Sunday, April 06, 2008

3 Buildings in Singapore with a Fascinating History

Some historical buildings in Singapore have featured as settings in classic novels and local folklore. If you are visiting Singapore, remember to check out these 3: the Raffles Hotel, Thian Hock Keng Temple and Sri Mariamman Temple.

Raffles Hotel, Singapore:

This is the hotel that has enchanted writers such as Noel Coward, Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham, all of whom have written about it. Even as early as 1910, the Raffles Hotel was a stopover for filthily rich visitors on round-the-world cruises. Such is its attraction that even a real tiger entered it in 1902. But without an invitation, it was eventually shot dead by a school teacher, who turned up at the scene curiously wearing pyjamas and carrying a hangover.

This is also a hotel not to be trifled with. Who else is able to get the Singapore Zoo to send 6 orang utans to a VIP's room just for the guest's amusement? Indeed, that was exactly what they did for Michael Jackson when he stayed at the Raffles Hotel in 1993. Of course the apes thrilled the superstar no end.


Thian Hock Keng Temple:

The Thian Hock Keng Temple is Singapore's oldest temple, and is a must-see if you visit Chinatown. Before land reclamation, this temple was smack on the coastline. In the early days, grateful Chinese immigrants would visit Thian Hock Keng the moment their boats landed. Here they gave thanks to the temple's patron goddess for granting them a safe passage.

You need not go to China to admire traditional southern Chinese architecture, for Thian Hock Keng is just that. For its construction, the most exquisite timber and stone were imported from China. The temple also made use of Scottish cast-iron girdles and English tiles. Skilled craftsmen from southern China arrived to work on the temple. The result is an intricate temple full of symbolism.

Get a good Singapore guide-book and wander around the temple ground. Find out why a vertical wooden board is placed across the main door. Or figure out which of the 2 guardian lions (statues) is male and which is female.

If the architecture does not impress you, the powers that dwell in Thian Hock Keng might. Apart from providing journey mercies, the deities are believed to grant gamblers lucky numbers for the local lottery. If you are visiting, test out this power for yourself. It might just pay for your vacation - but remember that it's your own fault if you lose all your holiday cash!

In 1998, when the temple was being restored, workers found a scroll stashed in one of the roof beams. It was written by no less than the Qing emperor Guang Xu, who pronounced blessings on the local Chinese community. It just makes me wonder, "What else might still be discovered here?"


Sri Mariamman Temple:

It might surprise you that Singapore's oldest Hindu temple should be located in the middle of Chinatown. To explain why it is there will take another article. But the Sri Mariamman Temple continues to draw the local Indians, quite paradoxically, to Chinatown.

The temple had its origins in a small, ramshackle building made of wood and palm leaves. But in 1843, it was rebuilt into a concrete structure in the southern Indian temple style. The building was erected by Indian convicts shipped in from Madras. If they were frustrated with their lot, it did not show, for the temple is both sturdy and intricate even today.

Sri Mariammam Temple also hosts the annual Timithi Festival, known simply to non-Hindus as the fire-walking festival. To fulfil the vows made to Hindu deities, devotees walk (or run) across a pit of burning coals. It still baffles me that the only vehicles on stand-by outside the temple are police cars and not ambulances.

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