Sunday, February 20, 2011

Thian Hock Keng celebrates Cap Go Meh 2011

On 17 Feb 11, Cap Go Meh as the Hokkien calls it (this term is used in Nanyang, from Malaysia through Singapore to Indonesia) is the grand finale to the Chinese New Year. In Singapore, Thian Hock Keng also rounded up the 15 days of Chinese New Year with a big bang. Not so much as in the fire crackers, but in the elaborate activities on this day with a grand street parade.

By 6pm on that evening, the crowd was already building up by the side of the road, in front of the temple. For many, it is as a tradition and custom to go and pay respects to the Goddess of the Sea, Mazu, and the other resident Gods before looking for a space by the roadside.

The "mee-koo" (bun made into the shape of a tortoise) - which is a symbol of longevity - was laid out as devotees made the offer to the Gods. In the courtyard, there were many sacks of rice, stacked into the shape of the tortoise. Devotees or anyone could seek to bring one back by using the divining blocks to seek permission from the Goddess of the Sea, Mazu.

As the sun set, the lights came on. At 8pm, with the Guest of Honour, the Minister for Manpower, Singapore, joining the crowd, the performance began. Many of the dances were performed by the schools affiliated to the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan, which also manages the Thian Hock Keng. On this night, it was a grand event organised by the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan, reminiscent of the old days when Thian Hock Keng was the community centre of the immigrant workers and the residents.

Strains of the Nanyin - Southern Sounds - brought back nostalgic memories to the senior citizens as they recalled the days when their elders would be sitting outside the temple, listening to Nan Yin and the songs that talked about the stories of old China. In a way, joss stick fumes, familiar sights of the Gods and Nanyin brought them the peace and comfort of home in China, which they hoped to return after making a decent earning.  Many stayed on instead, and the temporary landscape became permanent. For the young, they were as "blur"as to what it is as the tourists and the new non-Chinese citizens who were invited to join in the Cap Go Meh. In a way, it was reminiscent to the old people and an eye opener to the young. Thanks to the dedicated few who carried on playing the Nanyin in Singapore, and put in efforts to train the young, it is making a comeback. If you have yet to watch or listen to Nanyin, come to Thian Hock Keng on 2M19 (23 Mar 11) at 7.30pm to watch Siong Leng Musical Association perform. This date is the celebrations in honour of Guan Yin in Thian Hock Keng.

When the Nanyin troupe strolled up the street, the whole place suddenly came to a standstill. No loudspeakers to blare the music. What could be heard was coaxed out of the musical instruments (that had been used since more than 2000 years ago). Everyone strained their ears.

And when they passed, the whole place was brought back to the present again with the roll of the drums. For the Chinese, noise is important as it is the yang energies that will chase away the yin (negative) energies. And so, on such an joyous occasion, the louder the noise the better. And yet despite the noise the lions pranced their way around. The full concentration of the lone lion jumping over the stilts in a noisy environment was certainly a feat to be admired!

The other show stealer must have been the bald headed tough and young performers from the Nan Shaolin group. They displayed their prowess with the somersault, twist and turn in mid air and defying the hits of the poles. It was gongfu live to the audience.

The LED-lighted dragons heightened the atmosphere one more notch. If only the place was darkened, it would have been fantastic. But I suppose for security reasons, it is not a good idea. (^^) The biggest lion where the head had to be held by 4 persons and the tail by 2 brought was also there. The Chinese believes that touching the lions would give them the positive energies and so, where possible, the parents would bring their kids to touch them. It is one way the kids are being introduced and brought nearer to them. And in most lion dance performance, during cai qing, the lion would also be giving away sweets, a delight to the kids.

Time passed by so quickly and all the fun and noise had to come to an end, marking the end of the first 15 days and getting further in the year of the Rabbit, with more festivities to come.

To the hardworking team at Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan, a great job! I wonder what they are going to outdo themselves again next year. (^^)

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

A new look at Chinatown

If you are not aware, go take a look at Chinatown before you reach there physically. Whether you are in Singapore or far away from Singapore, this website is certainly a must to visit when you are planning to visit the Chinatown in Singapore. The Chinatown in Singapore has a more colourful name but I will leave it to you to browse through the website to view and read. And yes, plan your trip too!

