorn.

'I'm not a gorblock, you're the goondu [goon-doo: idiot, moron],' was the defiant reply.

Then they both saw the flying thing, a black silhouette against the gathering dusk. Like an ominous shadow, it hovered seemingly motionless in the sky for several moments. The napes of their necks prickled in warning; the boys had the distinct impression that it was gazing down at them with baleful intelligence.

My cousins instinctively backed away to the staircase, towards the protection of the house. They clambered up the wooden steps, too terrified to even call out for help.

The creature did not come any closer to the house. Instead, it circled three times over the roof of the neighbour's house, before flying away into the twilight.

Tim and Perry hurtled back into the house. Their account sparked a debate in the family as to what they had actually seen. There was some confusion as to the actual shape of the winged creature, since the brothers gave conflicting descriptions. Tim said it had the wings of a bat. Perry thought it looked like a peregrine falcon. This made one of my uncles suggest it could have been a rare sighting of a bat hawk (Macheiramphus alcinus). Dad had the opinion that it was probably a fruit bat, also known as a flying fox.

The boys were certain that it was not someone flying a kite either; they had played with enough kites themselves to know the difference. Furthermore, if they had seen the creature so clearly from that distance, it must have had the wingspan of an eagle. It was something a lot bigger in size than the various winged creatures that had been suggested.

One thing the brothers both agreed on: whatever it was, it didn't feel friendly.

Cousin Nick, Second Aunt Maggie's only son, had a number of experiences at the Cairnhill house as well. When Nick was about three, he had been playing near the kitchen when he suddenly pointed to a well-lit corner in the courtyard.

'Má, look - funny man!'

'What man?' Startled, his mother looked up from the pot on the stove she was minding in the kitchen, but saw just the usual shadows cast by the afternoon sun.

Nick gave her the exasperated look that only a three-year-old could manage. 'Funny man, crying red. Monkey, má, monkey.'

Aunt Maggie managed to piece together that he had seen the slight figure of a man in some sort of uniform. The "funny man" had wept red tears which trailed down his cheeks. A small monkey sat on his shoulder.

The whole area had been filled with people at the time. They were preparing for dinner and there was someone walking across the courtyard every few minutes on an errand to or from the main house. But not one person had seen what Nick was talking about.

Most people would put down that episode down to a child's vivid imagination. Except that the whole composition was quite bizarre. How could a three-year-old to put together an image like that out of the blue?

Then something else happened when my cousin was just a year older. It was bedtime and Nick was brushing his teeth at the sink when Aunt Maggie heard him scream. She came running up to find him trembling and pale.

'Th-the h-head, the head!' was all Nick could stammer out.

After some patient questioning, Aunt Maggie learnt that he had seen a face looking at him through the open window on the second storey. It had belonged to a disembodied head - just a head - hanging in the air. She asked him if it was a man, woman or child? What colour were the eyes, skin or hair?

Poor Nick had been too shocked to notice much detail from the fleeting glimpse. Aunt Maggie also thought it was unlikely any intruder could have climbed a tree to peer in at him. It was night and pitch dark outside. Also, there were no trees next to the house. Weird and inexplicable things happened all the time at Grandma's house.

Right up to the end.

It was the end of an era when the house was sold during the 1970s. As we were only children, our wishes didn't enter into the equation. The house was simply too big to maintain and my grandmother was getting older. Above all, Grandma was pragmatic, having kept her family intact before and after the ravages of war. She had bought a modern condominium in the Bukit Timah area and that was to be her new home.

Third Uncle Adrian was the very last to leave. Grandma and my aunts had all cautioned him not to dilly-dally. They were worried that the resident spirits would not welcome having him around when the family no longer owned the house.

My uncle only half-believed in the family legends; he was among the few staying at the house to be "untested" by the spirits. Preoccupied with university studies, Uncle Adrian was still sorting out his text books and study notes the day after the settlement had gone through. That afternoon, as my uncle was packing his books into boxes scattered about the gravelled driveway, he had the unnerving sensation of being surrounded by a host of angry eyes.

Being made of sterner stuff than the average man, Uncle Adrian continued with his packing. The taxi driver he had hired was on "standby", waiting to help stash the boxes away in the boot. But after a while, the driver began to look uneasy and kept asking my uncle if he was going to be much longer.

Uncle Adrian gritted his teeth and carried on until the feeling became overwhelming. Finally, he couldn't bear it any more.

Hastily picking up the nearest box, my uncle abandoned the rest of his books and boxes on the driveway and jumped into the waiting taxi. Without a backward glance, he urged the driver to leave the house at Cairnhill.


