IT'S LYNNY KANSAS
DON'T LET THE RUBY SLIPPERS,
OR THE DOROTHY INSPIRED NICKNAME
FOOL YOU., THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME,
BUT TRAVELING IS FUN.
Way back in June this year (I know, sorry, life has been hectic!), I was sitting having coffee with a group of friends. We got to talking (we women are pretty good at that!) about some of the interesting things we should do during our time in Singapore. A lot of the ladies in my circle are ex-pats, most of whom will be on a short "stint" in Singapore as their husbands jobs dictate. Some will have been in Singapore longer than others, so for the newbies it is always a great way to find out about unique things to see and do.
On this particular day someone mentioned The Joss Stick man, Mr. Tay, who has been making traditional style joss sticks (which are burnt in temples as offering to the Chinese Gods, during religious festivals), since he was a boy. Both he and his brother following in the trade of his Father and his Father before him.
The art of making Joss sticks, and it is an art has dwindled over the years such that Mr Tay and his brother are now the only joss stick makers left in Singapore using natural material and traditional methods. Needless to say I was interested to find out more about this craft which we were told will soon be lost. A friend had ordered some figurines from Mr. Tay which he makes to supplement his Joss stick business, so when she got the call that they were ready for collection, a group of us decided to head to his shop to see for ourselves.
The brightly colored joss sticks which are made using the ground up bark of the Wild Cinnamon Tree, stand some 10ft tall. Years ago they would have been as much as 20ft tall but these have now been banned in temples in Singapore as they were deemed a fire hazard. The ground Cinnamon bark or sawdust which resembles a fine powder, is mixed with water. This magically transforms the sawdust into a pliable play doh or plasticine like product which can be rolled and shaped into a variety of forms. The "dough" then dries and hardens and can be painted or covered in clear polyurethene for protection. Click here for a link that will give you more detail on the process.
Here you see the joss sticks before they have had their intricate carvings and bright colors added. These joss sticks take many hours to make as thin layers of rolled out "dough" are added and left to dry. Each layer has to be fully dry before adding another layer. Finally intricate carvings will be added. The sawdust used to make the Joss sticks is more coarsely ground than that used to make the figurines. This gives a better and slower "burn". Just as they take many hours to make, hopefully they will also take many hours to burn!
With the decline in the demand for the huge Dragon Joss sticks as they are called, diversification was called for. Mr. Tay's father came up with the idea of making figurines as a way to supplement business which had declined. The brothers make beautiful figurines based on characters found in Chinese mythology, as well as beautiful "Asian" styled nativity scenes which are very popular around Christmas and Chinese New Year.
Mr Tay loves what he does and he was very generous with his time, explaining to us how he creates his Figurines and joss sticks. His children have no desire to carry on the trade so it is; as he puts it, "a dying art" They will, he says, spend many hours sitting in front of a computer but have no patience or desire to sit for hours doing the intricate carving and learning the craft! He was also quite frank in saying that there is just not money to be made in this kind of business any more. Very sad.
It was very interesting listening to Mr. Tay describe his trade to us and he also took the time to show us a little of how he creates his Figurines and carvings.
Here is another example of Mr. Tay's intricate work. He works from a drawing for a design that was specially commissioned to be used by the Singapore Olympic team when they travelled to London for the games of 2012. He was particularly proud to be working on this piece and also the very intricate dragon shown below which was also destined for the Singapore Olympic team.
So the next time I am in Starbucks with a group of Singapore newbies, I will know exactly where to direct them in their quest for the "unique thing to do"!
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