The Grey Jogger – A Halloween Tale

It’s a week before Halloween, and following the very G-rated experience I had with the SEA Aquarium’s Spooky Seas tour last week, I thought it would be a good time to turn up the fear factor a big notch and share this little story that I usually tell around this time to see if I can make people pee in their pants a little.

This is a first-hand account I originally shared years ago in a community forum called Sengkang .com, so if you’re the kind that gets freaked out easily, check your pants after you’re done and let me know in comments if it worked.

***

I used to stay in a block of flats next to an underpass that leads straight into the landed residences that form Serangoon Gardens. To access this underpass, you have to go through a jogging track (it’s still there, though they’ve taken down a few of the HDB blocks nearby); nice place, but of course, deserted at night (unless you’re want to “catch monkeys”, because of the few lovebirds that like to hang around in the bushes and thereabouts).

Anyway, I was 16 at the time, studying for my ‘O’-levels, and I was hanging out at a void deck with a couple of my friends who were also slogging for their ‘N’-level exams. We met at about 10pm that night, wanting to go through our textbooks together till really late. At about 2am in the morning, we started to get hungry, and we had our bicycles with us, so we thought, okay, let’s go to the 7-Eleven at Serangoon Gardens (in those days, there weren’t as many 7-Elevens all over the place) to get some snacks to eat.

So 2 of us set off on our bikes down the jogging track and into the underpass. When I got to the underpass, I noticed a turn we made on the jogging track that was unusually cold. I thought, trees and carbon dioxide, should be normal lah. So I didn’t think much of it.

We got to the 7-Eleven, and then realised, nobody brought money. My stoopid friend thought I was going to pay for him, and I thought he brought his wallet. So we had to cycle back.

The route back was the same; at the turn, I felt the same cold air, maybe even colder. When we reached the stone tables again, I dug for my wallet and took out my ATM card. Then we headed back. The jogging track was starting to creep me out. And the cold was starting to bite.

We reached the 7-Eleven again, and surprise! My ATM card reached the maximum number of withdrawals for the day. And then my friend confesses to me that he has no money. Feeling like absolute idiots, we cycle back again to borrow money from my other friend.

During the third trip, I swear my neck hairs started pricking up like someone applied prickly heat powder on my neck. It was getting unnerving, so I thought to myself, this better be the bloody last trip.

We finally got our snacks and drinks, and we were cycling back to our home ground. After we exited the underpass and made the turn, I was once again greeted by the cold (which by now had reached non-Singaporean levels), and then I felt something else.

As I made the turn, I turned my head around a bit. I saw a man behind me – long, curly hair, grey t-shirt and shorts, pale and near colourless skin and no face. His right arm was stretched out towards me, his hand open wide and almost at my face. I freaked, turned back and pedalled for my dear life. Not wanting to freak my friend out too much, I called out to him softly, “Eh, can cycle faster or not?” Whether he heard me or not, I could see he was also pedalling hard, head down and not turning back, as though his life depended on it.

We sped back to the stone tables; I had cold sweat running down my everywhere, and my friend was a bit white. The other guy waiting for us looked a bit weirded out seeing us in this state and asked us what happened.

Before we answered him, I turned to the guy who was cycling in front of me and asked him “Did you see anything?”

He said, “No. But I felt a hand touch me on my right shoulder.”

The grey jogger was reaching out for him, not me.

***

There’s a part of this story that I leave untold most of the time. Whether it relates to what happened or not, I can’t say, but after the incident, the next I saw the guy that was cycling in front of me was a number of months later. He had bandages wrapped thick around his wrists. It was a little later that he  went into depression a few months later and tried to commit suicide.

He says it was over a girl. I can’t help but think otherwise.

Spooky Seas VIP Tour: Tales from the SEA Aquarium

I’ve always been fascinated by the paranormal. But I’m a family man now, so I’ve had to keep my horror movie fetish under wraps for fear of freaking out the son, the daughter and the Mother of Xander.

But once in a while, I get to indulge a little in a couple of *true* ghost stories. Sometimes I tell them, and sometimes I am told, like what I heard at the “Spooky Seas” themed SEA Aquarium VIP Tour we were invited to.

Spooky-1

This is what happens when the SEA Aquarium tries and matches Universal Studios Singapore’s Halloween Horror Nights to cater to primary schoolers so everyone along the age spectrum can have a piece of Halloween action. The seasonal dish in this case takes the form of an adventure trail complete with a treasure map for your kids to locate 12 “Trick or Treat” stations strewn around the aquarium, and kids who complete the map get showered with freebies for their whole family.

