Wednesday, November 30, 2005

17. Wak Hai Cheng Beo (Yueh Hai Ching Temple) 粤海清庙

Reputed to be the oldest temple established by the Teochew community in Singapore, this building came under the management of the Ngee Ann Kongsi, a Teochew association, in 1845. It was gazetted as a national monument in 1997.

A large part of the temple was constructed with rosewood imported from China. Intricate designs of Chinese legendary figures can be found on the walls and eaves of the building. There is even a wooden plaque presented in 1907 by Emperor Guang Xu of the Qing dynasty hanging in the temple.

Although the temple is centuries-old and showing signs of wear-and-tear, it still attracts a sizeable number of devotees and tourists, many of whom would marvel at the majestic courtyard and the fine craftsmanship evident throughout the building. No photo-taking is allowed inside the temple.

The temple has two halls - one devoted to Tian Hou Gong (left, as you walk towards the temple) and the other to Shang Di Gong (on the right). Among the deities at the Tian Hou Gong is Zu Shen Niang Niang, a goddess favoured by couples hoping for a child and parents seeking blessings from the goddess for their children. The main deity, however, is Tian Hou Sheng Mu (Ma Chor/Mazu/Goddess of the Sea/Heavenly Mother). To her right is Long Wei Sheng Wang and on her left is Gan Tian Da Di.

At the Shang Di Gong, the main deity is Xuan Tian Shang Di (Heavenly Father) and in front, to his left, is the Tai Sui.

The temple sees many devotees on the 1st and 15th day of the month, as well as on the 3rd and 23rd day of the third lunar month, when the birthdays of the Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother are celebrated. Some devotees would buy the “pyramid” joss stick (the Hokkiens call it “pagoda” joss-stick), paste their name inscribed on a piece of red paper onto the joss-stick, then hand it to the temple official to hang in the courtyard.

On the eve of Chap Goh Meh (15th day of the first lunar month), crowds can be expected. Extra containers would be placed around the courtyard for devotees to burn their offerings. The heady scent of sandalwood emanating from the lighted pagoda joss-sticks above would fill the night air. At the hall of the Tian Hou Gong, flags and lanterns would be placed on the altar. Devotees wishing to bring these objects of veneration home would have to seek the Gods’ favour by tossing two kidney-shaped divination blocks. Only if consent is granted could they bring either object back, and the devotees would also equip themselves with joss-sticks which have to be kept alight throughout the journey. Thus some devotees would bring along extra sets of joss-sticks as replenishment, or simply carry an extra long one.

Another major celebration at the Wak Hai Cheng Beo takes place towards the end of the year when thanksgiving prayers are made to the Tai Sui and Confucius. A set of prayer paraphernalia (comprising a big bundle of joss-paper and 3 joss-sticks) costs S$6.00 for the Tai Sui and S$2.50 for Confucius (a smaller bundle of joss-paper and 3 joss-sticks).

The statue of Confucius, depicted here as a mandarin with a bushy black beard and holding an ancient booklet, is just in front of Xuan Tian Shang Di. He is a favourite with school-children – one by one, the children, holding their bundle of joss-paper and joss-sticks, would kneel before Confucius as the temple official chants a prayer in Teochew. That done, the child would plant the joss-sticks at Confucius’ altar before consigning the joss-paper, on which their name and school had been written, to the flames. In return, the children would be presented with a pencil, exercise book and ruler, and the blessed assurance of Confucius.

30B Phillip Street
Singapore 048696

Thursday, November 17, 2005

16. Poh An Keng 保安宫

This temple was consecrated in 2004, a temple dedicated to the five Monkey Gods. Unknown to many, this temple was originally in a old pre-war shophouse at Peck Seah Street, diagonally across from the Seng Wong Beo. This temple was already there in the 1950s.

Since it moved out from Peck Seah St, it has gone to more than one or two places before finally settling into this new temple building, shared with two other temples. Thanks to a generous benefactor, who wanted to repay the kindness of the Monkey God, the medium and temple who help his mother and family when they were poor, this new grand temple was possible.

The medium then was the grandfather of the current medium.

This temple is along Tampines Road.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

15. Fu De Tang 福德堂

Diagonally across to the Geok Hong Tian along Havelock Road, is a small Fu De Tang 福德堂 standing quietly (next to Meinhardt), almost unnoticeable!

An old lady keeper of the temple said that "it's more than 80 years old." When we asked about the name, she said that long ago, someone went to Kusu Island to bring the "joss-fire" to set up the temple here as many could not make the small boat trip to Kusu Island, hence the name Gui Yu Da Bo Gong 龟屿大伯公 (Kusu Tua Pek Kong). In those days, probably there's no big motorised boats. (^^).

