On what felt like a particularly cold Friday night, I found myself seated on the back of a lorry at 11pm driving down a deserted road in northwestern Singapore.
The road was monotonous at first — lush greenery lined both sides of the bitumen, occasionally interrupted by the odd building or corrugated metal fencing — until a few road signs caught my attention, reminding me of the chilling nature of my late-night expedition.
The first one, “Muslim Cemetery”, followed soon by the second, “Chinese Cemetery”.
Most Singaporeans wouldn’t want to be caught dead near such places at night lest they encounter something supernatural, but my hosts for the evening were driving past the cemeteries in Lim Chu Kang for the opposite reason.
We were going to a location they’d determined was far creepier than a cemetery, and what they believed might be the scariest place in Singapore.
Ghost hunting on a weekly basis
Most weekends, 28-year-old Shakir, who asked not to have his full name published, heads out to the darkest corners of our island to seek out the supernatural with his team of ghost hunters.
Going under the moniker ParaX, the group live streams their weekly adventures on TikTok, regularly attracting between 500 and 800 viewers.
Throughout the stream, Shakir takes his audience on a tour of whatever area he’s exploring via a smartphone camera, interacting with those in the chat.
What eventuates has the appearance of a found-footage horror-virtual tour hybrid.
A live stream snippet posted to the group’s TikTok account features Shakir walking along an overgrown trail in Bukit Brown; “this is the interesting part guys,” he narrates.
Shakir flashes his torchlight across a tree trunk in the distance before pausing.
“Wait,” he says, as the video zooms in on a white figure which the captions identify as "nenek kebayan” or the spirit of an elderly hunchbacked woman.
The video has garnered over 136,700 views at the time of writing.
@paranormalxsingapore Nenek Ohhhhhhhhhhhh.. Nenek #fyp #paranormalxsingapore #explore ♬ original sound - ParaX🇸🇬
And while Shakir is exploring supposed haunted areas on his own, the rest of the ParaX team is on standby outside the site, should anything out of the ordinary happen.
On the night I’m with them, there's a “safety team” comprising five individuals who evacuate the host if something goes wrong, and four “guardians” who are trained in performing an exorcism if necessary, Shakir explains.
Only I could go exploring with him tonight; the rest of my colleagues would have to wait with the ParaX team as having too many people exploring the site might dissuade ghosts from showing themselves.
Eager to give me the best experience possible, the team was taking me to a spot in Lim Chu Kang they’d observed as being the most active, in a paranormal sense.
On a previous exploration, Shakir told me he had seen several entities and heard the sound of a woman humming.
The broad, well-lit road we were initially travelling on soon turned into a windy narrow one where the vegetation seemed more manic and uncouth.
We’d finally arrived at our destination: a remote dead-end lane adjacent to an abandoned farm.
The group believes it was along this lane that Leslie Khoo Kwee Hock — otherwise known as the Gardens by the Bay murderer — disposed of his victim's body by burning it over three days in July 2016.
Pitch black, largely overrun by plants and with several decrepit structures, the farm was a setting straight out of a horror movie.
Before Shakir and I entered the compound, he gave me a tip: “To ward off possession we gotta keep our energy high.”
He produced two cans of Red Bull, and we quickly downed the drinks before starting off on our adventure.
Sceptic wandering around in the dark
At this point, it’s probably good to mention that I’m a bit of a sceptic when it comes to the paranormal.
I’ve never personally experienced anything that I couldn’t explain through science or freak coincidence and while I love hearing friends talk about their encounters with the supernatural, no one has so far told me a story convincing enough to move the needle.
I am, however, open to the idea that ghosts and hauntings do exist.
All this to say that as I entered the abandoned farm with Shakir that night, I tried to do so with an unbiased mindset, ready to see with my own eyes that the paranormal really does exist.
Hopping across a drain and scurrying up a small hill, Shakir and I arrived at a large empty warehouse.
As we stood in the middle of the building and shone our torchlights around, it was really starting to dawn on me how dark the place was.
The derelict state of the warehouse only added to the eerieness.
The dark, creepy setting presented the perfect conditions for one's eyes to play tricks with their mind, imagining things that might not really be there.
Outside the shed, sheets of corrugated metal were strewn across the ground and within the vegetation.
I found myself doing a double take every time the light of our torches reflected off the sheets and caught my eye.
A quick check confirmed that I had in fact been momentarily spooked by an unremarkable piece of metal sitting among the trees.
After a few minutes of wandering around, we came to a clearing next to a large drain.
Court documents from the Gardens by the Bay murder trial show that after attempting to burn the body of his slain lover along Lim Chu Kang Lane 8, Khoo shifted it to a drain nearby to continue the makeshift cremation more discreetly.
It was at this clearing, that Shakir had previously heard the sound of a humming woman.
The night I was with him, it was silent except for the sound of insects and distant vehicles.
Shakir then began to whistle, the short sharp lilting sound interrupting the quietness.