Spooky-2

Spooky-3My boy happens to celebrate Halloween at his preschool every year, so he’s quite familiar with the “Trick or Treat” concept. His father, though, was still looking for ghosts. And with a dedicated guide with extensive knowledge of the Aquarium’s inhabitants shadowing us for an hour or two, The Blogfather would advise you to feel free to make the most of the VIP tour (that costs $88 per adult and $68 per child) and test the limits of your guide’s knowledge. For example (and these are actual dialogues I had with the guide during the tour):

***

Guide: “You see those small little fish hanging around the bigger fish? Those are called ‘cleaning wrasses’. Many of our tanks contain these little fish to help us clean not only the tank but other fish as well.”
Me: “Cool. Which town council do they report to?”

***

Apparently his pits smelled so fishy, he died.
Apparently his pits smelled so fishy, he died.

***

Spooky-5

Guide: “Did you know sharks actually have 6 senses?”
Me: “They see dead people?”

***

Guide: “The largest ray we have in the Aquarium has a wingspan of 5 metres.”
Me: “Mmmm. How many portions of barbecued stingray does that make?”
Guide: “No, the ones you’re talking about are stingrays. The ray I’m referring to is a manta ray. We don’t eat manta rays, because they on the endangered species list.”
Me: (to Mother of Xander) “Phew. Your favourite dish not illegal.”
Mother of Xander: “What’s the difference between manta rays and stingrays?”
Guide: “Stingrays have thin tails, and (pointing to a huge manta ray swimming past us) manta rays have those two horn-like things sticking out of their front called cephalic fins.”
Mother of Xander: “I see. So one looks like a kite, the other looks like Batman.”

(This particular discussion happened back-of-house, so unfortunately we weren’t allowed a photo of that huge manta ray that swam past us; you’ll just have to take the Blogfather’s word for it when he says it was a spectacular sight).

Spooky-6
“Barbecued WHAT?!”

***

We all learned something that day. But for most of the Spooky Seas tour, we didn’t see much spooky, apart from the skeletons and skulls and jack-o-lanterns tactfully placed in key exhibit tanks, and this one walkway leading to the back-of-house.

If you stand and stare down the walkway long enough, security will come and ask you if you need any help.
If you stand and stare down this walkway long enough, someone will come and ask you if you are lost or something.

Eeyer.

And once again, that is where having a dedicated guide who’s spent an extensive amount of time in a large, dark enclosed environment built on a former World War 2 British military fortress comes in handy. And I reserved the most obvious question for the end of our tour.

Me: “So, do you have any spooky stories about this place?”
Guide: (sheepishly) “Are you going to write about this?”
Me: “Of course! This is supposed to be Spooky Seas, right?”

Our young, knowledgeable guide gave me a long look of uncertainty, took a deep breath, and caved. She didn’t go into detail (in fact she summarised it into just two sentences), but it was enough.

I leave it to you to ask your own guide more when you’re there (and if you dare), but I will say this: the story occurs at the beginning of the tour – old things have a tendency to carry their own spiritual baggage.

Bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha.

Spooky-8

SEA Aquarium Wonders: Spooky Seas Adventure Trail is open to all visitors from now till 16 November 2014.

The RWS S.E.A. Aquarium VIP Guided Tour costs S$88 per adult and S$68 per child between 4-12 years, with discounts available for annual pass holders. The tour package includes priority access to the Discovery Touch Pool and guided back-of-house access to the Open Ocean Habitat, an aquarist lab and Dolphin Island. The aquarium can hold tours for a maximum of 12 persons over 3 time slots, starting from 9am (touted as the best time for a VIP tour because you get exclusive access to the Aquarium before they open for the day).

Contact RWS at +65 65776077 or email rwstours@rwsentosa.com for enquiries and booking.

[Review] Celebrating 50 Years of Marriage with a Volvo

My mother always wanted me to drive a Volvo.

Mummy

I listed this as one of my parents’ 10 unfulfilled wishes way back in 2010, and something I never thought of pursuing further, given the Climate Of Extravagance (no, I did not apply caps arbitrarily) and all the Extra Rear-end Pain (yep, did that on purpose too) our nation’s leaders have so considerately set upon us (yes, I’m dripping the sarcasm very generously).

But as luck would have it, I was to receive an invitation that we in the very small but very chummy dad blogger community generally consider to be one of the Holy Grails of blogger engagement firsts (I count a total of 6 Holy Grails  –  milestones of first-time invitations in any dad blogger’s portfolio – indoor playground and major attraction reviews, toy company engagements, cash-paid blog posts, a staycation anywhere that isn’t your own house, a vacation anywhere that isn’t your own country, and car test drives like this one; you can see from the linked items how far I’ve gone.)

