"Welcome to the temple of the Evergreen Clouds," said a friendly, middle-aged man, "Cheng Hoon Teng in Chinese." And he invited me to go inside. A statue of a dragon and a lion stood guard at the entrance.
I entered an open courtyard; from here I could examine more closely the dragons on the green tiles roof with its up-turned eaves. The walls were decorated with clay figurines and more dragons. There were tortoises intertwined with snakes, elephants, lions. "Symbols of Taoism," my host told me.
I was a bit hesitant to step inside, as there were many people; some were arranging offerings on large tables, while others were burning incense. Two men were sitting on the floor, throwing wooden cubes to predict their future.
Chinese temples are very hospitable places and I went inside. I did not feel like an intruder. People continued their daily rituals and were not bothered by on-lookers. On the contrary, they liked to explain their religion to outsiders and point out interesting architectural features of the temple.
This temple, like all Taoist Chinese temples, was built according to feng shui principles - all aspects of life are related to keeping perfect harmony with nature. The temple was built facing and overlooking the river and the sea. At its back is a hill, which is home for potentially dangerous dragons. It is structured in such a way that air is allowed to circulate freely. This is necessary as the hall gets filled with the smoke from the joss sticks.
The temple is elaborately decorated: golden dragons and phoenixes, fine porcelain, and cut-and-paste shard work. The longer I looked the more details I saw.
The lay-out of all Chinese temples is the same: a courtyard with a large bowl for incense and paper offerings. Beyond it is the main hall with an altar-table on which are placed: an incense burner, candlesticks, flower vase, offerings of fruit, and soft drinks.
The main altar in the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple houses the image of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. She is associated with fertility, good fortune, and peace.
The most striking colour in the temple is red, which symbolises the sun and also suggests joy, festivity, and prosperity. The temple was built in the 17th century from building materials especially imported from China, as were the craftsmen. Cheng Hoon Teng Temple is an example of typical South Chinese style.
In the street outside the temple, there are shops that sell paper offerings. These are paper models of any worldly possession. By burning these models at a funeral or ceremony, it is believed that these possessions will brighten up life in the next world. People’s favourite possessions are represented: a big house complete with DVD player, stereo set, flat-screen television, paper Heineken beer cans, and credit cards.
Cheng Hoon Teng Temple is in Jalan Tokong, right in the centre of Chinatown.