The property at Cairnhill was bought by developers who demolished the buildings and bulldozed over the garden. But soon after excavation work began, everything came to a screeching halt. There were claims that bones were discovered. The work was delayed for months. We heard mutterings and rumours of mysterious problems on site (tools going missing?) and money woes plaguing the developers.

But at length, construction was completed. The site where Grandma's house, courtyard and kitchen once stood had become part of the Cairnhill Hotel. That beautiful garden was now buried under the hotel's car park area.

About twenty years ago, I was talking about Grandma's house at Cairnhill with Lily, my older sister, when my younger sister, Cara chimed in. Although she had been too young to remember the house, she still heard about the family legends.

Cara had just graduated from the hotel catering college in Singapore and still kept in touch with her former classmates. They had told her that the chambermaids at Cairnhill Hotel would only work in two-person teams on certain floors.

Some of the hotel staff there believed that the place was haunted.

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The following comments are submitted by users of this site and are not official positions by 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.

Jubeele (25 stories) (886 posts)
6 years ago (2018-04-02)
Serenflippity, I'm really happy you've enjoyed my family legends of Cairnhill. Thanks for the vote of confidence in the book, plus the working title for it. I've actually thought of a trilogy - ah, but no spoilers. 😜 This project will have to wait until I semi-retire in a year or 2. Maybe sooner if I win the Lotto.

I've just submitted another segment of Cairnhill history. Mum actually told me about it when I was in Singapore a few weeks ago. Hope everyone enjoys it as much as I've enjoyed sharing it. 😁
Serenflipppity (guest)
6 years ago (2018-04-02)
Where do I pre-order that book? Amazon? Kindle? You have a gift, Ms Jubeele and I've christened it your 'Book Destiny'.

I was saddened to read the majestic Cairnhill property has since been demolished. People with money often have more money than they do common sense!

Thank you for allowing us to accompany you through the meadows of your memories - I felt more than just a passenger along for the ride.

I'm thrilled that there are still a few of your narratives waiting for me to glue my eyes to.

Remember - BOOK DESTINY!

All the best, Maxine
Jubeele (25 stories) (886 posts)
6 years ago (2018-03-27)
Thank you CuriousDee. I'm so glad you enjoyed the accounts of Cairnhill from my childhood. On my recent trip to Singapore, I went for a nostalgic stroll around the Cairnhill area with my older sister. Cairnhill Hotel has now been replaced by a high-rise condominium. I wonder if any of the residents there ever experience anything out of the ordinary?

For the most part, I thought Cairnhill Road seemed "clean" now and the shadows were only shadows. I hear that some cleansing and blessings are done by religious leaders whenever they clear the land for redevelopment. I hope whatever spirits that were there are now at peace.

Still, on my second-last day in Singapore, we drove past this old abandoned house near the end of Cairnhill Road with a small overgrown garden. It gave off a dark "sullen" feel that made me give it a second look. Then again, it could just be my imagination...😨

P.s. I've a new account about the Cairnhill house which I shall post as so as I recover from this bug I picked up on the plane.
CuriousDee (8 stories) (631 posts)
6 years ago (2018-03-26)
Jubeele, I have just read through your Cairnhill stories; You have a gift for transporting the reader. I found myself immersed and wanting more, like settling in with a good book and never wanting it to end. I agree that you need to write a book!

Your childhood experiences sound lovely; rich in culture with an emphasis on the importance of family and history... What more could you ask for? ❤

I just had to declare myself as another fan, thank you so much for sharing ❤
Jubeele (25 stories) (886 posts)
6 years ago (2018-01-10)
To this day, Augusta, I still feel a pang when I think of that beautiful colonial "lady" being bulldozed away and replaced by another "plastic" hotel. Every time I return to Singapore, there are more new shopping centres or hotels, and less of the old world charm. All in the name of progress, of course. Such is life. 😢

As a matter of interest, I went to a girls' school near the Cairnhill area for 10 years. When I was 18, I briefly returned as a relief teacher for 6 months. I was class teacher for 45 very naughty 8-year-olds. Now that's a truly terrifying experience! 😨
AugustaM (7 stories) (996 posts)
6 years ago (2018-01-08)
It breaks my heart to hear of history plowed under in the name of 'progress' many new hotels and shopping malls do we really need when there are dozens of abandoned and empty ones already littering the landscape? *sigh* The same thing happened to almost all of the ancestral homes in my family long before I was old enough to do anything about it either. When I was a kid I used to dream of growing up and becoming an archaeologist so I could go back, recover what was left of at least one of those old places and rebuild - now as an adult with an archaeology degree I know that an archaeologist will never have that kind of money and in this day and age there isn't even money to hire me to be an archaeologist- eh bien, c'est la vie... And so time sweeps us along...
Jubeele (25 stories) (886 posts)
6 years ago (2018-01-04)
MrRiggs, I had idyllic visions of Manderlay, cruising down the Yangon River at sunset, watching the majestic elephants walk to the shimmering water. I've been to Thailand, but never ventured into Burma. A house made entirely of teak wood? Such luxury - that merchant was very wealthy indeed.

