In 2016, according to the Chinese zodiac, the monkeys will reign supreme. In February, we entered the Year of the Monkey in the Chinese Zodiac. The Spring Festival, also known as the Lunar New Year, lasted for fifteen days beginning with the first lunar month. On the 16th day, May 17th, the Monkey God Tai Sheng Ye was celebrated.
On February 23, the Qi Tian Gong or Monkey God Temple at Tiong Bahru estate was packed with people, as hundreds of devotees arrived with incense and bananas and peanuts to worship the Monkey God. Qi Tian Gong in Tiong Bahru is the oldest of Singapore’s many Monkey God temples, with origins dating back to 1920 when a modest wooden attap house shrine was built in the area. In 1938, the temple relocated to its current location on Eng Hoon Street, a shophouse on the corner of Jalan Tun Sambanthan. The temple’s premises on Eng Hoon Street were leased until 1985 when the trust holders finally acquired control of the shophouse.
The Monkey God is also known as Sun Wu Kong, the main character in Wu Cheng-en’s 16th-century compiled classic novel Journey to the West. Journey to the West is one of the four greatest Chinese novels, and it chronicles Sun Wu Kong, the mischievous hero endowed with magical abilities who helps Tang Dynasty monk Xuanzang on his dangerous trip to retrieve Buddhist texts.
The festivities at Eng Hoon Street were completed with traditional Lao opera performances from Lao Sai Tao Yuan, a long-standing institution in its own right. Lao Sai Tao Yuan, founded in the mid-nineteenth century, is one of Singapore’s oldest surviving opera troupes.
The House of Qi Tian Gong is one of several secret gems in the Tiong Bahru estate. The only housing block with three residential addresses, a pre-war air raid shelter housed beneath a block of flats, and a sculpture in a public garden by the same artist who created the Merlion may be found in this estate.