Thursday, 26 December 2013

Findings in a valley

The Chua Village Temple at Jalan Kebaya, near Ghim Moh. By the way, if you'd watched the Ch 8 serial (9pm) on 16 Jan, you would have seen the wayang stage belonging to this temple, shown in a flashback featuring a puppeteer. You don't get to see such stages anymore in Singapore. 
SORRY, I borrowed this headline from a very old feature from Reader's Digest. But for me, this temple was indeed "findings in a valley".

Thanks to an article on the Chua Village Temple in "Historic Chinese Architecture in Singapore", I went in search of this temple in Pandan Valley on Christmas Day. According to the article, this temple was built in 1919, founded by a Chua Hu Fan who came to Singapore in 1904 from Anxi Province. The Chua clan built the small temple on a hill, worshiping the Tong Kong Zhen Ren deity. The Chua settlement was at Ulu Pandan, a swamp then known as Tua Kang Lai. But they turned the land into plantations and farms, making a living from the soil. The plots of land owned by the Chuas were eventually sold to developers in the 1970s. The temple however remained intact today at Jalan Kebaya (near Holland Grove and  Mt Sinai Road) surrounded by modern architecture. The Chuas had decided not to release the land the temple was sitting on.

The wooden wayang stage which has seen performances by Sin Sai Hong (oldest Hokkien opera troupe in Singapore) and  the Kim Eng Teochew Opera..
The peaceful temple nestles among modern condos and residential houses.

When I visited the temple on Christmas morning,  I found a spotlessly white Mercedes parked in its vicinity. There was soft chatter and laughter coming from the basement of the stage (one of the few surviving Chinese wayang stages in Singapore). Some laundry was hanging out to dry.  Maybe the caretaker lives there. A very good caretaker as the place was spic and span. Tiny roses and other plants decorated a very tidy row of flower bed.

I threw a dollar coin into a disused well in front of the stage before entering the main temple (encouraged by the many coins lying at the bottom). The  "pop, pop, pop" sound from a tennis game at the condominium next door seemed a bit incongruous -- not something one would usually hear near a temple. (But I like hearing the pop, pop, pop which reminded me of my own tennis days eons ago.)

I am not sure whether the altar featured the original deities brought over from Anxi. But it was said that besides the statue of Tong Kong Zhen Ren (which has healing power and powerful fengshui knowledge), there were four more deities -- Kuan Kong, Fan Hou Xian Shi, Fu Xi and Shen Nong. I think there is a dangki (temple medium)  this temple as I saw a trigram and other paraphernalia associated with one.

A bit of broken tile left behind in the garden of the temple.

Home for Christmas

Ho, ho, ho... let's go kai, kai!
WOOF! Hey, gate's open! Time for a roam old man, said the frisky black and white Shetland to the other -- an old "one-quarter" Alsatian -- totally black, half blind. They padded through the half-open gate which had just admitted an unwitting father-in-law. In a matter of seconds, they were out into the cool night air of Christmas. And were gone, as noiseless as a gentle breeze. (The Shetland is a regular visitor. The one-quarter Alsatian is a resident.)

So, after salad, after a heated squabble between the sister and brother, there was a little voice from the maid that went, "Sir, dogs missing."  The father-in-law (of the sister) had just finished saying grace, thanking God for the food, and the family reunion (but stopped short at praying for peace on earth and goodwill to all man as that would be alluding too much to the squabble which had just taken place).

Dad (of the squabbling sister and brother) was the first one to stand up and ran out. I was surprised at his speed and alacrity. The sister and her husband followed. The brother, who was still sulking, stayed behind with the mother and the father-in-law. I will keep the gates and door open for the dogs to come home, said the mother. They will come home, she assured us, as we also disappeared into the night.

Where could two dogs go? Lots of places. There was a dog run nearby, and another park frequented by joggers, brisk walkers and their dogs. But to get to these two places, they would have to cross roads, which they have not proven to be good at. Driving in two separate cars, we cruised around the area. No one seemed to have seen two dogs happily trotting with their tongues lolling out (which was my mental picture of them as I drove along, eyes peeled for black moving shadows.) The black one has been known for its escapades. But as he doesn't see very well these days, doesn't usually go very far -- usually to the junction where the lane meets the main road -- where he would just stand and sniff the air and then go home.

