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.






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











More photographs of the beautifully restored Singapore Yu Huang Kong











The Fullerton Hotel National Day light up

2 08 2015

As a child, one of the highlights of National Day was the nighttime drive to see the city’s birthday lights. The beautifully lit landmarks, buildings and the fountains that once graced the city, although much simpler then, brought a wonderful burst of colour to the city and its surroundings. Among my favourites were the illuminations of the City Hall, the old Supreme Court, and also the old St. Joseph’s Institution, now the Singapore Art Museum, which always seemed to be bathed in green, and where I would eventually attend school at. The fountains looked especially beautifully lit at night, besides the ones that would be normally illuminated at the roundabouts, there was one located at the filter beds off Bukit Timah Road, close to its junction with Cavenagh and New Cemetery Roads, that would be specially turned on and illuminated for the special occasion.


Light-ups to celebrate our special days these days, tend to be more than just the simple illuminations of old, involving video projections of both light and sound. One to look out for in the lead up to our nation’s 50th anniversary is the video mapping show that is being seen on the face of the last of the grand edifices of our once glorious waterfront, the grand old Fullerton Building, over nine evenings from 1st August.


Produced in collaboration with Hexagon Solution Pte Ltd, the light-up, an eight minute long projection entitled “A Celebration of  Our Heritage”, will take the audience through key moments in Singapore’s history and the connection the building, the former General Post Office or GPO, had with some of them. One of these moments are the election rallies Fullerton Square was well known for.


The light-up is part of a slew of activities in the Marina Bay area, where the focal point of the National Day celebrations will take place. One thing to look forward to will be the fireworks and aerial displays on 9 August – the parade will be screened live on LCD screens around the bay. Also to look forward to is the complimentary kacang putih and potong ice-cream that will be given out by Fullerton Hotel on 7 and 8 August at One Fullerton. The Fullerton is also running a Facebook contest that will see ten lucky winners walk away with a complimentary weekend night’s stay at the hotel – all that is needed to enter is to take a photo of the projection and submit it with a birthday wish to the nation via Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #FullertonSG50LightUp (contest closes on 9 August 2015 at 11:50 pm). More information on this and the light-up can be found on the Fullerton Hotel’s Fullerton Hotel website or Facebook Page.







Celebrating Orchard on National Day

10 08 2013

Celebrating Orchard is an exhibition of photographs I helped the National Heritage Board (NHB) put together for a National Day event. The one day exhibition at the Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza offers perspectives of Singapore’s well known shopping district, commonly referred to as ‘Orchard’ through  a series of photographs – those of eight individuals including myself who have made first impressions of the street and its environs at different periods of its development, post-independence.

Photographs I exhibited:



I love how reflections can sometimes offer interesting perspectives such as these reflections I captured off an Orchard Road shop window, which does represent how I see Orchard’s transformation over the years since my first impressions were formed. The street is now one that is rich in flavour and colour. Full of excitement, it now has an appeal which goes far beyond the shopping and dining venues it is known for and is very much where Singapore comes alive.

The Motor End

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An early impression I had of Orchard was of its car showrooms. Several were found at the ‘Motor End’. It was where my father was to purchase the first five cars he owned from. Three were from Borneo Motors (two Austins and later a Toyota), as well as one from Universal Cars (a Ford) and another from Malayan Motors (a Morris). The building which housed Malayan Motors is one which has survived and is currently occupied by MDIS.

Runway Orchard

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Orchard has always been one to celebrate fashion. Back in the 1960s it became home to trendsetting designer and hairstylist Roland Chow when Roland’s opened on the street. The internationally recognised fashion hub now celebrates in a big way, shutting itself to traffic one evening a year when it transforms itself into a fashion runway for Fashion Steps Out @ Orchard.

About Celebrating Orchard

Orchard Road or ‘Orchard’, as the street and its surroundings is commonly referred to, has over the years offered very different experiences to its many visitors. Lined with car showrooms and several memorable places to shop at the point of Singapore’s independence, it has become a focal point of the new and exciting Singapore. It is where the heart and soul of Singapore can perhaps be found.

