Tag Archives: China

Ushering in the ‘Year of the Dog’ – He Hua temple, Amsterdam

In the six years that we lived in Singapore, the Hubs and I really looked forward to Chinese New Year. It was an opportunity to learn more about a culture we knew little about, and of course, to celebrate with our wonderful Singaporean friends. Bright red lanterns and street decorations everywhere, lion and dragon dances, yusheng (the salad toss to invoke prosperity), mandarin oranges in fancy gift packs, stacks of containers with CNY goodies, and so many more enduring images of CNY in Singapore.

In 2016, I even got to welcome the ‘Year of the Monkey’ in Mumbai. This year, as we approach our one-year milestone in Amsterdam, I wondered if there would be a chance to usher in the ‘Year of the Dog’ with some sort of authentic commemoration.

And then, I found out about the Chinese temple in Amsterdam! Who knew???!!! So we paid a visit on the second day of CNY (Feb 17th / Sat).


The He Hua temple, designed in the traditional Chinese palace style

The Buddhist He Hua temple is located in the heart of Amsterdam’s Chinatown. He hua is Mandarin for ‘lotus’, a flower of great significance in both Chinese and Buddhist symbolism. Inaugurated in the year 2000, the temple was founded by the Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Order, which is based out of Taiwan.

The temple can be easily reached by foot from Central Station. Just type in its postcode (1012BB) in Google Maps and keep walking till you spot the traditional roof of a Chinese temple. The temple is sandwiched between typical Dutch buildings, which makes for quite an interesting sight!

The He Hua temple is the first (and the largest) temple in Europe to be built in the traditional Chinese palace style. The main shrine is dedicated to Guan Yin (Goddess of Mercy).


Temple staff place fruit offerings before Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy

The statue of Guan Yin is flanked on one side by Qie-Lan and on the other by Wei Tuo, both revered as guardians of Buddhist monasteries and teachings.

Given that it was the second day of CNY, the temple was pretty crowded. We managed to pay our respects quickly, take a couple of pictures and head out. But I’m glad, that in some small way, we could join a fifth of humanity, in welcoming the Lunar New Year.

I can’t wait to come back at a quieter time, to learn more about the temple. Free guided tours (lasting about 30 mins) are offered on Saturdays at 2:00, 3:00, & 4:00pm.

You can read more about the temple and its activities, on their website. The temple is open Tuesday to Saturday from noon till 5:00pm, and on Sunday from 10:00am to 5:00pm. It is closed every Monday and on January 1st.

For now I wish you a dazzling ‘Year of the Dog’!

🍊🍊 Gong Xi Fa Cai! Huat Ah! 🍊🍊

(Happy New Year! Be prosperous!)



Filed under Europe, Netherlands

‘Forbidden Porcelain’ at the Prinsenhof Museum, Delft

My first experience of Delft was a gloriously sunny Saturday in May, spent walking around the town square; with some serious efforts invested in climbing the tower of the Nieuwe Kerk, the second tallest church tower in the Netherlands.

On my second trip to Delft, I spent the day at the Prinsenhof Museum, browsing through the ‘Forbidden Porcelain: Exclusively for the Emperor’ exhibition.

This exhibition centers around the exquisite porcelain that was made specially for Chinese emperors by the imperial kilns of Jingdezhen, but which was later discarded and destroyed, as it did not meet the high standards expected of royal wares. I was very fortunate to have the company of the museum’s Curator of Decorative Arts, Ms. Suzanne Kluver, who shared her in-depth knowledge of the subject.


The opening panel of the ‘Forbidden Porcelain: Exclusively for the Emperor’ exhibition

It is the first time that these reassembled porcelain wares, originally made for Chinese emperors, are being seen outside Asia. Several of the artefacts in this exhibition are on loan from the Archaeological Institute, Jingdezhen, China.

In an article for the Jul-Aug’17 issue of PASSAGE, the bimonthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore, I share about my visit to the Prinsenhof Museum, and briefly explore the centuries-old connection between Chinese porcelain and Delftware.

Please click on the image below to view the PDF of this article.


(Reproduced with the permission of the Editor.)

