By Ho Lian-Yi
EVERYONE likes a good scare every now and then. Horror books like True Singapore Ghost Stories often hit the top ten list. Then came the ghost hunters or as they prefer it, paranormal investigators.
Business is good enough for some groups to be around for more than a decade. None of them revealed how much they make off ghost tours they regularly organise.
But a new group of paranormal investigators are risking life and limb overseas and capturing it all on video. They hope to sell the video to fund their activities. The older groups are critical of the new boys.
Recently, the Singapore Spears Paranormal Investigation (SSPI) explored haunted places in Indonesia and claimed the trip was fraught with danger.
They are hoping to sell the DVDs, titled Mission 2 Dimensions, for $24.90 to fund their activities. Not everyone is happy with them taking such risks.
Mr Charles Goh, the founder of Asia Paranormal Investigators which has been in the business for more than a decade, said: "When they are risking their lives, it's going a bit overboard.
"You don't want to really join the other side. You have your wife, your children and your families waiting for you... if you are injured or paralysed your family must take care of you for life. Is it worth it?"
Members of SSPI explored a supposedly sacred cave with an Indonesian "holy man".
At some points during the six-hour trek ? where they went in far deeper than most visitors usually do - they had to go through water so deep it reached their necks and they had to hold their equipment over their heads, rifle-style.
Meanwhile, they had to avoid the invisible potholes and vortices that could have sucked them under. This is not typical paranormal investigation work.
SSPI was making a DVD "reality film" about haunted and mysterious places in Java, and they had sought out Pancur Cave, which is near Pati, a town about 70km north east of Semarang.
It was said that some years ago seven explorers had gone missing after entering the cave - and the SSPI team wanted to find out what happened to them, as well as capture on tape any spirits that lurked.
But was it worth risking their lives for?
The group's founder and director Muhd Salihin Ahmad aka Zack Smoke, 27, said he was aware of the risks. He said: "If you love something and have the passion for it, you don't care if you risk your life.
"Like (wildlife expert) Steve Irwin, for me, if you die doing something you love, it's okay. In the end, you will die anyway."
The expedition took place last August. The team was based in Semarang in Indonesia, where they met up with their Indonesian cohorts. They were there for 10 days.
The DVD also depicts their visit to an abandoned railway station, and a mud geyser field in Purwodadi in Central Java named Bledug Kuwu.
Mr Khalid Merwan, 40, a businessman by day and SSPI's managing director by night, described the walk through Bledug Kuwu in the darkness as "frightening".
They had to walk from waypoint to waypoint marked by poles in the ground, taking care to avoid the depressions that indicated a recent eruption in the area.
He said the eruptions were loud, "like a battleground", and at times felt perilously close.
"I did ask the caretaker about safety. He assured me that as long as we followed his footsteps, it's 100 per cent safe," he said.
Dr Kenny Fong, founder of the Singapore Paranormal Investigators (SPI), wondered: "What does a mud volcano or Java cave have to do with the paranormal? It sounds (like) Indiana Jones, fanatic style.
"Investigation is about research and intellectual analysis; field trips are only for collecting data and inspecting sites."
Mr Francis Lee, 60, a travel operator who regularly organises cave exploration trips, said SSPI members were risking their lives by removing their shoes in the cave.
"It is dangerous if you get cut, as cave floors are also often covered with bat guano (droppings), and that stuff is poisonous."
But SSPI members said they had trained hard for the expedition, and had taken precautions. He admitted none of them had any caving experience, but the three local guides were very competent. They also bought insurance just in case.
Was his family concerned about him running off and chasing ghosts in potentially dangerous places?
"I told my family that this is my interest since young. Some of them agreed with me. My wife is okay with it," he said.
This article was first published in The New Paper.