Dad said the young one must have goaded the elderly one on. Muttering "triple sian" (a Hokkien word he likes to use to describe a dire situation), we drove back to the canal where we had seen a group of workers gathered at the edge. It's the Shetland, he said, and hopped out of the car even before I could stop completely. Once again, I marvelled at his alacrity. I got down the car too, thinking the Shetland had fallen into the canal and the group of workers were trying to fish him out.

My brother returned, shaking his head. He had seen something white bobbing in the canal and thought it was the dog. The workers were doing some work at the canal, that's all.

We parked and started combing the park. I stopped to ask a jogger whether she had seen two dogs. Her eyes lighted up in hope for me -- she had seen two black dogs, just, she said. But we had also seen those two black knights -- one of them looked like our one-quarter Alsatian. But they were not our dogs. (The two black knights are actually quite well known in the area -- they are always together and trotting like they mean business -- the park patrol.) If the Shetland and the one-quarter Alsatian had met these two, they would be dead meat.

After speaking to the jogger, I lost sight of Dad. No use calling him as he has left his handphone at home. (Nobody brought their handphones along actually. Only me.)

A vast expanse of darkness in front -- and nobody in sight. The park had become deserted. Where could Dad have gone? We had a few missing dog episodes before. Each time he had rushed out to look, running too hard and getting himself all breathless and pale. Did he faint somewhere in the park?

Then I received another call from Mum, the harbinger of good news.. All have come home for Christmas, she said. Peace on earth, goodwill to all man... and dogs.

The Shetland had cleverly led the one-quarter Alsatian back to his own home (the sister and her husband's place) -- a little distance away actually -- quite a long walk for dogs. They had found him running around at their block, while the other dog was busy marking territory. They were asking the guard whether he had seen any dogs, but the guard said he hadn't. Just then, the sister caught a glimpse of something furry behind a pillar.

We had drove by twice, but each time we said no point going into the condo as the dogs couldn't be so clever. Well, never under estimate a Shetland.

The "one-quarter alsatian" moved on at the ripe old age of 16 on 5 Sept 2014. He will always be remembered by me as joyfully sniffing the air at the road junction.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Circus, anyone?

THESE days, I am not at all interested in the circus. I really can't see the great excitement in watching people doing all sorts of daredevil acts, or making animals perform.

As a kid, though the thought of running away to join a circus had never occurred to me, I was really excited to go to a circus with my family. A troupe from China came down rather often, those days when I was small -- around the 60s. I think one of the troupes was called 大天球 (Big Sky Globe). There were flying trapezes, tigers, etc too. But the "star" performance was that of motorcycles ascending a huge cage shaped like a globe, in a spiral manner. Three or four riders would be defying gravity and roaring round at such a speed-- enough to give the audience vertigo. I always feared that one of them would fall and knock off the others in their spiralling.

There was noise enough to beat the F1. But as a kid, I loved the deafening roar. There must have been a "tiger show" as well. I vaguely remember a poor tiger obeying its master to either sit on a stool or beg or its hind legs at the crack of the whip. My sympathy was for the tiger more than for the trainer who may be eaten alive any moment.

I do remember the flying trapezes. Of all the other circus acts besides the crazy motorcycles, it was the flying trapeze I loved most. It may not be by chance that I sewed myself a blouse with two long pointed ends that reminded one of my colleagues of the costume worn by the flyers. For a while, my nickname was "flying trapeze" as I "floated" around the office in my "trapeze" outfit.

In Cantonese, flying trapeze is known as "hoong joong fei yen" (person in mid air). There was a story being broadcast on the radio around the time called "Lai Gwai Juei Hoong" (Lady Ghost Pursues Murderer). Being still rather mesmerized  by the flying trapeze act, we nicknamed this programme "Lai Jun Fei Hoong" which translated into Cantonese means "Milk Bottle in Mid Air" -- which sounded more interesting than its original title.

Stories on the radio were Class Acts for the family in those days -- especially thrillers like Milk Bottle in Mid Air. Milk Bottle was aired around 11am I think, and I remember wishing it was broadcast in the night instead, so that I didn't have to worry about going to school later. Then there was the 6.30pm one when Lay Da Sor came on air with his renditions of Gu Long's sword fighting tales.

Between catching up with these stories and going to the circus, I would give the circus a miss.