So if you happen to be in Delft (or in the vicinity), do consider visiting the ‘Forbidden Porcelain’ exhibition at the Prinsenhof Museum. The exhibition runs until 9th July 3rd September 2017.

Here are some pictures from the Prinsenhof Museum that could not be included in the print article….


Entrance of the Prinsenhof Museum


Bullet holes from the 1584 assassination of William I, preserved in a wall of the Prinsenhof


Sunlight streaming through a window in the basement of the museum


Loved the look of this window!


A lamp post adorned with the trademark blue & white delftware designs, on the premises of the museum


A seat in the Prinsenhof garden embellished with beautiful pieces of delftware












Filed under Europe, Netherlands

Welcoming the ‘Year of the Monkey’ – Kwan Tai Shek temple, Mumbai

‘Chinese’ cuisine has been extremely popular in India over the past few decades. Known as ‘Indian-Chinese’ in the rest of the world, this fusion cuisine originated in the eastern part of India (around Calcutta), thanks to the Chinese that settled in that region. Popularized across the country by a few Chinese-origin, Indian restauranteurs, this delectable cuisine combines the staples of Chinese cooking (like noodles, sauces, cooking techniques etc) with Indian spices and seasonings.

But despite being born and raised in Bombay (now Mumbai), until recently, I knew very little about the Chinese who came to British India and made it their home. So I decided to dig a little into this aspect of Indian history.

The earliest Chinese came to Calcutta, the capital of British India, in the late 18th century. The port city of Calcutta was vital in British – China trade. Chinese tea and silk was shipped to Britain via Calcutta. Trade between British India and China multiplied when the British began to export opium from Calcutta to Canton. This led to several Cantonese moving to Calcutta on the ships that sailed between the two cities.

By the 1850s, several Chinese had settled in Bombay, especially in the leafy suburb of Mazagaon, close to the Bombay docks. It is said that till the early 1960s, there was a distinct ‘Chinatown’ in that vicinity. Today, there are about 400 Chinese-origin families living in various parts of Mumbai and they congregate annually at Mumbai’s only Chinese temple – the Kwan Tai Shek temple – to usher in the Lunar New Year.

And thus began my search for Mumbai’s only Chinese temple. The timing couldn’t have been any better. It was the first day of the Lunar New Year (9th February 2016).

After a long wait for a taxi outside Bombay Central train station, I found a cabbie willing to scour the streets of Mazagaon to find the temple. Despite being a local taxi, the cabbie had never heard of a Chinese temple in the neighborhood. We made a few stops for enquiries and were directed by a group of friendly strangers to 12 Nawab Tank Road, where the temple is located.

As soon as we entered the quiet lane, a pair of gold rimmed, bright red, half-doors caught my eye. This had to be the temple! My cabbie was really excited at having located the temple (I’m glad I could brighten up his day!) I thanked him for his enthusiastic company and alighted. The temple, along with the 3-storey, wooden-frame building in which it is located, are both nearly 100 years old.


On the ground floor of the building is a small shrine dedicated to Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy and compassion. An air of reverence prevails with joss sticks, candles, fruit and flower offerings made to the deity.


The main shrine, on the top-most floor of the building, was set up in 1919 by a group of Cantonese migrants who worked at the nearby docks for the East India Company.



Dedicated to General Kwan Tai Kon, this mighty warrior is venerated for being a paragon of justice and a great guide. The room is resplendent in red with gold accents and is decorated with paper lanterns and elaborately embroidered silks.



As I entered the shrine, an elderly lady (of Chinese origin) had just finished paying her respects. I enquired about the New Year celebrations and she replied (in chaste Hindi!) that nearly 300 people had gathered the night before to usher in the Year of the Monkey and watch the dragon dance.

Well, I had missed all the action but what better way to start the Year of the Monkey than with a visit to Mumbai’s only Chinese temple.

🍊🍊 Gong Xi Fa Cai! Huat Ah! 🍊🍊

(Happy New Year! Be prosperous!)


Filed under Asia, India

Tales from Tombstones at Bukit Brown, Singapore

The boisterous chirping of birds, thick foliage that is home to a variety of snakes and insects, the final resting place of many of Singapore’s Chinese forebearers – from towkays (prominent businessmen) to sinkeh (new immigrants from China, many of whom ended up working as coolies).

