Large, carefully trained penjing (Chinese meaning "tray scenery", a close relative to the Japanese bonsai) in huge planters carved out of single pieces of granite are displayed all over the monastery. They require enormous amounts of maintenance - a sign of reverence.
Elaborate gates lead to the different temples and inner gardens (my favorites) of the monastery.
The history of Lian Shan Shuang Lin Monastery - locals seem to call it only the Shuang Lin temple - reflects Singapore itself. It was founded by a Low Kim Pong, a devoted Buddhist, who in the 1850s left his family and poor circumstances in mainland China for Singapore and became a highly successful entrepreneur here.
The story goes that Low Kim Pong literally dreamt this monastery into being; according to the notes, one night in 1898 he "dreamt of a sacred man, radiating golden light, approaching from the West to the water front. Believing this to be an omen and with a continuing enthusiasm, they went to the waterfront and waited patiently."
Water - an integral element in Chinese gardens - is present in pots, fountains and even a large half-moon pond. I love the huge dragon jars and the little waterlilies with their leaves streaked with dark burgundy.
More water and waterlilies, this time in a huge boulder carved into a birdbath. And another huge, expressive boulder typical to Chinese gardens; unfortunately the sign was in Chinese that I do not understand (yet?).
Luckily for Low Kim Pong, a boat finally arrived at dusk carrying Venerable Xian Hui and his family of 12 Buddhist monks and nuns. After six years of pilgrimage to India, Ceylon and Burma, they were stopping over in Singapore on their way home to China. Xian Hui agreed on Low Kim Pong's vision about founding a Buddhist monastery in Singapore, and he became the first abbot in the new institution built on 50 acres of land donated by Low Kim Pong in what today forms the busy suburb of Toa Payoh.
Petrified and carved stone together with expressive tree trunks form the focal points of the contemplative inner garden rooms.
Both originating from the Fujian province in China, Low Kim Pong and Xian Hui called in craftsmen from their hometowns there as well from the nearby Guangdong province to construct and build the monastery. The result is a blend of architectural styles typical for these regions that reflects the Chinese immigrant society of Singapore at that time. In the late 1900s, it fell into severe disrepair and was even partially closed from time to time. It was only in 1991 that an extensive restoration project (sometimes a bit too enthusiastic - I would have loved to see more patina left in place...) was started, and it is still continuing on many areas of the grounds.