Thursday, May 31, 2007

no, that at south bridge road is not a kabuki-za

This picture was taken on Saturday night 19May, 8:45pm , on the night of street light up.

This building, located at the junction of South Bridge Road and Sago Lane - the BTRT S– 佛牙寺龙华院 - will soon adorn the tourist brochures of the Singapore for the master said -that you have not been to Singapore if you had not visited this place.

Well, to a Japanese tourist, his or her first impression could be – is it a Kabuki-Za? For its unique traditional architecture & location, smack in the city center, will bring to mind a Kabuki-Za (歌舞伎座) or a kabuki theatre. In Tokyo, the Kabuki-Za is located not too far from the Ginza shopping mall, at the Tukiji district (the better known tourist site in Tsukiji is the wholesale fish market – the biggest in the world), while in Kyoto it is the Minami-Za Kabuki theatre.

And for the local couple that was standing beside me on that night of the lighting up ceremony I over heard the husband saying to the wife – How ingenious the Japanese are in their architectural design. Look at the intricately style wooded beams. Indeed it looks very ‘Japanese’ for that. If one has seen the Heian Shrine (平安宫)in Kyoto (京都) or some of the ostentatiously painted crimson torii gates, it looks uncannily Japanese in style and color scheme.

Well, to be an easily recognizable tourist attraction, it boards well to be visually unique, and vibrant in color and style.

It brings to mind another temple and tourist site - the Chi Nin Nunnery (慈宁庵) in Hong Kong. Located at Diamond Hill, it too adopted the Tang architectural style - with the horse mane roof as a trademark of that era. The color scheme of this temple complex is much more subdue, and reflective perhaps of original Tang color.

For temples, and a Buddhist one at that, one would have it that it takes a more subdue and less glaring color scheme, that would be more soothing to the mind and less evoking to the senses. The red and crimson would have been left to the palaces of the emperors,

However, this building is more than a temple, it is also a masterpiece of Chinese Tang architecture, albeit with a fusion of temple and palace traditions – with the bodhisattvas inter-mixing with the flying dragons.

The tiles that covered the roof are from Nara (奈良) Japan. The label on the tiles red – naikyu Yamato Kawara - 大和瓦- dento no gijutsu o ikashita, jishin, taifu ni tsuyoi - translated as: long lasting Yamato Kawara tiles, a living traditional craft , able to withstand earthquake and taifuyu. The hopes and prayers of the believers are written on these tiles.

Taking about Nara – it was established in 701A.D as the fist capital of Japan. The city is modeled after Changan (长安) the capital of the Tang Dynasty -(618-907AD) – present day Xian (西安). The most prominent landmark in Nara is the Todaiji Temple (东大寺). Built in 752AD along Tang architectural style, it housed the Daibutsu, the biggest Buddha statue in Japan. For the past 1,300years it has been the center of Buddhist learning and culture.

The new landmark in Chinatown could easily be the most expensive single temple building in Singapore, and housed the most expensive – in terms of monetary term – Buddha stature on the island. Never mind that the fusion of Japlish-Tang architectural style and that is is incongruous with its environment. And that it is not styled after the local temple complex tradition which our forefathers brought with them from southern China. It is however a reflection of the continued influence of Tang soft culture and a landmark of our time in this globalize city.

As the Todaiji Temple in Nara has with stood the ravages of war, typhoon and earthquake thro the millenium, may this too long as long. Be it also known as far and wide not only for its rich imagery, but also as a citadel for reflection and meditation, and a center for the advancement of thoughts and leanings for the faith.

In the hustle and bustle of the pomp and pageantry of its opening ceremony, one hears the sound of the temple bell – echoing ever softly and gently . . . for it has been ringing for the past 2551 years, when the wheel was first set into motion.


1. Lianhe Zaobao dated 6Jul07 -

联合早报 2007-7-6 , 言论版 – 热点话题 – 万丙炎

也谈佛牙舍利 - 世界上只有两颗佛牙已经是广大佛教徒的共识。在此,笔者倒是建议本地佛牙以‘佛牙影骨’也未必不可。

Forum page of Lianhe Zhaobao, in a column on titled ‘Hot Topic’ by Wan Binyan

The column titled – Also talk about Buddha sarira. In it mentioned that it is a common knowledge among the word wide Buddhist community that there are only two pieces of Buddha tooth. It may not be impossible if the local Buddha Tooth be called - 佛牙影骨 - Foyayinggu - (i.e a copy of the Buddha tooth) , the author proposed.

The article stated that the two pieces of Buddha tooth which have historical records that could be traced to the Sakyamuni Buddha, and also mentioned in the sutra are located in the temples in Sri Lanka and Beijing, one each respectively.