The timing was right, too: the weekend of the drive also happened to be the weekend of my parents’ wedding anniversary dinner, and so The Blogfather hatched a plan.

MG50-Invitation-Banner

Volvo P1800The impression my parents gave me of what makes a Volvo was one of old school status, a strong, regal European class of automobile not far from that of classic Bentleys, not overly opulent like the Mercedes Benzes favoured by old uncles with large gold Rolexes, and not brash like how BMWs like to present themselves as. No, a Volvo is a discrete car with just the right amount of stature to show both nobility and humility at the same time. A Volvo was a sure mark of respect in the eyes of my parents’ generation.

So we weren’t quite prepared to receive this:

Volvo-Big

The Mother of Xander calls this 7-seater Volvo XC90 the Big Black Monster, and if the Wife gives something or someone a term of endearment, it means she really likes/hates the fella (it all depends on whether she employs a snarl and a hiss while saying it; she didn’t in this case).

The XC90 design has been established for all of 12 years now (the Volvo rep jokingly said the car just finished its PSLEs, hur hur hummm), with the right amount of enhancements added in over the years, making it a very viable car with the right bells and whistles for the practical family man. True to my parents’ testimony, the interior felt regal to the touch, with the right amount of thoughtfulness for a very comfortable driving experience and just a notch more.

Volvo-details

Volvo-mind-the-railingsYou can see that the XC90 on its own is a behemoth of a machine, and not easy to climb into if you’re wearing  a long, tight skirt. That said, the high ground clearance the XC90 provides makes loading everything and everyone wonderfully non-strenuous (although you do get rather paranoid about parking backside-first into lots with low railings). We liked the Transformers-like middle seat that converts into a child booster seat, and the removable middle console that adds more leg room to an already well-spaced second row. And of course, there’s enough boot space after the third row seats are folded down for a very productive Ikea run (and if you don’t already know, Volvo and Ikea are both of Swedish origin, and as of right this very moment, the current batch of XC90s that the Blogfather is talking about here is still very much produced in Sweden).

Volvo-Space

The drive itself was smoother and easier than I anticipated; I was initially concerned that I wouldn’t be able to properly gauge the size of the car, but the ample side views and the ease of manoeuvrability made for a very reassuring, stable drive. The stiff suspension is par for the course for this category of car, but I am a big fan of its cruise control function, while the kids were in awe of the sun roof it came with (“Daddy! Bird! The poop missed us! Yay!”)

We were given the T5 R-Design model, essentially a standard XC90 with a dashingly sporty body kit. But even though its commanding height gives you a good view of most of the other cars’ bird-poo stained roofs, it’s smouldering good looks still blends in well with the rest of the car population on the road. Rather too well for my liking, in fact, and this car had a dinner to attend, so The Blogfather decided to spruce it up into something fit to chauffeur a bride and groom in… somewhat.

Volvo-Featured

Good thing we kept our old wedding car decorations from 6 years back, although I must admit it was made for smaller cars. But for a married couple of 50 years, it was enough.

My mum and dad both gasped when they saw me greeting them with the car behind me (I think my mother squealed a little). Throughout the whole “wedding car”experience, there was only one hitch: my mother was wearing a long, tight skirt (hence my earlier comment about the XC90’s size). But once on board, both my parents kept beaming from ear to ear. During the car ride, I asked if my mother was comfortable. She replied in the brightest of voices, “Of course it’s comfortable. It’s a Volvo!” I felt emancipated that I could fulfil at least one of my parent’s unfulfilled wishes, if only for this one night.

Volvo-Mum-Dad

At $260,000 (price as at the publication of this post), the Volvo XC90 T5 R-Design is positioned up there with the big intercontinental boys. But The Blogfather would argue in favour of its cost; it is a Volvo, after all. And it fits a family of 4 very nicely, with room for more. But what the Wife and I really am going to miss about this car now that we’ve returned it, is how it magically kept our usually screaming baby quiet (at least, for the first couple of drives) and our young son stock-still from watching the sky fly by through the sun roof, or the smooth, sturdy ride they don’t get to experience with our usual ride. And even when the car’s magic wore off for Yvie (we enjoyed it while it lasted), the distance between the driver’s seat and the third row where we put her baby seat at one point ensured her banshee screams no longer implants that ring around our ears as we focus on the road ahead in the front.

And THAT’S what a family car should be like.

Volvo-Family