Grandma's house had all the same gruesome rumours. We were sure there were many deaths there, which in turn meant a number of restless spirits. The Cairnhill place sure was a "crowded" house.

The house in Rangoon sounded like a perfect venue for a Halloween haunt. Very imaginative use of materials for props too. It's a bit wicked of me, but I had a few chuckles at the girls petrified by your successful exhibit. So you played the mad doctor? Could that be the infamous Dr DK who could only be banished by the use of a toothbrush?

(If you wish to know why this mystical toothbrush keeps cropping up, please read the comments for the story: "The Bloody Girl").

Having no photos in my album of Grandma's house, I've found a photo online that remind me a little of the foyer tiles:

We thoroughly enjoyed having you at our party. You're welcome back any time. Wasn't it wonderful and amazing how people kept dropping by and coming back? Next time, get yourself a swag tent and stay until the end.

Thank you for reading. 😊
MrRiggs (7 stories) (102 posts)
6 years ago (2018-01-03)

It appears we have something in common. Right around New Year's Day of the year 2000 I moved into a 100 year old house in Rangoon, Burma. It is located on a lake and has a compound large enough to hold a dozen homes from the British colonial period. The house was built entirely of teak wood and originally owned by a very wealthy Chinese merchant. It was a wonderful place to reside. Large, with many windows and exterior doors, it is a bright and airy residence.

The house was taken over by the Japanese during the war. There were several stories circulating about its wartime use. The most credible seemed to be that it was used as the noncommissioned officers' mess hall during the day, and served as their club at night.

The Burmese were very fearful of the house and claimed it was haunted. The rumor circulated that local girls were raped and murdered there, which is entirely possible. Another supposed use was as a facility for interrogation and torture of prisoners. A third tale was that it was a headquarters for military intelligence. The local Burmese wanted nothing to do with the house.

Well lit by the sun and friendly, the house made a delightful home. No stone throwing please, but there was not a hint of haunting to be had.

That said, it was easy to maximize its use as a haunted house on Halloween. A large number of people joined in and multiple rooms were converted to chambers of horror. I portrayed a lab-coated mad doctor who was actively draining the blood from one of my household staff (Indian/Sri Lankin). She volunteered for 5 dollars.

I committed a gleeful mix of butchery, to include removal of internal organs and embalming. My victim was a 15 year old female displayed on a table, partially covered with towels. A plastic drain line appeared to carry blood (liquid red jello mix) from her arm into a white 5 gallon bucket. The jello mix in the bucket bubbled and frothed, spilling onto the floor, due to the addition of dry ice.

Understanding the Burmese to be very superstitious, and fearful of my house, the results were beyond expectations. The visitors were guided room to room to the various exhibits. At my station the concept and gore became too much. Three Burmese ladies, ages 18-20, became so petrified with fear that they were unable to move. They had to be physically removed to the outside, where they jabbered with those waiting in line to get in.

After 2 1/2 years it was time to move on. I was able to get the autopsy victim into the U.S. She successfully completed college with a degree in Civil Engineering and is now married. Having endured a difficult childhood, she has shared her good fortune by adopting a Burmese orphanage. She is there now overseeing her project.

Like many others here on YGS, I have been enjoying the stories of your grandmothers house. This bit of nothing came to mind and I thought I would pass it on.

Heck of a party, by the way. Thank you for the invitation, though I do apologize. I think I was first to arrive and I know that is considered bad form. Apparently no harm done. If I get another invitation I'm bringing a sleeping bag. Your gathering seemed to go on for days.
Jubeele (25 stories) (886 posts)
6 years ago (2017-12-27)
Melda, my uncle wouldn't say anything else about his experience. I always wondered if he sent anyone back to get the rest of his books. 📚

I'm a big fraidy cat myself when it comes to things that go bump in the night. I much prefer peace and quiet. So I'll be quite unnerved to be "recognized" by the spirits - unless they were to pour me a glass of Ghost Tequila, that is! 🍸
Melda (10 stories) (1363 posts)
6 years ago (2017-12-27)
Jubeele - Isn't a pity that places such as your grandma's house at Cairnhill have to make way for development to cater for future generations? My grandparents' home was also demolished so that a block of flats could be erected. Some scary things happened in that house too, so I wonder whether all the tenants there are happy!

