Singapore Black Magic

Singapore has a reputation for being modern, squeaky clean and orderly and we tend to think of Singaporeans as generally well educated, worldly and sophisticated.

So it came as something of a surprise to come across an interesting shop window in an ordinary Singaporean public housing estate displaying curses, spells, voodoo and other dark arts.

Then again, perhaps it should not be surprising since belief in black magic and the supernatural runs deep in South East Asia.Singapore Black Magic 1

As most of the signage in the shop window was in Chinese it was not clear to me if the shop-keeper, presumably some sort of medicine man, was selling curses or the cures to them (or neither). Surely it cannot be legal to sell curses?

Not sure what the ‘flying needle’ is all about but it has been claimed that an evil bomoh (witch doctor) could cause foreign objects to appear in a victim’s body through an incantation. There was a case reported in the Singaporean media in 2008 of an Indonesian woman who had metal wires growing out of her stomach and chest for 17 years, much to the mystery of her doctors.

Singapore Black Magic 2

The ancient Malay dagger, the kris, is often believed to have magical powers. There is a kris exhibited at Taiping Museum which is said to thirst for blood and will fly out of its sheath on full moons and seek people to kill before returning silently to its sheath. (See The Kris Mystic Weapon of the Malay World by Edward Frey for more details.)

Scorpions, centipedes, snakes, spiders, corpse oil, strands of hair and bits of fingernail are associated with making powerful charms for revenge, love or change of luck.

Love potions are said to be particularly potent. A woman looking to cast a spell over a man might prepare an unsavoury dish called Nasi Kangkang by dripping her sweat and other bodily fluids onto a bowl of steaming white rice, rendering her victim incapable of resisting her charms.

Should the man break off from the woman he could be in trouble. The famous author W. Somerset Maugham, who liked to base his novels on real people, in his short story P. & O., wrote of a planter who died of hiccups brought on by a spell cast by his jilted Asian mistress.

Singapore Black Magic 3

Newspapers in this part of the world often contain reports of charlatans and con-men preying on the gullible and superstitious. But who is to say that all this black magic stuff is bogus? These sorcerers are certainly keeping up with the times. There is a dukun in Indonesia who claims to be able to administer a lethal spell via text message. It would be terrible if he dialled a wrong number!

Singapore Black Magic 4

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Reflections of Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

Marina Bay SandsWe recently spent a couple of nights in this place, the Marina Bay Sands, which describes itself as the most spectacular hotel in Singapore.  It was officially opened in June 2010. It is owned by Las Vegas Sands Corp and, in true American style, it is big and bold, with 2561 hotel rooms and suites, a huge casino, a convention and exhibition centre,  a theatre, a museum, an ice rink and a shopping mall complete with its own canal.  The shopping mall also boasts a number of restaurants hosted by celebrity chefs (i.e. overpriced).

Lobby of Tower 2 Marina Bay Sands

Part of the Hotel Lobby Marina Bay Sands

The hotel has a novel design with three curvaceous 55 storey towers topped by a platform shaped like a giant ironing board. This made for a challenging construction project with a hefty price tag of US$5.5 billion making it the world’s second most expensive building (after the Abraj Al Bait in Mecca).

Vanishing Edge Pool at Marina Bay Sands

The ‘ironing board’ supports Skypark, a 2.5 acre roof deck which includes a 150 metre long vanishing edge swimming pool, 57 floors up in the sky.

Vanishing Edge Pool at Marina Bay Sands

There must be 1000 people on this pool and observation deck at any one time of which 99% are either taking photos, posing for photos or both (selfies). I reckon this amounts to about 250,000 new photos uploaded every single day making Marina Bay Sands one of the most photographed attractions in Singapore.

Marina Bay Sands

Marina Bay Sands is the 34th largest hotel in the world and uses 36,000 keycards a month. It achieves an occupancy rate approaching 99% despite charging a fortune for its rooms. Our room was ridiculously expensive – definitely not the sort of place that Thrifty Traveller normally frequents!

