Tuesday, 22 April 2014

A trio of temples


A day of temple bagging and other buildings


Today saw myself and a friend visiting a trio of temples I had been itching to visit for awhile. As they were all within a reasonable walking distance we decided to combine them together. Just close to One Raffles MRT sited along Phillip Street and surrounded by the towering offices of the Central Business District (CBD) is the newly renovated Yueh Hai Ching temple (Wak Hai Cheng Bio in Teochew) Devotees were there as today (and tomorrow) is the birthday of the deities, one male, one female. Once a small shrine in 1826 it is one of Singapore's oldest Taoist temples. It has had many renovations and rebuilds throughout it existence and has only recently been reopened after a renovation project lasting from 2011 until is grand reopening on 31 April 2014. S$5 million was donated to its renovation by Ngee Ann Kongsi who manage the temple. It is fact two temples sitting next to each other. Shang Di Gong Temple dedicated to the ancestral Teochew deity Xuan Tiang Shan Di and the other Tian Hou Gong Temple dedicated to Mazu, the Goddess of the Sea. The roof of the combined buildings are truly magnificent with numerous three dimensional motifs, I have never seen so many before. I would highly recommend this as a place to visit.
















From here it was an easy 5 min stroll to Telok Ayer St also known as Gwan Sun Koi (Gwan Sun Street) which once ran along the original seafront and was home to many religious and commercial buildings and clan houses making it once the must important Singapore street where the Chinese immigrants first settled. There are many buildings along this street worth visiting and indeed you could spend a number of hours just along here, but today I was visiting Fuk Tak Chi museum which I had so far missed entering. Now a museum it was one of the earliest of Singapore's Chinese temples with it originally being built in 1824 as a small Hakka and Cantonese shrine. It was dedicated to Tua Pek (portrayed as a smiling old man with a white beard) and belonged to the Shenist sect (Confucianists and Taoists) It was a small temple with just a courtyard and small shrine room. In 1994 it ceased operating as a temple and in 1998 it was opened as a museum showcasing the early Chinese migrants history. Inside there is a model of Telok Ayer street and the temple in the early years. I found it a little sad that it has been incorporated into Far East Square,which although is a heritage area housing restaurants and offices and a pleasant area in itself, it was a little sad to see the temple used as a "cut through" for the lunch crowds. 





After a quick look at Far East Square and with a few photos taken of Chui Eng Free School which is now home to another restaurant. Built in 1845 for Hokkien boys it closed its doors 109 years later in 1954. 



From here we walked down past Lau Pa Sat (Telok Ayer Market) home now to a food centre famous for its satay stalls, which is nearing the end of its renovation, I'm looking forward to eating there again and enjoying the full repertoire of its stalls in the newly spruced up magnificent octagonal cast iron building. On from here along Shenton Way stopping at the last of our trio of Temples for today that being Fook Tet Soo Khek on Palmer Road.

Fook Tet Soo Khek (Wang Hai Da Bo Gong Miao) is the oldest Hakka temple in Singapore. Its name means sea facing and indeed before the land was reclaimed it did overlook the sea. Its is known that a shrine to Tua Pek Kong existed here when Raffles arrived in 1819 but its present building was originally built in 1844 but has undergone various repairs, the last and most significant being in 1970. In 1982 the Government purchased the land and its is now managed under a Temporary Occupation license and its future is uncertain. Although built by Hakka migrants it is built in the Teochew style. It is an extremely bright red painted incense house.







Exiting here I noticed for the first time the Masjid Haji Muhammad Salleh Mosque sitting across from the bus terminal.  This is situated between Palmer Road and the ECP. Here is a shrine to Habib Noh a mystique who died in 1866. It was almost demolished in 1987 when the ECP was built however when it came to be knocked down none of the construction machines would work! The Government later allowed the shrine and mosque to be preserved and the ECP makes a detour around the site!

Both The Temple and mosque are situated on Palmer Road which is named after John Palmer who once owned the area. Mount Palmer was here but all that remains of the hill now is a small mound behind the temple. It was flattened for reclamation filling in Telok Ayer basin. The Mount was home to a Parsi burial ground from 1828 which was exhumed and relocated in 1969 to first Tampines and then again to Choa Chu Kang Cemetery.



By this time it was well past lunchtime and was raining again. Trying to take photos whilst holding a bag and umbrella isn't the easiest of tasks! We decided on lunch at the ever popular Maxwell Food Court enroute to which we popped into City Gallery and the URA. I've been here a number of times now. http://www.singaporetales.co.uk/2013/09/city-gallery.html  It's always a good wet weather option and always fun spotting your home and seeing how small Singapore really is and what the "powers that be" have planned for new buildings in the next phase of their Master Plan.

Maxwell Food Centre turned out was closed for a week for cleaning so we settled for the recently reopened and redesigned Smith Street in Chinatown which fortunately was under cover as it was still raining!! Our Char Siew rice although cheap at S$4.50 and filled a hole wasn't a patch on the mixed meat rice at my favourite stall at Maxwell. 

Final stop for today was a building my friend had passed a number of times on Eu Tong Seng Street but had never investigated. On the corner of Eu Tong Seng Street and Merchant Rd sits a building with signage stating it's a National Monument but now home to a healthcare business. We briefly popped into the foyer and had a quick look but although a pretty building with a nice courtyard and home to a few historical antiques it was not what I expected a National Monument to be like, but I guess it has been protected from the bulldozer. The building was originally Thong Chai Medical Institution. Built in 1892 sinsehs (Chinese doctors) dispensed free medicine and advice to anyone who couldn't afford to pay. The Institution was originally setup in 1867 and the building later became a centre for business with many clan associations there. In fact the first Chinese Chamber of Commerce worked out of the building until 1906. The Institution still exists but is now located on Chin Swee Road. It became a National Monument in 1973 and has in its time been a night club and various restaurants. The building is built in the Southern Chinese style with 3 main halls set around a courtyard.




And that folks was my Monday stroll!!! It was good to be able to visit some more places of interest although I now have another list of places around Chinatown I want to experience but they will have to wait for another day. Hopefully not as wet as today although on the plus side it was a break from the heat and humidity of most days. I caught the bus back home, trying not to fall asleep and had a lazy evening before seeing what tomorrow will bring.... Night all from a very tired but happy Singapore explorer zzzzzzzz.....