Wednesday, 25 June 2014

REVISIT: Kampong Buangkok - feeling sad.

The unstoppable march of the modern world

Today we took a friend and her son to visit "The last Kampong in Singapore". Since I last visited, less than 3 months ago, so many people have asked to me to take them there, but I have been reticent. If you have read my previous post you will know my strong feelings that this is most definitely NOT a tourist attraction, but a place of peace and tranquillity, people homes and havens. However with just 4 quiet people we decided to do so again. To be honest I am a little sorry I returned.

I was aware construction was due to take place close by but the shock at how close it truly was, hit me like one of those pile driving machines.

It was immediately obvious before we even turned into the kampong, just across from the entrance, behind where the children's homemade swings sat hanging from an ancient tree, and next to the remaining gates of the old leper hospital, that things had changed. The land was cleared and excavated, deep footings scarred the ground for a large road which seems to be heading straight for the swings and the kampong, hopefully it will divert onto the small lane that is currently there.


Now I don't know how the inhabitants feel or if any have moved, it could just be me but somehow the feeling of the village had changed, some of the homes looked empty, although to be honest when closed up its difficult to tell. The village seemed quieter than usual, no dogs barking although plenty of friendly cats and the chickens and parrots were still there. The feeling of calm was still there but, as we wandered around there was no longer any way you could ignore the outside world. Where once there was scrub land, full of trees, flowers and wildlife now we were greeted just feet from these homes, with the all to familiar dark green corrugated metal fencing that surrounds modern day Singapore, construction and more construction. Over the fencing as far as you could see the scrub land had been cleared, branches, trunks and vegetation laid piled up in mountains. We walked to the end of the lane and the large garden that was immaculately swept and tended last visit had disappeared, with just a thin step left next to the building. Where once the inhabitants looked out onto bananas, cocoa trees and listened to the bird song and insects, the peaceful quiet seemed slightly ominous, dead.


As we left the homes closer to the park connector had had some work done on them, mostly new corrugated roofs. But I leave wondering how long this place will really remain. OK they have not knocked the homes down to build on but they couldn't of got much closer. What a terrible shame, sometimes its better to remember how things were than to revisit and realise the new truth.

If you would like to read my post on my visit from April you can find it here.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Umbrella Art

Rain or Shine Arts Festival Exhibition

Works of Wonder (W.O.W.)

After reading about this yesterday via Channel News Asia I popped along this morning to see if it was open to the public. This exhibition is housed in the Marine Parade Community Building and thanks to a kindly auntie I found, that apart from a display outside of the building, the exhibition itself is housed on the 3rd storey, in both the Multipurpose Hall and the Baseball court Hall.

There are over 1000 umbrellas on display and have been decorated by schools and residents in the local community along with 2 artists, Elizabeth Ng (chair of the Marine Parade & Mountbatten Community Arts & Culture Club) and Faizal Amir (Founder and director of Creative Box)

This exhibition is the largest number of painted and decorated umbrellas and has made it to the Singapore Book of Records.

"Umbrellas are everyday objects that average Singaporeans take for granted.
We use them on a daily basis, be it rain, or shine.
Through this project, participants will have the chance to transform the umbrellas to functional art pieces they can be proud of. Residents, students from arts clubs of neighbouring schools and several community partners have made significant contributions to this umbrella project"

The exhibition and umbrellas was started in March 2014 and is part of the countrywide Passion Arts Festival.

If you want to catch this display its running from 24th - 30th June, so you had better get down there fast! Just take the lift to level 3, its that easy :)

Monday, 23 June 2014

Armenian Church

The Apostolic Church of St Gregory the Illuminator

I took a wander along Hill Street last week. Normally this Street for me is used as a cut through from one place to another, en route to another place, with a mere thought of "I really must look further at the places around here". Its in the middle of the museum district here in Singapore, with the steps up to Fort Canning Hill close by and the Civil Defence Gallery, Hill Street Old Police Station and Central Fire Station, just around the corner is the Philatelic Museum, Peranakan museum and National Archives.

St Gregory's was the first Christian church to be built in Singapore in 1835 and it was designed by the Irish architect George Drumgoode Coleman, it is believed to be his most impressive design. The cost of the building was 5000 Spanish dollars and the majority was given by the small but prosperous Armenian community here in Singapore with some from Java and Calcutta and a smaller portion from the European and Chinese communities of Singapore. The church was consecrated on 26 March 1836 to St Gregory who was the first head of the Armenian Apostolic church. It became a National Monument on 26 July 1973.

The Armenian community in 1917
The church itself I feel is very attractive, quite small with portico's, a spire, louvred windows and many columns. Originally it was supposed to have a domed roof and bell tower but this was scrapped due to safety reasons. Inside it is in a circular shape with the wooden pews with rattan backs to help keep the parishioners cool. The ceiling is a vaulted and the church is supposedly modelled on the Armenian mother church of St Gregory's in Echmiadzin in Northern Armenia. The altar sits on a raised semi circular knave and behind it sits a painting of Jesus and his apostles at the Last Supper.

Outside in the grounds it has never been a burial ground, as the Armenians were interred at the Christian cemetery at Bukit Brown until the 1970s when they were exhumed. Their tombstones were relocated here around 1978 to create a Memorial Garden. This was organised by an American Armenian Leon Palian.

Many of the graves are damaged and I couldn't read quite a few as they are inscribed in Cyrillic text but it appeared the most were of the Sarkies family. The Sarkies were one of the most notable families in the small Armenian community (it was so small that in the census of 1824 just 16 were recorded) Probably the most famous of the Sarkies were the Sarkies brothers, Martin, Tigran, Aviet and Arshak who founded and ran Raffles Hotel, amongst other luxury hotels across SE Asia. More information on them can be found here   Other important gravestones located here are of Agnes Joaquim who bred Singapore's national flower the "Miss Joaquim" orchid and that of Catchik Moses who founded the Straits Times newspaper.

Daughter of Nanajan Sarkies who had the bungalow built in memory of her husband

In one corner of the grounds sits a 2 storey black and white bungalow that was built by Nanajan Sarkies in memory of her late husband John Shanazar Sarkies. It was built in 1905 as priests accommodation but today is used as the admin buildings.

Armenian Apostolic Church Of St Gregory The Illuminator
60 Hill Street

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Jian Mian Da Ren Festivities (Jin Dong Fu)

In the past week I have been very fortunate to experience, with a friend, a local Taoist festival. This is not a tourist attraction, in fact on the 2 days we visited we only saw one other westerner. I feel really privileged to have experienced this spectacle, and what a spectacle it was.
We first heard about these celebrations via Facebook when reading about local heritage.

Ok so it was all in mandarin apart from the dates and times, but after looking at the previous years photos and realising that it was really "just up the road" from me, we were hooked. Indeed my friend even asked the Facebook page host to translate the events into English so we could see what was in store for us (google translate was no use!!!)

Jin Dong Fu is a Taoist temple at Geylang, Lorong 3. They hold twice yearly celebrations in honour of its Deities. This one in June is in honour of Jin Mian Da Ren (The Golden Face Lord/ Quing Mian Da Ren). We were surprised at how large the venue was and the vast array of different gods and Deities that were attending his celebrations. I don't think I have seen so many altogether before and many were extremely large. I were able to spot the Monkey God, the Deities of the Sea, Netherworld and the heavenly Deities. After speaking to one of the ever helpful organisers she explained that there is much fund raising for the event and all the Deities have been donated by the devotees. It was a massive onslaught of colour for the eyes (and camera) to take in. As explained by another devotee who took an important part in many of the celebrations. He appeared to centre place in those using the spirit whip and in the rituals which took place before the entrance of the spirit medium. He explained that  Jin Mian Da Ren has pride of place at one end of the large tent  (For any Taoists that may be reading this I apologise now for anything I may have got incorrect or the poor way I am probably explaining it, but in my defense I don't speak Chinese!!) It is like an army with 5 camps situated around Jin Mian Da Ren in the north, south, east, west and central to protect the temple (or in this case the marquee) He also explained that the Deities had all come to help celebrate Jin Mian Da Rens event. As its such a big occasion the temple celebrates in a large marquee away from the temple and this year it was held in the field just in front of Eunos MRT station.

Jin Dong Fu temple is also known as Golden Phoenix Temple and is was first established in Geylang in 1966 dedicated to the Hokkien deity Jin Mian Da Ren. In this year the deity instructed his followers that he wanted a medium to speak through. A ceremony took place and in 1966 Mr Chew Eng Hwee was chosen as the spirit medium and is still there to this day. Since Jin Mian Da Ren arrived from China through joss ash, Singapore has grown and prospered and he is seen as having much to do with this. It was good to see, that unlike some ceremonies we have witnessed, along with the older generations there were equal numbers of young devotees.

The list of events for this celebration were as follows
Celebrations of Jin Dong Fu

11/6/14 8pm 金面大人安壇 (Setting up prayer space)
11/6/14 12midnight 请天公 (Invite Jade Emperor)
12/6/14 2pm 善才童子奉送天公回天庭 (Sending off Jade Emperor)
12/6/14 715pm 天鹰龙狮学院呈现LED龙狮表演 (Lion & Dragon Dance performance)
12/6/14 8pm 善才童子带领众善信过平安桥 (Crossing the "Ping-An" (peace) Bridge
13/6/14 730pm 平安福宴 (Grand Dinner)
14/6/14 1pm 金面大人为众善信补运 (Enhancing of Luck)
15/6/14 9am 金面大人聖驾出巡 (Procession)
17/6/14 9pm 金面大人奉送众神回天庭 (Sending off Deities)

My friend and I were lucky to experience The Sending off of the Jade Emperor on Thursday afternoon and then on Sunday the Procession.

Sending off of the Jade Emperor.

We arrived just before 2pm but nothing seemed to be happening so we spent an extremely hot but interesting hour taking in the sights and colours of all the deities, as mentioned above there was a vast array of them and this event is known in Singapore for all the Taoist Deities, truly truly stunning. In a separate tent to the side of the main one was a Chinese opera stage and we gratefully sat on a chair for a while listening to the opera. It always amazes me that noone listens, but I understand they are not performing to the public but for the gods who are listening.

We then witnessed the ceremony where the medium (Chew Eng Hwee) arrived and we watched as he entered into a trance through much head shaking and upper body writhing. He had joss sticks and burning paper brushed against his body. Throughout this there were gongs and drums being played and those with spirit whips used them with great accuracy.  

A short ceremony took place with what appeared to be some prayers (possibly) before the Jade Emperor was placed in his incredibly heavy, sedan chair before we witnessed (as in the Pulau Ubin celebration  ) the very fit devotees picking up the chair and preceded in twisting it back and forth and from side to side. They must be incredibly strong as you can see the bars bending under the weight, the whole thing is built of wood with the Deity only adding to this. 

From here the Deity went around the marquee to each of the camps and then outside where he was "sent off" by the burning of a paper house (I believe that was what it was). The procession then circled the burning offering before reentering the tent.

We were the only "foreigners" there during this time and we felt slightly daunted by what was happening and not fully understanding everything, we were also careful not to intrude on the devotees and the celebrations. We didn't want to seem as tourists and this certainly wasn't a tourist attraction, we just want to experience as much of the culture and spectacles that take place in our "all to temporary home" and want to grasp every opportunity that arises. However people couldn't of been more helpful trying to explain what was happening, pushing us to the front to see and take photos. Thanks to this generosity of information we were persuaded to come back on Sunday morning to experience the procession. Indeed a couple of friendly "uncles" tried to get us on the list for the coach on Sunday to follow the procession around the island. We were told to come back on Sunday.

The Procession

We arrived bright and early for a 09:00 start but in fact the actual procession didn't start for a further 1 1/2 hours. Although we were told we could go on the coach we were both really nervous and felt that we would be intruding on the true devotees, so decided we would just watch the ceremony before the procession left and then return home (after all our husbands were expecting us home wrong they and us turned out to be!!!)

Throughout the preceedings there was much music being played and then the medium entered again, to the banging of drums and gongs (the noise was deafening) this time however he was dressed in gold (I am asumming as the Gold faced God/Jian Mian Da Ren- wheres as Thursday I think he was probably the Jade Emperor?) a similar ritual/performance ensued, as of Thursday, before we all went outside to welcome the floats which carried Lions, Dragons, Fish and butterflies (I have never seen fish and butterflies  before) and people from a boat. From the beginning we had a very friendly uncle who made it his mission of the day to make sure we experienced everything, moving us from one place to another so we didn't miss anything. He and another uncle, that spoke to us Thursday about the coach, moved us to the list where we put our names down, it felt rude not to, but what had we let ourselves in for!! We were told the procession would visit several places across the island before returning around 9-10 at night!!!!!!!!!! we were kindly told we could leave at anytime.

Each of the "dancers" left their floats and performed in front of the marquee before entering it and visiting each of the camps and performing in the centre before exiting back to their float. Woohoo! I got to experience yet another lion and dragon dance and there was me thinking last Chinese New Year I would never see one!! After each had left each God from each individual camp was brought out in their highly decorated and ornate heavy sedan chairs, as before each were swung from side to side and back and forth in the marquee before they left for their decorated floats. Now was the time for Jian Mian Da Ren to do the same. He rocked and writhed, preparing to sit in his sedan chair, this was the largest and most ornate of them all, and after much a toodoo he sat upon this. The arms and seat made up of sharp blades resembling skate blades (we had watched as they were sharpened on the Thursday) and he too left for his float.

Note the blades on the arms and seat base and also where the feet will be positioned.

As we were waiting for the coach, a kindly man came up and asked if I was Bridget? It turned out he was the gent whos Facebook page and our correspondence started our travels here. Lovely of him to introduce himself and as with the others very friendly and informative. I guess it wasnt difficult to guess who we were as there was just one other western gent at this event. We were aware that we were getting talked about and people were taking snaps of us!! Our Expat friends think we're slightly crazy and I guess these devotees thought so too, but hey look what we've experienced!

We got on the bus and everything was explained in Chinese and then for "the ladies" repeated in English! Everyone was most concerned we drank lots of water!

We were off! no idea where to or what was going to happen, but into the unknown we went.......
First stop an HDB in Tampines literally just past where my friend lives. There was an altar full of offerings and joss sticks. We assumed the floats would come along do their performance and then off to the next. However what we weren't expecting was the entrance of five Taoist warriors. OH WOW! what a sight, stunning, completely blown away and very frightening! They performed what appeared to be a ritualist fight for probably 10 minutes or so. I had never seen anything like this and I will never forget it :)

Indeed each of the floats came and each and performed in front of the altar, the Lions, Dragons, Butterflies, and gods in their sedan chairs and finally Jin Mian Da Ren. He appeared to bless a number of devotees and stamped the back of their clothes afterwards. A totally unexpected and slightly surreal experience, this is something thats not written in "places to visit/things to see" we felt truly honoured to be here watching it take place.

We climbed back onto the coach and traveled into the unknown again, this time heading to the NW of the island to Sengkang (truthfully a large area but I had never heard of it before) Next stop we were told was a temple. But not just any temple this is indeed 4 four temples under one roof! Here sits 3 Taoist and one Buddhist temple, joined together since 2006 when they each had to relocate and find new premises. Well this was another unexpected turn of events and woohoo another temple/s to explore. Again we were greeted by very friendly devotees who were most intent on showing us each part of the temple, they didn't want us to miss anything. I won't spend too much time on this complex as I will write separately about this on another post. However just to say as we were leaving to go back to our group one elderly gent came up to us and was most concerned that we should go down a set of stairs...why? anyway we followed him and entered the 10 courts of Hell!! Basically telling the same story as does HawPar Villa  This one however, although still telling of the dire punishments that would be meted out to you when you were judged upon your death, this one was less frightening, in fact it was quite "bling" the statues were all lit up in neon blue lights with some even flashing. Another surreal experience. The uncle had worked here for over 20 years and was in charge of the english translation. 

The rather bling 10 courts of Hell.

We were now given lunch by the group, Chicken rice... of course, what else? :) to be honest we felt rather guilty taking from the group, everything was free, they wanted nothing for our seats on the coach, or the drinks and food. Our guilty feeling soon passed though as it was gone 1 o'clock and we were starving, a long time since the 2 small potato curry puffs at 08:15 that morning!

One final twist of the day came when, what appeared to be the official photographers and those recording the event, approached us and requested we did a "piece to camera", explaining who we were, why we were here and our thoughts on the day. OMG we couldn't refuse but how utterly embarrassing! 

Dragon fish

A long wait now ensued, out in the full heat of the sun on the open field in front of the temples. Each devotee held lit incense sticks. We were offered several times, but as we weren't devotees only enthusiastic watchers, it felt wrong to do so. I love the idea, and would love to learn more, but thats for another day.  Finally the floats arrived, decamped and processed around the large field to the temple. Stopping enroute some of the sedan chairs needed minor repairs. Each stopped again in front of the taosist temples.

At this point it was mid afternoon and following a phone call from my husband wondering where I was, was I alright? Ooops we were supposed to be home midday not teatime! :/ So sadly we said our good byes to the lovely organizers, trying to pass on how much we appreciated them letting us take part and come along and experience this. I can only stress what a wonderful experience this was, something we both said we will never forget. We would both like to visit Jin Dong Fu in Geylang and intend to visit very soon and pass on our appreciation.

 If you would like to see further images of where they went after we left, it can be found on their Facebook page as above. However those below are some of the other images from the celebrations we witnessed.

Spirit whips

Those using the spirit whips. The one in yellow seemed to be the head and took centre stage in many of the proceedings. He was also very informative.