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S’porean, 30, is married, has a Master’s in Fine Art, & lives in a matriarch-led temple in Geylang – Mothership.SG

S’porean, 30, is married, has a Master’s in Fine Art, & lives in a matriarch-led temple in Geylang – Mothership.SG

In the event you stood throughout the road from a sure stretch of Geylang Street, you’d discover one thing fascinating about unit quantity 475:

Screenshot by way of Google Road View

It occurs to be the temple tucked a way in from the remainder of the shophouses lining the street — discover particularly how its façade begins additional in than the others.

(By the best way, particularly these two buildings represent what the Chong Tuck Tong Temple is at this time:

Yep, that brick-roofed, white-painted home to the left of the temple can also be a part of the temple now. It’s referred to as Bao De Tang. (Screenshot by way of Google Road View)

However we digress.)

Apparently, it’s the identical story within the alley behind the temple:

Discover the “melancholy” within the double yellow strains drawn alongside the street demarcating authorities land vs personal property. Photograph by Jeanette Tan

There’s a cause for this, explains Alan Chong, the younger man we’re right here to satisfy — we’ll clarify in a bit why it’s right here we’re assembly him.

Hearth, the presence of a roof, and authorities land

To know this correctly, it’s value relating a quick a part of the historical past of this as soon as Taoist-only however now each Taoist and Buddhist temple.

It initially was constructed flush with the entrance and rear of the remainder of the shophouses alongside the street, however in 1989, an electrical short-circuit in a rest room sparked an enormous hearth that burned down virtually the whole unique constructing, together with a part of its roof on each side.

Photograph by way of NewspaperSG. Click on picture to learn article

And when roof space was burnt or broken, because it turned out, a personal landowner would lose the land the broken roof coated to the federal government — a previous clause from the 1960s beneath the Land Acquisition Act, talked about by the late Lee Kuan Yew in a parliamentary speech on a studying of a invoice, that’s little-known as a result of it so not often occurs to anybody.

A subsequent copy of a 2007 Straits Occasions article seems to point out that this clause has since been faraway from the Act, beforehand imposed to penalise landowners who burnt property to eliminate tenants.

Chong tells us his mother and father then labored arduous to boost the cash to rebuild the temple — after realising there weren’t any government-recognised Taoist associations that would lend help, they determined to morph the unique temple right into a Buddhist one.

Photograph by Jeanette Tan

The home subsequent door, which was a part of the temple because it was acquired in 1957, retained a smaller Taoist altar, therefore making it what it’s at this time — each a Taoist and a Buddhist temple.

The Taoist altar that is still within the extension of the temple. (Photograph by Jeanette Tan)

It’s fairly quiet on most common days, Chong says, receiving just some guests who cease by to wish or search solutions to questions by means of 求签 (qiú qiān, or fortune telling in Chinese language), or the occasional curious vacationer.

Photograph by Jeanette Tan

That is arguably a mirrored image of how issues have modified in Geylang in recent times — because it was demarcated as a liquor management zone in 2015 alongside Little India, and noticed an escalation of regulation enforcement presence and raids.

Certainly, says Chong, Geylang (even at night time) has mellowed drastically, save for “occasional fights on the bar subsequent door”.

A heritage of adopted chaste grandmothers… and one rebellious woman, his mother

Photograph by Jeanette Tan

Clad in a unfastened T-shirt and equally-loose blue pants, Chong welcomes us into the temple grounds, the place we additionally stroll barefoot, like he’s proper at house — and that’s as a result of he’s.

And he is aware of a lot about this temple as a result of he’s lived right here for 24 of the 30 years of his life.

How this got here to be is a captivating story too — the unique proprietor of the plot of land was a Chinese language service provider who constructed a vacation villa, however when he discerned he wasn’t going to be returning to Singapore he bequeathed it to a niece of his, who turned a Taoist nun when she grew up.

Taoist nuns, Chong explains, are chaste and stay single all their lives, working within the temple, and the service provider’s niece went on to undertake younger women whose households couldn’t hold them and raised them as nuns too — therefore kicking off an uncommon matriarchal custom there (temples are often owned and/or run by males). Chong’s great-grandmother, grandmother and mom have been all adopted in flip via the generations.

