Category Archives: Singapore

Billionaire Oei Hong Leong’s Buddhist Treasures

AUG 3, 2016 @ 05:28 PM

Naazneen Karmali , FORBES STAFF

This story appears in the August 2016 issue of Forbes Asia.

Nei Xue Tang Museum of Buddhist and Chinese Historical Art

Four decades ago, when he moved to Singapore, Oei Hong Leong started buying Buddhist artifacts as decorative pieces for his home. Then still in his 20s, he had the wherewithal–his father, Eka Tjipta Widjaja, is one of Indonesia’s billionaires. Today Oei owns one of the biggest private collections of such objects, including rare and valuable antiquities dating to the Chinese Tang, Song and Ming dynasties. Having grown up in China “with no religion” and with a wife and four daughters who are Catholic, he sees his affinity for Buddhist art as “fate.”

The bulk of Oei’s 50,000-piece collection is displayed at Nei Xue Tang, a private museum housed in a four-story heritage building on Singapore’s Cantonment Road. Oei visits the museum twice a month to “pay my respects and pray for my family’s peace and health.” He offers flowers to the 17th-century seven-headed Dragon Buddha statue from Thailand near the museum’s entrance.

Visitors to Nei Xue Tang–the name means “hall of inner learning” in Chinese–are admitted only by invitation and have to leave their footwear outside. The antiques come from across Asia, including India–where Buddhism originated–and countries where it spread and is widely practiced today, such as Thailand, China, Cambodia, Japan and Mongolia.

Overseen by a Chinese-speaking curator, the displays occupy every available space inside. In a structure with preserved Peranakan architecture, there is no scope for expansion. Consequently, part of Oei’s collection is locked in a warehouse. The most precious pieces, over which he keeps a close watch, are kept at his sprawling mansion on Dalvey Road.

Among them is a set that Oei refers to as the “18 monks”–4-foot-tall wooden statues, originally from China, that he bought from a Singapore temple 20 years ago. Placed in the ballroom where Oei hosts formal receptions, they create a dramatic setting. He estimates that the set is worth three times the $7 million he paid to acquire it.

Not that Oei is looking to sell. He recalls that his collection got a boost during the exodus from Hong Kong just prior to the 1997 handover to the Chinese, when antiques flooded the market. Oei also picked up statues that were sold by Chinese temples in danger of being submerged by rising water levels caused by the Three Gorges Dam.

In 2007 Oei got a big break when he struck a deal to acquire the museum from retired lawyer and antique collector Woon Wee Teng for an undisclosed sum. Woon, a friend, created the space in 2005 for a collection already numbering 40,000 pieces.


Buddhists Take the ‘Gospel’ Music Path to Attract Youth

Photo credit: Buddhist Fellowship of Singapore.

Photo credit: Buddhist Fellowship of Singapore.

By Kalinga Seneviratne*

SINGAPORE (IDN | Lotus News Features) – Buddhist ideas and wisdom are being increasingly adopted by the West as part of a 21st century modern lifestyle, but in the East, youth are increasingly distancing themselves from their Buddhist heritage becoming “free thinkers” or even embracing Christianity from the West. A group of young Buddhist musicians from Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have now come together to reverse this trend by using music to attract youth.

They staged a Buddhist musical show at the prestigious Esplanade arts centre here called “Sadhu for the Music” to mark the Vesak festival. The two shows on May 4 and 5 were a sell-out filling up all four levels of the large concert hall’s galleries.

The traditional method of getting the youth to come to the temple and listen to the Dhamma (Buddha’s teachings) is not working anymore argues Wilson Ang, President of the Buddhist Fellowship of Singapore (BFS), which organized the concert in collaboration with the Buddhist Gem Fellowship of Malaysia (BGFM) and Buddhist Fellowship Indonesia. The show was directed by the internationally acclaimed Malaysian Buddhist singer and musician Imee Ooi, who has recorded over 1,000 songs and 50 albums.

