If I had to choose my favourite Buddhist temple, it would be the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple at Bencoolen (Bugis) as it held memories of my childhood. In Primary School, my mother would bring me there before the exams and during the new year to pray. Those who visit the temple are devotees of the Kwan Im or the Goddess of Mercy. I vividly remember the crowd of devotees at the temple and how it would sometimes annoy me as we struggle to place our joss sticks in the urn. Some devotees would be quite inconsiderate as they would shove their way through the crowd to get to the urn, sometimes burning other devotees with their joss sticks. It was not the best experience to have.
As a child, I looked forward to the end of the visit to the temple because I could get free sweets. Devotees would present their gifts (common examples are sweets and flowers) to the gods or make a small cash donation of any amount. They believe that it is a way of receiving blessings from the gods and find solutions to their problems through the process of Bwa Bwei (Red Divination Blocks – red, crescent-shaped blocks). Some also visit the temple to seek answers to their future through divining sticks (more info at NLB Singapore Infopedia). The temple collates the sweets and put them in a red “plate” to be given to all devotees for consumption as a form of blessing from the gods. I would always take a handful of my favourites and ate them as I walked out of the temple.
My mother would then take me to the Hindu temple (Sri Krishna Temple) next door and sometimes we would take part in the prayer processions. I never knew which gods was which and what the rituals meant until these Art History lessons. Now that I have grown up, I no longer visit the temples with my mother and no longer look forward to the free sweets at the end. I still drop by the temples occasionally or whenever I pass by the area (during the non-peak periods) as I find it quite calming to pay my respects to the gods.
I am glad my mother exposed me to several different religious practices (she used to bring me to different churches as well) from a young age and gave me freedom to find a place I was comfortable in. It gave me a different perspective each time.