Sunday, August 26, 2007

Hungry Ghost Festival 2007

Sign for free bumboat ride this festival! Taken on 25 Aug 2007

Every year during the 7th lunar month, the Chinese community celebrates the "Hungry Ghost Festival" where it is believed that the gates of hell are opened for spirits to visit Earth for a limited one month period.

This time is also when the denizens on Earth will put up shows to entertain the ghostly "good brothers" (好兄弟). Traditionally, we have Chinese Opera performances like the ones on Pulau Ubin but increasingly these have been replaced by modern variety stage shows called "getai" with loud costumes and techno music.

Pulau Ubin remains one of the rare places which still maintain a permanent free standing wayang stage structure. Wayang is malay meaning "show" but in Singapore it is used to mean "play or opera" as well.

A wayang notice for Pulau Ubin from 2006.

In order to find out when there are Teochew opera performances on Ubin, look out for these handwritten calligraphy notices on red paper, usually on display at the Ubin Jetty. Sometime, similar notices will be stuck on the side of the stage to announce when the next events will be held. Performances are made not only during the Hungry Ghost Festival but also during the birthday of Tua Pek Kong (a deity worshipped at the temple in the town center). Unfortunately they are always in Chinese so ask a resident of Ubin and they will be able to tell you what you need to know.

Somebody asked if the performances on Pulau Ubin were Teochew or Hokkien opera and I just realized that the answer was already given in my post about the performances from 2006! I must have bombarded my mom for the answer last year but she made no complaints when I waylaid her for an answer yesterday. She explained that a large majority of the population on Ubin were Teochew and that explained why the wayang was staged in Teochew.

This year, to entice more people to go for the wayang performances which will be held on the 15th and 16th day of the 7th lunar month, the hungry ghost festival committee of Ubin have kindly arranged for free boat ride to and fro Ubin! That explained the sign in the photo at the top of this post which was found at the Changi Point Ferry Terminal! Roughly translated it reads:
"Free Bumboat Ride
The [Ubin] Hungry Ghost Festival Committee, during the 2 days celebration period of 15th and 16th day of the 7th Lunar Month (27th and 28th August 2007), will be providing free boat rides to and fro Changi Ferry Terminal and Pulau Ubin during these times:
From Changi to Ubin: 6.30pm - 10.00pm
From Ubin to Changi: 7.30pm - 11.30pm"
The committee is usually made up of residents, businesses and even past residents who return yearly to organize and fund raise for the performance and celebration of the Hungry Ghost Festival. As such, this year, I've managed to persuade my mom to return with me to watch and join in the Hungry Ghost Festival celebrations on Ubin. Hopefully we will be there on Monday to bring back more photos and stories to tell.

Related articles
  • Sons of Ubin keep tradition alive, by Kor Kian Beng, The New Paper, 3 Sept 2004
  • Account of wayang performances on other occasions on Ubin, by Victor Yue, Focus Ubin Website 2005
  • Pulau Ubin Zhong Yuan Hui by Victor Yue, Focus Ubin Website 2005
  • Hungry Ghost Festival Celebrations, Pulau Ubin Stories, 9 Aug 2006
  • Where have all the wayang stages gone?, Good Morning Yesterday, July 2007
  • Wednesday, August 15, 2007

    As Far Away As Pulau Ubin, Hotels Grapple With F1 Levy

    By Lee U-Wen (TODAY)
    15 August 2007

    ONE'S a budget hotel for backpackers in Joo Chiat, another in Chinatown caters mainly to locals, while a third is a resort tucked away on the tranquil island of Pulau Ubin.

    They are hardly close to the scene of next year's inaugural Formula One (F1) race in Singapore's Marina Bay area, nor are their guests likely to be international F1 "groupies".

    But the three hotels are among at least 92 hotels likely to be charged a 20-per-cent tax on their room rates for five nights in September next year, when the F1 comes to town.

    This tax - together with a higher 30-per-cent levy imposed on 11 "trackside" hotels expected to benefit the most from demand for rooms with a race view - is part of the Government's bid to recoup the cost of hosting the race, it was announced on Monday.

    Some of the other hotels located far from the action, however, are wondering whether the demand from the spillover crowd will be enough to offset the 20-per-cent levy they will have to pay.

    Said the supervisor of Astro Hotel in Joo Chiat, who only wanted to be known as Mr Ang: "We will have to raise rates because we have operating costs to consider. This is a small budget hotel and we rely a lot on walk-in guests, so it's hard for us to capitalise on the F1 fever."

    Yesterday, Minister of State (Trade and Industry) S Iswaran said the demand for hotel rooms would be felt across the island.

    He told reporters: "Singapore is a compact place, so even if you have a hotel in Changi, it's not difficult to get to Marina Centre. The effect will be quite broad-based, and in terms of occupancy and room rates it will be positive for all the hotels."

