Monday, October 30, 2006

Heritage Sneak Peak

As I rush around in the Raffles Place City Business District (CBD), Mondays to Fridays, from carpark to office to meetings to lunch, I sometimes see foreign tourists walking the CBD with their cameras in tow, and I've always wondered what in the world is there for them to snap in this steel and glass contained concrete district.

So, a couple of weekends ago, I took my camera out for a walk in the CBD. But this time around, instead of taking wide-angle shots of steel mammoths and towering glass reflections, I settled for 'sneak peaks' into Singapore's heritage tucked into little corners of the CBD hustle and bustle. Looking through my camera's viewfinder, hopefully I will be able to show you a bit of that 'exotic' heritage that some foreigners find intriguing, and which has beauty worth rediscovering for ourselves.

1st view - a pair of golden ancient guardians
Door Guardians
This happy pair graced the entrance doors to the Fuk Tak Chi Museum at Far East Square along Telok Ayer Street, and is a sight which can only be seen in the early morning or late evening when the Museum doors are closed to the public. The rich golden hues and the intricate lined drawings on these doors are good enough reasons to visit this small street museum, which contains only a single square courtyard and a shrine room. The first Chinese temple in Singapore built in the 1820s by Hakka and Cantonese immigrants, it was dedicated to Tua Pek Kong (the Earth God, but more commonly considered as the God of Prosperity).

2nd view - lotus trunks
Lotus Trunk
Moving away from the doors, my viewfinder found these carved 'lotus' trunks that were set at the two ends of the entrance beam - lovely carpentry-work that one hardly ever sees nowadays with our preference for modern simple lines in our furniture and homes.

3rd view - delicate curly wurly
At the Tip
At the tip of the roof beam of this traditional Chinese temple architecture, a beautiful wood carving curves in a wavy leaf pattern, its lines enhanced by the yellow wall in the background and tiny weeds growing on the roof.

4th view - treasures of old
A Silver Pair
A silver or more likely pewter container with intricate engraving in the background and a jug in the foreground. Converted into a museum in 1998, this heritage building is no longer used as a temple and now contains old artifacts, probably used by Chinese immigrants once upon a time.

5th view - a sienna scene
A Sienna Scene
More of these lovely artefacts, but the shot has been color-processed to create a warmer tone in order to highlight the copper-paint on the basket-container and the dark-red wall in the background.

6th view - what's beyond this wall?
What's beyond this wall?
Walking another five minutes or so towards Philip Street, I find these beautiful embossed blue tiles lining the outer wall of the courtyard of the Wak Hai Cheng Temple. It's so sad that we don't build houses anymore using such intricately detailed tiles.

The Wak Hai Cheng Bio Temple was built in the 1820s by Teochew Chinese from Guangdong Province and dedicated to the goddess of the sea, and is one of Singapore's oldest Taoist temples. The temple is also known as Yueh Hai Ching Temple, which means Temple of the Calm Sea. Traders and travelers of old returning from China visited the temple on disembarking to offer their thanks for a safe journey.

7th view - coils of wishes
Coils of Wishes
Beyond those blue-tiled walls, my viewfinder saw rows of incense coils/spirals hanging from strung wires across the courtyard of this Taoist temple. Cast your wishes onto the red pieces of paper and stick them in the center of the coils and as the incense slowly burns, the smoke carries your wishes to the heavens! Apparently, these coils can burn for days and hopefully your wishes come true by then.

These two temples are unusual in that they are sited right in the midst of the CBD area, the first in a row of shophouses and sandwiched on its left and right by small restaurants and eating houses, and the second sitting in its little courtyard with hazy incense smoke rising up to the skies surrounded by concrete skyscrapers all around.

The little gems in CBD that perhaps, you may wish to pause for 5 seconds to admire when you next pass them along your route to office!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Weekend Perk

The weekend... ahhh, just the thought of these two precious days will put a light spring in my steps on its eve! The only days when I don't have to drag myself out of bed at an unearthly hour, no rushing out of the house without a cup of caffeinated sustenance and no fighting through miserable tail-gating early morning traffic into the office.

Yes, yes, on weekends, I can sleep as late as I wish only to wake when my stomach growls in protest... on weekends, I have the luxury of time of making breakfasts at leisure... on weekends, I actually get to see the morning sun-rays streaming into my home giving me the wonderful natural lighting for photoshoots of my breakfast.... can't wait for each weekend to come and embrace me!

