I visited Hong San See a while back with the intention of test shooting a roll of Neopan 400.
Getting there was easy, and I enjoyed a quiet afternoon exploring the temple grounds by myself – until a groundskeeper scared the living daylights out of me by appearing out of nowhere and gruffly informing me that he would be locking up soon.
With limited time left on the Temple of Phoenix Hill, I stepped outside and snapped a couple of photos of the temple’s exterior as a memento of my time there, before climbing down the long flight of stairs to lower ground.
It wasn’t until I had sent the entire roll for development and scanning, that I could see the products of my “photo walk”. Ah, such is the anticipation that is heightened only by the process of film photography. 😉
Of the 36 frames I had shot that day, it was this very photo that stood out to me: Hong San See in its ornate glory, with the high-rise buildings of the modern times looming over it. There, on a single frame, was a slice of Singapore’s past, juxtaposed against the techno-centric present which was on the verge of engulfing it, both physically and symbolically.
Between 1908 – 1913, Hong San See was constructed by a group of migrants from the Nan Ann county in Fujian, China, at the cost of $56, 000. Situated at the side of Institution Hill, it overlooks Mohamed Sultan road, and devotees are required to climb up flights of staircases to reach the temple.
Back then, it commanded a view of the sea, a view that was gradually lost to the multitude of restaurants, bars and high rise buildings that have since been erected in the vicinity.
If there’s anything that can bear testament to our country’s past, present and future, it’s our architecture. We aren’t blessed with sprawling national parks or monumental landmarks on this little red dot of ours, so any indication of our culture and our history lies in our buildings, and the people who inhabit them.
Sadly, our unquenchable thirst for progress and modernization has swallowed up many a place – buildings, districts even. For the most part, the rich, traditional architectural style of the twentieth century has given way to a landscape of simplified, almost impersonal structures. So when the old and new do come together, like in this photo, it makes for an eclectic composition of two ages existing alongside each other. 😉
Truth be told, I didn’t expect this photo to impact me as significantly as it did post-development, what more a test shot, but that’s just one of the “happy accidents” I’ve come by on my journey in photography. 😀