Saturday, 29 November 2014

Sakya Tenphel Ling. Tibetan Buddhist Temple

Tucked away behind a cluster of small stores and HDBs is this large Tibetan Buddhist Vajrayana Temple,at 5 Pasir Ris Drve 4 in the East of Singapore. With grand entrance gates this brightly coloured building is adorned with many prayer flags reminiscent of the temples we envisage from Tibet, although not seated high upon a snow capped mountain this is still a building of some stature.

This temple is the jewel in the crown of the Buddha Sasana Society of Singapore. The society began in Singapore in the 1960s using a small classroom in the Maha Bodhi school. throughout the 70s the society grew following visits from their holiness Sakya Trizin and Ven Tharig Tulku Rinpoche. They then bought a building at 9 Topaz Rd before they needed to relocate.

Ponlop Lama Tashi Tenzen who was then the Principal of the Tantric College in Tibet moved to Singapore and became the first resident monk in the country. From Topaz Rd they moved again to 37/39 Loyang 25A before yet again having to relocate to their current home due to the expansion of the PIE (Expressway) The current temple was purpose built for them in a traditional Chinese/Tibetan style and is modelled on a Tibetan Monastery.

On the ground floor the building is taken up mainly with the large Prayer Hall which is home to a large Buddha. Either side are 2 shrines, one being the Manjushri Shrine and on the other the Tara Shrine. the walls of the ground floor are covered in tiles depicting the medicine Buddha. The 2nd floor houses classrooms and a library,whilst the 3rd is out of bounds and is where the monks quarters and the retreat room can be found.

Their aim is to spread Buddhas teachings and to help the community. They also teach Buddhism to those who wish to learn. More about the temple and Sasana Society can be found here   although you don't need to wish to become a Buddhist to come and experience the peace of this building.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Dinosaurs in Singapore. Sungei Buloh

Covering 130 hectares in the North West of Singapore, the wetland reserve of Sungei Buloh is a magical haven for wildlife and a place so removed from the norm of the modern, urban, concrete metropolis I've become used to and indeed love.

Originally just 87 hectares it was designated a nature park back in 1989, after much consultation with the UK's Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, maybe due to this, it feels similar to Slimbridge, just up from where I lived in the UK.  However in 2002 a larger area was added and it was renamed Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve and is now an important area for conservation and the stop off point for many thousands of migratory birds, some travelling as far as Siberia and Australia.

If you visit at present, 2 walk areas are closed for reconstruction leaving just the Mangrove Boardwalk (500m) and he larger Route 1 (5km) accessible, Routes 2 and 3 are closed. However come 6 Dec 2014 (now under 2 weeks away) a new extension will open to celebrate the Reserves official 21st birthday. New in the extension will be a Coastal Boardwalk and a Canopy walk with 6 regular guided walks available. I for one will certainly be back to explore further!

I have now visited twice, the first time we were literally tripping over Monitor Lizards and saw the largest ones that we've seen in Singapore, true dinosaurs. So laid back and lazy, sunning themselves in the heat and really in no hurry to move away from us, we were truly a hindrance to them. On our second visit yes we saw many but nothing on the scale of our first trip. I guess we were just very lucky. I make no apologises there are a lot of Monitor Lizard photos in the post!!

More amazingly on our first time we actually saw 3 crocodiles! Apart from zoos I had never seen a wild one before and was so excited. We saw 2 small ones swimming and flicking their tales close to the waters edge, but also a large one, sitting just under the water in the shallows. Apparently, according to some photographers we spoke to and a guide, low tide is the best time to spot both crocodiles and otters as the water is low and its easier for them to catch fish then. Also a guide told us you can usually spot a very large crocodile in the river as you cross over the first bridge when leaving the visitors centre to enter into the reserve. These photographers showed us some stunning professional photos they had taken of the crocodiles and otters. Magnificent photos, what I would give to be able to take shots like those they showed us.

look carefully and you can see Mr Croc watching us
The view from the fruit bridge, where crocodiles are regularly spotted.
The Reserve is awash to with flora and fauna, freshwater and seawater inhabits, mangrove dwellers and much more. You will most definitely see crabs and mud skippers, varying in size enormously. The rivers and lakes are full of fish and you will see them jumping out of the water. Just two of the fish that can be found there are milk fish and salmon. Salmon being a popular food treat for the smooth coated otters and their families. Sadly neither visits have we seen these, apart from the photos shown by our photographers friends, along with sea eagles they were "shooting" that day.

large Mud Skipper
Huge ant I nearly rested my arm on to take a photo!

As you walk around you will come across various hides, that give you a change to see the migratory birds, as well as the residents from a hidden views. Sorry I'm not up on my birds so I can't tell you what we were looking at apart from various herons, bitterns, kingfishers, water hens and lots of wading birds.

Water Hen
Theres also a tower that you can climb to get a clear view of how large the wetland area is.

