Tuesday, October 04, 2005

5. Ying Fo Fui Kun, 1822, conserved

Situated along the oldest street of Singapore, Telok Ayer Street, Ying Fo Fui Kun is one of those national monuments that people would easily miss compared to those more tourist oriented landmarks such as Thian Hock Keng or Fuk Tak Chi which is a few shophouse away. Probably due to its rather austere bare façade, passerbys could hardly associate such a plain building with the other national monuments. However, if one looks beyond the humble façade, within this clanshouse is a well-kept secret not known to many locals – this is the oldest surviving clanshouse in Singapore that is still in function! During weekends, this place will be thronged with Hakka amahs, ladies and men vying for a seat at the second floor KTV. The most interesting part is, not only are they crooning over classics by Teresa Teng or the likes, they also sing Hakka MTV! Wonder if they would ever hold a “Hakka Idol’ in Singapore. Their care and concern over historical artifacts in the building are meticulous – the granite tablets are protected by acrylic sheets and properly numbered. Rubbings are displayed prominently on the walls informing visitors on the history of the clanshouse. Other interesting artifacts on display on the ground level include a gigantic iron safe that resembles a sarcophagus, an antique school-bell and lots of beautiful Qing teak furniture that are still in use. On the second level are two separate halls supported by beautiful timber trusses built in traditional Teochew style. One may wonder why we should see architectural elements that do not belong to the Hakka tradition in this building. The answer is simple, the founders of this clanshouse came from eastern Guangdong which is the same region where the Teochews had originated. Timber parts of the building were shipped from eastern Guangdong, prefabricated, and put on site by local workers who were most likely to be of Guangdong origins (Cantonese or Hakkas). Even though there were no records on where the workers had came from for Ying Fo Fui Kun, my speculation is based on the close affiliation between the Hakkas and Cantonese in the 1820s where they had also jointly looked after the Fuk Tak Chi Temple around the corner. The Hakkas and Cantonese were outnumbered by the Hokkiens and Teochews in those days and in addition, the secret societies formed were mainly dialect-based. I highly suspect the hall where a tablet of Kuan Kong is housed was a gathering place for secret society members of Hakka/Cantonese origins in its early founding days.

Monday, October 03, 2005

6. Hang San Teng, 1828, destroyed by fire

Founding dialect group - Hokkien; Main diety - Tua Pek Kong; status - destroyed by fire

This was a cemetery temple for the Hokkien community built by the wealthiest Hokkien leader then - Mr Seah Hood Ki. Malaccan-born, Seah was a pioneering leader of the Hokkien community in Singapore. He was also a predecessor of Tan Tock Seng and Tan Kim Seng. Not only was he a major contributor to this temple and Thian Hock Keng, he was also a president of Cheng Hoon Teng in Malacca in his later years. The main diety of this temple was Tua Pek Kong. To his right stood the City-god diety and to his left was the Goddess of birth. In those days when there were no such thing as KK hospital, people(mostly women folk) will pray to the Goddess of birth in fertility matters. It would the third oldest Tua Pek Kong Temple if it were still standing today. In one of the granite tablets which was also destroyed by fire in the 90's, a total of 108 donors were recorded. The number 108 strongly suggests an underlying clandestine nature of the founding members. Were they anti-Qing or just another secret-society, nobody knows. I have visited this temple in the 80's when it was already in a derelict state. The timber details were simple, robust and somewhat reminded me of Cheng Hoon Teng. The dieties were all recessed behind a secondary timber-framed wall fashioned in a form of traditional folding doors. I was shocked to recieve the news in 1985 when it was besieged by fire. Some say the gods were angry as the temple had become so decrepit that they would rather raze it to the grounds. The site now is an empty plot of turfed ground, like any other grassy patch you would see in Singapore. Buildings, fashion and people in Singapore comes and goes, nobody gives a damn.
- Kent Neo

I believe it was the oldest (along with Wak Hai Cheng Beo) as it was there when Raffles arrived. It was built and lived in by the keeper who looked after the thousands of graves on the Hill of Teng - that the British exhumed to build the General Hospital. One of the Temple Keepers 100 years ago was carried off by a tiger!In their front courtyard they had two very rare Dragon Claw Trees - greenish-yellow flowers with curly petals a bit like orchid that looked like Dragon Claw - very good Feng Shui - but obviously not good enough to allow the temple to burn down!
-Geraldene Lowe

Went to Bollywood Veggies with Geraldene today and guess what? I've finally seen the legendary Dragon Claw tree! According to my mum, in her kampong days, the fragrant flowers were offerings for dieties.
-Kent , 27 Nov 2005

Sunday, October 02, 2005

7. Hong San See, 1836, conservation in progress

Saturday, October 01, 2005

8. Kim Lan Beo, 1839, demolished & relocated

Founding dialect group - Hokkien (Quanzhou, Yongchoon); Main diety - Qing Shui Zhu Shi ; status - relocated & rebuilt

This temple has got an interesting beginning - it was the gathering place of a secret society known as the 'Choo Soo Kong Hoe'. The brotherhood of society members can be seen by the titles of the donors inscribed in the original stone tablets now rehoused in the rebuilt temple at Kim Tian Road. Titles of 'gor' and 'hup' were titles frequently used in secret societies then. In fact, the name of the temple itself suggests a place where 'brotherhood' were sworn in. 'Kim Lan' are two words that originate from the famous ' I-ching '. 'Kim' stands for gold,while 'Lan' stands for orchid. In the parable in 'I-ching' about the virtues of friendship, it goes something like this - '....when two hearts are one, they are strong enough to break gold; the words from two hearts in unison are like the fragrance of orchids'.
My paternal grandfather's ancestral tablet is kept in the new temple according to my dad.