That is Chong’s grandma, one among various generational matriarchs who handed down administration of the temple to ultimately his mom, who was additionally adopted. (Photograph by Zheng Zhangxin)

Now in fact, his great-grandma and grandma weren’t his actual grandmothers as a result of they by no means acquired married or had youngsters till his mom got here alongside.

Chong’s mom had a rebellious streak, and like a Singaporean Romeo-and-Juliet story, met a person who volunteered at one other temple — a lot to the outrage of their elders working and volunteering at each temples, they acquired shut, went out, romanced and acquired married.

After the hearth, nevertheless, his mother and father discovered themselves deserted with the temple by his mom’s adoptive sisters and different individuals serving to out and dealing there, and that’s how his household moved in from their unique flat in Tampines when he was six years previous, they usually lived there ever since.

Rebelling towards the temple life, even contemplating changing to Christianity

You’d think about Chong to have been a totally devoted temple employee from a young age, since Taoism (and later Buddhism) is all he knew for almost all of his life, however it was fairly the opposite.

“Once I stated I lived right here all my life, I truly rebelled towards it,” Chong quips cheekily.

And if you consider it, dwelling in a Buddhist temple is not any stroll within the park for a kid rising up in meals haven Singapore.

In addition to having to assist his mother and father with saikang (menial duties) at temple occasions he merely couldn’t (and he admits, wasn’t actually bothered to) perceive, his eating regimen was extraordinarily restricted — meals within the temple have been all the time strictly vegetarian (in some instances, plain rice with soya sauce), which means no eggs, onion or garlic both, not simply meat.

Going to Geylang Methodist Secondary Faculty solely worsened his disdain for all times within the temple, even at numerous factors considering changing to Christianity — in any case, the enjoyable reward & worship songs, air-conditioned rooms and even the straightforward proven fact that they might eat meat anytime made him envious.

“Think about this large hole between two religions, between two main religions in Singapore. I type of virtually turned Christian after I assumed how enjoyable they have been… it’s a little bit of a bummer and subsequently throughout then I used to be like, ‘Why was I born right here?’”

Rising older, & rediscovering which means

Photograph by Jeanette Tan

College modified all that, although.

In 2015, when he was engaged on his final-year venture in his Grasp’s in Positive Arts diploma course at Nanyang Technological College, he realised he ought to take a step again to re-examine his roots, and to rediscover the religion that introduced him to the place he was.

His analysis into fengshui, his chosen matter, made him uncover connections to and a newfound appreciation for parts of his mum’s divination practices for the temple’s devotees.

Seeing it as a sign to reconnect together with his roots, after a while doing graphic design work for a studio after graduating, Chong now devotes himself absolutely to work within the temple.

He’s additionally a (lately) fortunately married man — his spouse, whom he met in NTU in his second yr, was truly a Christian earlier than her entire household turned free-thinkers.

Moreover, her household spoke principally English, so you possibly can think about how totally different they have been when it comes to background.

“Her mother and father was a bit sceptical [about me]as a result of her household was English-speaking, and my household is Chinese language-speaking, so clearly there’s a communication drawback that was sure to occur.”

Chong shares with amusement that she was suspicious of him when he informed her he lives in a temple (in Geylang, as well), however in fact, would come to study that he wasn’t mendacity — why would anybody need to lie about dwelling in a temple, proper?

And ultimately, very similar to the story of Chong’s mother and father, love conquers all obstacles. His spouse, he says, has been supportive and accepting, and just lately moved into the temple to stay with him too — even when she doesn’t actively help him in his work there.

He provides that she’s even began to study Mandarin correctly for him regardless of having skipped junior school simply to keep away from it.

That, we now have to say, is real love.

Praying for the spirits of aborted and miscarried youngsters

Photograph courtesy of Alan Chong

Now as somebody who lives and works in a temple in Geylang, Chong has seen his justifiable share of fascinating issues and other people — fights, playing dens and intercourse staff have been half and parcel of day by day life for him.

And naturally, the temple’s distinctive location additionally makes it a spot of prayer for vice staff — particularly prostitutes who come by to wish for the infants they abort or lose once they by accident conceive.

These women would purchase “an area” within the temple for the miscarried or aborted baby, and current prayers to appease the kid, in addition to choices corresponding to crammed milk bottles.

