Thursday, 31 July 2014

Return from reality? Or return to reality? Home visit

Day 2 and I'm already over the jetlag, although to be honest I didn't really succumb this year, apart from the ritual 2am wide awake for an hour experience. We've just returned from our yearly trip back to the UK and this year it was truly a whirlwind visit, fitting in 4 places in just 9 days. Last year we spent just over 2 weeks and it felt too long, as much as we loved the family we were itching to get "back home" to Singapore and our "new life" Maybe this was because it was still so new, candy coated, Xmas present anticipation, reinvention of who we were, a new chance at being young and free. This year the emotions were completely different.

The UK couldn't have put on a better display, perfect English summer, no humidity, no sweat constantly dribbling down your back with a dewy sheen across ones forehead! England was the bucolic lush, green and pleasant land. The country villages were idyllic with cricket  and cream teas on the village greens, you could almost see Agatha Christie, Jane Austen and Enid Blyton penning their next novel in that old wicker chair.

UK was teasing us, showing us all that was good but were we seeing it for the first time through rose coloured glasses? Look carefully past the gorgeous countryside and atmospheric architecture that I have always loved and been proud of about the UK anyway and has really that much changed? No not really... conclusion.... it's me that's changed. 

As I walked the paths I walked daily with the dog, visited the same shops, passed the same faces nothing was so much different but I'm not the same person as the one who walked those steps just a short 16 months ago. This time I was a visitor, a mere ghost, a changeling, one foot in the past, I did and then I didn't belong. I was me and yet it wasn't me, how when our time is up do I go back? I can't go back to how it/I was because, that person no longer exists, that life is no longer the same. Everything and everyone on both sides of the world has moved on, moved forward. The world is continually whirling. 

I miss my family, I miss the perfect England I glimpsed this visit, it was more difficult to leave this year but I was only a visitor in my "old home" but I missed also my new life, my new friends, the new adventures, reinventions and freedom. I'm torn in many ways, this visit showed that life will never quite be as simple again and which path should we take going forward?

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Ramadan Trail at Masjid Sultan

Last week saw a friend of mine sign us up for the Ramadan Trail hosted by and held at the Masjid Mosque (Sultans Mosque) in Kampong Gelam. We were privileged to be shown around this most famous of Singaporean mosques and have Ramadan explained to us simply along with the prayers. This Trail has happened for a few years now,during the month of Ramadan celebrated by Muslims across the world. The trail takes place during Ramadan from 2 -23 July 2014 on every Mon, Wed and Thursday and is free taking in total about 1 - 1 1/2 hours. Please register just inside the main gates at 17:30 for the tour to start at 18:00.

We were a mixed group of nationalities many locals but also South Americans, Scandinavians and British. We were taken inside the grounds and had explained to us how Muslims clean themselves before entering. One kind gentlemen showed us how he washed his head, face, ears, nose, mouth, arms, hands and feet, each 3 times before entering.

Once inside men will use the prayer room on the ground floor of the mosque whilst the ladies are separate and use the upstairs. The reason we were told for this separation was that you don't want to be distracted by the opposite sex whilst thinking and praying. At the entrance to the prayer hall above the door is a digitalised display showing the times in which they should pray on that day, between which hours also the time of dawn and that of dusk that day which coincides with the 4th prayers of the day. Muslims are encouraged to pray at least 5 times a day.

During the month of Ramadan Muslims fast from dawn to dusk so depending on where you are on the planet the daylight hours can vary quite considerably between 12-17 hours. Singapore is quite fortunate that they aren't too long. Greenland and northern Scandinavian are the longest hours.

From here we were taken upstairs onto the roof of the mosque, something they haven't done in the past so we felt very lucky to experience this, Some great views and photo opportunities lent themselves from here as dusk was beginning to descend. One interesting fact which was pointed out is if you look carefully at the base of the main gold dome you will notice that the banding is made up of old used bottles. A great form of recycling!

Down from the roof we were taken into a small auditorium where we were introduced to a brief explanation on Muslims, Allah, and Ramadan. Informative and interesting. We had explained to us that the dates of the month depends on the new moon and that throughout this month times is spent with the family, homes are cleaned and new items bought, much is given to charity and many good deeds performed. It doesn't matter if you have no money as just to give someone a smile is a gift. All good deeds throughout this month are believed to be magnified. At the end of the month it culminates in the end celebration of Hari RayaPuasa/ Eid-al-Fitr. The reason Muslims fast during this time is to attain "God consciousness" known as Taqwa - closer to God. All are expected to fast apart from children, the unwell (physically and mentally) menstruating women, pregnant and breast feeding women.

Masjid Sultan - Sultans Mosque is probably the most important mosque in Singapore. When Sir Stamford Raffles planned Singapore he designated the area of Kampong Gelam to Malays and Muslims. Sultan Hussein built his palace (istana) in the area and therefore decided to build the mosque next to it. It was built between 1824-26 with money from the East India Company and until 1879 was managed by one of the Sultans grandsons when it was then passed to 5 community leaders. In 1914 it was given a 999 year lease and 1924, with the community vastly growing and the mosque in a poor state of repair it was decided it should be rebuilt and this was completed by 1928. In 1975 it became a national monument.

Now as sunset arrived we were invited by our guides to Buka Puasa (break fast) with them. We first started with a date which settles the stomach after a day of fasting followed by water as you would be dehydrated. We then sat on the floor and ate traditionally with just our fingers on our right hand a meal of fried rice, curried chicken and vegetables followed by some sweet cakes. Although it was unusual for us to use just our hand I don't think I made too much of a mess! The most difficult thing for me personally was sitting on the floor to eat. My legs took a while to work again and my back to straighten out! Saying that I really appreciated being asking to join them and to be allowed to experience this. We couldn't of ask for more friendlier and informative guides - thank you 😊

Masjid Sultan
3 Muscat St
Singapore 19883359

Monday, 14 July 2014

Exquisite Shophouses and World War 1 heroes. Jalan Besar

Along Petain road and the junction with Sturdee Rd, in Jelan Besar district, sits a row of exquisite shophouses beautifully renovated and maintained. They were once in such a sad state of repair that they were due to be demolished in 1979. Many of the tiles were damaged or lost and were replaced by similar pieces sourced from Vietnam.

Jelan Basar is now a conservation area and the name means big/wide road in malay. It was, like many parts of Singapore, a swampland until it was drained in 1916. The Petain Road area used to be known as Keen Chio Kar (foot of the banana tree) in Hokkien giving an insight into the areas old heritage. The swampland which was once home to Chinese farms and vegetable gardens until it was drained became residential. Before the 2nd World War this area was a well known red light district and some areas still live up to the past! 

Many of the roads and spaces in Jelan Besar are named after battles of 1st World War - Verdun, Flanders and Somme for example. Many are also named after British admirals and generals and 2 French generals. As mentioned these shophouses sit along Petain Rd and the corner of Sturdee Rd. Sturdee Rd is named after the British admiral Sir Frederick Charles Doveton Sturdee (1859-1925) Petain Rd was named in 1928 after the French 1st World War hero Marshal Henri Philippe Petain (1856-1951) - hero of the battle of Verdun, later to be more widely known as the Prime Minister of France who collaborated with Hitler and the Germans during the French Occupation. Because of the 2nd World War history many over the years have called for Petain Rd to be renamed, possibly to De Gaulle.

In 1930 this row of 18 terraced shophouses were commissioned by Mohamed Bin Haji Omar and built by E.V.Miller. These Peranakan styled shophouses are decorated with a mixture of many types of shophouse architecture in the Chinese baroque/Singapore eclectic style. The paler coloured homes were probably home to Peranakan and Malay families wheres as the brighter Chinese. Towards the centre of the row was once a Hockchew temple called Tian Shu Tang. 

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

4 temples for the price of one! - Sengakang Ubin Thai Buddhist temple and 3 others

Jalan Kayu Joint Temple 

On our recent adventure with the devotees who were celebrating the Jian Mian Da Ren festivities. (See more info at my friend and I found ourselves in Sengkang, an area both of us knew nothing about and visiting a temple, OK not just 1 temple but in fact 4 for the price of one! We had come to what is now called Jalan Kayu Joint Temple.

This strange occurrence came about when in 2006 three Taoist and one Buddhist temple leased together the land here from the HDB. This happened mainly as their leases on their original sites were up and the land earmarked for development - this is Singapore remember!

The temples in question are Ubin Thai Buddhist temple and the three Taoist are Chong Yee, Leong Nam and Bao Gong temples.

A really busy place with everyone extremely keen to show us each of their temples. A great show of how different religions can sit side by side. The rest of the world has much to learn.

Ubin Thai Buddhist temple had been at Pulau Ubin since a monk walked from Thailand to Pulau Ubin and a temple was established in 1986. It was located along Jalan Wat Siam by Kekek Quarry. It was named Shi Shan Fo Si Temple. The road it was once situated on has been nicknamed "cemetery road" There is a Chinese cemetery at the top of the sloping road, 2 cyclists have fallen from their bikes and died on this sloping road. The Temple had to find a new location after the granite quarry site was due to be reopened. In the end this didn't happen.

Chong Yee Temple (Ban Kok Sua Chong Yee) was founded in the 1950s and was situated in Seletar along Jalan Kayu Man Kok Sua, on Seleter farmway 6. The joss ash from the temple had come from Chan Shan temple in Paya Lebar who had in turn received it from Dongshan, Fuyan Province, China. It had been rebuilt in 1964 before it to had to relocated when the Government acquired the land and farmway for roadworks and redevelopment.

Main Deity 
Xie Tian Da Di 
Other Deities 
Guanyin  Tua Pek Kong (Da Bo Gong)  City God (Cheng Huang Gong)  Di Zang Wang 
Tua Li Ya Pek (Da Er Ye Bo) Xiao Zi Gong (Filial Son) Justice Bao (Bao Fu Da Ren) 
Xuan Tian Shang Di, Monkey King (Qi Tian Dasheng)  Five battalion Commanders (Wu Ying Shen Jiang) Tiger God  

Leong Nam Temple was founded in 1964 at Jalan Pasar Baru, in Geylang Serai, then a small Malay village. Their lease on the land ended in 2006 when the Government wanted to develop the land for residential use.

Main Deity 
2nd Emperor of the Nine Emperor Gods (jiu huang da er di) 
Other Deities 
Guanyin (Goddess of Mercy/Compassion) Sixty Tai Sui, Madam Di Mu (Di Mu Niang Niang)  
Xuan Tian Shang Di , Tiger God,   Tua Li Ya Pek (Da Er Ye Bo)  The Third Prince (Nezha)  Monkey King  

Bao Gong Temple needed to find a new location after its Tao Payoh Loring 7 lease ended. The temple came into being when Bao Gong (Justice Bao) came from China to Pasir Panjang in the 60s before relocating in the 70s to Kim San Leng, then again in the 80s to Tao Payoh before its latest move. The basement of this temple houses the ten courts of hell. The 5th court, that of Yanluowang is believed to be Justice Bao (Bao Gong)

We were shown around here by an "uncle" that had been here over 20 years and was in charge of the English translations. A charming, enthusiastic and informative gentleman.

Main Deity 
Justice Bao 
Other Deities 
Ten Yama Kings ,Tua Li Ya Pek ,Guanyin (Goddess of Mercy) ,Dou Mu ,Sixty Tai Sui ,Tiger God ,Commander of Black Command (Hei Ling Jiang Jun) ,Xuan Tian Shangdi ,Five Battalion Commanders (Wu Ying Shen Jiang) ,Madam White Dress (Bai Yi Niang Niang) ,Five Ghost Generals ,Zhong Kui ,Meng Po 

Some more images from the site.