Friday, 25 October 2013

Street vendors, buskers and temples

Albert Mall street market, Bugis.

One of the first places we visited when we arrived was Bugis and its markets. It was a weekend and we just about managed to squeeze ourselves through the market, barely able to move for the throng of people and didn't really get a chance to see anything due to the volume. To be honest it was rather off-putting, too many crowds for me and I didn't return until quite recently.

I'm now more accustomed to Singapore and nothing seems as daunting as it did over half a year ago. I have visited Bugis a number of times recently, but would still recommend going during the week if possible. Having said that the mass of people doesn't bother me as much now, it's just during the week when it's quieter you can see more and immerse yourself fully in the area.

Albert Mall street market covers a cross section of Bencoolen Street to Bugis Village and from Middle Street to Rochor Road. The area used to be open to vehicles but in 1992 it was pedestrianised, although this took until 1998 to complete. I can't imagine it would of had the same popularity or atmosphere if this hadn't happened. 

The market is lined on all sides with stalls and street vendors. Stalls selling the everyday market products, food, vegetables, clothes, kitchen utensils etc. however there is much more you will see flower sellers, people offering massages in the street, cobblers, fortune tellers, home brewed medicines you name it. The place is truly alive with noise and life. In fact it has a more "real" feeling than Chinatown, which although enjoyable there is no getting away with the fact it is completely touristy.

Close to the temples on Waterloo Street there are stalls selling joss sticks and various flowers, but most beautiful are the lotus flowers, the colours of which almost unreal. The aunties selling these have such amazing expressive faces, you feel they have been there for an eternity and have seen so much. Trying to get a photo of them proved impossible, just like the lizards I have tried to snap, mentioned in a previous post, they turn their heads just as you "click"!

Around Albert Mall you can also see buskers which is quite unusual in Singapore. The market has been designated an official busking area by the National Arts Council Busking Scheme. On our last visit we saw an artist who demonstrated that he could write using almost every part of his body... Feet, hand, chin, mouth also using two different parts of the body at the same time, even whilst standing in his head!!! Amazing.

As mentioned the aunties selling flowers and joss sticks are outside two temples on Waterloo Street. Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho is a Buddhist temple built in 1884 and granted a historical site in 2001. This temple is one of the most popular in Singapore seeing thousands of worshipers a year. This is partly due to the fact that is believed to bring good luck to those that worship there. They worship Kuan Yin (Guan Yin) Goddess of Mercy. The temple is also well known for its donations to charities. Kwan Im Thong is popular for its use of Quian (divining sticks) which are shaken until a rod/stick falls out, which foretells the worshipers future.

Right next door to this Buddhist temple is the Hindu Sri Krishnan temple, currently mostly covered in tarpaulins (more restoration?) This temple was built in 1870 and is the only South Indian Hindu temple in Singapore dedicated to just Sri Krishnan and his consort Rukmini. 

What is a surprising sight (the rest of the world/religions take note) is that you will see worshipers coming from the Buddhist temple next door to also worship and light joss sticks at this Hindu temple. As this became popular inside Sri Krishnan they have built an altar dedicated to Kuan Jin. 

All in all this hectic, busting, crowded area just oozes life and energy.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Deepavali. Little India

Deepavali, Festival Of Lights.

Deepavali or Diwali translates as "row of lights" and is also known as the Festival of Lights. It is the most important Hindu festival marking the Indian New Year. Deepavali celebrates good overcoming evil (light over darkness) and last for 5 days. It is celebrated on the 15th day of Kartika in the Hindu calendar, which falls in October/November. This year Deepavali is on 2 November and is a public holiday.

One of the popular tales to explain the origin of Deepavali is that Narakasura tyrannically ruled his kingdom so his people asked Lord Krishna for help. Lord Krishna subsequently killed Narakasura in a battle. When he returned to the kingdom it was the night of the new moon and everything was in darkness, so the people lit lamps to celebrate his victory, hence the lighting of lamps, candles etc and the name Festival of Lights.

Sadly I haven't had many opportunities to take in the celebrations this year, apart from visiting the Festival Village, but hopefully I will be able to enjoy some of the activities in future years. As mentioned the streets are lit up, this year this runs from 27 Sept until 17 November so plenty of time for anyone here to go and visit (we shall be away from this weekend on holiday so will miss the climax on the 2nd) Indeed I haven't had the opportunity to visit in the evening so have only seen the lights during the day. These are decorated in vibrant colours and if you look closely many are decorated using old CDs. I wonder if school children have been involved?

