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Published: April 3rd 2018
If you have been following along, you know that I like Singapore. I like Singapore a lot, to the point where I’ve visited Singapore just about every year since 2007.
Over time, I’ve developed a bit of a routine: the first morning in Singapore I usually walk down South Bridge Road past the mosque and the Hindu temple, to Nanyang Old Coffee, for an iced coffee and a slice of pandan cake. Then I skip to the next block and visit the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, where I drop a few coins into the offering box in front of the Buddha dedicated to my birth day. I’ll wander through the little stalls that line Sago Street, and stop into the Chinatown Visitor Centre.
At some point during my stay I’ll walk along the river, visit Merlion Park, eat at a hawker center – make that eat at a lot of hawker centers – walk down Orchard Road, go to Marina Bay Sands, have a drink at Raffles. Visiting some of my favorite sites is very familiar and comfortable, and all quite enjoyable.
But as someone said to me when I was in college, “Too many groovy
things become a rut.” (Go ahead, roll your eyes. I went to college in the ‘70s. We said things like that back then.) So, on this visit I was determined to venture further afield.
In looking at a map, I saw there was a Burmese Buddhist Temple in Novena. Novena is a district just outside the central core, not too far away, but outside my usual territory. I like Buddhist temples, this one was sorta close to an MRT station, and it had the added virtue of being someplace I hadn’t been before. There was also a hawker center close by that I had not visited before. Sounds like a plan to me.
From the MRT, off I go, up the hill, past the state Internal Security Department (where they take the “NO PHOTOGRAPHS” admonition very seriously,) to Balestier Road, where there is another Buddhist temple, this one dedicated to Kwan Im. Kwan Im (or Kuan Yin, or Guan Yin) symbolizes mercy and compassion, and is one of my favorite Boddhisatvas, so I stopped in here for a few moments. The fact that it was next to a shop selling one of my favorite pastries - tau sar
piah – was an added plus.
This is a small, unfussy temple, not at all crowded, with some lovely statues outside. There is also a beautiful statue of Guan Yu, the one with the red face. Guan Yu was a general in second century China, and symbolizes honor and loyalty. His exploits were written about in a popular Chinese folk tale called “The Romance of Three Kingdoms.” In some Chinese communities, people will sign contracts in front of a statue of Guan Yu as a sign of honor and integrity.
Across Balestier Road from Kwan Im Tng is a small park, and north of that is a narrow, nondescript road, with a Pentecostal church on one corner, and the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall on the other. At the end of the street is the Sasanaransi Buddhist Temple.
At 9 feet 8 inches high, this temple houses the largest pure white marble Buddha outside Myanmar. The marble was quarried in Myanmar, and the Buddha was sculpted in Mandalay in 1918. It was then brought to Singapore with the help of Aw Boon Har, one of the founders of Tiger Balm. Over the years the statue was housed
Year of the Dragon
in various buildings around Singapore, and kept safe during the Japanese occupation of WWII. It was moved to this location in 1988.
Today, the temple hall is a light and calm space, with the glowing Buddha at one end. The upper walls are painted with scenes from the life of Buddha. One thing I’ve never quite understood is the use of LED or neon lights around religious statues in Asia. The Catholic Church in Saigon had neon halos glowing around the heads of the saints, and here they had an ever changing geometric display of LED lights behind the Buddha.
After spending some time here just soaking in the calm, it was time to go looking for something to eat. One of the many good things about Singapore is that you are never more than a few meters away from tasty food. I was taken in by the chicken curry and toast at Toast Box. I never did make it to the Balestier hawker center, but that gives me something to look forward to on the next trip. Side note:
Hawker Centers are a collection of food stalls under a roofed pavilion, with a common
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
this statue was carved from a single block of wood
seating area. In the 1960’s the Singaporean government wanted to get the impromptu food stalls (where “hawkers” would call out their dishes) off the streets and sidewalks, both to reduce congestion and to improve sanitation, and so the hawker center was born. Possibly useful information:
* The closest MRT stops are Novena and Toa Payoh
* The Kwan Im Tng temple is a 525 Balestier Road, just across from the ZhongShan Mall.
* Tau sar piah is a small flaky pastry. It can be filled with a variety of things, both sweet and savory, but I’m partial to lotus seed paste.
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