She said that the Kusu Island Da Bo Gong is more than a hundred years old.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

14. Kusu Island Temple 龟屿大伯公.

There is a Chinese temple and a Malay shrine on this 85,000 square metres island (about the size of 13 football fields) located 5.6 km south of the main island of Singapore. To reach it, you have to board a ferry from Sentosa ferry terminal. The boat trip takes about 45 minutes one-way, and a round trip costs S$9 for an adult and S$6 for a child (3 to 12 years). The Sentosa admission charge is waived for visitors who buy the Kusu Island ferry ticket upon entry. No overnight camping is allowed on Kusu Island unlike the nearby St John's Island.

“Kusu Island” means “Tortoise Island” in Hokkien. Other names have been associated with this island too, among them Peak Island, Governor’s Island and Pulau Tembakul. There are several legends on how Kusu Island was so named. One popular tale is that of a tortoise transforming itself into an island to save two shipwrecked fishermen, a Malay and a Chinese, who had earlier rescued it from the Lau Pa Sat market. The fishermen had noticed tears dripping from the tortoise’s eyes, and decided to buy it, and then released it back to the sea. They did not know that it was an enchanted tortoise until its extraordinary manifestation during the storm. Out of gratitude, the two fishermen returned the following year to make offerings on Kusu Island. Soon other people followed suit.

At the time of writing, the Chinese temple on Kusu Island is looked after by Mdm Sim Chwee Eng, a 76-year old widow, and her 57-year old son, Seet Seng Huat. The Seet family has been taking care of the temple for the last five generations. They used to live in an attap hut on the island. Over the years, this has been upgraded to a brick and mortar dwelling next to the temple. How did this responsibility fell on the family? According to Mdm Sim, her husband’s ancestors were boatmen and fishermen. They used to seek shelter on the island during inclement weather - there is a Tua Pek Kong (God of Prosperity) statue on their boat. One day, the Tua Pek Kong spirit entered his ancestor and disclosed that he wanted to reside on Kusu Island. Complying, the ancestor built a modest shrine there.

By and by, more people came to know of this Tua Pek Kong and one man who used to be a bullock-cart puller, became wealthy after praying to this deity. This was probably during the 1920's. He had promised to upgrade the shrine, but did not do anything about it until the Tua Pek Kong reminded him, in a dream, of the pledge he had made.

Before 1975, boats would berth right at the doorstep of the temple. Land was reclaimed in 1976, and now the jetty is some distance from the temple. The temple housed seven types of deities - besides Tua Pek Kong who occupies the central altar, there are the Jade Emperor; Goddess of Mercy; Eight Immortals; Kuan Kong (God of War); Tai Seng Yah (Monkey God); and the Tiger God/s. Now there is even a wishing well on the compound leading to the temple - where visitors are encouraged to make a wish, toss a coin which hopefully will hit one of the bells inside the well, ringing in the good luck sought.

There are two pythons caged up in the temple, as well as two ponds containing tortoises. According to Mdm Sim, many tortoises were released here by members of the public so she has no choice but to do what she could to feed and housed these creatures, at her own expense.

There is a food complex built between the temple and the Keramats’ (holy men/women) shrine. But this food centre only comes alive during the Kusu pilgrimage season during the Chinese 9th lunar month when about 120,000 devotees would converge on the island. Hence at other times, visitors who are hungry can order simple dishes such as a plate of fried vermicelli from Mdm Sim, at S$10 per plate. On a typical weekday, only about twenty visitors, mostly tourists, would visit the island.

To reach the Keramats’ shrine, one has to climb 152 steps. The shrine houses the remains of Syed Abdul Rahman, his mother Nenek Ghalib and his sister, Puteri Fatimah. They had lived around the time of Stamford Raffles in the early 19th century. Devotees would pray to these Keramats for wealth, fertility, good marriage, and good health. As a mark of respect, visitors to the shrine would usually avoid having any dishes containing pork before making the trip.

Although there are Muslim symbols around this shrine - the star and crescent moon being the most obvious - the prayer ritual was rather "unusual". Devotees could "tiam yew" just like in the Taoist temples - i.e. for a small donation, the Malay caretaker would add oil to the lamps, ring a bell and chant some auspicious sayings before the keramat. Chinese joss-sticks were used apart from having the "kemayan" (incense) lighted before the deities.

On the day we visited, there were even 4-digits written on the joss urn - 9734. This came about because an elderly man had a lottery windfall after praying at this shrine. As a token of gratitude, he offered these numbers in the hope that other punters would be as lucky as him.

For landlubbers who eschew boat rides, there is a Kusu Tua Pek Kong Temple at Havelock Road, diagonally across from the Geok Hong Tian (see blog entry No. 13).

The Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC) looks after Kusu Island;
for inquiries, call SENTOSA 1800-736-8672 (9am to 6.30 pm)