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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Sights and smells of a forgotten past

15 06 2010

Isn’t it just wonderful that smells can sometimes evoke a memory that has been stashed away in the corner of your mind? It was the case for me, wondering around the beach at Jimbaran where in the midst of the boats and nets that littered the beach, I was greeted by a smell that I had known from the many night catching crabs at the Mata Jetty or in my wanderings through some of the coastal villages of Singapore. It was a smell that came from rotting fish mixed with the salt from the sea, which, together with the scene before my eyes, brought a sense of déjà vu. Surveying the scene: the splash of colours that the boats brought to the white of the sand of the beach, as well as the grey and brown of newer nets sitting next to those yellowed by through use, it did seem indeed that it was one that I had once been familiar with. It is probably a scene that is typical of the many fishing villages that can be found all over the Malay Archipelago, typical of Singapore once, but out of place in the modern metropolis much of Singapore has become.

The sight and smell of the fishing nets at Jimbaran, brought with it a reminiscence of a forgotten Singapore.

Baskets on the beach.

For a brief moment, I did forget where I was, as I weaved my way through nets and baskets, gratefully drawing in with each breath, a smell which I would otherwise not have found too pleasing. I had imagined that I was back where I might have once been, watching the boats as they came ashore to be greeted by the small crowd which had gathered in anticipation of having the first pick of the slippery silvery harvest that came with each boat. For that brief moment, I felt that I was home again, home amongst the sights and smells I had once taken for granted.

Fishing Boats at East Coast Beach, 1976. For a brief moment I was transported to a scene from the Singapore of old, similar to this.

Around the beach at Jimbaran:

Fisherman tending to their equipment on Jimbaran Beach. Sights similar to this would have been common in the coastal fishing villages of Singapore.

Fisherman at Jimbaran, Bali.

An outrigger stabilised fishing boat.

A close up of the baskets.

The beach at Jimbaran, Bali. The sight of colourful fishing boats on the beach somehow makes me feel at home. A common sight in much of the Malay Archipelago, it was once common on the beaches of Singapore as well.