Singapore in untypical light

25 03 2017

What defines Singapore isn’t just its well photographed icons of the modern age, food, its colourful festivals and its now ubiquitous blocks of public housing flats. Lots go on without ever being noticed, including what these twelve untypical views of some of what makes Singapore, Singapore, depict:


The darkness at sunrise

An incoming storm.

Rainstorms are very much a part of life in Singapore. They can be a nuisance, but are also welcomed for the cooler temperatures they bring. One storm system that is particularly dramatic, arrives with suddenness in the early mornings around dawn, bringing with it a fury of lightning, thunder and heavy rain. The squalls, which blow in from March to November, are known as the Sumatras – after the Indonesian landform they blow in from.


The (once) shimmering shores

Sembawang Beach, one of the last natural beaches, illuminated by the lights of a celebration brought in by one of Singapore’s immigrant communities.

The Malay Annals, the chronicles of the kings of old Singapura, makes one of the earliest recorded mention of Singapore’s shores. In one of it more well-known stories, a glance at the shimmering white sands of then Temasek was all it took to have Sri Tri Buana or Sang Nila Utama sail over from Batam. Confronted by the sight of a magnificent looking beast that the royal party believed to be a lion, Sri Tri Buana decided to remain on the island and establish a kingdom that he named Singapura after the beast. Except for a vicious attack of sawfish – told in another of the annals’ intriguing tales, the shores provided calm. The British East India Company would see great value in the shores some 6 centuries after Sang Nila Utama and came to lay what would be the foundations for modern Singapore.


Crossing at speed

Crossing MRT lines, as seen from a moving train.

Modern Singapore makes a huge investment in public transport infrastructure, a key component of which is the MRT. Construction of the first lines, which was initially resisted, began in the 1980s. Three decades on, Singapore is still in a frenzy of building a criss-cross of lines with a view to reduce the dependence on road transport in the longer term. In will also only be a matter of time before the MRT crossing into neighbouring Malaysia. Plans are in place to have the MRT run under the Tebrau Strait and into Johor Bahru.


The lights do not go out on the shipyards

Working lights at Sembawang Shipyard at dawn.

Once thought of as a sunset industry, the shipbuilding and repair business continues to serve Singapore well. With a long tradition in the industry, it would only be after independence that the business came to the fore. The two shipyard giants, Keppel and Sembawang, have their roots in the post-independence era, built on facilities inherited from civilian and military facilities established by the British. Both were an important source of jobs in early years and together with other shipyards, have established a reputation for efficient turnaround repair times. One contributing factor is the effort put in by some of the hardest workers across the industries that keep the shipyards running 24-7 whenever that is needed.


Upwardly mobile

Inner workings of a multi-level ramp-up logistic centre revealed by its illuminations.

The entrepôt trade, and what supports it, is one of the things Singapore has been built on. The arrival of the age of containerisation in the early 1970s, transformed the trade and also the ports and goods handling facilities. Like in public housing and in the light industrial landscape, goods handling has also now gone high-rise. Multi-level ramp-up logistics centres have become a feature of the industrial and suburban landscape over the last two decades with much more being built. The transport and storage trade, associated with these facilities, accounts for a significant 8% of the GDP.


Offshore oil

The petrochemical complex on Pulau Bukom and Pulau Ular / Pulau Bukom Kechil, seen from an offshore patch reef. Pulau Bukom is the site of Singapore’s first oil refinery.

For the oil industry in Singapore, going “offshore” takes on another meaning. Singapore’s beginnings as a main refining centre was in 1961 when Shell opened the first refinery offshore on the island of Pulau Bukom. Singapore has since also ventured into petrochemical processing. Although there are some onshore facilities still running, much goes on offshore with a man-made island made from a cluster of islands off Jurong, Jurong Island, being a main centre. Petrochemical processing facilities have also sprouted up on an expanded Pulau Bukom and on the neighbouring island of Pulau Bukom Kechil (which now has Pulau Ular and Pualu Busing appended to it).


The light brought by a moving dock

Inside the belly of a Landing Ship Tank.

One way in which Singapore plays its part as a member of the international community is in providing humanitarian assistance in the event of crisis and disaster in the region. With 4 locally designed and built Landing Ship Tanks capable of moving men, machine and cargo over large distances, the Republic of Singapore Navy is well equipped to provide support for such a response when needed – as was seen in the aftermath of the 2004 Boxing Day earthquake and tsunami in Aceh.


