Sunday, February 14, 2010

Temples in Chinatown Welcome the Year of the Tiger

As with each Chinese New Year eve, the Chinese temples in Singapore await to welcome the New Year. And so is this year. As the heart of Chinatown was filled with lights, music and fun, in the other parts of the greater Chinatown, temples were filled with devotees who went to offer their first joss sticks to the Deities.

Smokes of the joss sticks and the continuous calls of the temple assistants for the devotees to the Deities informing them of their wishes for good health, peace and prosperity brought back wonderful memories. The one memory that was permanently etched in my mind was arriving in Thian Hock Keng at the stroke of twelve midnight in a trishaw to offer our prayers to Ma Chor Po (Mazu - Goddess of the Sea). It was a teary night as the fumes hit the eyes. But that added to the memory too.

But last night at Thian Hock Keng, it was a different sight. There seemed to be a bigger mix of age group. Interestingly, there were less of the more senior citizens. There were more children. Led by three Buddhist monks, many of the devotees joined in the chanting of the sutras. A few were outside watching the Marionette Theatre. A caucasian family was also there to soak in the event. The prayers ended at midnight with the beating of the giant drum and bell.

The temple then exploded with the fire crackers, alas, the electronic version but the noises were getting more like the real thing. The Cai Sheng Ye (Deity of Wealth) came in with the dragons and the lions. The devotees went after them with their cameras or handphone cameras. Some went after the Cai Sheng Ye for his sweets. To the Chinese, sweet is important. Everyone looks towards a "sweet" life, compared the the "bitter" life experienced by many of their ancestors. And of course, the typical Hokkien phrase is "Jia Tee Tee, Si Hao Si" (literally meaning if you take something sweet, you will get a son!)

I did a lightning visits to the other temples in Chinatown, covering Wak Hai Cheng Beo (Yue Hai Qing Miao) which is a temple often frequented by the Cantonese and Teochews (Thian Hock Keng is frequented by the Hokkiens, but these days, the dialect lines are blurred) and Fook Tet Soo Khek Temple (the only Hakka Da Bo Gong Temple in Singapore, as I understand).

Tradition is alive! In greeting a new year, going to the temples as our ancestors had done over the millennium, we continue with the tradition. And the latest Hokkien exclaimation: HUAT AH! Prosperity to all!

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