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The Oldest Clanshouse in Singapore July 8, 2006

Posted by kentneo in Memories.
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Situated along the oldest street of Singapore, Telok Ayer Street, Ying Fo Fui Kun is one of those national monuments that people would easily miss compared to those more tourist oriented landmarks such as Thian Hock Keng or Fuk Tak Chi which is a few shophouse away. Probably due to its rather austere bare façade, passerbys could hardly associate such a plain building with the other national monuments. However, if one looks beyond the humble façade, within this clanshouse is a well-kept secret not known to many locals – this is the oldest surviving clanshouse in Singapore that is still in function! During weekends, this place will be thronged with Hakka amahs, ladies and men vying for a seat at the second floor KTV. The most interesting part is, not only are they crooning over classics by Teresa Teng or the likes, they also sing Hakka MTV! Wonder if they would ever hold a “Hakka Idol’ in Singapore. Their care and concern over historical artifacts in the building are meticulous – the granite tablets are protected by acrylic sheets and properly numbered. Rubbings are displayed prominently on the walls informing visitors on the history of the clanshouse. Other interesting artifacts on display on the ground level include a gigantic iron safe that resembles a sarcophagus, an antique school-bell and lots of beautiful Qing teak furniture that are still in use. On the second level are two separate halls supported by beautiful timber trusses built in traditional Teochew style. One may wonder why we should see architectural elements that do not belong to the Hakka tradition in this building. The answer is simple, the founders of this clanshouse came from eastern Guangdong which is the same region where the Teochews had originated. Timber parts of the building were shipped from eastern Guangdong, prefabricated, and put on site by local workers who were most likely to be of Guangdong origins (Cantonese or Hakkas). Even though there were no records on where the workers had came from for Ying Fo Fui Kun, my speculation is based on the close affiliation between the Hakkas and Cantonese in the 1820s where they had also jointly looked after the Fuk Tak Chi Temple around the corner. The Hakkas and Cantonese were outnumbered by the Hokkiens and Teochews in those days and in addition, the secret societies formed were mainly dialect-based. I highly suspect the hall where a tablet of Kuan Kong is housed was a gathering place for secret society members of Hakka/Cantonese origins in its early founding days.