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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Fishy business at Changi Creek

29 09 2016

One of few places in Singapore that has still a hint of the old world, even in its modernised form, is Changi Village. While it bears little resemblance now to the sleepy village that once provided a perfect setting of a lazy afternoon stroll, there still are spots in and around it that take you back to its magical days.

The wharf at Changi Creek where fish from fish farms off the northeastern shore are brought ashore.

The wharf at Changi Creek where fish from fish farms off the northeastern shore are brought ashore.

One part of the village that has been spared from being overly manicured and also from the madding nasi-lemak seeking crowds that descend on the village especially during the weekends crowds, is the area around the creek. Here, one finds a world with much soul in it, coloured by the gathering of slow boats used in the transport of people to and from Singapore’s last inhabited island.  This, plus the activities associated with the delivery each morning of live fish from fish farms off Singapore’s northeastern coast from boats to lorries bound for Singapore’s many seafood restaurants, provides the creek with a character that is lacking in much of the rest of the island.

An early morning scene by the wharf.

An early morning scene by the wharf.

It is for these sights that I would often find myself enjoying a stroll by the creek. Observing what goes on at delivery time at the wharf, which is marked by a gathering of styrofoam box topped small lorries wharf side and sees the hoisting by hand of live seafood in nets from the boats, brings as much joy to me as taking in what went on along a once even more colourful Singapore River that I enjoyed as a child.

The colours that the gathering of slow boats to Pulau Ubin bring to the area, as seen from the area where the fish farmers' wharf is.

The colours that the gathering of slow boats to Pulau Ubin bring to the area, as seen from the area where the fish farmers’ wharf is.

The same area seen in 1966 (David Ayres on Flickr).

Sadly, time, it seems, is being called on the wharf and the joy it brings people like me. An article in yesterday’s Straits Times speaks of the prospect of its closure in an effort to curb smuggling. A recent case of cigarette smuggling had apparently been traced to the wharf and in a move typical of the agencies these days, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) is looking to have it shut over concerns “national security and safety” and are said to be in discussions with fish farmers on this. The fish farmers, who would be most affected, and would have to offload their time sensitive cargo further away at Lorong Halus or Senoko.

Small lorries gather in the mornings in anticipation of live seafood deliveries brought in from the fish farms.

Small lorries topped with styrofoam boxes gather in the mornings in anticipation of live seafood deliveries brought in from the fish farms.

The wharf - as seen from the ferry terminal.

The wharf – as seen from the ferry terminal.

Live fish are transferred to nets ...

Live fish are transferred to nets …

... which are then 'hoisted' up by hand ...

… which are then ‘hoisted’ up by hand …

... and loaded to lorries bound for seafood restaurants ...

… and loaded to lorries bound for seafood restaurants …

A styrofoam box topped delivery truck.

A styrofoam box topped delivery truck at the wharf.

 

 





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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Light at the end of a tunnel

26 09 2016

The tunnel under the circus at Jalan Bahru (now where Jurong Town Hall Road passes under the Ayer Rajah Expressway) was one of three railway tunnels built for the industrial Jurong Railway Line. The line, built as part of the development of Jurong Indistrial Estate in the mid 1960s, was one of the more profitable sections of the Malaysian run railway and fell into disuse in the early 1990s.

Large parts of the abandoned line have since been built over, although several sections of it, including a series of steel and concrete bridges and sections of tracks can still be found. The tunnels, all of which were constructed by Hong Guan Construction Engineering Co. Ltd. and lined with corrugated steel, are also still around. The westernmost tunnel, now under Jurong Pier Circus (previously the junction of Jalan Buroh and Jalan Pabrik) is difficult to reach. A third tunnel,  under Clementi Road, is being extended for the road widening project taking place above it.

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Exploring emptiness: Kamolpan Chotvichai’s Fragility of the Self

23 09 2016

An interesting exhibition that will open at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery at Gillman Barracks this evening is emerging Thai artist Kamolpan Chotvichai’s “Fragility of the Self“. The solo exhibition features thought provoking works each of which is an image of the artist’s body with parts of her anatomy hand-cut into a ribbon like form. The works explore the concept of emptiness in Buddhism, through the process of stripping away her physical form and challenge  at the same time gender based prohibitions.

Ms. Kamolpan Chotvichai at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery.

Ms. Kamolpan Chotvichai at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery.

The process to create the works is a painstaking one that starts with a sketch and involves a fair bit of detailed planning. The process of slicing parts of the images for which Ms Chotvichai uses an ordinary utility knife, takes two weeks on the average. Ms Chotvichai, who holds a Master of Fine Arts degree, experimented with several techniques to achieve the desired effects prior to settling on her current methods.

Her work has been featured at Saatchi Gallery in London alongside those of renowned Thai artists Rirkrit Tiravanija, Navin Rawanchaikul and Udomsak Krisanamis and was chosen for the cover of the book accompanying the exhibition, Thailand Eye. Ms. Chotvichai was also the youngest artist to participate in Frontiers Reimagined, an exhibition of global art – a Collateral Event of the 56th Venice Biennale.

The exhibition held in association with the 5th edition of the Singapore International Photography Festival, will run until 9 November 2016. Ms. Chotvichai, who is in town for the opening of her exhibition, will be having an Artist Talk on Saturday 24 September 24 at 3 pm for which registration is required through this email address: rsvpsg@sundaramtagore.com. More information on the exhibition can be found at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery’s website.