Celebrating Orchard explores the famous street through the eyes of eight photographers, who having had their first impressions of the street made during different periods of its development, offer a different take on Orchard Road.






Other photographers who exhibited:

A nation celebrates!

9 08 2013

Photographs from last week’s National Day Parade preview show how the nation will celebrate its 48th anniversary of its independence from Malaysia.


















Colours of independent Singapore’s 48th birthday

9 08 2013

Colours of the new day breaking at 6.51 am on the occasion of independent Singapore’s 48th birthday. Happy National Day Singapore!


The spirit of ’68

26 08 2012

1968 was a year that was of special significance for me, being one during which my sister and companion through most of my childhood arrived in the world and when a very special visitor, Mr John Gorton, the then Prime Minister of Australia visited my home in Toa Payoh. It was also the year when we got our first telephone – and when I had my first phone call – one from my mother after she had given birth to my sister.

1968 was also a special year in many ways to Singapore, then in its third year of a reluctantly achieved independence. Despite the uncertainty that accompanied Singapore’s separation from a very brief merger with a Malaysia it had been economically linked to for much of its history, Singapore had emerged from the first three years with much optimism for the future. That this was so, was very much evident in an address made by then Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew, on the occasion of the third National Day in which he spoke of the “three remarkable years” in which “on our own, we have done better than in any three previous years of our history”. It was indeed a remarkable three years. The spirit and determination that its people had shown in the three years to overcome the odds was certainly on show during the celebration of Singapore’s independence that year, the parade, on Singapore’s third National Day.

National Day Parades of the early years even not as entertaining and spectacular as the parades of today are were nevertheless something Singaporeans could and would look forward to. Many lined the streets where the marching contingents and columns of military vehicles on display passed just to catch a glimpse of it. Parades were also shown live on television and 1968 was no exception.

The parade of 1968 was one that was to be different from the two previous parades, and perhaps reflecting the sentiment of the day, the skies opened up and it poured on the parade, the participants and the many who had gathered on the padang and on the streets to watch it. Despite the sheets of rain that fell that morning, no one left, and the parade was to go on – many watching on the streets without umbrellas either weathered the storm all drenched – or found innovative ways to seek shelter – some were seen to use upturned chairs to stand under.

That spirit was certainly one that reflected the spirit demonstrated by Singaporeans during those three years – faced with the storm of uncertainly of the times – instability and unemployment, they stood and not just weathered the storm, but came together as a people – diverse in cultures and in social status – but one as a nation to emerge from the storm stronger and with the optimism that was to drive the progress that we were to see … a spirit that certainly lives on today – and one we should call on to face any challenges the future would hold.

Do visit the NDP68 Facebook Application at http://www.ndp68.sg/ to find out more on the spirit of 1968.

The view from the other side …

13 08 2012

While some 26,000 in Singapore had gathered for the wonderful show that was this year’s National Day Parade on 9 August at The Float@Marina Bay, another 10,000 or so had turned The Promontory@Marina Bay across Marina Bay into a sea of red. The 10,000 were at the Promontory to participate in Young NTUC Celebrates! National Day 2012 – an event organised annually for the Labour Movement since 2007 to celebrate National Day. The event brought many families out together in a community celebration of National Day which allowed participants to watch the parade on giant LCD screens as well as watch up-close crowd favourites such as the Red Lions parachute team, the aerial fly-past as well as the always spectacular fireworks display that lit Marina Bay up at the end of the parade. The highlight of this year’s parade came at the end of the event when the Promontory was transformed into a sea of candlelight during a symbolic candle lighting activity, “A Celebration of Unity” held to signify the solidarity and mutual support of the Labour Movement and its role in the building of the nation.

The sun rises on independent Singapore’s 47th birthday

9 08 2012

Photographs of the spectacular break of day I was very fortunate to have witnessed on the morning of Singapore’s 47th birthday. The first photograph was taken at 6.41 am and the last at 7.15 am and were taken at a natural beach along Singapore’s northern coastline that I hope will be left as it is …