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The Last Rites of the Wu Lou June 28, 2006

Posted by kentneo in Customs.
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Registered name: Lian Xian Gong at Wei Zhen Miao (Wei Teng Beo)

Address: 79 Tiong Bahru Rd

Property status : sold

Survival status : to be demolished/digitised

Text by Victor Yue, Mon 26 Jun 06

Click here to see photo gallery

I arrived at the temple at about 8pm and the activity within the temple was low. The medium, whom I recognised as the medium for Kong Teik Choon Ong (KTCO) – Guang Ze Zun Wang, and Tua Ya Pek – Da Ye Bo, was already there. Some devotees were there and so were some members of the temple.

Thanks to Geraldene’s introduction, I got to meet a member of the Lian Xian Gong, Jerry, to learn more about the Wei Teng Beo as well as Lian Xian Gong. Ah, Jerry is another passionate person about our Chinese temple heritage. You could feel the vibes as he talked about the temple. He explained to me the words on the marble slab.
We will need to read and analyse the granite slab and the marble slab on the right wall of the temple, as you walk into the temple hall, to further understand whatever there is available. I understand that this information might not have any proof of documentation but well, at least it gives us a better understanding on the history of the temple. From what I gather, this temple was built in 1918, but it would have been earlier, first as a zinc-roof temple? I wonder if there are still materials that could be culled from the archives in Singapore or even in London. From what Jerry told me, he could trace the information back to only in the 1930s.

Most of us only know this place as Tiong Bahru, and if I understand correctly, Tiong is the Hokkien word for cemetery and Bahru is the Malay word for New. I stand corrected of course. The old name of this place was called the Ohr Chye Hng, literally translated as the Yam Vegetable Farm/Garden. I wonder if they indeed grow much yam here. After all, Chinese love yam .. from Hakka’s famous Abacus (yam balls that look like abacus) to Cantonese Yam-Cake (Wu Tao Goh). I wonder from where did Ho Chwee Sua (Bukit Ho Swee) start.

As Jerry and I talked, the mediums, there were two, went into trance. First was Tua Ya Pek. When he was not in trance, he looked quiet and almost shy [at least from an outsider’s perspective. But when Tua Ya Pek arrived, wow, you could hear the chilling cry that made your hair stand. This Tua Ya Pek has an interesting way of walking, slightly different from the others that I have seen. His walk is almost “scholarly” (if you can visualise what I am describing). Soon, Li Ya Pek came. The low grunted laughter could be heard. This laughter is almost patentedly Li Ya Pek! It always amazes me how one could create such grunt and laughter. Again, this medium looked very quiet and “su-boon” (scholarly in Hokkien).

They went around the corner, passing the birdshop, which I think is what Geraldene told me as the first garage in Tiong Bahru. Apparently, the bicycle shop owner was very well to do! And from what I heard from Jerry, the owner or someone in that house wrote beautiful English, both in style of writing and composition. Wow, I would love to take a peek at these papers. Jerry and I continued talking, where around the other corner from Seng Poh Road, this angmo appeared. What a coincidence! To me and both to Leon who was surprised to see me there. Kevin Ang was the pack leader, I think , and the group was 6-7 strong? They were on a tour of Tiong Bahru. Leon missed this temple in his book published in 1950s … and so, we missed one milestone in the documentation of this temple.

We all went around the corner to see Tua Li Ya Pek enjoying the puppet show! This was a Hokkien Puppet Show. The singing and dialogue brought back memories of my young days when I would sit on my own stool (it was BYO in those days) and watch the show, enthralled. I am sure much of the polishing of my Hokkien could have come from such puppet and operas. I could not resist to take a peek on what was happening behind the screen. Ah, an ancient looking microphone that looked like a hose was hanging there while a man and a woman were singing as they pulled the strings of their respective puppets. No script! For the musicians too! It looked like an extended family business.It is interesting to see how the puppeteers interact with Tua Li Ya Pek. It did not occur to me that the grand old dame of the puppet troupe was blind. Her voice was still powerful and she was asking Tua Ya Pek for his blessings for the puppet troupe. It is interesting too to note that these days, if there is any Deity (through the medium) who would watch a show, chances are it would be Tua Li Ya Pek. There was only once when I saw the Monkey God enjoying an opera and eating the big lucious peach, constantly being harassed by his devotees for a share of the peaches. So, the puppet troupes depend very much on the patronage of the Deities and at least got a real “live” audience from the mediums of Tua Li Ya Pek. Aiyah, but these days, many would get their Tua Li Ya Pek to go and watch Getai (variety shows).The changing of times.

So, in dedication to Tua Li Ya Pek, the puppeteers had a special encore for them, by singing the favourite songs of Tua Li Ya Pek. Wow, it was like a grand finale, with each of the puppeteer singing one part .. one older man, probably the boss, sang the falsetto voice! Even the young boy (13-14 years old?) was also singing, but not as a solo. All without any script!

It was a small party but still, Leon, his wife and company got to share some of the sweets, courtesy of Tua Li Ya Pek.

I was stretched with one leg over one side of the longkang (drain) – not a small one – trying to capture the pictures of Tua Li Ya Pek and not blocking them from the puppet show. Li Ya Pek’s assistant came over to tell me that Li Ya Pek asked me to be careful not to fall into the drain. And I thought he was looking at the puppets! (^^) He sent him over again to tell me that I could continue to take pictures.

After the songs were sung, the troupe members were invited to get down to receive an ang-pow each from Tua Ya Pek. The boss of the troupe was asking Tua Ya Pek to bless the young boy and so Tua Ya Pek obliged by putting his traditional fan on his head.

The show was over and the final phase of the celebrations was to be conducted. A taoist priest was waiting. In protocol of the lor-chu (joss-urn leader), which could be interpreted as Chairman? Being the one just behind the Taoist Priest, followed by other office bearers, and then, Tua Li Ya Pek and the devotees, the whole group went about the prayers. There was two process, one was to burn the prayer paraphernalia from the Jade Emperor’s altar. The second was to burn the silver and gold hill. I am not familiar with this. Anyone can comment?

After the burning of the two different paper offerings, Li Ya Pek retired (it was another ‘style’ of detrancing in that he did not sit on the poh-cho – chair) while Tua Ya Pek stayed to supervise the final dismantling of the temporary setups.

I did not stay till the end. It was an exhausting evening for me and you can imagine for the people of the temple for this was but the last of many days. And then, they will be preparing to leave for their new temporary place.

From the notice, on 15 Jul (6M20) they will be leaving for

Blk. 1035 Eunos Ave 5 #01-54

Tel: 6774-2191, 6479-1469

And if the scribbling on the table is correct, their new permanent site could be 37 Geylang Lorong 30.

So, this night could well be the last performance of this temple. I hope not but only time will tell, and from what Jerry told me about what KTCO was telling them that he knows what to do (and one does not really understand the cryptic answers from the Gods sometimes) and from Chay Tiong’s very poignant points, only the Gods will know the fate of this temple.