Bukit Brown Cemetery - Singapore

The place is Bukit Brown Cemetery or as some of its supporters lovingly call it – BBC. It has been topmost on my ‘list of places to visit in Singapore’ and today was the day!

‘Bukit’ is the Malay word for ‘hill’.

The hill was named Bukit Brown after its first owner, George Henry Brown, an English ship owner, who had come to Singapore from Calcutta in the 1840s.

Bukit Brown Cemetery - Singapore

BBC was officially opened on 1st January 1922 and is the earliest Chinese municipal cemetery in Singapore. With about 100,000 tombs here, it is believed to be the largest Chinese cemetery outside China. It was closed for burial in 1973.

The place is a treasure trove of stories – of the life and times of Singapore’s pioneers who are interred here.

Bukit Brown Cemetery - Singapore

Intricate carvings and stone statues of ferocious lions, celestial beings and Sikh guards adorn several of the tombs.

Bukit Brown Cemetery - Singapore

You may wonder, how did Sikh guards come into the picture? What many people don’t realise is that Singapore and the Sikh community have an age-old relationship.

Bukit Brown Cemetery - Singapore

The British established the Sikh Police Contingent in Singapore in 1881. Some Sikhs, who didn’t meet the stringent requirements of the British police force, took up employment with Chinese businessmen as private security guards. It is only fair that even in the afterlife, these Chinese businessmen would want to be guarded by their trusted Sikh ‘jagas’ (‘Jaga’ is the Malay word for ‘guard’).

Bukit Brown Cemetery - Singapore

Some of the tombs are also decorated with colourful glazed tiles, indicating that the person buried there was a member of the Peranakan community. More about the Peranakans in my previous post, Peranakan Tiles of Singapore.

Bukit Brown Cemetery - Singapore

Bukit Brown Cemetery - Singapore

This green lung is also home to over a third of Singapore’s 90+ bird species (including 13 endangered species). We spotted this little guy in the underbrush (a white crested laughing thrush) along with several other bird species that were too quick for us to photograph.

Bukit Brown Cemetery - Singapore

It was a lot of walking for one hot morning and I resolved to be back with some of my ‘Brownie’ friends to learn more about the people who are buried here.

Today, BBC faces strong redevelopment pressures and there is a public movement to conserve the cemetery and all that lies therein. Its historical and ecological importance to Singapore is undeniable.


Filed under Asia, Singapore

Peranakan Tiles of Singapore

There is a lot a folklore about the origins of the Peranakans. According to the Sejarah Melayu (or the Malay Annals), Chinese Ming princess Hang Li Poh was married off to Sultan Mansur Shah of Malacca in the 15th century. It is believed that Princess Hang Li Poh arrived in Malacca with a large entourage who settled there and married locally. The offspring from these mixed marriages were called ‘Peranakan’.

‘Peranakan’ is a Malay word meaning ‘locally born’.

Legend aside, it is a well-known fact that a majority of the Peranakans are descendants from marriages between Chinese traders who migrated to the British-controlled Straits Settlements (Singapore, Penang and Malacca) and local Malay women.

Today, if you walk around Singapore’s heritage areas, you will notice the colourful tiles that decorate some of the shophouse facades. These houses belong to the Peranakans and the tiles are known as ‘Peranakan tiles’ – a nod to the community that could afford to buy them and thus, popularised them in colonial times.

These tiles also add a decorative touch  to the tombs of Peranakans buried at Bukit Brown Cemetery. More about that in my post, Tales from Tombstones.

In the Mar-Apr’15 issue of PASSAGE (the bi-monthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore), I trace the history of the exquisite Peranakan tile.

Peranakan Tile - Singapore(Reproduced with the permission of the Editor)

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Filed under Asia, Singapore

Heralding the ‘Year of the Goat’ – Thian Hock Keng temple, Singapore

A sea of red lanterns, the rhythmic clanging of cymbals, the all-pervading fragrance of joss sticks, throngs of worshippers and tourists alike.

