In Search of a Pontianak Tree with SPI (2002)

In 2002, I followed the Singapore Paranormal Investigators on an excursion for a news-feature writing assignment for school. Here’s what came out of that project:

It was a Friday evening when I arranged to meet a group of Singaporeans who call themselves Singapore Paranormal Investigators (SPI). We were having a dinner cum interview session at a Thai restaurant when one of them, Kenny, suggested that I tag along with them on an investigation of a pontianak (Malay vampire) sighting at the Changi Village area. Excited by the prospect of witnessing a ghost, I eagerly agreed. Little did I know what I was entering myself into.

The SPI group was founded in June 2001 by Dr. Kenny, an assistant professor who used to teach computer engineering at NTU and is now a visiting professor in an overseas university, and Abductboy, Dr. Kenny’s co-founder, a safety officer in a construction company. He only gave me his Internet alias as he refused to disclose his real name. They have a website at where they present their findings of paranormal activity and they hold club sessions where members can meet up to share paranormal sightings or anecdotes.

When asked how the two of them met, Dr. Kenny (who insisted that I call him Kenny), gave a cryptic reply: “By fate,” and smiled. Abductboy nodded at the driver’s seat as he drove us to Changi.

It was about 8p.m. then. We cruised on a long stretch of road, flanked on both sides by looming trees. The airport runway was some distance away and the long lines of orange runway lights glinted at us like UFOs beckoning.

“We do not conduct exorcisms or do any form of occult magic,” Dr. Kenny said, “Our goal is to collect data about paranormal activity in a scientific manner, as far as possible. We use equipment such as high-resolution digital cameras, thermal sensors, electromagnetic field detectors… and we analyse our findings and then present them on the website. This way, the public can judge for themselves whether a particular encounter is valid.”

The car screeched to a stop, crunching gravel at the side of a small road near the Changi Sailing Club.

“We have to park here. The car can’t go in. We got to walk some distance in ourselves.” Abductboy said as he switched off the engine.

The air was warm and humid, with a faint smell of the sea lingering. Dr. Kenny and Abductboy picked up their equipment and the three of us started on the hunt. The orange streetlamps shone some light along our walk to the beach but otherwise patches of darkness gathered around us.

Kenny explained that they were investigating an incident reported by Abductboy’s colleague, K.

K’s brother was fishing at the old commando jetty at Changi Beach with a friend one night. That night, while their fishing rods had been set and they were sitting quietly waiting, they felt some stones being thrown at them. The two of them turned around and seeing no one else around, they asked each other: “Was it you?” No, they were not playing jokes on each other. Then K’s brother walked near a tree to investigate. He thought he saw a figure sitting on a branch. His friend sat where he was. Suddenly he heard a scream, possibly from K’s brother’s direction. He turned around. It was not known exactly what he saw but he fainted nonetheless.

The two avid anglers fainted that night. They were warded into hospital the next morning when a passer-by saw them lying unconscious on the ground.

“And so we’re now going to look for this pontianak tree because we’re not very sure where is it, and we’re going to take some pictures of it and see if anything comes up”, Abductboy said.

Will anything come up?

According to the SPI website, they have taken several photos of “ghosts” before. These “ghosts” do not look like our conventional ghosts, like figures with long hair and white sheets. Instead, they look like small, coloured, round patches which paranormal scientists call “orbs”. These orbs are usually dismissed by people as dust on camera lens or reflections of light, but the interesting thing is that when the orbs are magnified using computer technology, they sometimes reveal features of a human face.

Dr. Kenny explains that in order not to introduce any human errors in their photos, the SPI team takes several precautions: cleaning of lens before shooting, not shooting in rainy or dusty conditions, taking note of objects in the frame that might reflect light, etc.

When asked how they managed to take so many photos of orbs, Dr. Kenny said, “Its actually a matter of probability. For every hundred or so photos we take, only three or four turn up with orbs or other anomalies. Besides, who would go to all these dark and eerie places and take hundreds of photos?”

The three of us walked by the beachfront restaurant where a wedding dinner was going on, towards a sandy patch near the dark and deserted end of the beach. I stared at Dr. Kenny walking in front of me, his black t-shirt with the words “Singapore Paranormal Investigators” printed in bold white.

I worried whether the revelers will be alarmed but they hardly took any notice about us, tucking into their chilli crabs and toasting their champagnes happily.

We walked on. Along the way, the SPI team shot some pictures occasionally.

Out in the calm sea, several yachts bobbed gently. The sea licked the sandy shore like a wet dog. The sounds from the wedding revelers hardly reached us as we trudged past three anglers fishing at a dark and quiet spot.

I asked Dr. Kenny whether he believed in life after death.

“Before I believe in something, there must be some evidence or proof. Since I have not gathered enough information about this, my mind is still open to all possibilities”, he said as we reached a secluded area far away from the anglers.

In the area where the forest ended and the sea began, a lone tree stood on the sloping ground, some metres away from the forest. We walked forward and examined it. There was no particular strangeness about the tree. It was just a tree.

The SPI team then proceeded to shoot pictures of the tree and its surroundings.

After about fifteen minutes, with no ghost in sight, we left the place and trudged back, tired and sweaty in the humid air.

Dr. Kenny said almost apologetically, “That’s just the way it is… for most of the times SPI work is not very exciting. They are just plain investigations.”

The car started and drove us back to civilization.

As we reached the MRT station where I was dropping off, I asked them a final question, “Why are you guys interested in paranormal research?”

“Why?” Abductboy replied.

“Because it’s interesting that we all know that we are going to die but we do not commit much research to what happens after that.”


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