Singapore is a tiny island and city-state-country in South-east Asia. It is where I was born and grew up. Decades before that, in 1941, the Japanese brought WWII to its shores, primarily to take over the British port and naval base here, wresting the island from British control. (Incidentally, the British had claimed Singapore in 1824 through pure craftiness, not violence.) In 1941-42, the battle for the island was relatively quick, but it was also an extremely brutal and hard-won campaign that led many Japanese soldiers to wreck their frustrations on the civilian population long after they claimed victory. Many atrocities were committed and I grew up hearing those stories firsthand (many too awful to repeat and to this day not widely known), and I also heard stories of places haunted by victims of the Japanese. I grew to know about places haunted by the Japanese themselves when many committed suicide here in 1945, upon news of their emperor’s surrender after the atom bombs.
My grandmother survived the war due to a strange twist of fate. It was a close brush. My mother was born after, in 1951, and I was born in the seventies. My mother had no interest in the war, but I somehow maintained, since childhood, an inexplicable fascination with both WWII in the Asia-Pacific theatre and the British. I’ve wondered too if I intuited the event as being a source of trauma for both my grandmother and much of the local landscape and population–my grandmother’s house, where I spent half my early childhood, was not far from at least one Japanese massacre site and the POW camp for British, Australian, and NZ soldiers.
Farther from my grandmother’s house, it was not hard to find places with an eerie or depressing atmosphere despite the vegetation and tropical sunshine. (Many of these were later confirmed massacre sites and Japanese police headquarters–where tortures and executions were carried out. Many areas also carry imprints of non-wartime suffering, because this island has seen much exploitation by various powers.) One of my forays into metaphysics in my 20s was taking an interest in feng shui, yet finding the texts lacking because many went on about tables and calculations but ignored the feelings imparted by certain sites, and would give no advice about these except to say “avoid”. It was frustrating for someone who realised that the world was getting smaller; there were few places to run to that were untouched by human hands/suffering. What I wanted to know, after a time, was how to clean up.
But it wasn’t information I was actively seeking–though I was now acutely aware that cruelty and inhumanity could felt in places long after the original act. There’s a feeling around these areas I can’t describe; a deep sadness with anger left behind, and one of my earliest memories as a child was this feeling accompanying a determination that I would try my best to undo the suffering. (Kids, right?) The determination was my response to a generations-old trauma that I didn’t have the words to describe or figure out at the time.
Fast forward to 2007, after I returned to Singapore after years of living in the US, I became a part-time educator/guide that brought students, civil servants, and later, tourists (I needed a license for this) to historical sites around Singapore. I enjoyed the training and the information that I came into to do the job, and unexpectedly also enjoyed the working with live audiences, storytelling, and the stories I would hear in return. The WWII tours were everyone’s favorite–the stories were wrenching and compelling–stories that stuck after you just heard it once. I made many people cry at those stories; stories told to honour the compassion, courage and suffering of those involved–both Allied heroes and local and Japanese individuals. Looking back, the storytelling moments (some of which took 15-25 minutes) were excellent exercises in opening the hearts of the audience and bridging, somehow, their own love and sympathy with those who had suffered in the past–on both sides. I also often felt that I had both my regular and unseen audiences–most of the time benevolent, but not always.
I feel now that this became part of my “training” of working with the unseen.
One of my colleagues during my stint in historical tourism was a woman who did have the sight–and unlike our other colleagues, I told her I didn’t want to know when she saw anything strange, unless it was long after we were out of the “death-drenched” places. I didn’t like fear, I already didn’t like the times I could feel my hair standing on the job, and my way of coping with those times was to will the spirits to keep their distance, sometimes visualising a Bodhisattva or–in utterly desperate times, Kali–sitting on my head, and me taking on my “fierce warrior mother” vibe. (I was not trained in doing either, these were things I did on the fly because they helped me carry out my duties, when sometimes all I wanted to do was run screaming out of the underground bunkers, especially the one that had only motion-sensor lights. But losing control was not something I wanted to do around young school students!)
Sensitive or not to hair-standing moments, my colleagues and I did have our share of something-really-happened encounters. One Chinatown tour was notorious (though only among ourselves) for making ladies faint at a certain spot. It took me 2 incidents on my own watch, after 2011, to figure out how and why this was happening, and when I started asking for angelic help against the entity-attacks (as they most likely were), the fainting stopped on my tours.
I’ve mentioned on this blog that I had negative encounters long before I encountered the good. It’s not surprising for various reasons–but one of them that’s very characteristic of this part of the world is that we don’t doubt the existence of unhappy earthbound spirits “thanks” to WWII fighting on our soil–but, helpful beings are less known about or believed in because those beliefs depends a lot on one’s religion. Most of the religions here (and we have many) give the power of “ghost-busting” almost exclusively to holy men, ie. priests. So even while I had coping mechanisms on my tours, I never believed I could do anything for these sites/spirits besides asking them to please not ruin my tours. (Never doubt the Virgo work ethic.)
I also didn’t want to “bust” the spirits as my stance was not to perpetuate antagonism or their suffering. I recognised their own autonomy and just wanted my own (and my guests’) respected as well. I also knew enough from my colleague’s and friends’ stories and TV shows that I didn’t want to accept any burdens or “assignments” from them either.
This was my life then, prior to 2011. In December 2011 (major ascension period?), things would become more pressing–literally. But I’ll continue that in a separate post.