You will also see spiders, changeable lizards, caterpillars, ants and many moths and butterflies, apparently water snakes, we did see a quick glimpse of a Paradise Tree snake. OHHH and not forgetting mosquito's! On our first visit their were very few the second time even though we were well covered up and sprayed copiously we were bitten to death!! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!! :)

Paradise Tree Snake
A laid back relaxed Changeable lizard

I'd certainly recommend this place, not only if you are interested in birds and wildlife, but just a quiet haven away from the hustle of city life. To get there you can catch bus 925 from Kranji MRT Mon - Sat this will drop you at Kanji Reservoir Park which means a walk of approx 1 mile along the road to the entrance, passing the Crocodile Farm, although you can also walk through Kranji Nature Trail as well, a walk of just 2 km On Sundays and Public Holidays the 925 will take you to the entrance to the Reserve. Alternatively for $3 each way you can catch the Kranji Express, a mini bus that also leaves from Kranji MRT (make sure you check its timetable).  I did like the comment of the photographer we met, he said he always travelled by BMW - no he doesn't have a car, he travels by B (bus) M (MRT) W (walk) I will try and remember this :)

Sungei Buloh
301 Neo Tiew Crescent
Singapore 718925
Mondays - Saturdays 07:30 - 19:00
Sundays and Public Holidays 07:00-19:00

Male Praying Mantis


Map of the Reserve can be found here.

Kranji Express Timetable

Look carefully and you will see there are 2 monitors here having a romantic moment. I think we will leave them to their privacy! 

Friday, 21 November 2014

Joss Stick Man and Funeral houses

Tay Guan Heng (Joss sticks manufacturer)

Have you ever visited a Chinese Temple here in Singapore?  a Buddhist or Taoist celebration? Have you seen those large 4-5 feet coloured joss sticks burning outside? Have you every wondered about them? OK, I guess maybe many of you haven't thought much other than, they're unusual, big, interesting.... but you may be surprised to know that in the whole of Singapore there is just one tiny place that makes them. Tucked away in a non description industrial estate, in the middle of Singapore's heartland of Ang Mo Kio, amongst the car repairers, engineers and other such businesses, sits Tay Guan Heng (Joss Sticks Manufacturer) If you didn't know it was there it's highly unlikely you would come across it by chance.

I have been fortunate to visit a few times and each time Mr Tay has always been eager so show us his craft, to explain the history of the business, the families paperwork and visas, dating to when his family first came to Singapore. His father, Tay Yong Pah, set up the business and now it is run by his 2 sons, Amos and Stephen, and a couple of fellow craftsmen. Yes craftsmen, for these are indeed a work of art. Clearly passionate about his work he is more than happy to talk to you, a man that loves his craft.

The Joss sticks are made from a type of malleable putty, derived from the bark of the cinnamon tree, ground into a powder and then with simply water added, it becomes this dough that Mr Tay, his magical hands, and just a few simple household implements crafts into his joss sticks and figurines. He will show you how, in a matter of seconds, from a tiny nondescript blob of putty, he turns it into an arm, then a hand, a few more tweeks and fingers appear, so simple yet so clever.

The business was set up to make joss sticks and at one time these were as large as 20 feet. You can still see some of the monoliths standing in the corner of the unit. Nowadays however, these large joss sticks are not allowed to be burnt in Singapore and the average you will see will sit around 4-5 feet in height. The putty for these are made from a slightly courser cinnamon powder as this helps the sticks to burn slower and last longer. They can burn for up to several days. The Sticks are first formed and then later a decorative design is added on top of the plain sticks. These are often dragons but vary depending on which festival, celebration, birthday they are being created for.

To keep the business going they have diversified into decorations, figurines and also commissions. With Christmas around the corner his biggest business is that of making nativity scenes, gingerbread houses (a seemingly must buy for expats) and small Christmas tree decorations. He makes religious figurines and characters from Chinese mythology, anything you could wish for. All These products once molded are left to dry, sometimes up to month, although a fan helps the smaller pieces dry quicker. Once dry they can either be vanished to give a rich wood colour or in the case of the joss sticks painted in vibrant  colours; pinks, blues, yellows and greens. These articles may not be the cheapest products but when you think of the time, labour and love involved they are more than worth it. These will last for years and years and often become heirlooms.

Mr Tay will tell you that the business is struggling, that its a dying art, which indeed it is, however, with various TV clips, newspaper reports and visits from expats, along with the never ending Chinese celebrations, so long as we keep this up and there are people to take over this business I'm hopeful that this unique, in Singapore, business will continue to thrive.

Joss Stick man, aka Tay Guan Heng can be found at

4001 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10,


If this was of interest to you, when exiting the unit, turn left and walk a few units up and on the other side of the road is a joss paper product maker, in particular the immensely large and elaborate houses made for the Chinese funerals.

Associated Handicraft Co

Joss paper funeral houses

This is another small unit that you would easily miss, the family here do not speak English but are happy for you to come and watch. Amazing watching the dexterity when using feet and fingers they split the bamboo canes into small pieces and into strips for tying the canes together to form the structure of these houses.

The houses are easily 15 plus feet tall and even wider, they are then covered in brightly coloured joss paper, made from rice paper, to form rooms, walls and the roof of the house. Rooms will even have furniture inside and at the entrance door of the house will be "the accountant" to look after the deceased as they pass onto the afterlife.

Joss paper and papermache products are made to burn at funerals and other festivities (you probably have seen such items being burnt along side the grass verges in a street near you)

The houses made here are vast and are for the deceased to live in but take good time to make. Often when a person becomes seriously ill, family members will order these houses advance ready for the funeral.

4034 Ang Mo Kio Ave 10