Corridors of sin and also of salvation

A corridors of sin and salvation. The lights are of a Buddhist Religious Centre.

Geylang may be a neighbourhood that has built a reputation for its association with several of the 7 deadly sins, gluttony and lust included. What is perhaps surprising about the neighbourhood is that it is also where the largest concentration of religious institutions in Singapore can found  (see also:Streets of Sin and Salvation).


Islands of many tales and legends

Kusu Island at twilight.

The southern islands of Singapore, once inhabited by members of the Orang Laut community, have long been the subject of myths and legends. Handed down over the generations, the stories – of spirits and genies suggest how the islands were formed and how the islands acquired their names. Sadly, with the communities now dispersed, much is being forgotten. One that will not be forgotten as quickly is that of Kusu or tortoise island, which legend says a tortoise in rescuing two shipwrecked sailors, turned into the island. The island actually resembled a tortise at high-tide before land reclamation altered its shape. Chinese and Malay shrines maintained on the island, continue to attract Chinese devotees,  especially during the annual pilgrimage that takes place over the ninth Chinese month,


Regeneration

The deconstruction of the 1973 built National Stadium in 2010, where two perhaps three generations of Singaporeans connected to during the days of Singapore’s participation in the Malaysia Cup football competition.

Regeneration of old places, neighbourhood and places Singaporean have grown to love, is very much a feature of life in Singapore. Many, especially from the older generations have had to cope with the loss of familiar places and the loss of that sense of home such places bring (see Parting Glances: Rochor Centre in its last days, Parting glances: Blocks 74 to 80 Commonwealth Drive and A world uncoloured).


Light of a not so foreign land

Good Friday at the Church of St. Joseph – where the religious traditions of Portugal are most visible in Singapore.

With a large majority of the population made up of the descendants of the ethnic Chinese immigrants and also an influx of new immigrants from the mainland, and large minorities of Malays and those from the Sub-Continent, Singapore’s many smaller minorities tend to be overlooked. Over the years, Singapore has seen the likes of Armenians, Arabs, Jews, Japanese and as well as those from the extended Nusantara flavour the island. There is also a group that has in fact long had links with the area, the Portuguese or Portuguese Eurasians who feature quite prominently. Many have maintained the traditions of their forefathers and it is on Good Friday every year when some of this is seen in the Good Friday candlelight procession in the compound of the Portuguese Church.


Where the light does not shine

Where the light doesn’t shine. Workers on yet another skyscraper construction project waiting for transport to their dormitories, many of which are located in faraway and remote locations, late in the night.

Work goes on on many construction sites, which employ labourers from various countries including China, India, Bangladesh and Myanmar, without whom the skyscrapers of modern Singapore would not have been built. These workers, not unlike the shipyard workers, work extremely long hours and are housed in dormitories located in some of the remotest of locations in Singapore.


 

 

 

 





Photographs of Thaipusam 2017

9 02 2017

Today’s Thaipusam, an annual Hindu festival celebrated in Singapore that being a most colourful of spectacles, is perhaps also a most photographed. The festival sees a procession of kavadis – burdens carried by devotees of Lord Murugan – from the Sri Srinivas Perumal Temple at Serangoon Road to the Sri Thendayuthapani (Chettiars) Temple in Tank Road.

More information on the festival can be found at: http://sttemple.com/pages/16~thaipusam and at the following links:


Photographs taken at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple this morning:

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The Thaipusam Chariot Procession

8 02 2017

One of Singapore’s more colourful religious festivals, Thaipusam, will be celebrated tomorrow, primarily by the Hindus of the Southern Indian community. As always, the festival is preceded by a procession of a silver chariot carrying Lord Murugan, whom the festival honours.

There are two parts to the procession here in Singapore. The first part, which takes place in the morning, sees Lord Murugan transported from the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple at Tank Road to the Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple at Keong Saik Road. Lord Murugan (also known as Sri Thendayuthapani) then spends the day with his brother Sri Vinayagar (or Ganesh) before making the return journey in the evening. On the first leg of the procession, a stop is made at the Sri Mariamman Temple, which is dedicated to Lord Murugan’s and Lord Vinayagar’s mother, Sri Mariamman or Parvati.