    In addition, the Land Transport Authority is looking into convenient transportation to the venue, such as giving F1 ticket-holders access to the MRT. About 100,000 visitors are expected, of which up to 40 per cent could be here for three to four days, Mr Iswaran added.

    The 92 hotels eligible for the 20-per-cent levy - which are those gazetted for the purpose of collecting cess charges - include those as far away as Pasir Panjang Inn, Changi Hotel and the Kampong Ubin Resort on Pulau Ubin.

    Most that Today contacted were not even aware of the possible levy. They said they would wait for formal notification before deciding on a marketing strategy and whether to increase room rates.

    A Ministry of Trade and Industry spokesperson said the Singapore Tourism Board would inform all the gazetted hotels on the exact collection mechanism of the F1 levy closer to race day on Sept 28 next year.

    Mr Alson Leong, manager of Gateway Hotel in Joo Chiat, was surprised when told his hotel could be affected. But he said it was unlikely their rates would go up as that would affect regular guests who are not F1 fans.

    "If they see our rates are higher than normal, they would simply choose not to come to Singapore during the F1 week. It would have been good if we were consulted on the levy," he said.

    But Mr Desmond Poh, who markets the Kampong Ubin Resort in Pulau Ubin, was unfazed. While his guests are mainly corporate clients and unlikely to be overseas visitors coming here for the race - his hotel is the furthest from the track - Mr Poh was unconcerned about the levy.

    "The 20 per cent is almost equal to the corporate discounts that we give out, so we won't be affected. And September to October is usually a hot period for us," he said.

    Even so, hotels like his hope the Singapore Tourism Board will help promote them to the visiting F1 crowd.

    At least one is looking at raising room rates. Ms Charmaine Wee, sales manager of the New Majestic Hotel in Chinatown, said: "Our average is about $340, and I imagine we will charge no less than $400 during the F1."

    Monday, August 13, 2007

    Goodbye Ubin Thai Temple

    In April 2007, the Ministry of National Development announced its plans for reopening the Kekek Quarry off Jalan Wat Siam. As the road name indicates, this road was named after the Thai Temple located at the end of the road, just in front of the Kekek Quarry.

    As of late July 2007, the Thai Temple no longer stands at Jalan Wat Siam, a road now devoid of its namesake.

    When the announcement for the deferment of Kekek Quarry's opening came on 4 August 2007, the news was met with happiness and also frustration as yet again, a landmark on Ubin has been displaced because of planned development. Just like the Kampong Melayu en route Chek Jawa which was cleared in anticipation of the reclamation, the postponement of Kekek Quarry's opening came too late to save one of the last remaining landmarks on Pulau Ubin.

    Kekek Quarry in the morning of April 7, 2007. Thai Temple is located at the foot of this hill. Photo by November

    All occupants of the island must possess a Temporary Occupation Licence (TOL) from the Singapore Land Authority and it was said that the temple's license was due for renewal. While this fact needs verification, truth of the matter is that the temple is now no longer on Ubin. In an interview with one of the villagers on Ubin, it is unlikely that the temple will be issued a new TOL on Ubin even if they had applied for it after the quarry plans are shelved. It is true of course that the quarry is to be on standby, ready to be operational at the slightest need and having to relocate the temple later would be a bureaucratical hassle.

    2030V Pulau Ubin is no longer an occupied address. Photo by November

    The temple may seem relatively new, having only established on Ubin in 1986 when a monk from Thailand walked all the way down to Singapore and found its home here on Pulau Ubin. However, it's one of the last few remaining cultural icons on the island with large throngs of visitors on weekends and major Buddhist and Chinese festivals. This was also a large source of income for the island's taxi drivers who would ferry devotees to the temple. When asked, taxi drivers on Ubin expressed disappointment that now there is a less steady stream of income for them. Previously, they could count on major festival days to draw income from. Now, they feel Chek Jawa is the only way for them to garner income from but it is less reliable as return visitors or regular visitors are rare.

    Thai Temple one year ago on July 13 2006. Who would have known a year later the temple would no longer be with us? Photo by November

    A question was posted on the Ubin Forum asking where the temple has been relocated to. After some "detective work" and leg work from our guest editor, budak, we found that it has actually been moved to Jalan Kayu, near Seletar. Not very different from Ubin, Jalan Kayu is also a kampong place, still relatively undeveloped and rural but rich with heritage but under threat from urbanization and development.

    Familiar idols from the Thai Temple in storage at Jalan Kayu. Photo by budak

    Budak wrote:

    "The reprieve granted to kekek came sadly too late for the Thai temple located within earshot of the quarry. the statues and idols no longer face a tree-lined trail and the musical tributes of straw-headed bulbuls.

    The tale of the Thai temple now meets that of another Buddhist shrine, the Ban Kok Sua Chong Yee Temple that for now still resides at Seletar West Farmway 6, a small road two turns off Jalan Kayu surrounded by farmland and abandoned plots. Before secondary jungle retakes the area, however, it will likely be surrendered to planners seeking to turn this historic kampung area (see into another new suburb. In a sense, it already is, as Jalan Kayu is now within a stone's throw from the Sengkang LRT network, and vast fields of cleanly cleared land (formerly farms and orchards) now link the once quiet road to a new town of HDB towers.

