During our 40hour stopover in Singapore, Stefan and I hit up a number of local sights – attempting to maximise our time.
Our day included:
~ visiting Gardens By The Bay
~ Strolling through the ArtScience Museum
~ Visiting Chinatown
~ Eating a ton of local delicacies
(Fun fact: Chinatown is one of my favourite places to shoot)
However, one thing that has constantly eluded me is the Buddha Tooth Temple found in the centre of Chinatown. Literally every time I have been to Chinatown it has either been under construction or closed to the public for the day.
And it did not disappoint!
It was everything you’d expect from a much talked about and revered religious site. The building in itself is immense, a monolithic creation that towers above the people that fill the streets of Chinatown. Inside, the halls were filled with incredibly detailed relics – while gold and bright red fittings were strewn throughout the temple.
We were given silk shawls to cover our shoulders – it is a condition upon entry to have no exposed shoulders and to have shorts that went past the knees.
Among the numerous museums and exhibitions, the museum on the third floor holds a number of holy artefacts including bones and tongues. (Don’t ask me why)
The main Buddha tooth relic is housed in a magnificent stupa; made fron 320kg worth of gold and weighing 3500kg.
However, the most awe inducing part about this visit was the atmosphere that moved through the corridors and filled each room.
I can’t really describe this effect better than through my own thesis (which I totally just made up then); the religious site effect (and all the non religious people groan – that’s fine – but I’m sure you can relate to this too so just soldier on ey).
The religious site effect refers to the feeing that I get when I’ve visited any religious site on my travels; be it a Catholic Church in rural Ireland, a Mosque in suburban Melbourne or a Buddhist temple in Singapore.
It describes a feeling of community, a connection to some thing larger than our immediate humanity – shared by people.
It’s where love transcends and human wellbeing comes first- not money or survival.
It’s a reminder that in this whirlwind we call life, we aren’t alone.
In these places we find comfort, solace and assuagement.
It’s like live sport; for 90mins or so, you are in it with everyone on your team – sharing in a spiritual experience of fouls, hurling abuse at referees and goal scoring elation.
I felt it at Old Trafford – sitting in the stands two hours before the game kicked off – soaking up the fact that my pilgrimage from Melbourne to Manchester had led me here (lowkey almost cried).
We did lose 1-0, I was mortified that we had lost on my first (and so far only) trip to my footballing Mecca.
But we had dinner with a number of fans after and it was that feeling of community and connection that made the result redundant – we chanted derogatory chants, laughed together, and took interest in each others lives. And it did not matter where we were from, because in that moment, it simply mattered that we were sharing the experience together.
So back to the Buddha Tooth Temple.
I mightn’t have been Buddhist, but seeing a group of people together – connecting and engaging with each other – made me feel right at home.
We tend to view things in the micro but learning to apply our differences to the macro allows us to understand that we aren’t that different after all.
The strange rituals and chants and actions don’t seem so strange once you understand their uniting purpose.
Whether you’re humming a Buddhist mantra or yelling in unison ‘f*$k off ref’ at the MCG, it all points to the same conclusion – we are far better off together than we are alone.
Ryan Cheng is the founder of The 88, and is passionate about telling stories surrounding travel, culture and identity.
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