On the run up to Deepavali there is also a Festival Village which is an onslaught of colour, sounds and smells. There are thousands upon thousands of hanging garlands, which can be quite difficult to dodge as you walk down the bazaar. Its unbelievably crowded but great fun. There are stalls selling extremely sweet smelling flower garlands which are used during prayers. It is worth standing and watching these being made, very intricate and done at such speed. If you visit Little India at any time of year you will see these stalls along the roads with these garlands being made and for sale. I have been tempted to buy some but to be honest not sure what I would do with them in the condo. For sale in the bazaar are saris, lamps, jewellery and an amazing amount of arts and crafts -  I could spend a fortune but have been very good.... this year! Amongst these trinkets there is of course food, lots of food. These sweets represent the sweetness and happiness in your life and are also offered to deities. 

Throughout the build up there are family activities, cultural performances and on the 1st November, on the eve of Deepavali, there will be a countdown concert at Race Course Road, ushering in the Festival of Lights. If you get a chance get down there and experience this vibrant festival. Back in the UK I had heard of Deepavali, and of course knew people that celebrated it, but I had no idea how magical it could be.

Monday, 21 October 2013

First experience of doctors in Singapore

Ok anyone that knows me knows how much I hate doctors! I don't have a problem with them as people but just visiting them sets my heart pounding and blood pressure soaring. It wasn't until I was in hospital this time last year that I found out that I didn't need to be on the blood pressure tablets I had been on for 10 years!!! I was monitored hourly and was fine, went to the doctors and it rocketed. So now I monitor it at home and a year later I'm still off them, something we're really grateful for out here where you have to pay for everything.

Another reason I'm not keen on doctors is that after going back and forth over several years and being told "it was my age" they found a tumour the size of a baby just before our move to Singapore. One good thing was waking up after surgery 1/2 stone lighter!!

Anyway I digress, I've never liked going to doctors, no never ever, but after last year I have avoided them with an obsession, so much so that with only 5 days to go to our holiday in Phuket I still hadn't had any innoculations, and indeed was thinking about not even having them (I'm invincible after all aren't I ?!?!)

Going to the doctors in the UK was bad enough but in a "foreign" country.... I had also read so many negative comments online which didn't help (sure there was plenty of positive comments but I only heard the negative!!)

Anyway after finding out I was covered on my hubby's medical insurance, I couldn't use the excuse of the price and had run out of any other viable and equally nonviable excuses! So this morning I visited Raffles Medical at I12 Katong. Now I know I didn't "go local" and visited the "expats" choice of med centre but at least I went. I was expecting a large queue and quite a wait, especially as it was mid morning, in the uk I would turn up 1/2 hour before surgery opened and still expect an hour plus wait. I was really impressed - 2 people in front of me and I was in and out within 1/2 hour.

Doctor and receptionists polite, helpful and although I now feel like a pincushion all is good. What was I worried about!! Whether I would feel quite so relaxed if I was actually ill but hopefully I won't need to find out. I am such a coward but at least I now can go away and enjoy my holiday knowing I'm covered. 

Friday, 18 October 2013

Dikir Barat - Malay cultural song and dance performance.

Last weekend we again visited Gardens by the Bay at dusk, as ever the lights from the Supertrees were stunning, but this time we had a different reason for visiting. Wahana Deksu were performing a free show of Dikir Barat at the Supertree Grove.

If I understood correctly Dikir Barat is a Malay Karut song and dance which is performed in groups of traditionally men but now often women. It is found in both Thailand and Malaysia but Malaysia now promotes it as part of their culture and it has spread to Singapore. It is often performed competitively.

The group is led by a main singer (tukang karut) who sings pantuns (pantuns are traditionally Malay oral poetry but these days the theme can be anything, often improvised and often humorous or political)

The group (awak-awok) sit crossed legged on the floor and repeat back to the tukang karut what has just be said. The awok- awok during the performance clap and sway along the with the music, giving a lively and visually stunning performance. They are also sometimes accompanied by Malay percussion's, as was the case with Wahana Deksu (my apologises if this is just a basic description and I hope I have explained it correctly!)

Below are some photos from the show. It was quite difficult to take these as there was such movement but hopefully the slightly blurred hands and arms give you a feeling of this movement!  They brought children (and one mum!) up onto the stage and got them to join in.

The colour, sound and movement from this was really an experience and if you get a chance to view this, it really is worth it. All the women seemed to be thoroughly enjoying performing which added to the visual spectacle.

I hope you enjoy the photos (some courtesy of hubby!)