Hong San See, the temple of Nan An County clansmen in Singapore, is the recipient of the prestigious UNESCO Asia Pacific Award of Excellence in 2010. Today, Dr Yeo Kang Shua, the conservation-consultant for the temple's restoration project conducted a lecture cum tour for members of the Singapore Heritage Society.
We were told a few interesting aspects of the project to restore this beautiful temple. For instance, during the 1975 restoration, ugly concrete pillars were erected because the Cold War made it impossible to get craftsmen from China to come to restore the critical artistic beam that supported the front entrance of the temple. During the recent 2006-9 restoration process, the local consultants disagreed with consultants from Beijing's Imperial Palace Administration. The latter wanted certain roof tiles to be orange, in line with similar temples in China. The temple management initially supported this view because they have already bought orange tiles and any change would cause half year's delay in the project, with serious cost implications. Singapore consultants were of the view that green tiles should be used instead as green, being the colour common among Nanyang (Southeast Asian Chinese) communities, was probably the colour used originally. The temple administration decided that a thorough examination of their archives of past records was necessary for this to be sorted out.
After some effort, they found 7 volumes of accounting records from 1905 that proved that green tiles were ordered for the project. The discovery of such records was by itself a miracle as most clan associations in Singapore had burnt their records in early 1942 just before the Japanese captured Singapore, in order to prevent Japanese from discovering (from these records) who had participated actively in anti-Japanese activities in the years leading to the war. It was partly as a result of such diligence during the restoration project that UNESCO had given the award to this project.
The Hong San See is indeed a jewel and fine example of the Minnan (South Fujian) religious architecture with major Nanyang influences, and certainly a treasure for all Singaporeans and all humankind.