Room at Marina Bay Sands

It was a nice enough room, comfortable and spacious, but nothing amazing. The view was great though.

View from Marina Bay Sands

The room came with ‘exclusive’ use of The Club where complimentary drinks and small eats were served at tea time and early evening. It could not have been that exclusive as it was packed with people knocking back the free Piper Heidsieck champagne. Rather like an airport business or first class lounge.

The Club at Marina Bay Sands

This kind of ‘mass market luxury’ appeals to some but is not really my cup of tea, though I would not object if an employer was footing the bill.

Flower Dome and Singapore Flyer

Flower Dome and Singapore Flyer

Marina Bay Sands has a good location close to Gardens By the Bay and the Singapore Flyer and with great views over downtown Singapore. And with a big mall next door there is no need to go far.

Shopping Mall at Marina Bay SandsThe hotel (and casino) appeared to be very popular with Chinese tourists (from PRC) and I note from official Singapore visitor numbers that Chinese are now by far the most numerous of all tourists (excluding Singapore’s neighbours, Malaysians and Indonesians, many of whom visit Singapore for employment). Indian tourists are the second most numerous. I guess this is a sign of the times.

We enjoyed our stay at Marina Bay Sands but in the highly unlikely event that I were to splurge again in Singapore I would probably opt for somewhere more sumptuous such as the Ritz Carlton, Shangri-La, Fullerton Bay or even Raffles.

Reflection of Marina Bay Sands

Reflection of Marina Bay Sands

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Olden KL at Nu Sentral Mall

Nu Sentral is a recently completed shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur, located adjacent to the capital’s main transport hub, KL Sentral.

To celebrate Chinese New Year, the mall has tried to recreate the atmosphere of old KL with some replica shops staffed by cuddly caricatures.

The result is not very authentic but it’s just a bit of fun. Here are some photos.

Olden KL at Nu Sentral Mall IMG_2456 IMG_2457 IMG_2458 IMG_2460 IMG_2461 IMG_2464 IMG_2465 Olden KL at Nu Sentral Mall

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Tong Nam Piles Specialist

For many decades, Tong Nam Piles Specialist brought relief to haemorrhoids sufferers from its humble premises at No. 47 Jalan Dang Wangi (once known as Campbell Street).


Faded testimonials in the shop window attest to the skill of practitioner who used to heal his patients by traditional methods without resorting to surgery. Here is one such letter, dated 12th June 1940, sent by Mr. O L Borneman who appears to have been a senior manager with a trading firm in KL called Macgregors Ltd. (still operating in Malaysia under the name of Caldbeck Macgregor)

Piles Specialist

Dear Mr Lau Ping Hsiang,

I should like to take this opportunity to thank you for the very great care and attention which you have given me during the three weeks I was undergoing your treatment for severe bleeding piles. The fact you have effected a complete cure without any dangerous operation and with no pain other than that occasioned by the disease itself speaks very highly indeed for your skill and the medicines you used. I am very grateful to you.

Yours very truly,
Signed, O.L. Borneman

Could Mr Borneman have ever imagined that his privy letter would be on public display for the next 75 years, even surviving the Japanese occupation?

Without wishing to go into too much detail, haemorrhoids are a very comment complaint. Some say they are more prevalent in western countries and attribute this to the universal usage of the sitting-type toilet rather than the squatting hole-in-the-floor toilets found in Asia. This however may be a myth. One study claims that in India (where squatting is the norm) 75% of the population is estimated to have piles. Spicy food, and chilis in particular, could be a factor. If this statistic is true, then, as India’s growing population becomes better off and more likely to spend money on healthcare, piles treatments like ointment seem like a sure investment and a good place to stick your money (if you excuse the crude pun).

While trying to research haemorrhoids statistics by country I came across this snippet. According to the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, haemorrhoids were more common to Jews than any other people at that time. Among the Ḥasidim in Galicia and Poland, a Jew without haemorrhoids was  considered a curiosity.  They attributed this condition to the long hours spent sitting on hard benches while studying the Talmud. Constipation (due to diet?) also played a role.

