It all started with a cat flying through the air… and then not. It was a few days after Christmas, back in 2015, when a mentally ill man hurled a cat off the 13th story balcony of an apartment complex in Yishun, a residential and shopping district in Singapore's heartlands.
The cat, of course, died and the man was brought up on animal cruelty charges. In most circumstances, that would be the end of the story. It was the kind of news piece that hits the crime blotters today and is gone tomorrow. But not in Yishun. There were also at least 17 other instances of cats being found dead—as well as a long list of murders, disasters, and just plain shit luck—to take place in the town.
Soon, the local press started to call Yishun "The Devil's Ring," and 18-year-old Lhu Wen Kai decided it was time to document all the town's strange going-ons on his blog The Yishun Dream. What's going on in Yishun? Is it Singapore's own version of the Bridgewater Triangle—an alleged hotbed of strange and creepy sightings in the northeastern United States? Is it cursed? Or are we just seeing what we want to see here?
"Experts have claimed it’s confirmation bias, but when the town churns out bizarre events that don’t happen anywhere else in Singapore with such consistency, it is delusional to not admit that there is something wrong with the place," Lhu told VICE.
We sent VICE's Desiree Leong out to figure out what makes Yishun so weird.
LHU WEN KAI, CREATOR, 'THE YISHUN DREAM'
VICE: Hi Wen Kai, I found “The Yishun Dream” really intriguing. Tell me, why did you start the website?
Lhu Wen Kai: Two reasons. For one, I’m curious about the affairs of the town and wanted to find out more about its bizarre events. The whole “Yishun is a ghetto” joke started making its rounds in 2015, so researching about the area prior to that unearthed other similarly interesting cases and mapping out the location of each event allowed me to visualize which parts of Yishun is more cursed, so to speak.
It sounds like you believe the area is cursed. Is it true?
Some say that the freak incidents that occurred were mere coincidences and could have happened anywhere on the island. After the website was completed, a youth was brutally slashed over a dispute, another cat killer striked, and monster caterpillars started appearing in the vicinity. I’ll let the events speak for themselves, even though the "dystopian" tag was a hyperbole to begin with.
Admittedly, those events are very bizarre. But I’m also aware of media misrepresentations, sounds like they haven’t made the situation any better.
While I disagree that this is not a case of confirmation bias, given that the town churns out negative events with such consistency and is delusional not to admit there is something a little wrong with the place—Yishun is the perfect case study of media hype at work. Through repeated exposure of unfavorable events and subtle connotations, the media shapes an individual’s beliefs over time and gets them on board with the initially-playful and innocent joke. Basically, the more you surround yourself with Yishun’s negative news, the sooner you too will believe the town is cursed.
It’s a lot of effort, documenting all the events in one single site. Arguably, this has also caused some people to take offense to the content posted. How does this make you feel?
I have no issues with people taking offense with the content—it is their right to do so. But if one single website that compiles factual events about their town is enough to mentally break them, imagine what would have happened if there was a genuine crisis in Singapore. I guess Singaporeans in general are drawn to drama and conflict. That’s the basis of most entertainment we consume, conflict makes things interesting.
Yishun has spawned a conspiracy theory website and various contentious events. The notoriety of the town however, seems to still remain ambivalent at large.
There is always someone who makes the news for the wrong reasons, a villain of the week who becomes a subject of online furore. But, did you know that Yishun is home to one of the luckiest outlets to get your lottery tickets from? High risk, high reward. A mysterious man was also reported to have rescued a bus driver trapped in a tragic accident with three lorries, before fleeing the scene in a hurry. On my map, I have a hidden section which showcases the positive stories coming out of the Yishun debacle, though they too have an element of conflict in them which is what makes everything interesting.
LOUIS NG, PARLIAMENT MEMBER, NEE SOON GROUP REPRESENTATION CONSTITUENCY, ANIMAL WELFARE ACTIVIST
VICE: Hi Louis, cursed or not, there has been a lot of news about animal cruelty in Yishun. What is the root cause of this issue?
Louis Ng: I believe that the person/persons committing these crimes must have some mental issues. It has also taken some time to catch the culprit/s as there was a lack of awareness about these cases and a lack of public involvement in deterring such crimes. One of the first few things I did was to publicize that this was happening in Yishun, and to release information about all the cat deaths.
As an animal welfare activist, you have been vocal about this issue, calling for members of the public to step-forward in appealing for witnesses. Do you consider the spate of cat deaths to be bizarre?
The bulk of cat deaths were the result of dogs, and there was not actually anything untoward about the body count. This is not just happening in Yishun but islandwide, and has gone on for many years. While it was negative given the number of cat deaths, many people have collaborated with the authorities to end this cruelty, patrolling the area in the middle of the night, in efforts to deter the killer and protect the cats. This is active citizenry at its very best.
Seems like the killing have been going on for a few years now. Are things getting better?
The situation is improving with a sharp decline in the number of cases. The awareness, active role the public has played and the collaboration with the authorities have helped greatly. However, this is not something that will end overnight. It will persist, so we need to continue creating the much needed awareness about the importance of animal welfare.
RAJIV SHARMAN, YISHUN RESIDENT
VICE: Hey Rajiv, how would you describe Yishun as a town?
Rajiv Sharman: I've lived here all my life—a good 28 years. I would segregate Yishun into two parts, the Khatib region (the subset of the entire town) and of course, the main Yishun. You have to live here to know the perimeters. I live in this small Khatib region. But as a whole, I would describe my area as peaceful, despite being aware of the reputation of this town.
How have all these misfortunate events affected your view on the town that you grew up in?
While there’s been many cases of satirical news, I believe these strange, bizarre events happen in other parts of Singapore. In fact, the town’s infamous reputation has since allowed me to appreciate the area more. I spotted a dead cat while jogging along a reservoir beside a hospital in Yishun years back. I’m unsure if it's linked to the infamous case of cat deaths, but it doesn’t affect me how the media portrays my place of residence. It is still a safe place to visit and live—a fair mix of everything.
For more reports of the strange and bloody incidents to hit Yishun, check out The Yishun Dream.
Desiree Leong is a freelance writer based in Singapore. You can follow her on Twitter here.