Ang told Lotus News, that at a recent conference here an academic has provided statistics, which showed declining interest in Buddhism in Singapore among the youth. “That caught my attention and I wanted to see how we can capture the interest of this younger generation as well as nominal Buddhists,” he explained. “Every youth today carry a mobile phone and they listen to music on it. Or watch movies. Probably we can use music as a starter to reach via the media they are closely associated with.”

Prof Victor Wee , President of BGFM agrees. “Before we can start telling people about Dhamma, our first challenge is to persuade them to come and listen,” he argues. “And good music certainly has the power of attraction.”

Buddhists in Asia are well aware of the power of Gospel Music that has helped to attract youth in the region to Christianity in large numbers. The production ‘Sadhu of the Music’ had a great influence of this genre of music in its presentation style but the lyrics were well crafted with Buddhist ideas and even chants from the sutras (Buddha’s sermons). Continue reading

Archaeology dig unearths treasure trove of local history

22082123Today (Singapore)

PUBLISHED: 4:17 AM, APRIL 17, 2015

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s biggest archaeology dig has unearthed an estimated two tonnes of artefacts, the country’s largest haul ever, the National Heritage Board (NHB) said yesterday. The two-month project at Empress Place, in front of the Victoria Concert Hall, wrapped up last Sunday.

It’s an “excavation jackpot”, said Mr Alvin Tan, assistant chief executive officer for Policy and Development at the NHB, with some pieces dating back to the 13th century.

Mr Tan said some of the more significant artefacts uncovered will be put on display in museums once cataloguing and research work has been completed.

Lead archaeologist Lim Chen Sian added that the artefacts provide more insights into Singapore’s early beginnings, and may reveal further details about life in Singapore before the early colonial days.

“We are seeing lots of brand new things, which is helping us to rethink the chronology of ancient Singapore or Temasek,” said Mr Lim. Some of the artefacts, for example, date to around the mid-17th century and could plug some gaps in the understanding of our history before the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819, he added. Continue reading

Local composer Imee Ooi is stepping into the spotlight

Ray of light: Ooi hopes her concert, Sound Of Wisdom, could be used as a platform for young people to use their talents positively.

Ray of light: Ooi hopes her concert, Sound Of Wisdom, could be used as a platform for young people to use their talents positively.


After mostly performing in a record studio, the Taiping-born composer is doing a concert for her fans.

After nearly two decades of working behind-the-scenes, noted local composer and singer Imee Ooi is all ready to step into the spotlight.

She is set to take on a stageside role in the show series called Sound of Wisdom at Istana Budaya in Kuala Lumpur (July 30 to Aug 3).

Ooi is also featured prominently on the concert poster. While her face may not all be that familiar, many will no doubt recognise her music.

Ray of light: Ooi hopes her concert, Sound Of Wisdom, could be used as a platform for young people to use their talents positively.
Her calming voice and New Age compositions have been featured in over 40 Buddhist-inspired music albums. The best-selling album The Chant Of Metta (1999) is arguably her most famous work, released in Mandarin and English.

Apart from her records, Ooi, who was born in Taiping, Perak, is also responsible for composing many acclaimed local musicals, such as Siddhartha (1999), Above Full Moon (2004), The Perfect Circle (2005), Princess Wen Cheng (2008) and KITA (2010).

Sound Of Wisdom is Imee’s debut performance where she makes her first ever stage appearance in 18 years of music-making.