Posts related to past celebrations of Thaipusam in Singapore:

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The Chariot Route (2017).


Photographs from the first leg of the procession this morning:

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The Silver Chariot passes the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple along South Bridge Road.

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At the junction of Kreta Ayer Road and Keong Saik Road.

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Arriving at the Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple.

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Preparing to carry the image of Lord Murugan into the temple.

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Lowering Lord Murugan.

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Moving into the Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple.


 





Singapore’s oldest Catholic church now looks like its newest

28 11 2016

The beautifully restored Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, Singapore’s oldest Catholic church and a National Monument, re-opened on 20 November 2016 when it held its first mass in over three years. Sitting on a foundation of nothing more than compacted earth, its structure had been quite badly affected by ground disturbance caused by construction work in, around, and under it, which required it to be closed for repair work could be carried out.

As it turned out, the repair effort was quite timely. Columns supporting the pediment at the cathedral’s Victoria Street end gave way as the building was in the late stages of repair on 3 September 2015. Fortunately, the incident – which also saw the pediment come crashing down – happened at night and no one was hurt. The incident also led to the discovery that the supports, on which the weight of the steeple and bell tower also rests, were inadequate and required strengthening and a decision was taken to replace the original brick columns with stronger but lighter steel columns due to weight (which would increase structural load on the base) and time considerations. Another consequence of the collapse would have was in the discovery of the original time-capsule. This was placed beneath the cornerstone when that was laid on 18 June 1843. It was only found due to the work that was needed on the new structure. The time-capsule contained coins, newspapers and a service booklet from the time and its contents are now on display in the Cathedral Heritage Centre.

The entire project, which also involved restoration of the Cathedral and its rectory, as well as the construction of a new three-storey annex block – where the heritage centre is being housed – came at a cost of S$40 million. One of the key areas of repair required was in the underpinning of the cathedral building due to the lack of a suitable foundation. The intervention also allowed service ducts to be run under the building to carry both electrical cables and ducting for air-conditioning – a much welcome addition. The gallery pipe-organ  – Singapore’s oldest pipe-organ – was also restored. This required it to be shipped to the Philippines, which has a rich organ building. The restored pipe-organ also made its debut during the reopening mass when it so wonderfully accompanied the cathedral choir.

The Cathedral Choir making its entry before the opening mass on 20 Nov 2016.

The Cathedral Choir making its entry before the opening mass on 20 Nov 2016.

Standing room only. The opening drew a large crowd and pews were already filled as early as an hour and a half before mass.

Standing room only. The opening drew a large crowd and pews were already filled as early as an hour and a half before mass.

The sanctuary after the reopening.

The sanctuary after the reopening, with a new altar.

In 2013 with a large crack clearly visible on the wall behind it.

In 2013 with a large crack clearly visible on the wall behind it.

The gallery pipe-organ in 2016.

The gallery pipe-organ in 2016.

The gallery pipe-organ in 2013.

The gallery pipe-organ in 2013.

View down the nave, 2016.

View down the nave, 2016.

View down the nave, 2013.

View down the nave, 2013.

The repaired and restored Victoria Street end and the steeple.

The repaired and restored Victoria Street end and the steeple.

The view during the restoration, when steel columns were introduced (to be clad with masonry) for reasons of weight and time when the original structure gave way.

The view during the restoration, when steel columns were introduced (to be clad with masonry) for reasons of weight and time when the original structure gave way.

With its columns braced in 2010.

With its columns braced in 2010.

A close-up.

A close-up.

Archbishop William Goh after unveiling a new Pietà before the opening mass.

Archbishop William Goh after unveiling a new Pietà before the opening mass.

The old Pietà, seen in 2013.

The old Pietà, seen in 2013.

Another view of the new Pietà.

Another view of the new Pietà.

The old Pietà and the staircase to the choir gallery in 2013.

The old Pietà and the staircase to the choir gallery in 2013.

The choir organ in 2013, which has been removed.

The choir organ in 2013, which was in the north transept and has since been removed.

Where the choir organ was located.

Where the choir organ was located.

The cathedral in 2016.

The cathedral in 2016.

The Cathedral in 2013.