We are at Thian Hock Keng, Singapore’s oldest Chinese temple, welcoming the ‘Year of the Goat’!

Thian Hock Keng - Telok Ayer Street, Singapore

Thian Hock Keng all decked up for the Lunar New Year

Located at 158 Telok Ayer Street, Thian Hock Keng is the most important temple of the local Hokkien community. Incidentally, Hokkiens constitute over 40% of the Chinese-origin population of Singapore and have their roots in the Fujian province of southeast China.

Singapore in the early 1800s was a very different place what it is today – Chinese secret societies, opium dens, boatloads of Chinese immigrants braving the rough South China Sea to land on the shores of the Telok Ayer basin.

Yes, back then, Telok Ayer Street was by the sea. Hard to believe, given how far from the shoreline it is today, after decades of reclamation.

'Singapore from Mount Wallich at sunrise', a painting by Percy Carpenter 1856 showing the Telok Ayer basin

‘Singapore from Mount Wallich at sunrise’, a painting by Percy Carpenter (1856) showing the Telok Ayer basin 

So what did the Chinese immigrants do after landing? They rushed to a little prayer house located on Telok Ayer Street, to give thanks to the goddess Ma Zu.

Revered as the protector of seafarers and navigators, Ma Zu was venerated with money and joss sticks, for helping these travellers survive their arduous sea journey.

Between 1839 and 1842, this prayer house was renovated under the leadership of prominent members of the Hokkien community, like philanthropist Tan Tock Seng. The temple was named Thian Hock Keng or the Temple of Heavenly Happiness.

The Thian Hock Keng temple (encircled) in a close-up of the 'Singapore from Mount Wallich at sunrise' painting

The Thian Hock Keng temple (encircled) in a close-up of the ‘Singapore from Mount Wallich’ painting

The temple architecture is typical of the southern Chinese style with intricate carvings of dragons and phoenixes. Also interesting to note that the entire structure was assembled without a single nail.

Intricate craftsmanship everywhere you look

Intricate craftsmanship everywhere you look

So while we go back to enjoying the festivities here at Thian Hock Keng, I wish you a prosperous ‘Year of the Goat’!

Dragon dance in progress at the Thian Hock Keng temple

Dragon dance in progress at the Thian Hock Keng temple

Lion dancers getting ready

Lion dancers getting ready

🍊🍊 Gong Xi Fa Cai! Huat Ah! 🍊🍊 

(Happy New Year! Be prosperous!)


Filed under Asia, Singapore

3,000 years of tea ware in Hong Kong

Cha, chai, teh – no matter what you call it, tea (camellia sinensis) is undoubtedly the favourite brew of the Asian masses. Especially so in China, where tea drinking originated thousands of years ago.

Not surprising then, that there is an entire museum in Hong Kong dedicated to the promotion of Chinese tea culture.

On my last trip to Hong Kong (more about that in my post Uniquely Hong Kong), I visited the quaint Museum of Tea Ware, located in the historical Flagstaff House.

A ‘must-visit’ for any tea lover travelling to Hong Kong, the museum’s well-crafted exhibits showcase how tea preparation and tea ware design has changed over the past 3,000 years.

I’m pleased to share the experience via the Jan-Feb’15 issue of PASSAGE, the bi-monthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore.

Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware, Hong Kong

(Reproduced with the permission of the Editor)

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Uniquely Hong Kong!

Earlier this month, I was in Hong Kong for the third time in a year. It’s a city that never ceases to amaze me – vertiginous buildings against a backdrop of lush mountains, a ubiquitous colonial past that lingers amidst its present-day Chinese governance, the umbrella protests with a non-violence strategy.

Victoria Peak - Hong Kong

It’s a city of contrasts, with a great energy and a non-stop buzz. Here’s the list of my favourite things about HK. Things that make this city so special:

1) The Octopus card

This is the absolute first thing you buy when you get to HK.

Octopus card, Hong Kong

This multipurpose card can be used to pay for public transport (MTR, tram, ferries and bus) and can also be used at a whole host of retail outlets. Makes life sooo easy!

2) HK desserts

Try out the colourful local desserts at the many dessert cafes dotted across the city.