I feel sure that whoever, or whatever, if they are still present at the Cairnhill Hotel, will recognise you. That of course doesn't mean that you would be particularly happy if they decided to pay their respects 😨

You truly have beautiful memories of that house as well as a number of experiences, good as well as scary 😊

Poor Uncle Adrian! He outstayed his welcome for sure 😁

Regards, Melda
Jubeele (25 stories) (886 posts)
6 years ago (2017-12-26)
Dear Emma, sadly our "gang" has now scattered and I haven't seen my cousins in years. Both boys grew up to be over 6 feet! But my sisters and I regularly text or call each other from time to time.

Interesting idea about a ghost in the basement causing trouble. What is it about basements? 😨 The house had so many echoes with all the history behind it. It was still odd how I suddenly got spooked and got the panicked tears. But that was the only time I took fright in the house.

The house generally felt kindly towards me as a child. I do like the image of a mysterious bamboo grove in the moonlight, filmy pale figures "spirit-dancing" and the faint sounds of "Shining Moon" being sung to the plucked strings of the "gu-zheng". ❤
EmmalineTexas (10 stories) (163 posts)
6 years ago (2017-12-26)
Jubeele ❤ I love that you had a gang of four to explore your Grandmother's house and property. When you mentioned Cairnhill, I immediately googled it and came up with pictures of the Cairnhill Hotel. What a shame that all of that history was buried under a car park! I wonder if a servant from long ago showed their disapproval by locking you in that basement. You paint such vivid pictures that the reader is there with you, feeling the shadows becoming ominous and the panic at the door being locked. If you went back, I'm sure that the spirits there would recognize you. In my mind's eye for some reason I keep seeing an anchanted bamboo grove in the moonlight and all of the honored women of your family still talking with the Nang Tani on quiet nights when clouds chase the moon.

Jubeele (25 stories) (886 posts)
6 years ago (2017-12-26)
Merry Christmas, lady-glow! I still wonder about that basement, especially as we were never allowed anywhere near it again. It may be possible there were items with a haunted past hiding in there. I didn't see anything but those shadows that suddenly turned spooky. One moment I was fine, the next I was hit by that get-me-out of-here terror. 😱

Interesting point: I never had the chance to stay in Cairnhill Hotel or even had a meal there. But I think the arrangement with the spirits was only as long as we were the family who owned the house. My theory is that they were some kind of earth or woodland elementals that protected us while we were part of the property. If they recognised me after all these years, I wouldn't be sure of their welcome. Though from the accounts I've heard, they did seem to reserve most of their harassment for males. 😜

I've attached a list of my favourite Christmas-themed YGS experiences in Grandma's House At Cairnhill - Part 1. Some great reads to enjoy for the season. ❤
lady-glow (16 stories) (3157 posts)
6 years ago (2017-12-25)
Jubeele: only through the eyes of children a crowded basement could look like a magical kingdom... I wonder if some of the objects stored and forgotten in there were holding their own whispers from the past.

It's sad to know that a house as interesting and wonderful as you described it, had to be destroyed though, obviously, its history wasn't erased. Have you stayed as a guest in the hotel erected on the land of your relatives's house? I wonder if the ghosts would recognize you after all these years.

Merry Christmas! ❤
Jubeele (25 stories) (886 posts)
6 years ago (2017-12-25)
Wow RC, you're the first all three times. If I believed in the weird and inexplicable, I'll tell you to go buy a Lotto ticket. Oh wait, I do believe in the weird and inexplicable... Well then, yours might just be the winning ticket! 😁

I'm glad my family history has resonated with you and many thanks for your kind comments. My maternal grandparents had their own share of experiences during the Occupation. They're of the non-ghostly type but I'm happy to tell you about them if you're interested.

If you wish, I can also share with you a photo of my paternal grandparents in full wedding finery. Just drop me a line: jubeele.ygs [at]

I'm sending you healing thoughts and well wishes from the Aussie summer to speed up your recovery from the cold. I've also got a special recipe for chicken udon noodle soup that's great to chase away winter chills. 😊
RCRuskin (9 stories) (815 posts)
6 years ago (2017-12-25)
I'm first to comment? Impossible!

Ghosts aside, I wish I could have seen this house. I've looked at some photos of the area from the links you provided, Jubeele. Lovely, homely in the sense of comforting. Even to me who has never set foot that far south before... Well, I did once go on a business trip to Florida...

Merry Christmas, or other holiday you celebrate this time of year. 😁

And thank you for sharing this history. I want to reread the whole thing soon, once I get over this (censored) cold.

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