Two weekends ago, this bowl of colorful reds and blues bathed in gold greeted my Saturday morning.
Sunday Morning Perk

A simple bowl of plain yoghurt, sprinkled with a generous handful of organic apple walnut muesli (from Bunalun), decorated with slices of sierra sweet plums and dotted with a few blueberries, and heavily drizzled with thistleflower honey.... need I say more when you can just feast your eyes on the shots here!

Is it too hedonistic to claim that this is one of my simple weekend pleasures... ahh well, a hedonist I will be then if all weekends consist of pure simple pleasures of this nature!

And so from one hedonist to another (I assume you must be one if you're reading my blog), let me bid you a hedonistic weekend filled with epicurean pleasures :-)

A Bowl of Goodness

Monday, October 09, 2006

A Mid-Autumn's Tale

6 October this year (being the 15th day of the 8th lunar month in the Chinese lunar calendar) was the designated date for the celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival (Zhong QiuJie) worldwide. Starting as a celebration of harvest in ancient China, the 'celebration' in Singapore commenced a few weeks ago with the Chinatown light-up of lantern displays, and not just any old red lanterns but huge displays of...

Autumn Flowers (we may not have real autumn leaves in Singapore, but we sure know how to create our own autumn neon colors)!
Autumn Colors

Patterns abound in all colors, even at the bases of towering structures... (couldn't resist posting this shot as I particularly liked the intricate flower patterns on the right side)

and of course, this wouldn't be a Mid-Autumn Festival without that famed lady that lives on the moon, Chang-Er
Chang-Er's Glance

and as she looks down from her lofty lantern perch with the bright yellow moon as background, I remember dimly the childhood stories of Chang-Er, the saint who saved the world from a tyrant king or depending on the version you may have heard or preferred, the greedy sinner who stole the pill of immortality and got trapped on the moon? (Stories of chinese immortals are embellished and dramatized quite a fair bit in comic books and chinese movies nowadays, that sometimes I can't even remember the correct version anymore, if ever there was one to start with!)
Chang-Er's Perspective

And of course, the Mid-Autumn Festival is also the time when hotels, Chinese restaurants and bakeries charge us a *bomb* (my mum calls it daylight robbery using a certain flowery Cantonese phrase) for the beautifully packaged boxes of mooncakes. Go to any shopping mall during this period and you will be deluged by numerous stalls each marketing their own unique flavors of mooncakes (and some pretty unusual ones, e.g. champagne truffle with snowskin - nice flavors but still quite bizarre for a mooncake). The biggest of these mooncake extravaganzas has got to be the one held annually at the basement hall of Takashimaya Shopping Center. If I had walked through the length of the two aisles and sample-tasted a morsel of mooncake from EACH stall, I'm fairly certain that I would have had my full quota of mooncakes for the year and will not be tempted to buy any.

Not to mention also the free mooncakes that did the office rounds, compliments of the season and one of the few corporate gifts for which you don't have to sign a declaration form of receipt to pass to your personnel department, unless of course, your particular box of mooncakes is gold-gilded and loaded with stuff other than mooncakes!

Generally, I'm ambivalent about mooncakes - they're nice in small portions (no big deal if I miss out on any - definitely not in the same category as my durian fixes) and notwithstanding the quota having been filled with the sample-tasting and complimentary mooncakes, being a creature of weak will, I'm easily succumbed by retailers' wiles and will still plonk money on the table for a box of 4 on account of some attractive and intricately patterned red box with 'cheongsam button' details (thus ending up as another marketing statistic *sigh*).

Won't be showing you that box evidencing my moment of weakness, but will show you instead the mid-autumn tea setting below with the mooncakes put to lovely use... by the way, the filling for these mooncakes was a pleasant (not too sweet) lotus paste with medlar seeds (kei-chi), melon seeds and ginseng (sounds healthy, right, but alas, another marketing ploy - any health benefits from the last 3 ingredients will have been overpowered by the calories from the lotus paste).
A Mid-Autumn Setting

This last shot features two of my favourite snacks for this year's Mid-Autumn festival - a super light and crispy sesame biscuits (the round biscuits at the bottom of the pic) and the slightly sweet, sticky and crispy "sat kei ma" [light egg-flour biscuits held together by either sticky caramelized brown sugar or molasses] (the square block at the top of the pic) - one of my childhood favourites.
Mid-Autumn Calories

A belated Happy Mid-Autumn Festival to one and all, and hoped you managed to at least get a peep of that full moon a couple of nights ago!