I used Airbnb and stayed at Sarah's Lucky Find which is located just across the street from Pagoda Street at the People's Park Complex on the 22nd floor. After visiting the Chinatown Heritage Centre, I can say that her place is like a modern shophouse. Nonetheless, the location is superb and it's located within Chinatown and closer to the Central Business District (CBD) and several nightlife options.
An Uber from T3 from the world's #1 airport - Changi Airport - to Sarah's place came to SGD 14.90 which roughly translated to USD10.92
As per the Day 2 suggested itinerary on Wikitravel, I started at the Bee Cheng Hiang roadside outlet to try some of their famous and succulent BBQ bakkwa freshly grilled that day. I also bought a few pieces to share back home (sealed but not vacuum-sealed) but I was warned that these pieces needed to be eaten within 7 days, and that if I did not want to worry about freshness, I could buy the already pre-packed Mini EZ Chilli and the Mini EZ Pork packages, which I did as they contain mini packages of one unit of pork that would last until the 27th of May, 2017. So I did!
Next stop: The Chinatown Heritage Centre
Length of visit: 2 - 3 hrs.
At the Chinatown Heritage Centre you will find so much cultural information about how Singapore was first settled and how these immigrants from Asia and the Middle East came afar by sea and by land seeking a better life. The vast majority had intentions of returning to their home villages and families once they became rich and/or famous, but the realities and hardships made it quite a struggle to make ends meet, and at the end, they could only remit home the little money they could so painstakingly save.
At this center, I learned that without these unsung heroes, Singapore would not be what it is today. "These pioneers, rich or poor, banded together and built a home away from home. The blood, sweat and tears of these men and women went into the development of Singapore."
As these immigrants started coming in masses, later on under the Jackson Plan, Singapore town was divided into four different ethnic areas:
Coming back to Chinatown and its heritage center, many of these Chinese immigrants, whether they were tailors, hawkers, clog maker or perhaps a doctor who had fallen in economic mishap, would end up living within a shophouse. A shophouse is a 2 to 3-stories high building where on the ground floor you would find a shop, let's say a tailor shop, whose family and apprentices would live behind the shop itself; and on the second and third floors, you would find small shared room that could at the end house up to 30 members who would share one bathroom/kitchen and one common place.
... and as you leave the heritage center and Pagoda street ...
Next stop: Sri Mariamman Temple
The oldest Hindu temple in Singapore. It was constructed in 1827 and it has played a major role in the lives of Hindus here in Singapore. In the early years of its inception, this temple provided shelter for Indian immigrants and was the only Hindu temple whose priests were vested with the authority to solemnize Hindu marriages.
Sri Mariamman is dedicated to the Mother Goddess whose devotees have turned to her for her healing powers. This temple was established by Narayan Pillai who came here as part of Raffles' party in 1819. On 1823, he requested a land for the construction of this temple, but it was not until 1827 when the first temple building was erected.
Nowadays, this temple is most known for the fire-walking ceremony or Theemithi where devotees walk on hot charcoal as a test of their faith and devotion. This ceremony is held every October or November.
Next stop: The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum
On the ground floor:
On both sides of the Main Hall you will find the statues of One Hundred Buddhas which represent the "Sutra of the Names of the One Hundred Buddhas".
In this sutra, Buddha told Sariputra:
"If a devout person hears the name of the present Buddha with reverence, he will be protected from all evils, accumulate immense merit, accomplish the Way of the Bodhisattva and gain knowledge of the past, present and future. Moreover, he will possess complete sense faculties and be in the presence of all Buddhas, thereby swiftly attaining peerless Enlightenment."
The same sutra states that the "One Hundred Buddhas have the ability to help the world and whoever recites, copies, makes offerings and expounds the hundred holy names with reverence, will have his greed, hatred, ignorance and fear purified".
... and behind the Main Hall, you will find out (in case you did not already know) that there are Guardian Deities for each of the Zodiac sign animal.
Like the Buddha, our personal Guardian Deity serves as a source of solace, spiritual support and inspiration. However, even if we have a personal Guardian Deity, we have to actively work on purifying our negative tendencies and increase our store of merit and wisdom. This strengthens our connection to our Guardian Deity and speeds our progress on the spiritual path.
I do have to write that I only concentrated on the Bodhisattva linked to those born in the years of the dragon or as me, born in the year of the snake.
Our Guardian Deity's esoteric aspect is Vajrasattva, an important deity in the Vajrayana tradition associated with purification practices.
I also learned that those born in the years of the Dragon or the Snake can choose Samantabhadra Bodhisattva as our personal Guardian Deity. Through practicing the method of Samantabhadra, we shall be able to attain a long and healthy life free from sickness and misfortunes. We shall also be able to quickly purify our negative karma and achieve perfect and ultimate Enlightenment.
On the fourth floor:
This temple is named after the relic that resides on the 4th floor. A golden tooth from Buddha which is located in a hall where photos and recordings are not allowed. So be prepared to take off your shoes, start walking from the left side and make your way to the end of hall where you will see it housed within a golden stupa made up of 320 kg. of gold. You will have to settle at contemplating the relic from the outside of the public viewing are as only monks are allowed within that chamber.
This is also a great place to meditate as they provide space on both sides of the hall to do so.
On the top floor - the Roof Garden:
If you are still searching for another place to further your meditation, then head to the rooftop orchid garden which houses a pagoda with the largest cloisonné Buddha Prayer Wheel in the world.
This Vairocana Buddha Prayer Wheel consist of the "revolving scriptures" originating from "turning the pitaka". "Turning" a Sutra is different from "reading pitaka" which virtually meant reading the Sutras everyday without missing a single word. "Turning pitaka" is just reading a few lines at the start, middle and end portions of the Sutras.
Cylindrical in shape, it is a religious artifact commonly used by Chinese Buddhists. The rim is embossed with esoteric Vairocana Mantra. A piece of scripture is placed inside and every turn of the wheel represents a single recital of the scripture and mantra. Thus being a convenient way to recite the sutra.
Final stop: Tea Chapter - Tea drinking a la Chinese!
As you leave the Relic Temple and Museum, you will find that there is currently a lot of construction going on in the nearby area. So don't despair, you can still reach Tea Chapter just behind the huge wall that protects the shops behind it. Therefore, head to 9 Neil Rd. just behind the construction site and be part of a ceremonial tea experience.
Do note that the 3rd floor hosts free seating, but on the 2nd floor you will find partitioned rooms (normal seating or seating on the floor) that:
I chose the partitioned room with a view (currently of a tall protective wall due to the construction) where Queen Elizabeth sat with her husband 27 years ago and ordered the same tea they had - the Imperial Golden Cassia - which is a light Oolong tea, accompanied with 2 Tea eggs, an order of caramelized nuts and an order of the Mini Bao Platter.
The Tea Ceremony - Making tea with skills:
As I had never been part of a tea ceremony and just for the heck of it decided to follow through, I told one of the waiters to explain to me the process ... and so he started: