Market Friday: the oldest Chinese shrine in Chinatown.
The winter sky in Bangkok has been very gray and dull as we have lots of rain clouds coming in from the south. So, heavy rains had caused flooding in many towns in the southern part, Bangkok was also under heavy rain. I wish we could have more rain in the northeastern part of the country. Soon, the temperature would drop and cold wind would arrive in the north. The cooling weather made it quite pleasant to walk around Chinatown where I went for my new calendar and crystals.
The long lockdown meant that all Chinese shrines were closed to the public. I felt the urge to visit an old shrine which was under renovation three years ago. The Leng Buai Shrine was supposed to be the oldest shrine for the Chinese Tae Jeew community in Siam. There were records about this shrine during the middle of Ayutthaya period. This shrine is now about 234 years old. There was a recording of this old shrine during the middle of the middle of Ayutthaya period. It's the oldest shrine for the Tae-Jeew Chinese immigrants in Siam. There were five major groups of Chinese immigrants basing on their local dialects. Tae-Jeew seemed to be the largest group of Chinese people whose ancestors had migrated to Siam over three hundred years ago.
I could recall how old, pale and neglected the old shrine seemed to me several years ago. The whole place had very attractive atmosphere as if time had stopped and everything was frozen for years. The surrounding of the shrubs was very much like a jungle with tall trees and creepers. The shrine was rather quiet and still as only local people hardly dropped by and tourists didn’t know about this hidden shrine. Most strangers just walked past the entrance as there were vendors selling food and snacks outside the gate. This shrine was hidden in a small alley in the wet market in Chinatown.
About three years ago, I visited this shrine after dropping by at my friends’ crystal shop. I saw workmen with heavy tools drilling the floor of the shrine. The old antique floor with old mosaic was going to be replaced by something new and modern. The caretaker told me that the Chinese Society had been given some budget to renovate and repair the old shrine. I was quite shocked and sad by the news; most people simply thought old things ought to be brightened up or replaced by something new. They didn’t understand the value of old historical records or evidence of the past; the idea of original authenticity would seem ludicrous to them.
That’s why so many old buildings were replaced by modern concrete buildings, hundreds of old trees were cut down in temples. Three hundred years ago, you could still spot bears in the suburbs of Bangkok. Snakes and beautiful insects were everywhere and migrated birds were abundant around lotus ponds. I left the shrine with a lot of trepidations; I just hoped that so many antique pieces in the shrine wouldn’t be swapped with reproductions. The black market for antiques would make lots of money. So, I took as many photos of the shrine as I could.
After almost two years of absence, I visited this favourite Chinese shrine again. The shrine looked very new in new coat of paint and with decorations in bright colours. The entrance just looked like that of a new temple. There was no sign of natural decay or aging through weathered marks. The most amazing change was the natural result of Nature taking control of the surrounding buildings. A few years ago, I could still see people living and cooking on the third and fourth floors of the old buildings though tree branches were slowly spreading around the wall.
Nowadays, people could no longer lived in the old houses as the giant trees and creepers have totally invaded all the space inside. It’s amazing how the old trees quietly and slowly taking over all the remaining old buildings. In ten years’ time, after the toxic regional war and mass dying of people, the old shrine might change beyond my conjecture.
I was glad to see all the important pieces of antique decorations and statues staying in their places inside the shrine. The caretaker did a good job of keeping a close watch during the renovation process. At my old work place, several solid teak doors and windows just disappeared together with a huge brass logo of the establishment. Several teak cabinets and tables also disappeared. All the antique paper models, over three hundred years’ old, we’re still sitting at the shrine. These ‘dolls’ were the last set of hand-made paper models according to Chinese legend in the country.
All the statues were brought from China by Chinese merchants and immigrants to be worshipped in their community shrine in Chinatown. There were two sets of Chinese characters for blessing; one set was made during the Ching dynasty, the other was from the period of Ming dynasty. The bright red colour of the shrine really kept me alert throughout my visit.
The art work on the wall looked too new to me; they had lost their mysterious ancient vibes. The dragon seemed less fierce and more playful to me. The awesome vibes of the hundreds years’ history had all disappeared. Perhaps they should have a ceremony to apologize to the old gods and goddesses of the shrine and to invite them back to the shrine. All those workmen and loud noises might have persuaded these divine entities to move to a more peaceful abodes. The vibes weren’t the same; it felt empty as if the spirits moved away.
The old brass statues looked very lively and intricate; the old craftsmanship was just stunning to me. The old brass containers for putting incense and candles were very old and heavy. The wooden beams with wooden carvings always made me wonder at these artists’ dedication to their beliefs. There were almost ten small shrines to represent all the important gods, goddesses and respectful spiritual entities. These could be similar to ‘saints’ in western culture. It would be nice if some kind of recorded guide tour gadgets were available at the shrine. Lots of information and interesting stories were lost through silence and forgetfulness through time. I hope this old shrine would change very slowly and remain there for several hundred years more.
Wishing you peace, good health and prosperity.
Stay strong and cheerful.