LAS visit to Hong San See Temple

Date of visit: 23 April 2014 (Wednesday)

Time: 3.00pm to 5.00pm

Reported by: Steven Chow and Quek Tze Guek

Hong San See, the “Temple on Phoenix Hill” was originally built in Tanjong Pagar in 1829. Established by the Hokkien people of the Lam Ann clan, this temple is dedicated to Guang Ze Zun Wang (广泽尊王), the God of Fortune. It was relocated to Mohamed Sultan Road between 1908 and 1913. The temple currently draws worshippers from different dialect groups.

Built in a distinctive Min-nan (闽南) style, the temple is a showpiece of traditional architecture and art. The temple, with its axial planning, courtyards and walled enclosures, depicts a southern Chinese traditional temple. The facade of the temple is decorated with intricate artefacts and guarded by double-leafed lacquered timber doors with paintings of door gods. The roof ridges and eaves have Chien Nien or Jian Nian (剪粘) ornamentation (a special method of cutting and pasting mosaic tiles) and plaster relief work. On the center of the roof ridge are two dragons each holding a blazing pearl. The temple has four carved granite columns, with entwined dragons and other figurines. Some columns are adorned with figures of flowers and magpies.

The temple at Mohamed Sultan Road was built by Mr. Lim Loh, who is a well-known contractor originating from Lam Ann county of Fujian, China, and the father of World War II Singapore hero, Mr. Lim Bo Seng. The temple was gazetted as a National Monument in 1978. Between 2006 and 2009, a major restoration process was carried out for the ageing temple after a corner of the temple’s roof collapsed.

This restoration cost about 3 million dollars, and part of the sponsorship was from the Lee Foundation, whose founder, Mr. Lee Kong Chian (1893-1967), was a strong supporter of the temple’s affairs during his lifetime. For the authenticity of the restoration, the temple became the first building in Singapore to be bestowed with the Award of Excellence in the 2010 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation. In 2013, it was honoured with the Architectural Heritage Awards for Category A.

This LAS visit was attended by 10 enthusiastic members. We had a short introduction of the temple’s history at its managing clan, the Lam Ann Clan Association, before moving up the hill to learn about the architecture and immerse in the splendour of the temple. We were delighted to have Mr. Ang Yik Han, a heritage cum archaelogoy enthusiast, guiding the visit. Mr. Ang has conducted guided walks to Singapore Chinese temples and the Bukit Brown cemetery. He has also been invited to speak on topics related to stone carvings of Bukit Brown and Chinese temples in Singapore.

The itinerary was interrupted by an afternoon shower while we were in the temple. But thankfully, it was blue skies for all of us when it came time to leave. We were unable to have the guided walk around the Mohamed Sultan area, which had witnessed historical changes with its proximity to the Singapore River and Fort Canning Hill. There was, however, much to reminisce for some participants and the visit was very much a historical experience for all. We thank all the participants for their fervour discussions and their support.

Our next LAS visit will be to the Library of Botany and Horticulture and the Singapore Herbarium @ the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Please stay tuned on our next write up!