He relates a narrative he discovered from the resident monks and older volunteers: there was one specific prostitute who got here into the temple a few years in the past behaving like a toddler.

She wouldn’t eat something apart from sweets like goodies. A temple medium then decided that she was possessed by the spirit of her aborted baby, whom she had failed to wish for.

Through the years, Chong has observed unusual occurrences together with his personal eyes too, corresponding to milk inside milk bottle choices separating out into two layers inside a day, with the milk-coloured liquid floating above the clear liquid.

Discover the separation of milk sediments and clear liquid within the bottle. Photograph courtesy of Alan Chong

He’d additionally see the tit of some bottles compressed or dented as if a toddler had sucked on it.

Taking the temple into the subsequent era — and dragging his reluctant mom alongside

Aside from studying tips on how to perform the required rituals, and strengthening his personal religion through the years, Chong now performs an important position in modernising processes inside the temple.

One occasion of that is the ancestral slip, designed for writing the names of ancestors and particulars comparable to dates, which he used his graphic design expertise to enhance.

The unique template used (the smaller slip of paper under) has a slender area, which made writing particulars on it difficult particularly as Chong’s mother and father get older and their eyesight poorer.

Chong made a a lot greater sheet design, which permits more room to write down, together with a contemporary, simplified design that also borrows inspiration from the graphics of the unique slip.

Photograph by Jeanette Tan

For Seventh month preparations, he additionally assisted with a transition from cumbersome paper ancestral tablets used in the course of the month of the Hungry Ghosts Pageant into slips saved inside reusable aluminium frames.

Photograph courtesy of Alan Chong
Photograph courtesy of Alan Chong

Proper now, he’s working towards transitioning to a correct digital database of temple devotees — an endeavour that he has discovered a sure extent of success in to date.

Beforehand, his mom would report info on paper with out a lot organisation, in accordance to every event that occurred inside the temple, and in books that at the moment are rotting with age.

Chong has helped her to kickstart the method of logging the names of the lifeless and their next-of-kin in a correct database, with numbers, addresses, relations alive as of now and relations lifeless as of now for the temple to wish for and to.

Photograph by Jeanette Tan

He readily shares with us that this course of, even whether it is supposed to assist his mum work higher, has not been straightforward. Clashes are inevitable, and he says she is way from prepared handy over the general organisation and operating of operations on the temple to him.

“I’m making an attempt to enhance the best way she’s working [and] her work processes. Typically I’ll get right into a struggle with my mum — ‘why you all the time like that, so messy, I can’t take it!’

I feel she’s holding even tighter now… I imply, it’s arduous to let one thing go when you will have constructed it up your whole life. It’s completely comprehensible. And that’s why [for now] I’m solely on the aspect as an auxiliary help to enhance her workflow.”

However that being stated, Chong is completely okay together with her stance. Because it stands now, he has managed to succeed in “an equilibrium” the place his mum, maybe in recognition that she isn’t getting any youthful, does entrust a few of the work to him, and he feels it’s good for him to tackle duties incrementally as he will get extra concerned too.

Altruism, a thread that binds all religions

Christmas tree decorations added to the altar over the year-end interval. (Photograph by way of Chong Tuck Tong Temple Fb group, by Alan Chong)

In Chong’s personal reflections, he sees an growing problem in educating others about Buddhism or Taoism as individuals are “turning into extra secular” or keen on new-age practices, although he feels there’s nonetheless a great deal of widespread floor.

Numerous religions, he says, advocate being altruistic, and construct a bond between individuals, albeit in several varieties and with various ranges of religion and spirituality required.

He mentions “Cross It On”, a reward and worship music he remembers singing in his Geylang Methodist days, which to him symbolises the metaphor of lighting a candle for others — which he compares to lighting a candle within the temple when somebody makes a donation.

He additionally hopes to be one among a era of younger individuals who forge connections between our mother and father’ era and the subsequent, understanding traditions of older religions and incorporating their which means and significance into new practices, in his personal little methods.

For many people who barely go to temples, individuals like Chong type the connection between previous and current, displaying that even an previous temple can nonetheless be related, relevant and modernised — all whereas bringing a extra humane mild to Geylang.

Prime photograph by Jeanette Tan

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