1) Chi Nin Nunnery – Hong Kong

2) Heian shrine – Kyoto
The Japansese capital moved from Nara to Kyoto in
Heian-kyo in Kyoto is the capital of ancient Japan during the Heian Period (A.D794. -A.D1192).

3) Todaiji – Nara

4) Nara National Museum
Exhibition – Saidai-ji shutsudo kawara (Roof Tiles Excavated at Saidai-ji Temple)Nara period, 8th century, Two tilesNara National Cultural Properties Research Institute;

5) Kabuki-za (歌舞伎座) – Tokyo
It is the principal theater in Tokyo for the traditional kabuki drama form. It opened in 1889 during the Meiji-era.;;


Saturday, May 19, 2007

A tale of two poetry books & the search for cultural identity

Browsing thro the book shelf one lazy Sunday morning and nothing better to do, I did a little stock taking and count of the books that I have bought over the past 25 years and more. What came out as quiet a surprise was that the theme of the books has consistently been on culture, history, politics, biography, and the one country that these books hark back to is China – be the books in English, Japanese or Chinese.

What tale has these two books on the Chinese poet Du Fu ( 杜甫) got to tell – of the journey in the search for ‘self’ and cultural identity?

The book on the right in Japanese was bought at the Tokodai Seikyo – Student Co-op Bookstore - at the Tokyo Institute of Technology (TIT) on 15Feb 1983. The title reads -‘Chinese Famous Poetry 5 - The Wandering Poet DuFu, which in Japanese reads - Chugoku no Meishi 5 - Pyoohaku no shijin – Toho.

The book in English on the same Tang Poet Du Fu, title ‘A Little Primer of Tu Fu’ by David Hawkes, was purchased at the now defunct Sogo Department Store at Raffles City, Kinokuniya bookstore on 10Nov1990.

I bought the former while studying in the Japan, and the latter, after I came to Singapore a year or so odd.

Rewinding back to 1981, when I first arrived in Japan. She was the rising superpower that seemed poised to over the US. Less than a year after I arrived, Dr M the new PM of Malaysia, advocated the ‘Look East Policy’ – to learn from the East. And it was particularly towards Japan - to emulate her exemplary work ethics and drive, and learn from her modern industry and technology. The Japanese economy was thrusting head on with a new found vigor in the aftermath of the oil crisis of the 1970/s. For the politician, entrepreneurs & the shakers and movers of the economy, the book written by Eric Vogel’– Japan as No One - was a must read. There were no lack of books on Japan and its rise then, as just as now there is no lack of choice on books of China.

Though China in 1978 had declared her new policy of change & opening up – 改革开放, gaige kaifang, it was still a pretty closed country in the early eighties. People had strated to make visits to the country. In between lectures the Japanese professor who had traveled to China, would tell us tales about the country and her society. It was a first hand narration of the communist country and her cities, and I looked forward to those stories. It was a pretty poor country, and the people were very frugal. For what I have heard from my folks who have traveled to China, was the pre-1949 society of our rural village. I read the book - ‘China: Alive in the bitter Sea’- 苦海求生 - by Fox Butterfield. Despite the hardship, poverty and the harsh political reality, the people had a tenacity & resilience for survival, I remember he wrote.

The first six months of my stay in Japan was at the Osaka University of Foreign Studies (OUFS) studying Japanese. After lecture, I would head straight to the library to borrow the video tapes and watch the trial of the Gang of Four- 四人帮 – Si Ren Bang. I recall Mao’s wife – Madame Jiang Qing 江青– taking her defiant stand in court and the spectators laughed at her comments:

– I was just a dog by the side of Chairman Mao. When he asked me to bite who, I will bite who.

- You all were no where around, when your Old Mum me was fighting the revolution .

There at OUFS I met the first batches of Chinese Government scholars, and subsequently at TIT, there were more who came and did their research. Many of these scholars were in the forties, and had missed out on their college education cos of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Their dressing were like their proletariat cousins that one could now see in North Korea - simple and plain, and a number were wearing the traditional cloth shoes.

We stayed in the same dormitory and traveled to college together in the same train during the morning rush hour. In between we would chat about China, and me trying to fill in the gaps on what I could learn of the country.

They would hint of the amazement on the profusion of goods in Japan, and how well the stores were stocked up, while keeping their pride. I mentioned that looking back to China long history these past 140 odd years or so of backwardness, was a bleep, and that the 21st Century would be a Pacific Age. Since then, what a difference the past 25 years have made!

