Days of Temples, Mosques and Shrines

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December 12th 2009
Published: January 22nd 2010
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Arab Street

With all this time sitting in Singapore, I decided it was high time to get more exposure to spirituality going on around here. I've long commended Singapore in its mecca of cross-cultural flavors. I set out with Brittany to walk the streets for 2 days, exploring as many spiritual centers as possible.

We started at the Yishun station, only a few miles away from the ship. It's the drop off point for the bus that runs from the ship to the train statin every hour. Of course, no walking tour is complete without stopping at Starbucks. It's very warm in Singapore, but it was an early start for us and the Starbucks is next to the station too. Around every corner, it seems there is a spiritual center of some sort. Just on the bus ride over we passed a Hindu temple, a mosque and 3 Chinese temples (not sure what religion).

Singapore's population of almost four million is made up of 77% Chinese, 14% Malays, 8% Indians and 1% Eurasians and people of other descent. The original inhabitants were Malay fishermen, but after the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles and the establishment of a British

trading post, Singapore became a magnet for migrants and merchants. Seeking a better life for themselves and their families, they came from the southern provinces of China, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Ceylon and the Middle East. This makes for a variety of religious beliefs, but everyone has such tolerance towards one another.

We walked towards the mosque, though we only admired it from the outside. I know that there are stricter beliefs with Islam that does not allow outsiders to view all aspects of their sacred worship areas, I don't want to intrude. We then walked towards a dual temple. Yep, I said dual. Two religions sharing a temple, a Buddhist side and a Chin Kong side. Most people have heard of Buddhism, but I had never heard of Chin Kong.

It sounds similar to a mixture of Buddhism and Christianity, talking about The Lord of Heaven transforming himself into a human to preach to the people. He gave hope and comfort, banishing ills and misery, teaching virtues. Sounds like Jesus, doesn't it? Then, there are precepts of devotion, centrality, righteousness, oneness and emptiness (yes, letting worldly desires go) and four just acts. Sounds like the teachings

At the dual temple near Yishun.
of the Buddha, right? I thought it was pretty interesting.

Next, it's off to Arab Street and the largest mosque in Singapore, Sultan Mosque. There are about 7 temples in the area there, very close to one another. We walk off towards a cluster of the smaller Chinese temples, but run into a Hindu temple along the way. It's small, but Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple or Sri Perumal Temple was impressive. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, this temple is the beginning point for the Thaipusam festival procession. Look that one up, it's where devotees pierce themselves with skewers and carry cages in tribute. After explaining what little I can of the different deities, we put our shoes back on, and continue down the list of our temples to visit.

Off to the Chinese temples, sorry, not quite sure what all of them were representing, I don't speak Mandarin or Cantonese. One was Buddhist though and of course the little cat napping next to Buddha caught my eye. At the base of the sitting Buddha was the story of Buddha in pictures and figurines. Walking towards the back, there were some Hindu gods, I assume for the visiting
In the TempleIn the TempleIn the Temple

Offerings and lanterns.
Hindus to feel at home and donate towards oil and incense. At the base of Buddha's spine, there were steps down inside the statue. Another Buddha inside the Buddha... okay. Sure, I'm down. No pictures allowed, so we put on our shoes once again to see Sultan Mosque.

Also known as Masjid Sultan, it is the largest mosque in Singapore and has radiant golden domes. They offer tours into some parts, but shorts, short skirts and sleeveless t-shirts aren't allowed. We just admired from the outside and I snapped some photos. It's a beautifully kept building and shrine to Allah, they have justification to be proud of this place.

By this point, Brittany needs to go back to the ship to get ready for watch... oh well, I guess we can come back tomorrow to take a look. She tells me to stay, but it is always more fun to explore with a friend. We go back to the ship and rev up for another exploratory day, let's try a different area.

We get up early, go for a run and finally make it into the city. We stop at Ion Orchard, a large mall in what I call the shopping district, on Orchard Road. We stop for a coffee and pastry at Dunkin' Donuts. Yes, I know we're in Singapore, but the doughnuts are different and tastier here. Fresher, like they don't add as many pounds to you as they do. Ring... ring. Uh, oh. Brittany gets a phone call from the Chief Mate to go back to the ship to work on some pre-underway checklist items. It has taken us about an hour to get out here from the ship, so we're dismayed. I carry on without her... oh well, at least I know what I want to do. Back to Arab Street to check out the things I missed!

The weather decided to tell me how unhappy it was to not have Brittany around too... it poured for about an hour. If you look at a 7 day forecast of Singapore, there are always lightning bolts showing. It's a tropical, rainy place... though they usually don't last so long, the intensity is frightening sometimes. I get stuck and decide to opt for a little foot rub at a place near the mosque. They don't speak any English, just Mandarin,

Wish I spoke Mandarin.
so we communicate with hands, lots of pointing and charades. The gals are really sweet, so we figured it out eventually. I get an ear candling and a foot rub.