“You could say it’s by so-called ‘demand’. I have been invited to sing or do concerts locally and overseas over the past years, but I turned down those opportunities.” says Ooi with a laugh in a recent interview about why she has decided to take on a performing role. Continue reading

Buddhist Archaeology in Myanmar: International and Local Landscapes

Speaker: Prof Elizabeth Moore

Date: Monday, 13 April 2015
Time: 3 – 4.30 pm
Venue: ISEAS Seminar Room 2

About the Speaker

Prof Elizabeth Moore is Visiting Senior Fellow at NSC and Professor of Southeast Asian Art and Archaeology at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. She specialises in the connections between the past and present in the archaeology, cultural heritage and landscape of Mainland Southeast Asia during the first and early second millennia CE. She is the author of The Pyu Landscape: Collected Articles (Nay Pyi Taw: Department of Archaeology, National Museum and Library, 2012) and Early Landscapes of Myanmar (Bangkok: River Books, 2007). She has authored a number of journal articles and book chapters on Myanmar archaeology, as well being a member of the drafting team for the UNESCO World Heritage List 2014 inscription of the early first millennium CE Pyu Ancient Cities and the in progress nomination of 9–13th century CE Bagan. She is currently working on publications on the living heritage of ancient Bagan and Kyaukse as well as a co-authored comparison of water management at Bagan and Dawei, Lower Myanmar.

At NSC, she has been working on the role of archaeology in ASEAN in defining sustainable cultural values. The Pyu Ancient Cities 2014 inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List gave the nation its first UNESCO site. Singapore’s first nomination to the World Heritage List, the Singapore Botanic Gardens, will be decided in June 2015, coinciding with SG50, the year-long celebration of the nation’s heritage. The project begins by comparing the relationship between international, national and local archaeology; and tangible and intangible cultural heritage in Myanmar and Singapore and drawing upon case studies in Cambodia and Thailand.

About the Talk

With the 2014 UNESCO World Heritage inscription of the early Buddhist ‘Pyu Ancient Cities’, discussions are underway at the ‘Bagan Archaeological Area and Monuments’ included on the country’s Tentative List revised in 2014. Bagan’s arid environment, with less than 600 mm of rainfall per annum, has helped to preserve mural paintings in several hundreds of the thousands of brick structures of the ancient city. The temples and stupas are laid out across a broad floodplain between ranges on the opposite bank of the river and to the southeast. The traditional rural setting of the temples scattered between village fields has been sustained with cultivation of sugar palms, onions and beans relying on a delicate system of water management. There is the life of the Ayeyarwaddy River as well, with sand-cultivation and boats plying up and down at small jetties. Greening projects plus the infrastructure and water needs of expanding tourism have put increasing pressure on this extraordinary ecology and way of life. The living culture of Bagan includes at least 400 active monasteries. Bagan has a deep and long-lived significance as a pilgrimage destination, where the charitable donation underlying customary repair of pagodas often runs counter to international preservation norms. There is, in addition, the relationship of villages and monasteries to temple festivals and the most popular pilgrimage circuits. Both the rich archaeology and this living heritage of Bagan are part of current research as well heritage activities at international and local levels of Myanmar’s ancient landscapes.


Major archaeological dig underway at Empress Place

A volunteer at work at a major archaeological dig at Empress Place, which occupies an area the size of 10 four-room flats. -- ST PHOTO: MELODY ZACCHEUS

A volunteer at work at a major archaeological dig at Empress Place, which occupies an area the size of 10 four-room flats. — ST PHOTO: MELODY ZACCHEUS

Straits Times (Singapore)
PUBLISHED ON FEB 13, 2015 11:48 AM


SINGAPORE – A major archaeological dig is underway at Empress Place, with 2m-deep pits dug across a 1,000 sq m area about the size of 10 four-room flats.

So far, ceramics such as a porcelain headless Buddha statue, a clay figurine of what looks like a bird, as well as beads from India have been found. Most of these date back to the 14th century.

They form part of a 400kg haul unearthed by a team from the Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies since work started on Feb 2.

The project organised by the National Heritage Board hopes to unearth artefacts from the Temasek period to Singapore’s early colonial days, to add to the understanding of the Republic’s early beginnings.

The excavation, which ends on April 9, is part of the board’s effort to commemorate 31 years of archaeology in Singapore.

Mr Lim Chen Sian, lead archaeologist for the project and research fellow at the centre, said he welcomes the opportunity to excavate as such efforts are usually rare in a small and highly urbanised country like Singapore.

