Thursday, 6 February 2014

Singapore's China Town

(I was going to split this post up as there are a lot of photos but I saw it all today, and it's all China Town so… I'm just warning you, go make a cup of tea before you attempt to read this and then read it in sections - I saw quite a lot today!)

After managing to stay awake until 9 (and weirdly waking up at 11 convinced it was morning… I actually went and got dressed for the day before realising it was evening and climbing back into my pjs…) I woke up ready to make the most of the day - with hopefully the worst of the jet lag being over! fingers crossed.

After breakfast (which i get free at the hostel!) I headed down South Bridge rd about 5 minutes down the road I come across a Starbucks, always nice, and across the road is a building I'd see countless pictures of online but could never find the name of and so couldn't figure out where in Singapore it could be! I'm still not entirely sure what the building is called..
My hostel has pretty much the perfect location, it only took 10minutes, if that, to get to the centre of China Town! A huge portion of Singaporeans (i love that word) are descended from Chinese immigrants and so China Town had a wealth of history and although it's been sterilised by the Singapore Government it still packed a huge amount of character and authenticity into every building!
I'd just missed the Chinese New Year (I really wanted to be here for it but flight prices just shot up) so there were banners and lanterns everywhere - although I'm not sure if there's always some banners up
A Chinese New Year Speciality - Moon Cakes

(For some reason I love this photo and the reflection)
Some traditional Chinese treats, a lot of them filled with red bean and lotus

For me one of the absolute best bits about today was seeing the diversity and acceptance in Singapore in terms of religion. I passed places of worship for no less than 5 different religions, all of them less than 5 minutes apart, all of them thriving!
Jamae Mosque
Then there was the intricately detailed Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple
 There was a shoes off policy so we had to kick off our shoes and leave them outside (on those benches to the right) which is pretty standard for temples everywhere but it seems common curtesy everywhere in Singapore, including my hostel 
Some sacred cows on the roof
There were these little cups on platters dotted around which they light instead of candles 

 I love this photo of a flower garland draped over a statue in the gardens
There were also murals on the ceiling, including some… interesting ones (this is one of the tame ones!)
 The crazy detail and sculpture above the front door continued on the roof of the rest of temple

 There were also smaller shines to various other deities - this one in particular stood out because his eyes were amazing, terrifying but incredibly life like in person!
 Then I went to one of the biggest temples in Singapore, and ornate, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
It was massive with two stories underneath ground level. The first story had the main hall and was the primary source for adoption of figurines etc.
 Some amazing lights 
 The main hall - I managed to time my visit to coincide with a service and it gave me chills when the chanting and singing began towards the end!
 A selection of offerings - I thought it was really interesting how traditional perfumes and incenses which used to be used for donations has turned into small-sized modern perfumes!
 The food offering with noodles, cake and traditional treats
The main hall from above!

One level was dedicated to a museum, it basically recounted the life of the Buddha and Buddhism before going into the particular beliefs and interpretations of the Chinese Mahayana Buddhists living in Singapore. 
One of the thing son display was this statue of the Buddha which you could pour water over, as to wash the buddha three times was a labour mentioned in his teaching and is meant to basically bring good stuff to your life under the Temple's interpretation
The actual Buddha Tooth relic was in an area you couldn't photograph but it was incredibly indulgent with solid gold cases and floor tiles. 
 One of the nicest areas, away from the craziness and crowds of the ground level was the roof top garden with over 1200 figurines of the Buddha and one of the biggest cloisonné prayer wheels in the world. Each clockwise rotation represents the recitation of one sutra.

 Me in the garden!
The view from the roof top
My incense stick is hidden in there too!
I should probably mention now before I go onto the rest of my day that when I read in my guide book that Singapore's weather was simplicity itself; hot and humid, I didn't take enough stock of that. Singapore is VERY hot and VERY VERY humid. 

Anyway after relishing the air conditioning of the temple I headed to a hawkers market where I got the most amazing spinach noodles - it was crazy under the canvas roofing, even more humid than outside despite the fans, massively crowded and a little hectic with so many stalls selling their food, but the food was delicious. And it was only $4 for a huge plateful of freshly cooked food (they cook it in front of you once you order)

After that it was off to New Bridge road where I tried some bak kwa and up past Hong Lim park to the river and Boat Quay. It was a lovely area and it led me into the Financial District. After Dubai I'm still getting used to judging walking distances again - It seems like i'll be able to walk to the majority of things in Singapore which is great!

 There was another starbucks here and I tried a hojicha frappachino which was really nice and tasted very… asian! I think it's a chinese tea. While sipping my drink I checked my map and headed from the Finance district back into Chinatown via  Telok Ayer St. 

First up on this stretch was Yueh Hai Ching temple, there was a lot of construction work going on in the courtyard however the small temple itself was beautiful. And the incense sticks burning outside were so lovely! 
 Lots of the incesene 'spirals' or 'cones' hung just outside the Temple 'proper' meaning you had to walk underneath them to enter - I'm assuming this is due to purification and prevention of evil etc. 
 I absolutely loved the contrast of the traditional Chinese architecture and the modern skyscrapers 
Not too far down the road was the Fuk Tai Museum 
 The Fuk Tak Chi Museum was one of the first places Chinese immigrants would come once they landed on Singapore's shores to thank their Gods for their safe passage. I loved the history of this place - especially the fact that thanks to Singapore's reclamation of land it's now a good 10 minute walk from the water where as before it sat right on the waters edge - there's a miniature showing how the area looked back then too.

 The little temple tucked in-between shop-houses. 
I loved the roof although it was impossible to get a good photo of it.

Then I went down to Ying Ko Fun which is one of the best surviving Chinese Clan Houses. Basically when the Chinese first arrived in Singapore they would find their Clan House (a house representing a particular area in China normally) and there they could make connections and generally become more settled. The Clan houses used to be the social hub of the whole area!
Little of that remains now, it's rather empty but there's a small shrine, and they still hold gatherings every so often. 

Next up was the Nagore Durgha Shrine Mosque which was closed when I got there but was beautiful and set right beside a small green space which was surprisingly peaceful.

 My view as I sat on a little bench & two birds perched on a alcove of the Mosque
 And Finally I stopped by the Thian Hock King Temple, I couldn't go inside as they're busy preparing for an upcoming festival however it pretty beautiful just stood in the doorway looking in! 
And there was another shrine, a make shift one, just outside as they're not expecting everyone to be able to fit into the Temple!

After that I finished off my day by discovering another little green corner of Singapore and followed that back to my hostel! And aside from my poorly feet I had an amazing day - I've no idea what I'm doing tomorrow :)
P.S I know there's a lot of photos, but I just couldn't cut them down anymore!

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