I recently travelled to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur on university business. When travelling to this part of the world, I never cease being amazed at the scale of material progress there. Malaysia got independence from the British in the same year as Ghana – 1957 – and yet the contrast in fortunes since then could not be starker. Kuala Lumpur is a sprawling metropolis, every bit as modern as a typical European or US city. It has some rough edges to it and there are parts of it that are poor, but the infrastructure, such as transport, is extensive and works really well. Singapore is a much richer city and highly advanced and organised. If anything, there is a controlled feel about Singapore that you do not feel about Kuala Lumpur. The streets of Singapore are clean, as is the subway system, and there are strict codes of behaviour that most seem to adhere to. Skateboarding in an underpass, for example, carries a fine of approximately £500 and I saw no evidence of youths hanging around on street corners. In some ways there is a sterility to the city which I have heard some people say puts them off wanting to live there. On the other hand, walking around the streets of both Singapore and Kuala Lumpur at night felt very safe.
Singapore in particular has some wonderful places to walk around. I came across a Buddhist temple in Chinatown and the interesting thing about this temple was that there was a ceremony going on in the temple which was completely open to the non-worshipping public. I, like many others, was able to walk around the temple while worshippers performed their ceremony. They seemed completely unfazed by the presence of onlookers:
The chanting was mesmerising and hypnotic. The power of the sound of the words being chanted was there to feel. Even if some people were not partaking in the ceremony, which lasted all day, some worshippers would simply pop by, light an incense stick and briefly and quietly express their faith.
The temple was large and housed other types of worshipping opportunities, such as prayer wheels.
And on several upper floors of the temple there was a substantial museum hosting a wealth of ornaments from Buddhism.
The ceremony apparently lasts all day. The sheer discipline and dedication involved in worshippers chanting all day is amazing and is one example of the tenacity and commitment faith can induce in people.