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In conjunction with the SG50 events and the Singapore Heritage Fest, the cultural monuments along Telok Ayer Street, Singapore held their open houses. These include the Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church, Al-Abrar Mosque, Thian Hock Keng and Singapore Yu Huang Gong temples and the Nagore Dargah Indian-Muslim Heritage Centre. They were opened till late during this weekend.

The streets were lined with period actors and street carts reflecting the street scenes early in Singapore’s history. They include the Samsui Women who served as coolie labor in Singapore in the early to mid 20th century, the merchants, male coolies and other street vendors.

Samsui Women
Actors protraying the samsui women who served as coolie labor in the early to mid 20th century

It is interesting to note that the religious monuments were basically facing the sea during the 19th century, purpose built for sailors to give their thanks and to pray for protection for their future trips. This historical period is reflected in the lighting installation in front of the Al-Abrar Mosque, with the refracted light at the doorstep of the mosque representing the sea at a time before the reclamation of land that the current CBD now sits on. The very name “Telok Ayer” is Malay and translates to “bay water”, reflecting the maritime heritage of the area.

Al-Abrar Mosque
Al-Abrar Mosque all lit up, with the refracted light at its doorstep representing its past when Telok Ayer faced the sea.

Up the bend and around a corner, the Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church is the oldest amongst the Methodist Chinese-speaking churches in Singapore. Starting from a tiny congregation, its following grew, and the church even served as a medical post and bomb shelter during WWII. The thickened walls around the church stand as mute witnesses to the tumultuous times of the war.

Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church
Plaque outside the doorway of the church, with the inscription detailing the barrier wall protecting those within from the Japanese bombs.

Further down the street are the Thian Hock Keng and Singapore Yu Huang Gong temples. Thian Hock Keng temple is dedicated to the goddess Mazu, guardian of the seas and protector of sailors. These temples are open to the public, but were specially decorated and open late for the visitors.

Huang Yu Gong Temple
The ornate exterior of the Huang Yu Gong temple, often mistaken for an extension of the adjacent Thian Hock Keng temple

Last but not least is the Nagore Dargah Indian-Muslim Heritage Centre (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nagore_Durgha,_Singapore), which was a shrine facing the sea back in the 19th century. It has since been restored and currently serves as a heritage center and museum. There was a Sufi music performance when I visited, and it is certainly something that needs to be experienced to be truly appreciated. I can see why people still have an appreciation for this genre of music despite the multiple modern (and often mediocre) offerings.

Nagore Dargah Indian-Muslim Heritage Center
The facade of the Indian-Muslim heritage center, largely unchanged since the 19th century.

All told, it was a night to be remembered. Despite it being a short stretch of road that nobody ordinarily visits, the Telok Ayer light up is truly an eye-opener to the cultural history of that humble road and the significance of these otherwise low profile monuments.

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