Returning to Tong Nam Piles Specialist, Mr. Lau presumably retired long ago with his piles of cash and, after a long time with shutters closed, the shop has reopened as a barber. Perhaps you can get your hair and piles done at the same time!

Tong Nam Piles Specialist & Barber

Tong Nam Piles Specialist & Barber

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Exotic Pet Shop, Kampung Sungai Serai

While looking for the hot springs at Sungai Serai (see previous post), I came across  a pet shop with exotic creatures on display.

Sue N Sons Pet Collections

A couple of white furry things in cages caught my eye.

Albino SkunksAlbino Skunk

The shop assistant told me these were albino skunks, though one looked obviously more albino than the other. They were not smelly.

In the cage underneath, looking very restless, was another exotic critter which I think might have been some kind of civet, known locally as the musang pandan.

Apparently, skunks and civets can make good pets but they need very careful attention and handling from caring and knowledgeable owners.

This large iguana looked cramped in its cage which would have been better suited for something the size of a guinea pig.

Iguana at Pet Shop in Kampung Sungai Serai

This Burmese Python was sharing a cage with its lunch, a live rabbit.

Burmese Python in exotic pet shop

Should people keep exotic pets in this day and age? The animals would surely be better off in the wild but there is less and less ‘wild’ left these days. And as for Burmese Pythons and other serpents, I prefer to view them behind glass rather than stumbling across one while out hiking.

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Sungai Serai Hot Springs

Sungai Serai Hot SpringsLooking for something different to do during the coming long weekend? You could try dipping your toes, or even your whole body, into the bubbling hot water at Sungai Serai Hot Springs, just a short drive outside of Kuala Lumpur.

More than sixty hot springs have so far been discovered in Peninsula Malaysia which seems quite a high number considering that Malaysia falls outside the Ring of Fire and is not prone to volcanic activity or serious earthquakes (touch wood).

These naturally hot groundwaters seep from the earth’s crust via small fractures or faults from deep underground where they are geothermally heated by magma. During their long journey through the underworld, these spring waters come into contact with various beneficial minerals which, in some cases, are said to imbue therapeutic qualities to the water to soothe sufferers of rheumatism, arthritis, stiff joints and so on.

Some of Malaysia’s hot springs have been turned into health spas such as the luxurious Banjaran Hot Springs Retreat in Ipoh. Sungai Serai on the other hand has been left more or less in its natural state and looks like a large puddle with a few plastic chairs in it.

Sungai Serai Hot Springs

Not hot enough to melt the plastic chairs!

The water is hot but bearable, a bit like a bath when you have left the hot tap running for too long. The sources of the water can be identified by bubbles floating up from the bottom and these areas should be avoided as they are scalding.

The colour of the water is a rather unappealing green and I have to wonder whether any harmful bacteria are mixed up with the beneficial minerals. While some people immerse themselves fully in the pond, I was not taking any risks with my delicate constitution and only submerged myself up to the knees. Five minutes later my feet were parboiled and had a healthy pink/red glow.

Sungai Serai Hot Springs

The owners of the land on which the spring is located have started charging admission of RM1 per person and another RM1 for parking. They are using the proceeds to make various ‘improvements’ such as the breeze-block toilet cubicle which has been built rather too close to the pond. Hopefully they won’t encase the whole hot spring in concrete which has happened in so many other springs in Malaysia.

I have marked the exact location on this map as it was quite difficult to find, being cunningly hidden behind a car wash and car park. Zoom out to see the location relative to KL. Hope you enjoy your visit.

This is the place!

This is the place! Turn in here.

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Ants in our Pants

It’s the first laundry day in our new house near Kuala Lumpur and our washing has attracted a swarm of winged insects; flying ants I think.

Flying Ants

We’ll have to change our conditioner!

Fortunately the bugs seem very drowsy (dying perhaps) and are easy to shake off.

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