“Empress Place was the location of a thriving port in the early days, and any new discovery will hopefully advance our understanding of Singapore’s earliest beginnings,” said Mr Lim.

The country started paying more attention to archaeology in the 1980s, with the first major dig taking place at Fort Canning Hill.

Significant finds from this latest dig in front of Victoria Theatre and Memorial Hall will either go on display in future exhibitions or be incorporated into the national collection.


A Multifaceted Singaporean Painter Breaks Barriers

Tan Swie Hian in his studio in Singapore with a portrait of Pan Cheng Lui, a newspaper editor. Credit Yap Su-Yin

Tan Swie Hian in his studio in Singapore with a portrait of Pan Cheng Lui, a newspaper editor. Credit Yap Su-Yin

The New York Times

SINGAPORE — Almost 400 years ago, as the Ming dynasty crumbled under the onslaught of the Manchu warriors, a Ming prince became a Buddhist monk to survive. Feigning madness, the exile poured his heartbreak into his ink paintings and came to be known as Bada Shanren, meaning “Mountain Man of the Great Eights.”

When meditating one day in 2013, the Singaporean artist Tan Swie Hian said, he had a vision of this monk. A Buddhist himself, Mr. Tan etched the 17th-century master into the 21st century in about 60 seconds, in a swoosh of Chinese ink on rice paper. “I was in a trance,” said the artist, who is 71 and self-taught.

In November, that painting, “Portrait of Bada Shanren,” fetched 20.7 million renminbi, or about $3.3 million, at a Poly International Auction sale in Beijing, cementing Mr. Tan’s status as the most expensive living artist in Southeast Asia. The artist broke his own record, which was set in 2012 when his oil and acrylic painting “When the Moon Is Orbed” came under the hammer in Beijing for 18.975 million renminbi. It was his first work auctioned in China.

‘‘Portrait of Bada Shanren,’’ by Tan Swie Hian. Credit Tan Swie Hian

‘‘Portrait of Bada Shanren,’’ by Tan Swie Hian. Credit Tan Swie Hian

Continue reading

Photo essay: A look inside Singapore’s most popular temple
Karen Flores


A trip to Singapore is not complete without a visit to the city-state’s Chinatown district, which is home to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum.

Many locals and tourists have been visiting the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum since it opened its doors to the public in 2007. Elements of the Tang Dynasty and the Buddhist Mandala inspired the design of the temple, which has five floors. Continue reading

Beautiful sand Art “Awakening” on Buddhism by Singaporean artist

Buddhist Broadcasting Network, November 29, 2013

A wonderful work by the Singaporean sand artist to articulate Buddhism is seen on this video. Lawrence Koh, the artist – international Sand Artist based in Singapore and a multi-disciplinary artist specializing in the performing arts (vocalist, actor, theatre artist, stage performer) & the visual arts.

As a sand artist, I have always wanted to pay tribute to the amazing historical Shakyamuni Buddha. After so long, I have finally made it happened on Vesak Day itself! Continue reading

Singapore Biennale: Tran Luong on Contemporary Vietnamese Art

Blouin Art Info
Quynh Tran
October 14, 2013

Vu Hong Ninh's "Little Soap Boy"

Courtesy of Tran Luong/Nha San Studio
Artist Vu Hong Ning with “Little Soap Boy”

Visitors at the soon-to-come Singapore Biennale 2013 may stumble across a strange little man in the toilets of the event venues: Vu Hong Ninh’s Little Soap Boy (2009) looks like a child mimicking the posture of the Buddha Shakyamuni who declared his own greatness by pointing his fingers to the sky and to the ground, making himself the center of the world – only, our little soap boy is pointing his middle fingers, blatantly defying any claim of authority and unveiling the bigotry of present-day Buddhism.

This grotesque little putto invites the visitors to wash their hands using his body, combining both an Asian gesture well known to visitors of Buddhist temples and the occidental ritual of Pontius Pilate’s washing his hands off guilt. Continue reading