Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Trapped Soul of Telok Blangah

1. The Shin Min paper on 8.3.2007 reported a strange & interesting tale of a Malay guy named Riandy being haunted by the ghost of a long dead Chinese lady for the past 7 yrs. He & his family had lived in Telok Blangah since 1975, & only shifted away in 1999. Directly opposite their old flat in Telok Blangah is a stretch of forest & among the trees lies the sunken tomb of that Chinese lady, almost completely devoured by the surrounding undergrowth. Of course, the main character in this real life story had no idea of its existence until recently, when it was discovered by the SPI (Singapore Paranormal Investigators), people whom he seeked help from.

Apparently, the haunting started long before Riandy shifted away from Telok Blangah. Even at his old flat he had experienced loads of paranormal activity, like seeing a blurry figure appearing in the house, hearing somebody quarrelling but not being able to see anyone, smelling a foul stench, & even rubbing shoulders with the ghostly figure at times. Despite all these stuff happening, Riandy did nothing about it. The creepy thing was that the paranormal activity continued after he moved to Choa Chu Kang. For the past 7 yrs, on the 13th of every month, around 2-3am in the morning, he would dream of the long haired Chinese lady in white pleading for help in his old house. And everytime he would wake up in cold sweat. So after being haunted for such a long time, he could take it no more & finally summoned enough courage to seek help, which came in the form of the SPI.

After SPI listened to Riandy's story, a team of them followed him back to his old house at Telok Blangah to investigate. To their suprise, they discovered an abandoned Chinese tomb in the forest opposite his old house, being located under a big tree. Apparently the tree had grown right out of the tomb, crushing whoever lies beneath under its roots. The whole tomb had sunken into the earth, & only half of the tombstone could be seen. The inscription on the stone reads: "Madam Xue of the Yang family's tomb 杨门薛氏之墓", but her maiden name was nowhere to be seen. On the right side of the stone they could also see "Daughter - (Yang) Yueniang 月娘" & "Granddaughters - Qingniang 清娘 & Xiniang 溪娘". The 2 granddaughters would not be surnamed Yang if Madam Xue had no son. On the left side of the tomb is a date saying "Auspicious Plum month of the Xin Chou Year 次辛丑梅月吉". This means the 4th lunar month (May to June) of 1961, or maybe even 1901! The date may be the time this lady died, or the time she was born, but the former was more likely. Considering that the ghost appeared to Riandy on the 13th of the month, it might also indicate that was the day she passed away. The poor condition of the tomb also indicates that all her descendants have either died or were no longer in Singapore, leaving the tomb totally uncared for through the decades. That was why the tomb had sunken and a tree was able to grow out of it; this would make Shin Min's search for her descendants all the more difficult. Madam Xue's ghost, being trapped in that place, was not able to move on and be reborn. She probably could not give up her clinging to her previous human life & her bodily remains. Bur oddly, she seemed to have some affinity with this Malay guy Riandy, which explained why she went to him for help when she had nobody else to turn to. But alas, he too knew not how to help her.

After Riandy found the tomb, his monthly dreams of Madam Xue became much clearer than before. Whereas in the past he only saw the side of her face, now she could clearly see her face, her features, her long hair & even the white cheongsam top that she wore! But this only made it so much more disturbing for Riandy.

I don't know how SPI plans to help Riandy, but the wise thing to do now would be to find an auspicious time to exhume whatever remains in the tomb, ask some respected monks to conduct a Buddhist deliverance (超度 chaodu) ceremony for Madam Xue (since she is Chinese) & have the remains cremated. The ashes could then be placed in a temple & a tablet set up in her honour. Having listened to the Dharma & finally having a proper place for her remains, only then would Madam Xue's ghost be able to move on to a better existence. That would also mean the end of Riandy's paramormal woes. Good luck guys!2. The follow up report in Shin Min today (16.3.2007) reveals to us more clues on Madam Xue's mystery. Thanks to Taoism researcher Mr Wu Anquan, who explored around the Telok Blangah forest after reading last week's report, the other half of Madam Xue's tombstone had been recovered. According to the inscriptions on this piece of tombstone, the maiden name of Madam Xue is 音娘 Yinniang (full name - 薛音娘 Xue Yinniang). She died in the 27th year of Emperor Guangxu's reign 光绪二十七年, which is 1901, corresponding to the previous deduction. That is almost 106 yrs ago! Apparently, Madam Xue had 2 sons, (Yang) 福烈 Fulie and 福增 Fuzeng, besides daughter Yueniang. She also had 4 other grandsons, 丞仁 Chengren, 丞德 Chengde, 丞杰 Chengjie & 丞英 Chengying, in addition to the 2 granddaughters mentioned above. Now, the paper made a wrong assumption that because Madam Xue was a grandmother, she must have died quite old. They are thinking in the modern context, forgetting the fact that during the Qing dynasty, most women married quite young and it was highly possible to be a grandmother before 40. Since we don't know how she died yet, we cannot conclude that the person whom used to lie in that tomb died an old lady. Is the female ghost that haunted Riandy the same person as this long dead lady? That is something that still awaits verification!

Mr Wu's research into the history of Telok Blangah hill also tells us that it used to be known as Xieyuan hill 协源山, which had been used as a burial ground for the Yang family from Fujian province since 1882. All those dead people buried there belonged to the Hokkien Yeo clan. It was only until the 1970s that the government decided to take back the land, exhuming all the graves there & have them relocated to Choa Chu Kang cemetary. Could Madam Xue be forgotten at the time? Since then, a forest has grown over the land and some parts of it developed into Telok Blangah park, as we know today.