The last, and a soon to be lost countryside

22 09 2016

A charming and a most delightful part of Singapore that, as with all good places on an island obsessed with over-manicured spaces, is set to vanish from our sights is the one-time grounds of the Singapore Turf Club. Vacated in 1999 when horse racing was moved to Kranji, it has remained relatively undisturbed in the its long wait to be redeveloped and is a rare spot on the island in which time seems to have stood very still.

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The last …

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… soon to be lost countryside.

Light and shadow in an area in Singapore in which light may soon be fading.

Light and shadow in a part of Singapore in which light may soon be fading.

Once a rubber estate of more than 30,000 trees, the grounds grew from an initial 98 hectares that the original turf club purchased in 1929 to the 141 hectares by the time the club’s successor vacated it, spread across what has been described as “lush and undulating terrain”. By this time, it was occupied by two racetracks, several practice tracks, up to 700 stables, pastures and paddocks, accommodation units, a hospital for horses, an apprentice jockey school, two stands, car parks with many pockets of space now rarely seen in Singapore in between. Parts of the grounds gave one a feel of a countryside one could not have imagined as belonging to Singapore. Full of a charm and character of its own, it was (and still is) a unique part of a Singapore in which redevelopment has robbed  many once distinct spaces of their identities.

 

The former grounds of the Singapore Turf Club offers a drive through a countryside we never thought we had in Singapore.

The former grounds of the Singapore Turf Club offers a drive through a countryside we never thought we had in Singapore.

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As un-Singaporean a world as one can get in Singapore.

A wooded part of the former turf club grounds.

A wooded part of the former turf club grounds.

More wooded parts.

More wooded parts.

A section of the grounds that is particularly charming is the site on which the Bukit Timah Saddle Club operates. Set across 10.5 hectares of green rolling hills decorated with white paddock fences, the area has even more of an appearance of the country in a far distant land. The saddle club, which was an offshoot of original turf club, was set up in 1951 to allow retired race horses to be re-trained and redeployed for recreational use. It has been associated with the grounds since then, operating in a beautiful setting in which one finds a nice spread of buildings, stables and paddocks in a sea of green.

The Bukit Timah Saddle Club.

The Bukit Timah Saddle Club.

A cafe at the Bukit Timah Saddle Club.

A cafe at the Bukit Timah Saddle Club.

A 12 year-old horse named Chavo, being given a run in a paddock.

A 12 year-old horse named Chavo, being given a run in a paddock.

In the vicinity of the saddle club, there is an equally charming area where one finds a cluster of low-rise buildings that hark back to a time we have almost forgotten. Built in the 1950s as quarters for the turf club’s sizeable workforce and their families, the rows of housing containing mainly three-roomed units are now camouflaged by a wonderfully luxurious sea of greenery. Some of those these units would have housed were apprentice jockeys, syces, their mandores, riding boys and workers for the huge estate workers that the turf club employed. The community numbered as many as 1000 at its height and was said to have a village-like feel. Two shops served the community with a small mosque, the Masjid Al-Awabin, and a small Hindu temple, the Sri Muthumariamman put up to cater to the community’s spiritual needs.

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Former Quarters, many of which would have been built in the 1950s.

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Former Turf Club quarters.

Not far from the area of housing and the saddle club at Turf Club Road is what has to be a strangest of sights in the otherwise green settings – a row of junk (or antique depending on how you see it) warehouses known as Junkies’ Corner that many have a fascination for. This, for all that it is worth, counts as another un-Singaporean sight, one that sadly is only a temporary one set in a world that will soon succumb to the relentless tide of redevelopment.

Junkies' Corner.

Junkies’ Corner.

Junkies' Corner.

A close up of Junkies’ Corner.

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Traffic going past Junkies’ Corner.

The signs that time is being called on the grounds are already there with the former turf club quarters surrounded by a green fence of death. Based on what has been reported, the leases on several of sites on the grounds including that of the saddle club (it has occupied its site on a short term basis since the 1999 acquisition of the turf club’s former grounds) and what has been re-branded as The Grandstand will not be extended once they run out in 2018.  A check on the URA Master Plan reveals that the prime piece of land would be given for future residential development and it seems quite likely that this will soon be added to the growing list of easy to love places in Singapore that we will very quickly have to fall out of love with.

URA Master Plan 2014 shows that the former turf club grounds will be redeveloped as residential area.

URA Master Plan 2014 shows that the former turf club grounds will be redeveloped as residential area.


More views of the area:

(aslo at this link: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10210755341268240.1073742271.1491125619&type=1&l=77fc0ee8cf)

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A Pacific Swallow.

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Update 23 September 2016:

It has been brought to my attention that there may be an small extension of the tenancy period, at least for The Grandstand, granted beyond the expiry of its lease in February 2018. The possible extension of 2 years and 10 months, reflected on the SLA website, will go up to the end of 2020, and its seems then that redevelopment of the area may take place only after that.


 





The rainbow connection

16 09 2016

A rainbow appears over the “Rainbow Flats”, as Rochor Centre is sometimes referred to, as if to say goodbye on the morning of 14 September 2016. Built to house residents and business displaced by urban redevelopment in the late 1970s, the Housing and Development Board built podium residential cum commercial development is due to make way very soon for the construction of the North-South Expressway.  For more on the complex and its last days, do visit an earlier post: Parting Glances: Rochor Centre in its last days.








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