The Cathedral in 2013.

The Good Shepherd, 2016.

The Good Shepherd, 2016.

The Good Shepherd, 2013.

The Good Shepherd, 2013.

The annex building and the rectory as seen from Queen Street.

The annex building and the rectory as seen from Queen Street.

The view of the rectory from Queen Street in 2013.

The view of the rectory from Queen Street in 2013.

Balustrades, an original feature, were restored to the second level of the rectory turret.

Balustrades, an original feature, were restored to the second level of the rectory turret.

The turret before restoration.

The turret before restoration.

The old annex building, which was demolished.

The old annex building, which was demolished.

The old annex building, which was demolished.

The old annex building, which was demolished.

The garage, which was also demolished.

The garage, which was also demolished.

The old annex building, which was demolished.

The old annex building, which was demolished.

The restoration was originally scheduled for two years,

The restoration was originally scheduled for two years,

Before the restoration.

Before the restoration.

During the restoration.

During the restoration.

Exposed brickwork of the columns seen during the restoration.

Exposed brickwork of the columns seen during the restoration.


More views of the beautifully restored cathedral

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Welcoming the stars of the Big Dipper

30 09 2016

The coming of the Chinese ninth month brings two widely celebrated Taoist celebrations to Singapore, both of which  have a connection with water. One, the pilgrimage to the island of Kusu, is held over an entire month. This sees thousands of pilgrims flocking to the island, where a Tua Pek Kong temple and several hill top shrines are located. The other celebration, held over the first nine days of the month, is the Nine Emperor Gods Festival or Kew Ong Yah or Jiu Wang Ye (九王爷).

Devotees from the Kim San Temple at East Coast Beach.

Devotees from the Kim San Temple at East Coast Beach.

The Nine Emperor Gods festival is especially interesting. The celebration proper begins with an invitation to the gods – nine stars of the Big Dipper, to descend to earth for an annual sojourn. The often very elaborate invitation ceremony is  traditionally held on the eve of the 1st day of the month. Taking place by the sea or a river, it involves the carriage of the gods on a sedan or a palanquin that is always violently rocked as a sign of a divine presence.

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This year sees the invitation spread out over several days, with a few being held on the eve itself, which falls on Friday 30 September. One that I managed to catch over at East Coast Park was that of the Kim San temple from Jalan Ulu Siglap on 29 September, the photographs of which accompany this post. The festival ends with an equally grand send off, with the gods ascending to the heavens on a burning boat. More on this and the festivalcan be found in a previous post: The Burning Boat.

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What’s propping a mid 1800s pagoda up on Telok Ayer Street

27 09 2016

A curious sight found at one of Telok Ayer Street’s two beautifully restored mid-19th century Chinese pagodas, the Chung-Wen pagoda or Chong-Wen Ge (崇文阁), are eight figures that are seen propping up the pagoda’stop tier. Referred to rather disparagingly in  colloquial Hokkien as “dim-witted foreigners”, these figures carved from wood have no structural function and are purely decorative features. Similar figures, which are also sometimes made of clay, are apparently, quite commonly used in Minnan architecture and are thought to have their origins in the Tang Dynasty when they may have been used to commemorate the efforts of foreign labourers who were often involved in building projects.

The Chung Wen Pagoda.

The Chung Wen Pagoda.

Support beams for the uppermost tier of the pagoda, which feature carvings of non-Chinese men depicted as lending support to the structure.

Support beams for the uppermost tier of the pagoda, which feature carvings of non-Chinese men depicted as lending support to the structure.

A night-time view of the pagoda.

A night-time view of the pagoda.

The eight wooden cravings are just some of an amazing array of decorative work found in the incredibly beautiful pagoda. Built between 1849 and 1852, the pagoda, besides it features that define a strong Chinese flavour, also has features that speak of the influences present in the 18th century Singapore such as a wrought iron sprial staircase that was put in during a restoration effort in 1880 and encaustic floor tiles, which can also be found in other Chinese buildings in the country.

Decorative details.

Decorative details.

The second tier.

The second tier.

The reverse view.

The reverse view.

The wrought iron staircase.

The wrought iron staircase.

