Saturday, May 2, 2009

Playing tourist

Whenever we are in Singapore we try and visit a place we havent been before, often a place with a little history. Joining the late morning crowd on the MRT, we alighted at Tanjong Pagar, J's old stop. We wound our way through the underground walking tunnel, popped out into the already hot sunlight we headed towards the picturesque mixture of shophouses and highrise office blocks of Telok Ayer Street. Back in the early 1800s it was the main landing area used by Chinese immigrants. You can still find some of the temples and mosques travellers built to express their gratitude for their safe passage.

Thain Hock Keng is one of the oldest Hokkien Chinese temples in Singapore. More than 100 years ago it stood on the beach front, it's the front step was the foreshore. Now if you stand at the front door and look out all you can see is the concrete, steel and glass of the central business district which stands on some of the nearly 70 sq km of land Singapore has reclaimed since independence. Back in 1821, when Chinese immigrants were hauling their few possessions onto the shores of the free port of Singapore, Thain Hock Keng was a small shrine on the beach, a place where sailors and travellers could pray to Matsu (Ma Cho Po), the patron saint of sailors, to thank her for a safe landing or ensure a safe passage, especially relevant after making it down the choppy and unpredictable South China Sea.

Detail of the temples history is etched on a granite stone at the entrance doors. The shrine, it says was replaced by a proper temple, built in 1839 and completed around 1842, by Mr Tan Tock Seng and Mr Si Hoo Keh. It cost 30 000 USD, a huge amount in those days, which was collected among the clan members and temple devotees. Chinese craftsmans were bought over from China to create and embellish, craft and adorn all without the use of nails.

Over the years, Thian Hock Keng has been restored several times. A huge restoration project begun in 1998 and completed at the end of 2000 won four architectural awards including the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage 2001 Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation Building.

The main doors, brightly painted with guardians, the sentinels, stand open. This is still an important functioning temple for the local Chinese community despite the fact many chose now to 'sail' the skies rather than the seas.

Stepping over a low ledge at the door, which not only kept any high tides at bay but also induces a small stoop or bow, takes you into a large courtyard with the main shrine, resplendent in gold, on the back wall of the main building.

Behind it, there's a shrine dedicated to Guan Shi Yin Pu Sa- the bodhisattva or goddess of mercy, an ecletic mixture of Taoism and Buddism that is not unusual in Chinese temples.

Secondary shrines and pagodas are dedicated to various personalities including Confucious, Bo Sheng Da Di- a medicine deity worshipped in the South of China, Yue Gong Niang Niang- the moon goddess- a matchmaker and granter of wishes for happy marriage, Guan Sheng De Juan- who sits beside Matzu and whos heroic death in battle give him protective powers, Qie Lan Pu Sa- a protection deity-the Bodhivista Sangharama, Cheng Huang Ye- a city god flanked by 'The Inspector of Day and Night' and 'The Lady of Cheng Huang' who teach people to do good rather than evil deeds, Tai Yang Gong- born in the East, patrols Heaven and Earth, divides the Day and Night and provids Light to brighten the world to destroy Darkness , Diseases and Enemies

and Kai Zhang Seng Wang- grower of the ecomony and thus a god of prosperity.

Despite the busy location of the temple inside was quiet and peaceful but we were getting hot and sticky. Time to find some airconditioning.

1 comment:

Jen Jen in Jakarta, Indonesia said...

With every one of your posts I find another place I just have to see!

Fancy being in Singapore at the same time lol.

I don't usually post where I am going until after I've been...tricky sentence.

We have a four day weekend in a weeks time and are off to Singapore for 5 days.
I just love it there.

I have your blog in my reader so I read every word you write and drool over all the pictures....I just never get around to clicking through to comment :-(

Do you do facebook? I tend to write much more freely there. (Jenjen Qld)