Sian Keng Tong

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I first caught sight of this Heng Hwa temple whilst on my way back from a camping trip from Ubin not too long ago in around August 2006. Hardly noticeable, a wonderful story unfolded before me today during my field work here. The four of us, inclusive of Gilles, Meridel, Lesley and myself were warmly greeted by the temple management committee with a traditional pot of tea. According to the person-in-charge, the temple was built in 1965 by clansmen of the ‘Hou Guo’ village or ‘Ao’ as they called it in Heng Hwa. There are about 2000 ‘Ao’ Heng Hwa clansmen in Singapore now.

Two things with this temple amazes me. Firstly, this building is built in traditional Qing Hokkien style in post-colonial Singapore. Secondly, the builders of this temple were not craftsmen from China, but local bus drivers, bus conductors or even businessmen from the same village clan! It caused quite a sensation in the Chinese community at that time for its ‘made-in-Singapore’ approach. The temple was located here as there used to be a bus depot not too far from its current location. The Heng Hwa dialect group are well known in the past for being active players in the transport related industry such as tyre,bicycle and car garage owners. Although not built in elaborate traditional Hokkien fashion, it was nontheless remarkable especially in the carpentry work. The elagant beams and trusses were carved from Jelutong in the exterior whilst the interior made use of Chengal wood, all tropical hardwood which explained its relatively good condition even up till today. Modernity is also evident from the main beam cast from reinforced concrete.

Another interesting feature of this temple must be the beautifully carved signs on either side of the side entrances which explicitly ban ‘women who are having periods’ and ‘mourners who are griefing over the deceased’ from entering the temple. The lanterns of this temple are also one of its kind. Painted in Qing traditional style, the skeleton and aluminium ribs of the lantern were hand-made by the clansmen who built the temple. Heng Hwa puppetry can still be witnessed here especially on festive celebrations, a rare sight in Singapore or even the rest of the Malay Peninsula nowadays. I will include below some important dates for readers here to enjoy the colors of traditional Heng Hwa celebrations in 2007.

21 Feb 2007 Receiving of Chinese gods in traditional ceremonial costume

1 May 2007 Birthday celebration of the Emperor of Health (Baoshengdadi)

3 June 2007 Heng Hwa puppet performance

19 July 2007 Heng Hwa puppet performance

Contact persons : Mr Tan Kim Huat tkh1@np.edu.sg Mr Ronald Tan ronaldtan@radioholland.com.sg

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