Myanmar people believe in the
existence of spirits of people and people who have died. So do many
Chinese in Singapore? Do you believe that spirits
and ghosts exist? Do you believe in the hungry ghosts
wandering around during the Hungry Ghost Festival?
Now, what has the Myanmar
ice-cream vendor in this report has to do
with spirits? No connection except that he is
ice-cream in a famous Myanmar temple area where there
are many snakes and he probably believed in spirits and
Whenever I see an ice-cream vendor
in Singapore, I recall this
incredible story. On Jan 14, 2009, the sound of
ice-cream bells attracted my attention as I completed a
case of Miniature Schnauzer bumps treatment. The
ice-cream vendor was licensed to sell ice-cream only in
the vicinity of Toa Payoh. The Singapore Government had
strict rules restricting street hawkers to play their
trade only in approved areas. Any licensee flouting the
rules will get fined.
The ice-cream vendor passed by my Surgery every
afternoon in 2009. It cost $1.00 per piece of ice-cream with
bread. I wondered how he could make a living since he
had poor traffic in an industrial park and there was a
China-reported melamine in milk scandal resulting in many people not
The vendor was happy to see me, saying: "I am free only
in the night and so I consult your colleague about my
puppy. You know,
I stopped selling ice-cream for a few days after my dog
died." It was really sad as it was unexpected that
his Pekinese would die. The dog was passing urinary
stones practically one a day for the past months but he
did not accept my advice to get the stones removed. "If
only he can produce diamonds instead of urinary stones,"
the vendor said to me. I did not laugh as it would be at
the expense of the dog and I consider ill health in
animals not a laughing matter. But others may have their
own sense of humour.
As an example of humour, on a bright sunny Sunday August
22, 2010 afternoon, I visited a pet shop in Toa Payoh as
I had closed my surgery. A thin woman with dyed bronzed
hair and black big-framed spectacles came in to buy 2
cans of the cheapest cat food to feed the stray cats.
This was a routine she had done for at least 25 years
and the stray cats would wait for her every day. She had
numerous cats in her house but she said: "I feed them
only Science Diet since the pedigreed cats would pass
blood and get diarrhoea when fed these cheap canned
The aunty of the pet shop proprietor introduced her to
me, being kind-hearted to get me more customers. I would
call this woman "the cat-woman" as she devoted her life
to caring for so many cats. She had many questions about
her cats' health. One of them was an old cat that had
recovered from chemotherapy for some mammary tumours.
"Why does my cat meow loudly nowadays?" she asked me
as advices are free.
"It is hard to say what is the cause," I replied as the
cat had been spayed. "Like some old people, your old cat
may be suffering from hallucinations and could see some
objects threatening her."
"What do you mean?"
I said: "In old people, the brain may have degenerated
and the person sees things or people others can't see
and start telling his family members."
"You mean ghosts?" the cat woman wondered
"It is hard to define what the person with dementia
sees," I said. "Their brain wiring may have been
defective and if the cat has this problem, she
would see another cat coming for her. These are my
wild speculations. You should consult your vet."
"Vet fees are so expensive," the cat woman said.
"The vet gives 20% discount if I bring in a stray
cat but for other cats, it is over $100 a visit."
I had no comments on this subject. The cat
woman had fallen on hard times and the cats in her
house and the stray cats suffered from less food.
It is costly feeding so many stray cats but the
pest-control people and the veterinary authorities
had disposed many of them over the last 10 years.
"If not for Pauline from the Cat Society," the cat
woman told me, " The Toa Payoh Town Council would
get rid of all stray cats in Toa Payoh. Now, the
Town Council leaves sterilised cats which have
clipped left ear tip alone." I don't know who
Pauline is or whether there is a Cat Society.
"Now I remember," the cat woman waved her hand and
her silk blouse with maps of the world fluttered.
"My cat started meowing at
the start of the Hungry Ghost Month. She must be seeing
a lot of ghosts. You know, my friend has to go home
before 7 pm to avoid the ghosts nowadays!"
The shop aunty laughed and took a piece of tissue to
wipe her eyes. I did
not laugh at the poor cat's expense but seeing humour in
some animal encounter situations may be best if
one wants to live longer.
Back from my digression and to the ice-cream vendor. His mahjong friends
had bought him a puppy as he and his wife had been grieving
for several weeks.
Suddenly a strong gust of wind blew off his plastic
ice-cream cups and his helmet. Nothing unusual as the
two industrial buildings of 10 stories create a wind
tunnel effect. "My old dog is angry with me," the vendor
said as a stronger gust of wind uprooted his large
umbrella from the holder. The umbrella floated upwards
to one storey high and gravity pulled it down some 10
metres away with a loud pomp.
I had this shivering feeling as I knew the old dog and
had wondered at this new development before the vendor
expressed my thoughts. Is there such an entity as a
The vendor picked up the umbrella and put it back into
his holder. He screwed the knob to hold it in position.
The breeze got stronger. "Your umbrella is going up," I
shouted. "Don't worry, I am holding onto it." After
several seconds, the breeze just died.
"How do you know that your old dog is showing her
presence?" I asked him.
"I can feel her presence even at home," he said.
I was sceptical. "How do you know?"
The vendor said, "Clumps of her hair appeared in the
apartment suddenly." The dog had died around 2 months
ago and there should be no hairs around.
The vendor saw through my disbelief, "Sometimes, I could
hear her swaying and rubbing her backside at night under the bed.
One night, my wife asked why I was shaking the bed. I
told her I did not."
As to why his mahjong friends presented a replacement puppy
for him, I thought it was due to friendship and to stop
him from grieving. I asked, "Why do your friends want to
buy a puppy for you?"
elaborated, "All of them bought 4-digit lottery and won
money due to the death of the dog."
"How would your friends know which 4-digit to bet upon?"
I asked. I don't believe in such matters and on the rare
occasions I bought 4-digits, I had not won a dollar.
"They have their ways," the vendor elaborated.
I could not continue to talk more to him as my assistant Mr Saw came
out to remind me that another client was waiting.
This story of a canine spirit sounds and winning the
4-digit lottery sounded incredible. I can't
believe it myself if I had not experienced the sudden
shivering when the breeze increased in force and
intensity at the time the vendor spoke and grieved about
his Pekinese that had died young.