Multiple Personality Singapore-A A +A
By Betsy Gazo
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
THE diversity of Singapore is strongly reflected in its culture (Malay, Chinese, British and Indian), hence, evident in its languages, food, religions, and buildings.
For example, places of worship there are as varied as you can imagine. There are the Anglican St. Andrew’s Cathedral (at St. Andrew’s Rd.), the Catholic Church of St. Joseph (Victoria St.), Armenian church (Hill St.), and the Arab mosque Haijah Fatimah (by Beach Rd.). There are many others sprinkled around Singapore and here are two exotic ones that I took time to explore.
We know the Chinese and the Indians in the Philippines as people prudent with money and these races have built businesses in our country that enabled them to enjoy prosperous lives here and make the Philippines their country as well. The same frugality and business acumen were applied in Singapore.
Then, there’s the British sense of discipline which is a crowning touch to one of the smallest countries in the world. This mix enabled “The Little Red Dot” to reach its coveted status in the economic world. What is remarkable is that these ethnic groups have retained their distinct traditions.
In a space covering a few square meters, cheek by jowl stand the Kwan In Thong Hood Cho Temple a.k.a. The Goddess of Mercy Temple, and the Sri-Krishnan Temple along Waterloo Street. These temples are right beside Bugis Street which is a favorite of shoppers who prefer a bargain over a luxury brand shopping spree at Orchard Road. (Shopping is another topic although an overly-discussed one especially in shopping mecca Singapore.) Many people pass through this area, so, it is not surprising to have these temples established and popularly visited by its faithful.
The road in front of The Goddess of Mercy Temple was then teeming with vendors selling joss sticks and lotus flowers. Long tables were laid out side by side for mooncakes. (It is autumn when mooncakes sell like, well, hotcakes, and the booths really add a festive ambiance to Bugis.) Young men hold bouquets to offer later to the goddess inside her temple altar.
Middle-aged men have set out umbrella-shaded tables for fortune telling sessions. Inside, the smell of incense is strong and the rattling of divination sticks against its cylindrical metal container created a steady rhythm.
Sight and sound are also filled at the Sri-Krishnan Temple. Full-bodied plaster goddesses decorate the temple walls, and figures in bas relief are colorfully hued. Worshippers in Indian costume and ornate embellishments pay their respects to their god with chanting and drumroll, the sounds an exciting accompaniment to the fragrance of flowers offered to the deities.
If the temples and mosques are all foreign to me, the Catholic Church St. Joseph Church is a most comforting and familiar edifice. It was founded by Portuguese missionaries over a hundred years ago. Figures of Catholic saints are ensconced high up in the wall, some with donation boxes underneath and a list of the corresponding sectors that that saint is patron of so you can actually choose your charity.
Anglicans will find solace in the impressive St. Andrew’s Cathedral. It is built on a site chosen for a church by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1823. Its clean, white interior is punctuated with high ceilings and beautiful stained-glass windows. Nearby is the Cathedral New Sanctuary which is the result of the Quiet Places Project of the church and features an underground worship hall seating 880, a prayer hall, a chapel, a courtyard cum amphitheater and an above-ground Welcome Centre linking it to the main church building and the City Hall MRT.
Church- or temple-going visitors to Singapore will discover that there’s always a place for their particular spiritual needs in this nation that is multi-faceted but at the same time surprisingly united in its vision, its people so diverse culturally yet true-blue Singaporeans in heart and mind.
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on September 17, 2013.