    Now a lonely outpost in a village of ghosts and forgotten memories, Chong Yee Temple faces a dwindling lease and its custodians are currently seeking to raise funds to erect a new sanctuary for the temple's deities when the present plot is returned to the authorities.

    To this end, Chong Yee Temple has linked up with the caretakers of the (former) Ubin Thai temple and another temple (dedicated to Bao Gong) to acquire a piece of land where Jalan Kayu meets Sengkang West Avenue, where a collective development will take place, with each temple maintaining its identity and management, while occupying its own portion of new worship complex.

    Site of the new temple premise. Photo by budak

    The artefacts of the Thai temple are now at a temporary building at the site, with an interim altar and shrine being built, which is scheduled to be ready by 22 August. Stay tuned for more updates when we visit the place after it opens."

    See more photos of Chong Yee Temple and the new Thai Temple premise in Budak's flickr set.

    Saturday, August 04, 2007

    Kekek Quarry will not be reopened yet!

    Just received word that the Ministry of National Development has decided to defer the opening of Kekek Quarry in the north of Ubin. Although the government has momentarily withheld all immediate plans to extract granite from the quarry, the quarry will still be retained as a stockpile, ready for extraction and activation at any moment's notice.

    MND and the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) released a media statement on the following this afternoon on 4th August 2007:


    Update on the granite supply situation
    The Granite supply situation has improved significantly over the last one to two months. There is adequate granite supply coming in from both nearby and near distant sources in the region. As a result of this diversification of supply, there has not been any drawdown from the national stockpile from May. Prices of these materials have also moderated and stabilised.

    Quarrying at Pulau Ubin
    In April this year, the Government announced plans to carry out limited quarrying works at the Kekek Quarry in Pulau Ubin. Over the past few months, we have carried out preparatory works for reactivating the Kekek Quarry. These included carrying out an environmental impact study, conducting water quality tests and regulatory reviews.

    Having gained useful experience and a better understanding of the process for reactivating a quarry, and as the industry is able to diversify and import adequate granite from many sources, we have decided that there is no need to commence the physical extraction of granite from the quarry for the time being.

    However we are still keeping all our options open, including reactivating our own quarries if necessary. The reactivation of our local quarries remains a part of our contingency plan to ensure supply resilience of essential construction materials.

    This is an absolutely wonderful piece of news to brighten up my Saturday. Perhaps this is an indication that our government is moving towards a more environmentally-sound ideology that without serious pressures, they would not choose development over our environment. In another words, they would think before they hack and rather conserve than to destroy and develop blindly for the sake of national security or economic growth. When the minister of state for MND said that they are trying to do whatever they can to prevent this from happening and that reopening the quarry was truly their last option, I suppose she actually meant it.

    The skeptic amongst us would say that perhaps this was just a pragmatic decision and at the same time soothe some ruffled feathers. Or even perhaps producing is more expensive than buying. Either way, there is hope yet.

    Kekek Quarry through the looking grass: taken just after the announcement to reopen quarrying in April 2007

    Of course this is a delightful piece of news as the quarry and Ubin itself has escaped the fate of being a mining outpost again. However, like all things in Singapore, there is no certain fate and we should always be prepared to lose the quarry to our country's needs again.

    As in all things nature conservation in Singapore, we should remember not to be complacent. Especially with change being a constant and regular feature in Ubin and every where else on this island state we live in, at any moment's notice, things which we think are here to stay may be taken away from us the next minute due to national needs.

    A good example is Chek Jawa. While we are all happy that reclamation at Chek Jawa was deferred, this was only for 10 years or up till there is need for it again. It has already been 6 years since the deferment was announced and before we knew it, half our time with Chek Jawa has already flewn by! What more, whole villages were displaced to make way for reclamation at Chek Jawa and even after deferment, a piece of our history and heritage was gone already. Likewise, there has been rumours that the Thai Temple near Kekek Quarry is to relocate due to reopening of quarry. Now that quarrying has been deferred, this monkey shall go find out if the temple will really be relocated.

    Chek Jawa Boardwalk amidst the beautiful coast line of Ubin

    If we wish to hold on to these beautiful places like Chek Jawa, we should all show our love for for these places by visiting it, sharing it with our friends and of course, be generous with our words and tell everybody about it. What more, with the opening of the Chek Jawa Boardwalk, it has never been easier to get to know the area better.

    I cannot be more happy to know that many Singaporeans enjoyed the Kekek Quarry very much and went to see it for the last time when it was announced to be reopened for mining. Now, it's here to stay for a while longer, we can once again go and enjoy its beautiful and serene landscape!

    Pedal Ubin guides and participants enjoying Kekek Quarry in June 2005