Linked with the Hokkien community, whose spiritual centre was at the next door Thian Hock Keng temple, the Chung-Wen pagoda apparently also had the support of other groups within the wider Chinese community. This is evident in one of three steles found on the site. The stele, which commemorates the pagoda’s construction, sees the names of Teochew leader Seah Eu Chin as well as that of a Hakka, Liew Lok Teck, alongside names associated such as Tan Kim Seng, Ang Choon Seng, Wee Chong Sun and Cheang Sam Teo from the Hokkien community.

The stele commemorating its construction.

The stele commemorating its construction.

A view of the entrance doorway to the Chong-wen Ge from the upper tier of the pagoda.

A view of the entrance doorway to the Chong-wen Ge from the upper tier of the pagoda.

We also see on the stele that a shrine dedicated to Zitong Dijun (梓潼帝君) was placed on the pagoda’s second tier. Zitong Dijun, also known as Wenchang (文昌), is considered to be the Chinese god of culture and literature, and is a patron deity of scholars. This is a clear indication of the Chung-Wen pagoda’s intended purpose as a place given to promoting learning, although not all experts agree on the manner in which it was done. What is clear however, is that the Chong-Wen Ge was where the written word was venerated. This was carried out through the practice of the burning of papers on which words have been written, in honour of the inventor of Chinese characters, Cangjie (倉頡). The installation of a small paper burning pagoda on the site for this purpose is also recorded on the stele.

A view from the pagoda across to the Thain Hock Keng and the former Keng Teck Whay.

Old world gods now surrounded by the gods of the new world  – a view from the pagoda across to the Thain Hock Keng and the former Keng Teck Whay and the financial centre of the city beyond it.

The building which housed the Chong Hock School.

The building which housed the Chong Hock School.

The practice of burning the written word ended in 1910 when the trustees of the Chong-Wen Ge handed control of it over to the Thian Hock Keng temple, although it can be said that the written word was then celebrated in a different manner with the founding of the Chong Hock School for girls in 1915. The school operated in the simple but lovely two storey building adjacent to the pagoda and only moved out in 1985 as Chongfu School.  The school’s building have seen several uses since and now houses the Singapore Musical Box Museum on its upper level. An encaustic tile shop and a Peranakan café is also now found on its ground level.

A view of the Chong Hock School building from the pagoda.

A view of the Chong Hock School building from the pagoda.

The Chong-Wen Ge, which translates as the Institute for the Veneration of Literature, was gazetted as a National Monument in 1973 with the Thian Hock Keng. Its wonderfully restored state is the result of its last major restoration effort which was undertaken between 2001-2003. More information on it and other conserved former school buildings can be found in a URA Heritage Schools Pamphlet.

Decorative detail on a door on the pagoda's second level.

Decorative detail on a door on the pagoda’s second level.

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A view from Telok Ayer Street.

A view from the cafe.

A view from the cafe.


A close-up of the eight “dim-witted foreigners”

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An enlightened reflection

13 09 2016

A sight not to be missed in the Balestier Road area, is that of the large white marble Buddha and its reflection off the polished marble floor the Burmese Buddhist Temple at Tai Gin Road.

Thought to be the largest such Buddha image outside of Myanmar, the 11 feet tall statue dates back to the early twentieth century and was made of a ten ton block of marble obtained from Sagyin Hill near Mandalay – said to be where the best quality Burmese marble is found. The Buddha, which weighed eight tons completed, arrived in Singapore on 10 December 1921 and was placed temporarily at a house at the third milestone of Serangoon Road before being moved into its intended home – the Burmese Buddhist temple at Kinta Road, in 1925.

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The Buddha on the move again on 2 May 1988 when the new temple at Tai Gin Road was being built. A 12 April 1988 article in the Straits Times gives us some idea on the complexity of that move, which required a huge iron cage to be made for it to be lifted.

The temple at Tai Gin Road, laid out in a traditional Burmese style, features a tiered roof that is decorated with woodcarvings made from 19 tonnes of Burmese teak. A golden pagoda typical of Myanmar can also be seen topping the temple. The temple was consecrated in 1991 and serves a community that long has links to Singapore.  More information on the Buddha and the temple can be found at the temple’s website.


More photographs of the temple:

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A pair of lanterns depicting the watermelon playground at Tampines.

The golden pagoda of the temple glowing in the night – as seen from the Wan Qing Yuan.

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