SINGAPORE - Worshippers, tourists and volunteers braved heavy rain to visit the Thian Hock Keng Temple in Telok Ayer on Sunday (Feb 7), as Singapore's oldest Chinese temple geared up for its first Chinese New Year eve fair.
The fair kicks off 16 days of festivities for the 176-year-old national monument, organised by the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan.
Festooned with more than 2,000 lanterns - the most it has ever put up - the temple will showcase Hokkien string puppets, rainbow calligraphy and stilt walkers from 10pm, and a lion and dragon dance performance on the stroke of midnight tonight.
More than 150 people have signed up for free guided tours of the temple tonight, including foreigners from the United States, Costa Rica and Germany, as well as non-Chinese Singaporeans and new citizens from Yew Tee Community Club and Silat Residents' Committee.
The temple festivities, which will run until Feb 22, include a getai roadshow on Feb 15 and a giant rice turtle composed of 1,200 5kg packets of rice to mark Yuan Xiao Jie, the fifteenth day of Chinese New Year.
Mr Perng Peck Seng, who chairs the temple's management committee, said: "Being one of the oldest Chinese institutions, Thian Hock Keng has a role to play to ensure that the social fabric of Singapore remains strong.
"We hope that by opening our doors to host participants, especially non-Chinese and the general public of different faith during such an important Chinese festival will reinforce mutual understanding and tolerance amongst different races and faiths."
Among the newcomers to the temple on Sunday was Dr Abhinandan Bhattacharjee, 38, who was visiting from India with his wife Adity, also a 38-year-old doctor, and their daughter, 10, and son, two.
"This is my first visit ever to a Chinese temple," said Dr Bhattacharjee. "It has such a bright and colourful atmosphere, and I feel very lucky to have been able to see it on this special day."
For others, Thian Hock Keng has long been a staple in their lives.
Hospital call centre worker Cecilia Chiang, 56, fondly recalls how, on visits to her grandparents in Telok Ayer, she and her brothers would feed pigeons and turtles in the temple well.
Retired clerk Cynthia Tay, 73, used to visit the temple with her husband and parents-in-law. Now, their ancestral tablets rest in the temple's yard. "Rain or shine, I must come to see them every year," she said in Mandarin.
Her granddaughter, 14-year-old Tricia Teo, brought along her camera to snap photos of her family's temple visit. She said: "If there comes a time when all of this is gone, at least we will have the memories."