Mango-pomelo-sago dessert - Hong Kong

A night stroll and a mango-pomelo-sago dessert (a HK favourite). De-lish!

3) The Central Mid-levels escalator

Step onto the world’s longest, covered escalator system and enjoy the passing views of cheerful bars, hipster cafes and charming boutiques.

Central Mid-levels escalator - Hong Kong

This 800m (2,600ft) long escalator runs downhill from 6-10am bringing the folks from the top of the hill to the central business district. It then changes directions and goes uphill from 10.30am to mid-night. Nearly 55,000 Hong Kongers use it every day to get to and from work.

Central Mid-levels escalator - Hong Kong

Even the Dark Knight (Christian Bale) has filmed on this famous escalator.

4) The tea house

After a visit to the quaint Tea Ware Museum in Hong Kong Park, stop by the LockCha Tea House next-door.

LockCha tea house, Hong Kong

This traditional, Canton-style tea house, offers a wide choice of vegetarian dim sum and over 100 artisanal teas.

LockCha tea house, Hong Kong

I settled for the fragrant rose tea while enjoying the peaceful ambience of the place. A must visit for any tea lover! 

LockCha tea house, Hong Kong

More about the Tea Ware Museum in my post 3,000 years of Tea Ware in Hong Kong.

5) Ebeneezer’s

Party at Lan Kwai Fong till the wee hours of morning and then crawl to the nearby Ebeneezer’s outlet for some more booze, and gyros that taste amazing especially when you are drunk 😉

Ebeneezers - Hong Kong

6) The Shanghai pedicure

I’m not really sure how popular the Shanghai pedicure is in Shanghai but it is definitely a HK must-do. More about it in my post, Asia’s World City.

7) The Ding-Ding

This is what the locals call the iconic HK tram.

Tram - Hong Kong

More about my fun tram ride experience in my post, All aboard the HK tram!

8 ) The gazillion air-conditioning units

If you are walking around HK, there is no escaping the water droplets that trickle down from the overhead air-conditioning units.

Tram view - Hong Kong

I’m yet to master the art of dodging this man-made drizzle. A serious must-do for my next trip 🙂

9) Last but definitely not the least, Lantau, Macau and the many other nearby islands that are so easily accessible from HK.


What would you like to add to this list? Leave me a comment.



Filed under Asia, Hong Kong, S.A.R. of P.R.C.

Lantau – Home of the Tian Tan Buddha

One week of hectic sightseeing in Hong Kong. I was in serious need of a change of pace.

Lantau Island promised to be just the sanctuary I was looking for. With my trusted Octopus card in tow, I boarded the Tung Chung line MTR and headed to Lantau.

After exiting at Tung Chung station, I skipped the serpentine queue for the cable car to Ngong Ping (the complex that houses the Tian Tan Buddha) and took a bus instead.

The bus takes a circuitous route to the top and the hour long ride can seem like an eternity for anyone with a weak stomach. But I couldn’t have been bothered. The passing vistas were mesmerizing! The overcast sky and low clouds added an air of mystique to the dark green hills. The thoughts of Hong Kong’s dizzying skyscrapers were a thing of the past.

The bus dropped me off at the Ngong Ping piazza and I took a few moments to soak in the beauty and tranquillity of the place. The ornate archway, the imposing Tian Tan Buddha, the Po Lin Monastry, the verdant hillscapes. A fitting abode for the benevolent Buddha!



Completed in 1993, the Tian Tan (meaning Altar of Heaven) Buddha, is unique in the fact that it is north facing while all the other great Buddha statues in the world face southwards. The serene bronze figurine is angled to overlook China and bestow its blessings on the Chinese people.

268 steps (and many breaks) later, I reached the base of the Tian Tan Buddha.


Despite weighing over 250 tons, the face of the Tian Tan Buddha radiates a fragile beauty and has a compassionate aura.

Tian Tan Buddha - Lantau

Six smaller deities make offerings to the Enlightened One, who is seated on a lotus pedestal.


I walked around the statue taking in the panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and the South China Sea. The perfect place to be alone and contemplate about life!


