Friday, January 30, 2009

Welcoming Chinese Lunar New Year

It was about 11.30pm, away from the bustling "Chinatown" where the modern world twirled around, quietly (not so really) in the temples, many Singapore Chinese went to renew their ties with their heritage.

At Thian Hock Keng 天福宫, along Telok Ayer St, many came to join the 
monks in prayers to Mazu, welcoming the new year of the Bull. Many brought along their children, showing them how to worship. Unknown to these kids, this temple, some hundred years ago, was the place where many grateful Chinese came to pray to Mazu, thanking her, upon having reached shore safely. Many did not.

I remembered vividly when I was very young, some fifty years ago, with my mum, we took the trishaw to this Ma Chor Keng 妈祖宫 (as it was more popularly known then) to pray to Ma Chor Po (again, a fond term calling her the old grand aunt Ma Chor in Hokkien)

On this night, lions and a dragon pranced and twirled around the temple, bringing renewed energies to this grand old dame. Probably the most famous temple, to the locals as well as to the tourists, tonight saw more locals than tourists. As they prayed to Ti Kong (Tian Gong - Jade Emperor) facing the sky and then to Mazu, their children followed. For a challenging new year, this moment couldn't have been better asking the Gods for guidance.

The original place where the opera stage used to be, but now a tall Hokkien Huay Kuan building, was once again the place for a String Puppet (Marionette) show for Mazu and the resident deities. It's been years since when the last puppet show was shown here.

Further down the road, the GuangDong temple (worshipped by Teochews and Cantonese in the old days), Wak Hai Cheng Beo 粤海清庙 (Yue Hai Qing Miao), in its traditional form, had many giant joss sticks burning in the courtyard while queues formed inside to get the prayer-sets to pray to the two main resident Deities, Tua Lao Ya (Xuan Tian Shang Di) and Mazu.

A much longer walk, no we drove, at the other end of the town, where there used to be an older civilisation (^^), stood the Hakka Tua Pek Kong Temple dedicated to Fu De Ci Wang Ha Da Bo Gong 福德祠望海大伯公 . It was almost 1.45am when we arrived. At this time, the crowd had thinned out, but the burning candles and joss-sticks told us that many had come to offer their first joss-sticks to Tua Pek Kong or Dai Pak Kong, as the Cantonese or Hakkas call him.

As the worshippers connect with the Deities, they brought forth the hundred years (or more) of the relationship of the Singapore Chinese with China, where their ancestors came from. One of the many untold stories of the Chinatown.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Happy 牛 Year

The year of the Ox is arriving soon. And the Chinatown in Singapore prepares to usher in the Ox.

The Ox is often associated with hardwork (honest living, I might add), as one could see in the rice fields of Asia, this year, we need it all the more to help many of us pull through an anticipated challenging year.

The year of the Ox, Bull, Buffalo or Seladang as it might be, will remind us of the humble beginning of the Singapore Chinatown, where it was a hub for the bullockcarts delivering water, hence Niu Che Shui 牛车水.