Ji Yang Primary School (left), Wayang stage (middle) & Tan Kong Tian (right)
The current area of Ulu Pandan Area bounded by Sungei Ulu Pandan and Ulu Pandan Road is now a private residential area.
However, at the turn of the century the area was actually a swamp infested with snakes and wild animals.
In 1904, a Chua, Chua Hu Fan came fromProvince Kang Nai District to search for a new life in .
At that time, as the journey to an unknown land was fraught with danger, sickness and uncertainties, Chua brought along him a statue deity Tong Kong Zhen Ren from his ancestral village temple Jin Hock Tian.
Tong Kong Zhen Ren is known as a deity with healing power. He is also a deity who is adept at fengshui.
Together with other Chuas from the same ancestral village, they build a small temple in a hill (Feng Heng Hill) and worshipped the deity there.
In 1919, the small Chua settlement extended to tens of families clusters. The place was known as Tua Kang Lai 大港内.
They work in rubber plantations, rode bullock carts, planted vegetables and reared pigs.
Soon they were able to buy a plot of land near Feng Heng Hill to rebuilt their temple for their deity Tong Kong Zhen Ren (Tan Kong)
At that time land was $450 – 500 per acre for a 999 year lease. Besides the land for the temple, which was a joint purchase, many of the Chuas brought land to plough the land.
As they were 2 temples in their ancestral village 进福殿 (Jin Hock Tian) and 圆潭殿 (Yuan Tan Tian), 4 more dieties – Kuan Kong, Fan Hou Xian Shi, Fu Xi and Shen Nong – were brought to Tan Kong temple from the village temples.
They also built a wayang stage at that time. They engaged Sin Sai Hong, (the oldest Hokkien opera troupe in Singapore)and also Kim Eng Teochew Opera. It is one of the 2 surviving temple wayang stages remaining on minaland Singapore now. A third village wayang stage can be found in Pulau Ubin.
Birthday celebrations in the form of wayang performances were held in honour of these deities not unlike practices back in China before the cultural revolution. These were the grandest occasions for the Chua village. During non performance days, the wayang also served the purpose of a school for the children of Chua village to learn and study.Similar village temples with their permanent wayang stages dotted Singapore before the advent of mass housing development. Good exmaples would be the Ama Keng and Phua village temples.
In 1927, Li Qun Primary School was built next to the temple. It was the earliest primary school in a village. It would serve to educate the village’s children for many more years before being demolished in 1980.
In the early 1970s, land developers start to approach these farmers, and land was exchanged for cash at $18 per sq foot.
Many Chuas sold off their farming land and ventured into other business. The temple plot was kept, after all, it was specially chosed by Tong Kong, the deity who is supposed to be adept in fengshui.
In 1983, the temple committee set up Tua Kang Lai Temple Ltd to administer the existing property. Despite being offered S$10 million a few years back by a condo developer, the temple committee decided that they would rather keep the property intact as it is. Recent renovations of $150,000 on the wayang stage shows the Chuas’ determination to keep a piece of memory that is uniquely theirs.
Text by Raymond Goh, Edited by Kent Neo, Sept 2007
Anxi association 1982 souvenior magazine
Oral interviews by Kent Neo and Raymond Goh at Yuan Hock Tian premises in Sep 2007
For more information contact Mr Chua, 93801105 (hp) or Ji Yang Hui Guan