Hungry from all the climbing (and contemplating!), I headed to the Po Lin (Lotus) monastery for some much needed refreshment. From its humble beginnings in 1906, the monastery today is a world famous centre of Buddhism.

It’s also well known for its restaurant that serves Chinese vegetarian delicacies and fragrant tea. I bought my coupon for a regular meal (HK$ 78/-) and waited patiently in the dining hall for the food to arrive.


The portions were generous and the food, wholesome. I savoured every bit of the vegetable and tofu dishes, a feast for both the eyes and tastebuds.

Feeling energized, I spent some time strolling through the monastery gardens. Soon it was time to head back.


I walked across the piazza to the Ngong Ping retail complex and bought a ticket for the cable car ride back to Tung Chung station. The 25-minute ride over the rolling hills of Lantau and the glistening South China Sea left me spellbound.



A fabulous way to end my Hong Kong odyssey! It was going to be really hard getting back to reality.

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Filed under Asia, Hong Kong, S.A.R. of P.R.C.

Asia’s World City – Hong Kong

The mention of Hong Kong conjures up images of a vibrant, bustling city with an iconic skyline.

HK skyline

A British colony for over 150 years (until 1997), HK today is a city of skyscrapers juxtaposed against a backdrop of extraordinary natural beauty.

There’s so much to see and do in HK. I walked around the busy streets of Tsim Sha Tsui, watched the dazzling Symphony of Lights show, posed with Bruce Lee’s statue on the Avenue of the Stars, strolled through the Temple Street night market, admired intricate Chinese paintings at the Museum of Art. Yet, I had barely made a dent on my list.

Bruce Lee statue - HK

Despite my initial hesitation, the city was slowly growing on me. Here are some of my favorite experiences from this trip:

Taking the tram to The Peak

In the midst of a heavy downpour, I took the tram to Victoria Peak from the Lower Terminus on Garden Road.

Peak Tram - HK

Peak Tram - HK

As the tram slowly made its way to the top along the 1.4km route, it passed some of the most expensive real estate in HK.

Victoria Peak, referred to by the locals as The Peak, is the highest point on HK island (altitude 552m / 1,811 ft). Unfortunately, the view from the top was hindered by the rain. But whatever little I could see, was breathtaking! The entire city below awash in green!

Victoria Peak - HK

Paying my respects at the Man Mo temple

‘Man, the God of Literature is venerated at this historic shrine alongside ‘Mo’, the God of War. During the ancient Ming and Qing dynasties, students who were appearing for intensive civil services exams prayed to these two gods.

Man Mo temple - HK

Built by the Taoists in 1847, the Man Mo temple on Hollywood Road, is the largest of its kind in HK. The interiors are colourful yet serene while the giant incense coils hanging from the ceiling emit a soothing aroma. As an up-and-coming blogger and writer, I paid my respect to ‘Man’ and left.

Man Mo temple - HK

Walking along Cat Street

Close to the Man Mo temple, is the once infamous Upper Lascar Row (nicknamed Cat Street). About a century ago, this was the venue for a stolen goods market. In Cantonese, thieves are called ‘rats’ and anyone who bought the stolen wares from the ‘rats’ was referred to as a ‘cat’. Hence the name, Cat Street. Today, vendors sell a wide range of goods from dog-eared posters of Chairman Mao and Bruce Lee to a variety of curios and collectibles. Great for an afternoon of browsing!

Cat Street - HK

Must do: The Shanghai pedicure

After all those days of walking around HK, my feet were in need of some serious therapy. The hotel concierge recommended the Shanghai pedicure. Little did I know what it involved but I proceeded to the reflexology spa anyway.  I watched in awe as the ‘sifu’ (master) sliced off layer after layer of dead skin from under my pre-soaked feet with a sharpened scalpel. At the end of 45 min session, my feet were baby soft and I couldn’t have been happier! Highly recommend it for anyone visiting HK.

After a busy week of sight-seeing in HK, I headed to the rolling hills of Lantau Island for quick getaway. More on that in my post, Home of the Tian Tan Buddha.

For more things to do in HK, check out my post Uniquely Hong Kong!

Read about Macau in my post Only in Macau!



Filed under Asia, Hong Kong, S.A.R. of P.R.C.