He explained that it was something he sometimes did to draw out entities.
“Honestly, I’d rather you didn’t,” I thought to myself.
As sceptical as I was beforehand, now that I had been wandering around in the dark for a bit, I was officially creeped out.
Banana trees, pontianaks, & penanggals
Next up, we came to a long shed that looked like it might have been used to keep animals.
As we walked down the dirt path that ran through the middle of the open-air structure, I noticed a glint in the trees — it was a pair of eyes.
“Do you see that?” I said to Shakir.
“Yeah, I do.”
I was too fixated on the two glowing orange orbs to realise what it was perched on until Shakir pointed it out to me.
Whatever was attached to those eyes was sat on the branches of a banana tree, which in case you’re not aware is often tied to many superstitions including the dreaded Pontianak.
That revelation got my heart rate rising, but not as much as when Shakir seemed to freak out a bit.
“Let’s back off slowly,” he suddenly hissed.
I needn't have worried though because Shakir didn't think it was a Pontianak; "entities that have red eyes like that, some people think it's a Penanggal," he explained.
So not a vampiric female spirit, but rather a floating disembodied woman's head with its trailing organs still attached. Phew.
Looking for proof & keeping himself busy
Shakir wasn’t always a believer in the supernatural.
On the contrary, before he started ParaX he too was a sceptic.
“My daughter — I think she has something like a third eye. She kept telling me ‘Daddy look over there, there’s an old woman outside the window.’ But I didn’t believe her,” he said.
Eventually, Shakir had heard enough of these claims from the seven-year-old that his curiosity was piqued. He wanted to know for himself if ghosts were real.
He noticed that one of his friends had started making videos exploring sites thought to be haunted.
Shakir reached out and before he knew it, he’d found himself tagging along on a walkabout at Pasir Ris Park, not unlike the one I ended up doing with him.
After a few trips with his friend, Shakir decided to give it a try on his own.
“I wanted to go alone because, with two people, the feeling is not there. I felt like I would have to be alone if I wanted to see an entity.”
The incident that turned him from sceptic to believer happened during his first solo walk in Labrador Park, which he live streamed.
"I saw a white lady, with purple hair in a white dress standing next to a tree," he said.
"I got my viewers to take screenshots before I ran away."
If Shakir had set out to find out for himself if paranormal entities really did exist, what kept him continuing to venture out week after week?
"It's because of some personal issues," he said, apprehensively.
Shakir had previously suffered from drug addiction. He lived alone except when his daughter was staying over, and at night he often struggled with the temptation and urge to go back to bad habits.
"The demon talks to me, and it makes me do stupid things," he explained.
"So sometimes I make myself busy at night just to keep me away from all this."
Most days of the week, Shakir is the owner of a valet business — it's not something he's necessarily passionate about, but it helps pay the bills.
Yet, a few times a week, when he and ParaX venture out for their live streams, he finds relief from the mundanity of everyday life by taking on the role of a ghost hunter seeking to prove the existence of the paranormal.
The exploration of spooky haunts whisks Shakir out of average situations into thrilling circumstances that many only experience vicariously, through stories or movies.
Despite my personal scepticism, it's undeniable that the world would be a far more interesting place if ghosts existed.
Reason to pause
While I’m about 95 per cent sure that the pair of eyes I saw in the banana tree at Lim Chu Kang belonged to an animal, it was probably the scariest moment of the walk I had with Shakir.
The rest of the night was relatively mild in comparison — we explored some more dilapidated buildings that were no doubt creepy, but uninhabited (at least to the naked eye).
Later on, another ParaX team member, Ismail, performed an uji nyali otherwise known as the test of courage.
This involved going into the abandoned farm alone and performing a ritual meant to coax a spirit into possessing him.
The ritual proved successful and somewhat action-packed — Ismail ended up doing a backflip and crawling around on the ground before ParaX's "guardians" exorcised him.
But the whole ordeal was perhaps a bit too bizarre for me to feel truly scared.
I left Lim Chu Kang that night still largely sceptical about the existence of ghosts.
But what happened the day that followed has given me a reason to pause.
The next day, I was explaining to my family's helper, Lennie, why I'd come back in muddy clothes, and that I'd been out the night before walking around a muddy abandoned farm squinting at a pair of orange orbs trying to make out if it was a Penanggal.
All of a sudden, the blood rushed from her face.
The same night, she'd had a dream where she saw me returning home with a ghoulish figure in tow.
Lennie could vividly recall its crazed eyes, dishevelled hair, and — funnily enough — that it was dressed in a raglan t-shirt.
Just as I was about to enter the house, she shouted at me to ask why I was bringing such a thing back home.
"What thing?" the dream-world version of me asked.
She woke up from that nightmare in a cold sweat and immediately went to make sure that the doors and windows in the house were locked.
While doing so, Lennie took note of the time — it was just past 3am.
That same night, I'd gotten home, you guessed it, right before 3am.
Top image derived from images by ParaX Singapore and Lauren Choo