While looking for unique experiences in Singapore, the HYPE&STUFF team came across an experience like no other on Airbnb—a cemetery walk in the Chinese Cemetery along Lim Chu Kang Road. While most of the team shuddered in fear at the thought of walking through a graveyard close to midnight, my fellow colleague Don and I were raring to go and bouncing up and down in our seats in elation.
We are no stranger to the Lim Chu Kang Chinese Cemetery as well. Singaporean sons who had to take the dreaded bus 975 to their camp during their NS days would have passed by the cemetery during their weekly book-ins. Both Don and I are two of such men, and we have always been curious about what it is like to be inside.
I immediately contacted Jo, the owner of this Airbnb experience and set up a session with him.
As we waited for Jo to pick us up at the taxi stand of Buona Vista MRT, there was palpable excitement at the prospect of being so close to the home of the spirits. We discussed all the things we could see and how much trouble we were potentially getting ourselves into.
Jo picked us up on the dot, and soon, we were on our way. En route to the cemetery, Jo explained the many dos and don’ts of visiting the cemetery.
1. Apologise if you were to step onto or around the tombs.
2. You may smoke or urinate, however, do this by the roadside and say “excuse me”.
3. Wash your hands and face immediately after the experience.
1. Call the members of your group by name. This is because there are spirits everywhere, and those who have not passed on peacefully will look for a substitute to possess, and if they know your name, it is easier for them to follow you.
2. Exclaim at any point of the experience.
3. If you see or hear anything during the walk, keep it to yourself and only share it once you have left the cemetery.
4. Run away from the stray dogs present at the cemetery. Continue walking at a normal pace, and the dogs will soon learn to keep their distance.
Our car arrived at the cemetery grounds. Although it was secluded, it was not pitch black, and we could still see where we were going. As I got out of the car, I was surprised— there was no fog, and I did not feel any still air or presence—the atmosphere was exceedingly normal.
Within four minutes of leaving the car, my hands were already ravaged by mosquitoes. Fortunately, I had on a jacket and a pair of sweatpants, which helped to contain the feast of blood to just my hands.
Jo explained that although it was a cemetery, there might be other people there besides those who were already six feet under. Aside from excavators and caretakers, there could be other ‘visitors’— adventurous couples looking for a place to park their car for some hanky panky. There have even been cases of sex workers setting up shop on cemetery grounds.
We came across a sign explaining the government’s current exhumation of the Chinese cemetery. Jo elaborated that the neighbouring Tengah Airbase has acquired the land the cemetery is on and therefore, these graves have to be exhumed. Families of the deceased have a time frame to hire excavators and priests to remove the remains or the government will exhume and cremate the remains themselves.
It wasn’t very long into our way before we came across an exhumed tomb. Piles of concrete and stone flanked what was left of the grave, and an ET blade—reminiscent of the one we used during our field camp days in BMT to dig our shell scrape—can be seen lying in the gaping hole. Jo shared that this was just one of the many tools excavators used to chip away at the tombs to reach the depth where the coffin laid.
We came across another exhumed tomb, but what caught my eye this time was that there were four empty bottles of rice wine by its side. We learnt from Jo that the wine is used to ‘cleanse’ the exhumed remains before they are sent for cremation.
Jo spotted a tentage set up amid the tombs and deduced that it was a sign of an exhumation underway. We rushed over excitedly, curious of what we were about to discover. Would we see a half-decomposed body? Would we see actual human bones?
We apologised profusely as we threaded carefully past the haphazardly arranged tombs till we reached the tentage. Jo peered into the hole and observed that the excavator had already dug deep enough and uncovered the wooden cover of the coffin. He immediately offered a sincere apology in Hokkien: “I’m sorry to disturb, but we aren’t doing this on purpose. I have brought people here to explain what is happening around here.”
Jo further elaborated on the exhumation process. Contrary to popular belief, when exhumation is done, the entire coffin is not removed from the tomb. Instead, the excavator will ply about 40-55% of the wood from where the head is to the abdominal section open, before removing the remains from within using his bare hands. Excavators will never ply the entire coffin open.
When the remains are being moved, an umbrella will be used to shade the body as it is a belief that these remains should never see daylight. It is because of this same belief that while digging of the tomb can happen in the day, exhumation can only occur after 5 pm.
On our way back to the car, we noticed an altar under a tree. Jo said that it was not uncommon for people to leave statues of deities around the cemetery, but he was unsure if the altar was something someone left behind or if it was set up by the excavators working in the area.
Just as we were about to move off, we spotted a light in the distance, and at the speed that it was moving, it appeared to be a bicycle. While it may not be a supernatural sighting, it was certainly intriguing—who would be riding a bike in a cemetery at this time of night?
After a 10 minute chat about our past supernatural experiences, we decided to drive to a newer portion of the cemetery—one that wasn’t going to be exhumed any time soon. On our way out, we managed to catch a glimpse of exhumation in progress through our window. There were three vehicles parked. However, we could only make out of a lorry and a group of people shining torchlights. We knew it was an excavation because we saw someone holding an opened umbrella—a sign that remains were being moved.
We reached the newer cemetery and were immediately greeted by an unending row of lit candles and joss sticks on both sides of the road. Jo enlightened me that these candles were meant to help lead spirits in the right direction. As compared to the older cemetery we visited, here, there were people around. The tombs were also in good condition.
Jo concluded our walk and sent both of us home. I was extremely grateful for this service as I was confident no taxi would want to pick us up from a cemetery at midnight. After bidding him farewell, we followed his instructions and washed our hands and face diligently the instance we got home.
Did I experience anything spooky during the entire walk? No. Was it still worth it? Most definitely.
Jo shared that the walk served a more educational purpose than experiencing the supernatural. The topic of exhumation is something new to tourists, his usual clientele—it doesn’t happen abroad as bigger countries can afford the land space, and in fact, Jo recounted from his trip to Taiwan that people could even bury their loved ones in their front yard.
Jo was so knowledgeable about the topic of death and burials because he grew up around temples and has always had an interest in all things spiritual. He often walks the cemetery alone, and assures us that a cemetery is a peaceful place should one walk with an open mind—which I agree wholeheartedly after experiencing it firsthand.
Our idea of a graveyard has been influenced by what we see on television, and I can tell you that there are significant differences—no fog, no dense atmosphere, and most importantly, no encounters. If you are respectful.
I was thankful for the many rare sightings that I saw on this walk. However, what made the walk enjoyable was Jo’s hospitality and cheery nature, which was a huge irony, given the nature of this experience. I strongly encourage you to go on this walk, and while I cannot guarantee any encounters with the supernatural, you will most definitely have a friendly chat and eye-opening experience.
Price: from S$60 per pax
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