Celebrating SG50 and a heritage gem

14 08 2015

One of the joys of living in Singapore, a melting pot of immigrant cultures for over two centuries, is the diverse influences seen in the architecture on display across the city-state.  One area where a concentration of this can be admired is in and around Telok Ayer Street, a street once fronting the bay after which it was named and a point of landing for many of modern Singapore’s earliest immigrants.  Along the street, stand two gorgeously adorned pagodas, possibly the oldest in Singapore, both of which were erected by Hokkien immigrants, one of which takes one from earth to heaven and houses an altar to the Heavenly Jade Emperor within what was once the home of the Keng Teck Whay.

The former Keng Teck Whay, now the Singapore Yu Huang Gong.

The former Keng Teck Whay, now the Singapore Yu Huang Gong.

A second pagoda - Thian Hock Keng's Chong Wen pagoda, seen across the roofs of the Hokkien temple from the Keng Teck Way's pagoda.

A second pagoda – Thian Hock Keng’s Chong Wen pagoda, seen across the roofs of the Hokkien temple from the Keng Teck Way’s pagoda.

The Keng Teck Whay, a mutual-aid society, was founded in 1831 by 36 Hokkien Peranakan (Straits Chinese) businessmen from Malacca whose origins can be traced back to Chiang Chew (Zhangzhou), China. The association, membership of which passed from father to eldest son, erected what can be said to be a clan complex around the mid 19th century. Being a very exclusive association, the complex and the fine example of southern Chinese architecture found within it, was kept well hidden from the public eye for much of its long existence.

The ancestral hall where a tablet bearing the names of 35 of the 36 founders - one was apparently ejected. 36 places are however set at the table where food offerings to the ancestors are laid out during the sembayang abu or ancestral prayer sessions - a practice that is now continued by the Taoist. Mission

The ancestral hall where a tablet bearing the names of 35 of the 36 founders – one was apparently ejected. 36 places are however set at the table where food offerings to the ancestors are laid out during the sembayang abu or ancestral prayer sessions – a practice that is now continued by the Taoist. Mission

A National Monument since 2009, the former Keng Teck Whay building – the only surviving example of a Straits Chinese clan complex, has since been taken over by the Taoist Mission. The complex, which was in a state of disrepair when the mission took possession in 2010, was painstakingly restored over a two and a half year period by a team of experts appointed by the Taoist Mission at a cost of some $3.8 million. Having first opened its doors to the public as the Singapore Yu Huang Kong or Temple of the Heavenly Jade Emperor early this year, the newly restored complex was officially opened on 9 August, the day independent Singapore celebrated its golden jubilee.

A view of the central door and the door gods.

A view of the central door (reserved for the Deity) and the door gods.

A view through the opened Deity door.

A view through the opened Deity door.

The opening of the former Keng Teck Whay as the Yu Huang Kong, which was officiated by Mr Sam Tan, Minister of State, Prime Minister’s Office and Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, was a celebration in many ways. Marking the the end of the restoration effort, the ceremony, which also included the commemoration of National Day, was also a celebration of Singapore’s unity in diversity with representatives from Singapore’s many faiths also in the audience.

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There is also much to celebrate about the beauty of the complex and its traditionally constructed structures and decorations. Laid out along a north-south axis, the complex features two courtyards, separated by its rather interesting pagoda. The beautifully constructed pagoda, laid out on a square base with octagonal plan upper tiers, said to represent Earth and Heaven respectively, is thought to have been modelled after the pagoda structures seen in temples to Confucius. It is on the second level of the three tier pagoda that the altar dedicated to the Heavenly Jade Emperor is found. The ancestral hall, housed on the lower level of the rear two storey building, lies across the inner courtyard from the pagoda.

Another view of the pagoda.

Another view of the pagoda.

The entrance building.

The entrance hall.

The altar to the Heavenly Jade Emperor.

The altar to the Heavenly Jade Emperor.

The iron spiral staircase of the pagoda.

The iron spiral staircase of the pagoda.

Doors, frescos and architectural details of the pagoda, beautifully restored.

Doors, frescos and architectural details of the pagoda, beautifully restored.

The ancestral hall, would have been where the main focus of the gathering of members five times a year to conduct ancestral prayers or sembayang abu, was. The hall is where a tablet inscribed with the 35 names of the association’s founding members can be found. While the name of the 36th founder, who was ejected for reasons unknown, is missing from the tablet, 36 places were still somehow set at the sembayang abu food offering table – a practice that the Taoist Mission continues with. More information on the Keng Teck Whay and the sembayang abu food offerings be found at this link:  http://peranakan.s3.amazonaws.com/2005/2005_Issue_2.pdf.

The curved roof ridge of the entrance hall.

The curved roof ridge of the entrance hall.

The upper level of the rear hall.

The upper level of the rear hall.

Further information on the Keng Teck Whay can be also found at the following links:


More photographs of the Opening and SG50 National Day Commemoration ceremony

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More photographs of the beautifully restored Singapore Yu Huang Kong

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Yesterday Once More at the GPO

2 03 2013

Take a stroll through a Singapore we have forgotten about through a series of postcards on display at The Fullerton Hotel. The postcards are part of a collection of 500 that were donated to the Singapore Philatelic Museum in July 2006 by renowned philatelist, Professor Cheah Jin Seng. The postcards date back to the pre-war years and go as far back as to 1893. The exhibition, Yesterday Once More, was officially opened yesterday by Mr. Sam Tan, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.

A photo of one of the postcards on display showing the former Orchard Road Market (where Orchard Point is today) in its early days before an extension at the front took away the little square and fountain. The fountain can now be found at Raffles Hotel.

A photo of one of the postcards on display showing the former Orchard Road Market (where Orchard Point is today) in its early days before an extension at the front took away the little square and fountain. The fountain can now be found at Raffles Hotel.

Yesterday Once More which is being held as part of The Fullerton Heritage’s Art in the City Programme. Yesterday Once More and is organised in collaboration with The Singapore Philatelic Museum, not only takes one back in time but also provides an appreciation of the transformation Singapore has seen through the last century. The highlights are the parts of the collection which show how much areas such as Orchard Road and the area around the old waterfront where The Fullerton is located has changed.

Detail of another postcard showing an aerial view of the city. The present National Museum can be seen in the foreground as well as the old YMCA Building.

Detail of another postcard showing an aerial view of the city. The present National Museum can be seen in the foreground as well as the old YMCA Building.

Postcards which were first used as an economical and convenient means to communicate, evolved to the picture postcards which in the days before the advent of the internet, served to document the tales of travellers. In time, these also served to archive places, faces and events. It is probably appropriate that the exhibition is also held at The Fullerton, which older Singaporeans fondly remember as the General Post Office or GPO – a special guest at the launch was Mr Subramaniam, independent Singapore’s very first Postmaster General, who is in his 90s. He was a treat to speak to, having many tales of his time first as the Director of the Post Office, and after separation, as the Postmaster General, to share.

Singapore's first Postmaster General, Mr. Subramaniam who is in his 90s.

Singapore’s first Postmaster General, Mr. Subramaniam who is in his 90s.

Yesterday Once More runs until 30 April 2013 and is being held at The Fullerton’s East Garden Foyer.

More photos from the launch: 

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