Yesterday afternoon I went to Toa Payoh, a very local neighborhood in Singapore that is absolutely cluttered with HDBs (Housing and Development Board buildings). They look kind of fun when everyone has their laundry poles out:
My main goal in visiting Toa Payoh was to make a trip to a monastery, but a huge draw was also the chendol from Dove Desserts:
I’ve become a huge fan of this combination of coconut milk, palm sugar syrup, and pandan-flavored rice worms — yum! And thanks to my sister, I knew to ask for this particular chendol without the red beans, which just seem like a bad idea to me.
I next wandered over to Sri Vairavimada Kaliamman Temple, which is said to be one of the oldest Indian temples in Singapore (though I feel that a lot of temples seem to have earned that label). It’s been moved at least twice since its original building in 1933. Unfortunately, it was closed, but I took a little time to stand in the street (not advisable) to admire the gopuram:
In a striking departure from every other Hindu temple I’ve seen here, there’s very little color here. The bas-reliefs on the outside walls are all beige:
And while the gods share a certain boring similarity of features, I really like that Shiva (to the right of Ganesha, the elephant god) is holding a teeny-tiny deer on two of his fingers):
.I next wended my way through the HDBs to Lian Shan Shuang Lin Monastery, an enormous Chinese Buddhist complex built in 1902. At the time it was constructed, it must have been peacefully out in the boonies, but it’s now surrounded by HDBs on three sides and a busy highway on the fourth.
I was expecting a quiet, sleepy place, but instead I found a rather busy set of temples with grounds all dolled up for the New Year.
There were lanterns and decorations scattered everywhere:
The temples themselves held a wide variety of deities and related figures, from Buddhas in many form to Guanyin to the Four Celestial Kings.
These guardians protect the doors:
You’ll also find this guy, whom I could not identify:
In one corner stands a pagoda (behind which you can see the impending rain storm). People walk around and around its base in prayer.
And I found this cool bell (I’m not sure whether I was supposed to ring it, but I did — twice):
The courtyards are filled with plants, from bonsai …
… to water lilies and lotus plants:
And there’s a museum space dedicated to the art and architecture of the temple, but nearly all of the signage is in Chinese, so it was lost on me. But the displays did remind me to take a closer look at the little things. So I spent a good deal of time admiring the ceilings:
And I found all sorts of interesting animals…
… including a lion-dog-turtle!
Are there monks at the monastery? There may be, but I didn’t see any until I followed the smell of burning paper and found myself at a separate temple right next door. And, wow, was it packed! It was the eighth day of Chinese New Year, and since eight is an auspicious number, there were hundreds of people there chanting, praying, making offerings, lighting incense, and burning joss paper. Here’s a giant pagoda furnace:
And there’s a special tent set up just outside the temple where you can purchase all of your offering needs:
My wanderings through Toa Payoh led me through many little storefronts that you’ll often find clustered at the bottom of some HDBs. Since Chinese New Year has a delightful non-stop quality, you can still buy cool decorations at the joss paper stores:
And fruit stands are still offering these citrus fruits (I think they’re Buddha’s hands), which people give as New Year gifts or offerings:
Another big feature of Chinese New Year is gambling. The theory, according to one shopkeeper I met, is that if you win big during Chinese New Year, you’ll be lucky all year long. And since yesterday was supposed to be an extra-auspicious day, the lines for lottery tickets were remarkable:
Just a few more days to go before the New Year’s celebrations come to an end!