Coming back to the finding of ‘self’, it was a constant search to understand one’s culture and roots that seems to be the mission and interest in what one did. Where did the ancestors come from? As an ethnic Hakka –客家 – i.e. Guest People for that - this group of people has constantly migrated in history for the past two thousand years or so. The ancestors we from the Northern Plains of China, and cos of war, and while escaping the invasion of the Mongols and Tartars, they landed in the hills of Guangdong province. Subsequently due to war and hardship again, they migrated to the Nanyang - 南洋 - in the 2nd half of the 19th century.

Identification and ethnicity will always be with oneself, and all the stronger in me, maybe because, I am trying to cover ground on something, Was it because, all my siblings were educated in Chinese and me the odd one out who was put into an English medium school that made me to want to learn Chinese? Was it because of the social environment that I grew up in that make me yearn for the cultural linkage? Well there don’t seem to be a definitive answer to these questions, , and often one did things driven by our sub-conscience.

Reading Tang Poetry is a manifestation of this search for cultural identity & self。 This search is found in the bookshelves on the books that I bought. It has been a journey that I embarked on all these years, and will continue to do so. We'll it's also about history, and culture. .


1) 中国no 名诗5 – 漂泊no 诗人 杜甫 - 译注者 小野忍, 小山正孝,佐藤保 – 平凡社 1983; Chugoku no Meishi 5 - Pyoohaku no Shijin Toho, Heibon Sya 1983. Chinese Famous Poetry 5 - The Wandering Poet DuFu, - Translation with notes by Ono Shinobu, Oyama Masataka, Sato Tamotsu; Publisher : Heibon sya , 1983

The receipt of the book in Japanese right reads:

Tokyo Institute of Technology Student Co-op Book Section
Telephone: 726-1111 extension 2398
15 Feb 83

The price tag of the book is Y1,400 (about S$17.50 current rate). It was discounted 10% at Y140, and the actual price that I paid was Y1,260. I paid with a Y10,000 note, and the change was Y8,740.

2) A Little Primer by Tu Fu by David Hawkes, Oxford University Press 1967, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1990 , Renditions Paperbacks.

3) Tu Fu 杜甫- 712-770AD

Du Fu (in pinyin) was lauded as the ‘Sage of Poetry’ & one of the most famous poets who lived during the height of the Tang Dynasty (618-960 AD) .

‘His poems reflect in broad scope and profound depth the features of the times and are a comprehensive expression of all the best of preceding poets and an opening up of the way to later poets, hence meriting the praise of being ‘epic poetry’. ’
唐诗三百新译 -300 Tang Poems, A New Translation , The Commercial Press Ltd, 1987.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007


没用过中文来写博客,在这五一假日的早上,下了场晨雨没出门, 就留在家练习练习中文吧。


虽然岛国没有四季,只是有雨旱两个不什么分明的季节,这个时侯刚好是进入了季节风向更转的时期, 风向是从屋子的前面吹进来。到了风转从后窗吹来时,就知道又快要到年底了,那时候的风是从东北朝向马来群岛来。


这里的马来群岛也是千百年来东西文明的交叉点。 特别是欧洲大陆地战舰和传教士还没到来前,这个地区已是海上丝绸之路必经之地。来自阿拉伯,印度,中国唐山 的船只都停留在这里做生意,而从中带来了亚洲三大文明和本群岛马来文明的

说到唐山, 十年前, 刚好是亚洲金融风暴发生的那一年, 和家父们一起初次回到祖辈们的故里探访。翻看旧照片,看到了这张拍摄到这个神气的小孩儿的照片。


雁洋, 叶剑英故居前, 小孩, 叶年广,五岁。 25.12.97

那位坐在小踏车,举起右手,笑眯眯挥着手,两指子做个‘胜利’ 手号的
小弟弟 是住在叶家祖屋。记得这个小孩很聪明,问他几岁叫什么名,他很灵活地回答了。他现在应该是个十五岁的年青小伙子吧。那小姑娘呢,是和他一起玩的邻居。

雁洋离祖辈故里松口镇不远,到梅州得要经过这个镇, 所以就趁着机会参观了叶帅的故居。

说到叶剑英,中国人也许就会想起 他命令逮捕‘四人帮’的故事。前不久观看了‘文化大革命始末 (1966-1976)’的光碟, 里面有一段是讲述叶帅和 他的故里雁洋。听父亲说,叶家也有亲人在马国霹雳州家乡怡保,万里望。

祖辈们以前下番到南洋,是从粤北的客家山区经由梅江接韩江到汕头转乘帆船靠着这个 吹向亚洲南部和印度洋的季风而来地。他们在星州上岸,然而由陆地北上霹州的近打谷锡矿山而到去。

1。 从小学到大专一直以来都是念英文,没有正式的上过华校。反而,在日本留学时还有上过日语课程。 中文写错了字,或用错了词,请多多指导。

2。有了电脑,写中文觉得比以前没电脑,中文软件时,来的方便得多。以前不晓得写的字 必须查字典。 但是, 用电脑书写只要能汉语拼音把字念出就可查出字来了。 但汉语基础不好,常会用错字,词。


4. A first attempt to write in Chinese – a thought on the morning monsoon rain and the visit to the ancestral village ten years ago.