Screen captured from the site:

Some few years ago, IDA (Infocomm Development Authority) and STB (Singapore Tourism Board) were looking for state-of-the-art ideas and solutions to offer tourists and Singaporeans alike a more fun and handy way of discovering Singapore and bringing back memories. It was more of a proof of concept then, as gadgets were still very much in their infancy stage. PDA with bluetooth to handphones through GPRS to the mobile phone network was the idea. Today, iphone (with its 3G mobile data access and GPS) has taken the world by storm and so, for tourists, it would be fun to plan, record and even look for interesting places to see or eat.

Oh, am I talking about Chinatown and heritage? Yes, today, has the ideas and services in place. I am sure in the months ahead, more gadgets could be added, be it physical or electronic. Thanks to internet and the repositories like, many trigger-happy Singaporeans and tourists have recorded vast footage of Singapore, including Chinatown. And some even converted their 8mm movies into video clips. And so, today, we have Chinatown, yesterday, today, and perhaps, even a glimpse of tomorrow.

Like be the centre of the (spider) web spinning and connecting all things Chinatown so that what you need you can get here. Just don't go astray. And yes, do leave some of your memories behind, I mean, sharing with us, perhaps, via youtube? or provide the links to your blog or photo repository.

Do I sound like I run the web? Some friends thought so. (^^). No, I am just a fan. After all, this is my home ... (look for one of the popular songs that you will find sung, especially when Singapore's National Day (quiz - when is it?) is around.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Chinese New Year in the temples of Chinatown Singapore

There were just too many activities, even in a tiny place like the Chinatown in tiny Singapore. But since I have set myself a tradition of visiting Chinese Temples within the greater Chinatown and ending up in the Guan Yin Temple at Waterloo St, I continued to do so for this new year. The exception is that I got along a few more kakis (friends) to join in. So with some 5 cars led by one Frenchman on his trusty iron horse, we went "templing" a word coined by our famous heritage tour guide (also known as the oldest and longest street walker of Singapore) Geraldene Lowe.

Outside Thian Hock Keng

The tour started in this little known hillock known to the locals as Ku Ah Sua 龟仔山 (or Ku Kia Sua) in Hokkien or Gui Zai Shan in Mandarin where there was a cluster of three temples. With a short drizzle of fine rain droplets, we went in a convoy (that left through different ways and parked at different locations) to Thian Hock Keng 天福宫. In Chinatown, Thian Hock Keng must be the grandest in ushering the Chinese New Year. It was moving towards what it was like some 50 years ago, when I went to the temple with my Mum in a sa-lian-chia (trishaw). Less smoky these days, thanks to the hard work put by the temple members in removing the joss sticks as the joss urns filled up (and there are less urns these days compared to 5 decades ago) and the acceptance of the people these days, there was more than devotees offering their first joss sticks. Lion Dance, Dragon Dance, Rabbit puppet, Cai Shen 财神 (God of Wealth - an operatic costume worn by a guy from an event company I suppose), and this year, the Techno Tai Zi 太子 (a trend started in Taiwan, the giant puppets of the famous Third Prince). Devotees and tourists mingled, praying and watching. Some locals brought along their foreign friends.

Entrance to Wak Hai Cheng Beo

In my entourage, we have friends (who are researchers as well) from France, UK, USA, Japan, Kenya and Malaysia. And within the groups of locals - Chinese, Malays, and Indian too. There were also undergrads who were learning "hands-on"or rather using all their senses such as visual, audio and smell! Taste too. In Wak Hai Cheng Beo (粤海清`庙 Yue Hai Qing Miao), there were the Chinese Olives offered to devotees. The significance of this to the Teochew is in the words "Chi Poh" (green treasure?)

Wang Hai Da Bo Gong Temple

A little out of the epicentre was Wang Hai Da Bo Gong 望海大伯公 temple, which is a Hakka temple. It is at Palmer Rd, off Shenton Way. And then, we ventured further towards Beach Rd, the enclave of the Hainanese. And inside the Hainanese Association building  (actually, the building was built in front of the temple which was there first) was the Hainanese Mazu Temple (known as Tian Hou Gong 天后宫).

The grand finale for our tour was the Waterloo St Guan Yin temple where there was still a sizeable crowd at 3am. A visit to the Guan Yin temple is not complete without hopping over to the Krishna Temple to offer our prayer of respects.