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

4 Comments:

Blogger sj chan said...

the fire destroyed everything including the stone stele that records the history and names of those that contributed as well as a wooden plaque given by the qing emperor similar to the one in thian hock keng. Strangely enough, the statues of Tua Pek Kong and his 2 guardians survived the flames unscathed. These were as old as the temple itself and was declared a miracle. The Hokkien Huay Kuan later rehoused the trio at thian hock keng where they continued to be worshipped. but ever since thian hock keng was renovated, all the old stutues were replaced by new ones excpet for that of Tian Hou and among those that disappeared are the three statues from Heng Shan Ting.
Also at that time, the gate survived the fire, they could have conserved the gate if they were not going to rebuild the temple.

8:35 AM  
Blogger Kent Neo said...

This is interesting, I didn't know that there is another qing plaque in Singapore besides the one in Thian Hock Keng and the other one in Wak Hai Cheng Beo. There is another one in Kek Lok Si in Penang. According to Lin Xiao Sheng's book, however, there is one plaque from Seah Hood Kee, the founder of the temple and another by a qing naval commander. No mention of a plaque from the qing emperor though. Fortunately, all is not lost, there is still a wooden plaque dated 1836 in the custody of the Nan An Huay Kuan.
Talking about disappearing relics, same thing happened in Shuang Lin Monastery restoration. Like I have said many a times, who gives a damn? I actually have Singaporean Chinese friends who actually tells me that Buddhist/Taoist temples gives them the creeps. My conclusion, heritage is certainly not every Singaporean's cup of tea, most prefer shopping!

Maybe before I pen off, just for a little reflection. We may have the most expensive museums and art venues in the region, but if the majority of Singaporeans are not interested in history or heritage(maybe it does not make money), maybe some budget should be set aside for heritage education and projects. Our heritage is meant for us to reflect on our past and hence our present well-being and as well as our future directions, and not for a potential lucrative money-making entreprise. Heritage should be respected as what it is, and so should Art. Please please do not mix business with these fundamental foundations of a civil society. We do not want to be labeled as offsprings of coolie ancestors who never understood culture and possibly never will.

9:18 AM  
Blogger sj chan said...

I can't verify if there was indeed an imperial plaque given to Heng Shan Ting; it was based on my recollections from a newspaper article that talked about the history and architecture of the temple that was published just before that devastating fire.
It is really saddening that not many people actually know about this temple. I visited Hokkien Huey Kuan's website and there was only a cursory mention of the temple under the history of Thian Hock Keng. A search done on the temple, shows up only 2 local matches compared to the numerous china websites that document the history of fujian immigrants in southeast asia. It seems that Heng Shan Ting has been wiped away from singapore history.
Speaking about lost relics, there is a tendency for the taoist to perform the sending off rites for old religious statues; this would mean that they are burnt after they are desecrated. I think this must have been performed for all the old soot blackened idols that used to occupy the niches in Thian Hock Keng while brand new ones are commisioned. If this is really the case then it is really an irony that relics that survived a fire should eventually meet its end in flames. I think the newly restored Thian Hock Keng has lost a lot of its original flavour and spirit as one would experinced in functioning temples like Wak Hai Cheng Bio. People who enter are those who come with a respectful mind full of reverence for the Gods. I was at Thian Hock Keng one afternoon and there were busloads after busloads of tourists that streamed in who had nothing in their mind excpet taking photos. There was even a Japanese family who obviously had no respect for the temple as a holy place of worship and allowed their child to willfully throw the "Puey" or oracle blocks on the floor. The caretakers turned a blind eye to the incident probably fearful of offending the tourists. And It is certainly pure bad taste to allow a souvenier shop to open within the hall dedicated to Kuan Yin. I think Tan Tock Seng would certainly trun in his grave if he sees these things

6:05 AM  
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9:53 AM  

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