09.May.2007 - translated into English:

from the cool morning breeze and to reminiscing the visit ten years ago to the ancestral village

I’ve not written a blog in Chinese before, and in this May Day morning, after a morning rain, did venture out but stayed home to practice my Chinese.

A cool breeze is coming from the front window, and for the past three four days, the south-westerly Sumatran wind brought with it the rain the cooled the hot sultry day.

Although the island nation does not have the four seasons, it has a rainy and dry season which is not that clearly defined. It is now the transitional period of the trade wind, and the wind direction is coming in from the front window. When the wind starts to come in from the window at the back of the house, you know that its towards year end. The wind direction will then blow from the north-east towards the Malay Archipelago.

In the days of the sailing ship, and when Cheng Ho travel to the western seas he depended on these Trade Winds to take him on his voyages. (note: according to the Chinese record, Cheng Ho’s voyages are described as travels to the Western Sea , and he reached as far as African coast across the Arabian Sea). In summer the wind blows from the south-west and in winter it is from the north-east. And the island nation Lion City is located in the center of the sea lane from South China Sea to the Indian Ocean.

The Malay Archipelago has been at the cross-road of the eastern and western civilizations for thousand of years. And way before the arrival of the man-of-war and the missionaries from Europe, this region was part of the Silk Route of the Sea. Ships from Arabia, India and China or Tangshan met here to trade. And with it, came the interaction and development of cultures of the Malay and the three great civilizations.

Talking about Tangshan - 唐山 , it was exactly ten years ago in the year of the Asian financial meltdown , that I first visited my ancestral town with dad. On looking thro the old photographs, I came across this picture of the lively little boy.

It was written in the back of the photo:

Yanyang , former dwelling of Ye Jianying, little kid, Yap Nian-guong (note: Hakka pronunciation ), age 5. 25Dec97.

The little boy on the bicycle with his right hand raised, and with a cool smile waving a ‘V’ sign lived in the Ye-叶- family ancestral home ( 叶: is pronounced as Yap in Hakka). I remember him as a bright kid , and when I asked his name and age he smartly replied. He should be a fine young man by now. The little girl who was playing with him was his neighbor.

As Yanyang - 雁洋- was not far from our ancestral town Songkou -松口, and as it was on the way to Meizhou- 梅州 - we took the opportunity to stop at there and visit the former home of Marshall Ye.

On mentioning Ye Jianying-叶剑英-the Chinese will recall the story of his decree to arrest the ‘Gang of Four’. Not long ago, I watched a DVD on the ‘Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) – From its Beginning to its End’, and in it has an episode of the Marshall and his home town – Yanyang. Heard from Dad that the Ye family has relatives in Perak State in Ipoh-Menglembu area.

When the ancestors migrated to the South Seas, they traveled from the hilly Hakka district of North-eastern Guangdong Province, riding down the Mei Jiang 梅江- which then joins the Han River - 韩江 – to reach Swatou -汕头. From here, they waited for the Trade Winds to sail to south. They disembark in Singapore, and from there the wend up-country by road to Perak, and the tin mines in the Kinta Valley.

(Added note: Ye Jianying wa one of the ten famous Generals on New China. He was instrumental in bringing the down fall of he Gang of Four with Mao’s wife Jiang Qing as the head, and the end to the Cultural Revolution. With that came the come back and rise of Deng Xiaoping, and the opening up of China to the modern world, embracing socialism with Chinese characteristic. And as they say, the rest was then history…)


1. Have not studied Chinese formally in school before, and was educated in English form primary to college. On the contrary, had attended formal Japanese lesson while studying in Japan. If there are any wrong words or mistaken phrase, pls guide and correct.

2. With a computer, it is much easier to write Chinese. With computer and the Chinese software, one just need to learn the pinyin system in order to be able to bring out the work and chose which is the correct one, and thus need not to use the dictionary. However my Chinese foundation is weak, and often tend to use the wrong word or phrase.

3. Singapore’s education is with English and mother tongue as its foundation. Ethnic Chinese will learn bi-lingual English and Chinese. However, many of the ethnic Chinese have English as their mother tongue. The decline of the dialects – Hakka, Cantonese, Hokkien, Teochew and Hainanese, is akin to the destruction of the old buildings – block by block being torn down. The city landscape is being renewed, and the language of the people is continuously changing. If you want to listen to dialect you need to travel to the towns and villages in Malaysia.