Thursday, 2 January 2014

Findings on a hill

You won't miss this temple -- it's at the mouth of Palmer Road.
ONE of the oldest temples in Singapore resides on a hill -- or rather, at the foot  of one called Mount Palmer. According to the Southeast Asian Archaelogy: Archaeology in Singapore, Mt Palmer was a former colonial military fort -- and the temple at the foot, faced the sea.

There's a little clump of a hill behind the temple -- what's left of Mt Palmer?
The temple, Fook Tet Soo (also known as the Wang Hai Da Bo Gong Temple), is the oldest Hakka institution in Singapore. It has its origins from a shrine which was believed to have been erected in 1819 (the year of Sir Stamford Raffles' arrival in Singapore). The actual temple was built in 1844 -- the oldest Tua Pek Kong (name of the deity) temple in the island.

I decided to pay this temple a visit on New Year's Day. Besides two or three devotees offering joss sticks to the deity for the period I was there -- there was also one very busy caretaker -- or at least I think he was one though he was dressed more like an office worker in white shirt and brown pants. Perhaps he was a volunteer worker. Anyway, he was very busy, running from one corner of the temple to another, either sweeping up some bits of litter and dust, or refilling prayer oil and putting more amulets in the glass case.

Remnant of a hill still backs the temple. But the shoreline is long gone. The little hill was part of the Parsi burial ground which was exhumed some time before 1966. The Parsis community of merchants lived around the area. No wonder, there is a Parsi Road opposite Palmer Road (separated by Shenton Way).

Devotees pray to Tua Pek Kong for protection.
Tua Pek Kong is a protector of the people. Before he was immortalised, he was a Mandarin (during the Zhou Dynasty) -- an official whose helping hand must be dearly appreciated by his countrymen. After he became a deity, the Jade Emperor sent him back to earth -- once again, to protect the people. Hence the first thing that immigrants from China on touching Singapore soil was to erect a Tua Pek Kong shrine so that the deity could look out for them.

According to some Chinese newspaper articles displayed at the temple, the deity does look after its people -- in more ways than one -- some devotees had made some money from lottery numbers given by the deity.

It must have guarded its land well too. This temple is one of the rare ones which had remained in its original location. In the past, many temples were re-sited due to development.

The Tiger God lives next door to the main temple. Countless wind chimes from devotees hung from the ceiling of his parlor. This deity is worshiped on the 6th and and 16th of every lunar month. People come to this deity for protection against threats and to ward off "bad hats". His mouth can apparently be appeased by devotees stuffing in raw pork, lard and eggs.

At the end of Palmer Road (a dead end) is another "find" -- Palmer House. It used to be old YMCA Metropolitan headquarters which later moved to Stevens Road in 1980. It was built in 1954 and sold in the late 1990s, renamed Palmer House.

For many years, a diving board belonging to the YMCA swimming pool, had remained as a vestige of the headquarters though the pool itself was long gone. One used to be able to see the top of this diving board still while travelling along the AYE on the way towards Changi Airport or the eastern part of the island. Couldn't remember when it too, fell with time.

Palmer Road was named after a merchant from Calcutta -- John Palmer. He later became bankrupt and sold off the land. Around the area is another "find" -- the Keramat Habib Noh, the tomb of Habib Noh bin Mohamed al-Habshi, a mystique. The Keramat (above) was built in 1890 by Syed Mohammed bin Ahmed Alsagoff.

Palmer House, No. 70, Palmer Road.
There's a coffee shop at the corner of Palmer House that was packed when I visited around lunch time. It must be a popular lunch time place, perhaps especially for drivers of FedEx vans, taxis and tour buses which were parked tightly side by side in the vicinity. Must give it a try some time.

More pictures of the Tua Pek Kong temple at Palmer Road:

Example of old Hakka architecture in Singapore.
The white horse in Chinese mythology stands for purity and success. In Journey to the West, the monk rode on a white horse that is faithful and loyal. Anyway, the Year of the Horse is about to gallop in.
The pair of door gods which guard the temple's entrance.

A parking attendant putting on her uniform and getting ready for duty at the Tiger God's abode. A vast carpark next to the temple (below), makes it convenient to devotees to visit the temple.

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