Considering that Madam Xue died 106 yrs ago, there is little doubt that all 9 children & grandchildren inscribed on the tombstone would also be dead. If there were any great grandchildren alive in Singapore today, they too would be quite old already. The only way to shed some light on who Madam Xue really was or whether her remains were moved to Choa Chu Kang at all, is to look for those great or great great grandchildren of hers. But even then, would these descendents of the Yeo clan which lived in Telok Blangah a century ago know anything about their great or great great grandmother? The oddest thing is that, what does a young Malay guy named Riandy got to do with the great great grandmother of the Yeo clan? His family only shifted to Telok Blangah around the time the government exhumed all the graves.. they should have nothing to do with this big Chinese family, right? Stay tuned, I believe this mystery would somehow be unravelled in time to come.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Visit to Wat Pah Ban Tad

The Dhammapada says:

"The mindful ones exert themselves,
They are not attached to any home;
Like swans that abandon the lake,
They leave home after home behind."

During my trip to Udon Thani & Nongkhai in January this year, I've travelled to many of the Forest Monasteries in the region. These monasteries are all started by Dhutanga Bhikkus belonging to Ajarn Mun's (above) lineage, places which tourists normally do not visit. On the last day of my trip I decided to follow a Singaporean friend (whom I met in Udon) to Luangta Mahabua's monastery, Wat Pah Ban Tad. This friend of mine stays there for 2 - 3 mths at a time for his meditation retreats. As those of you familiar with Ajarn Mun's forest tradition will know, LT Mahabua is one of his most famous disciples, widely believed to be an Arahant himself. He is also responsible for the various enlightening Forest Dhamma books on Ajarn Mun's life & teachings, as well as the Dhutanga practices. Having read those books, I was hoping to catch a glimpse of this living Buddhist Saint; but my friend told me it was not so easy as not everyone who came to visit can see him. Some people came many times, yet still did not manage to see LT Mahabua. So I did not make any special wish to do so, choosing rather to just let things take its natural course.
The monastery is half an hour's journey from Udon Thani city. The first thing that greets you at when you arrive there is this huge picture of Ajarn Mun standing in front of the main Sala, gazing at you. Although Ajarn Mun had entered Parinibbana for many years, his presence can still be felt wherever there is a group of noble individuals gathering to practice the Forest Dhamma that he taught.
Climbing up to the spacious hall, you get the feeling of deep serenity that seems to blend in with the surrounding forest. My friend told me that many invisible Devadas visit this hall, due to what lies inside the shrine room. What is so special about the shrine room?
Walking deeper inside, one comes face to face with the 3 golden Buddha statues of the shrine, representing the Triple Gems. All around the altar are the pictures of the various patriarchs of the Forest Tradition, including Ajarn Mun, Ajarn Sao & many of their distinguished disciples. In paying homage to these Masters, one recognises the true merit of the Dhutanga practices in purifying the mind, as taught by the Buddha.
The next thing that caught my eye was a glass cabinet on the left of the altar. On closer examination I realized that those small crystal stupas inside the cabinet contain the precious relics of the Buddha on the top tier, Ajarn Mun's relics on the middle tier & the relics of the other Masters from his lineage on the lower tier. So this is the main attraction for the Devadas who come to visit this Sala! No wonder the whole Sala radiates a aura of bliss. Filled with awe & joy I prostrated myself before the cabinet to show my veneration for these relics like all the men & gods before me.
At the side of the shrine room is another glass cabinet containing the relics of Ajarn Panna (above), LT Mahabua's most senior Caucasian disciple who passed away recently. Special mention must be given to him because it is only through his superb translation of the Forest Dhamma books from Thai into English that they managed to reach such a wide audience around the whole world. Without these translated books I wouldn't even have heard about Ajarn Mun & his Forest Tradition in Thailand. All I would have known are those famous temples with many worshippers & tourists. Ajarn Panna's profound knowledge & devotion to this path is without a doubt a shining lamp for all Westerners as well as all beings. As such he also deserves our deepest respect.
Inside the shrine room are also displayed other gifts of recognition to LT Mahabua from the country's highest institutions & the royal family. But of course, these are of little use to a forest monk.With that I finished my tour of the Sala. Just as I came down the stairs, a van drove in and stopped some distance ahead of me. I did not know who was inside, but seeing that 2 Thai aunties near me were kneeling down in its direction, I immediately realized who it was. I quickly kneel down as well. True enough, it was LT Mahabua (above) who came down from the van! He turned and smiled in the direction of the 2 aunties & me before walking into the forest path that leads to his kuti. I bowed towards this living Arahant. To me, managing to see him is like striking the lottery.. which seemed to link up with many of the coincidences that I encountered during this whole trip. Is this called 缘份 or affinity?I then followed my friend to his kuti, where another Singaporean guy also resided in. The living conditions are pretty tough, but they seemed content with it. I supposed these conditions are conducive to restraining the senses & would therefore help in their meditation. After chatting with them for a while, I bade my friend farewell & wished him good luck. With a satisfied heart I made my way back to Udon Thani city. The next morning I embarked on the return flight to Singapore. On the plane I thought to myself that although my tour to Udon Thani had ended, I know in my heart that my affinity with the Forest Tradition would go on long after the trip was over. Until the next time we meet, may they be well & happy.