22. Ban Siew San Temple, 1892, gazetted

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Founding dialect group – Hainanese; Main diety – Kuanyin; status – gazetted

Also known to the Cantonese as Koon Yam Tong, this temple was founded in 1880 by a Hainanese Taoist priest by the name of Wong Guan Teck. The temple land was donated by Madam Tan Geok Hup, daughter of Tan Kim Seng. Built 2 years after the Hainan Tinhou (Mazu) temple in Beach Road, it was originally an attap building in 1880. The structure that we see today dates back to 1892, with the the rear hall added in the same year.

My first impression of this temple when I visited it years ago, I thought it was a Cantonese temple because of its straight roof ridge and the relatively unadorned building parts. According to the current caretaker, an elderly Hainanese man, this temple was actually built by Teochews and Hainanese craftsmen. From my observation, the layout and height of the temple follows a Hainanese format while the actual building components such as the ridge and secondary ridge beams are Teochew-influenced. There used to be a small Kampung around the hill in the early days with a community of Hokkien, Cantonese and Hainanese with the Hokkiens being the larger dialect group. This would explain why some of the dieties found in this temple are not commonly found in other temples as it is frequented by a majority of Cantonese and Hainanese. This is the only historical Hainanese temple left in Singapore, I strongly urge the authorities to give it a conservation status. In fact, there are only a handful of Hainanese temples left in Malaysia now. Although this is a very simple building architecturally speaking, it has an old world charm throughout the interior spaces – from beautiful antique floor tiles to wall paintings and Qing furniture etc. The charms and value of a building is not judged by ornamentation, size or popularity but in the atmosphere it evokes. When I was in Ban Siew San, I could imagine Kampong folks, mothers and amahs dressed in samfoos kowtowing earnestly before the dieties for prayers. No videos, or pictures can exactly bring you to that kind of space in time as compared to a real place that has survived the vissitudes of time. We should treasure history, authenticity and the stories they have for us.

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