What exactly is ear candling? Well, it first uses an ear candle, made of cotton shaped into a cone, soaked in wax that hardens. The hollow candle is inserted first through a small plate (to collect the wax) and placed into your ear canal. Then they light it. Yeah, I know... doesn't sound like a great idea. At least I don't use hairspray, right? Developers say that the candle creates a vacuum that draws ear wax and other dirt/debris into the hollow candle. After the candle burns down and is removed, there is a dark substance usually left in the candle. Ewwww.... No, seriously, it was quite relaxing and as your head is turned to the side, the handler gives a lovely little massage to the temples, skull and neck. People also say that it helps with sinuses, not sure how that could be, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. It was my first time, so it was worth the stop. As one of the ladies rubbed my feet, the other sang out front of the shop in Mandarin. She came back in and in our sign language I told her how lovely it was... they started trying to teach me Mandarin after I said thank you (my sole Mandarin word, Xen xen, or however it's spelled). Remember, it was crazy weather, so this was the perfect way to let the rain stop.

Finding myself on Sultan Gate Road, I see some decorative gardens. I hope I'm not intruding on someone's property, but my curiosity gets the better of me and I arrive at the Malay Heritage Centre. Set on the grounds of the restored Istana Kampong Glam, it's now a museum with a small garden and well kept grounds. It was built by Sultan Hussein Shah of Johor in 1819 in Kampong Glam that had been given to him by the British East India Company. When it was completed, it occupied an area twice the size of the present compound, which was reduced in 1824 for the construction of North Bridge Road. The Sultan lived there until shortly before his death in 1835.

The concrete structure today was commissioned by Sultan Hussein's eldest

Remember the movie Golden Child? Eddie Murphy had to chime these to speak to the priest. Looks the same to me!
son, Sultan Ali Iskandar Shah of the Johor Riau-Lingga Empire in 1835. It was built on the site of the original building between 1836 and 1843. The new two-storey Istana has some combination of the Palladian style, which was popular in England, with traditional Malay. The extensive compound of the Istana was enclosed by a perimeter wall, and small kampung-style houses were built around it for the Sultan's kin, servants and artisans. After the completion of the Istana in 1843, Tengku Alam, Sultan Ali's eldest son, lived in it until his death in 1891, when he was buried in the royal grave at the nearby Sultan Mosque.

In 1896, there was a succession dispute in Sultan Hussein's family (family always fights, no matter what country) over rights to the Kampong Glam estate, and the matter went to court. In 1897, the court ruled that no one could rightfully claim to be the successor of the Sultan and that the estate belonged to the Crown. Sounds fishy to me, but sounds like something the "Crown" would do. The estate became state land when Singapore gained independence. The Istana Kampong Glam and compounds were refurbished as part of the development
Offering FurnaceOffering FurnaceOffering Furnace

Offerings are placed in the fire and the smoke lingers over the temple.
of the Malay Heritage Centre in 2004.

I've had enough of the culture tours, so I walk back onto Arab Street to try my luck at small time shopping. Ha... I should know better by now. Arab Street is dedicated to the rug, batik, cloths, baskets and perfumes/oils sellers. I feel like I'm sucked in to each fabric shop by the bright colors, rich textures and unique scents. It's almost time for me to go on my cruise, and Christmas. Maybe I can find a few things here. Oh yeah... just what I need, more things to mail home. I get by the most annoying hawkers and settle on a small shop with a small Malay woman in her Muslim scarves. If anyone tells you that Muslim women can't be fashionable, I dare you to tell that to those in Singapore. With a different head scarf for every outfit, they wear more color, styles and heels than I do. The shop is called Decent Lady, maybe I shouldn't be here, haha.

I find scarves, dresses, shawls, skirts and go crazy. I now have a more women in my family thanks to Jeremy, I've never had to shop for many gals, so this is a one stop shop for me. Thank goodness I brought a backpack. I'm sure my female family members will have a more colorfully accessorized New Year. Yay me. Next it's off to a perfume shop. I used to dabble a bit in essential oils, so I ask him to mix a very precise mix that I like... that was for Jeremy. I don't know if he really liked it, but it was the thought, right?

You can easily get lost around here with so much to see. Being here for so long, it has become such a 2nd home to me. I can't get bored here... anyone wanting to see SE Asia, this is a great starting or finishing point.

Additional photos below
Photos: 39, Displayed: 29



Not bars, don't think like that

So colorful.
Big BuddhaBig Buddha
Big Buddha

with Hindu accents around the temple.

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