Charming Chinatown

On a busy Tuesday afternoon I arrived at Chinatown MRT station, once again delighted by the efficiency of Singaporean public transport. Standing outside, it finally hit me. Humidity, crowds, noises, and the aroma of numerous Chinese delicacies; my travel anxiety had returned. Staring blankly at People’s Park Complex, anxieties building up rapidly, surely Chinatown was more than this. How could the internet show such different images? All of the signs were in Chinese, safe to say I was beginning to panic, until a kind Singaporean man led me to an escalator.

Going over the busy Eu Tong Street, I found the Chinatown I was looking for. Lanterns and blossom flowers lined the walkway, beautiful decorations from Lunar New Year a couple of weeks before. I was finally leaving the skyscrapers behind. Brightly coloured terraced buildings greeted me as I walked down Pagoda Street.

Aiming to find the Buddha Tooth Relic Museum, proved harder than anticipated. Wandering through the streets was an experience I have never had before; vibrant, humid and extremely busy. Yet, still charming. Taking a shortcut through a back lane, I found some beautiful graffiti (sorry if the writing is rude).

Temple Street took me to a pedestrian market and hawker food street. It smelt delicious but I was scared to try anything as I had difficulty working out what some things were.

Finally, I caught a glimpse of my destination, the Buddha Tooth Relic Museum. Even though it is a relatively modern temple, est. 2007. It has the look and feel of an ancient temple, designed in the style of the Tang Dynasty and the Buddhist Mandala. The president Shi Fa Zhao does some really wonderful things, both in and out of this working Buddhist temple. He also founded the Metta Welfare Organisation which helps provide care to the disabled, elderly and terminally ill.

Before I had even entered, I was surrounded by a beautiful vibe emanating from the temple itself. My photographer was also quite affected by this and felt the urge to cry (embarrassing human alert!), upon leaving felt like all of the earlier stresses had been lifted. Not expecting to be in long at all I set off through the courtyard. Passing several people lighting incense, an air of calm and grace surrounded me as distant Buddhist gongs sounded. My soul suddenly came to life. I had stumbled into a Buddhist ceremony, which in turn was ridding me of all the pent up anxiety from getting lost earlier. I have to say, I’m not a religious dinosaur but a Buddhist way of life is something I would happily follow.

Red and gold, nestled between thousands of Buddha statues brought the room together. As it was decorated so symmetrically, I couldn’t help but feel calm. The hidden lift took me upstairs into the museum, which was filled with many relics. Including the left canine tooth of the Buddha which was retrieved from a funeral pyre in Kushinagar India. Photographs aren’t allowed, which allows you to be present and enjoy the moment (a hard feat in modern life), not that I wanted to as the beauty of the museum could in no way be captured on film. If you want to see the inside of the museum, it’s website has some great photographs.

The stupa on the fourth floor was incredible. Ornately decorated in gold and many precious gems. The room itself has 36 dragons (I thought they looked more like dinosaurs!). Many people were sitting and meditating in here, so I didn’t stay long. Instead I went up a hidden staircase to the roof garden.

Arriving into one of the small pavilions, housing one of the cardinal points which was housing it’s respective Buddha. I soon learned that in this small roof garden, there are five. This opens out into an orchid garden filled with Dendrobium Buddha Tooth orchid plants, which smelt incredible. The sound of the temple wind chimes was floating on the breeze, drowning out the traffic from the street below. Centrally placed is the Vairocana Buddha Prayer Wheel, housed inside the Ten Thousand Buddhas Pagoda. I was blessed with the opportunity to see a Buddhist monk walking round the prayer wheel in quiet contemplation, so I did not go inside. I hope he accumulated lots of good karma and wisdom doing this!

On the way out I managed to get confused on the staircase. Insead of going to the ground floor, I ended up on the mezzanine. Much to the horror of the Buddhist nuns who were involved in the ceremony taking place downstairs. Luckily they pointed out the correct staircase and I was on my way back out into the hustle and bustle of Chinatown.

When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.

Gautama Buddha

Sadly, I missed several things I had originally planned for Chinatown, such as the Thian Hock Keng Temple. Next time I visit, I will go early and try to book onto a walking tour of the area. I enjoyed my visit to the Buddha Tooth Relic Museum so much that it is definitely top of my list to visit again.

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