I made a trip to Jurong West St 42 last Sunday to check out the much-hyped Monkey God Tree.
It was an educational and amusing excursion.
Of course, I tried to look normal and not make any funny faces because the throngs of devotees crowding the street were quite serious in their worship of deity trees.
So I approached the scene with an open mind.
We weren’t sure exactly where the site was, so we followed the traffic. A most convenient traffic pile-up led us to our destination.
There was a lot of impatient honking. I’ll bet if I were a resident there and had to put up with this traffic while going home every day, I would be wearing out my car horn, too.
As we inched nearer, I saw it!
Not the tree. The people.
Stepping out of the car to join this throng was quite a scary thing.
Oh, yes. For the sake of my foreign readers, allow me to briefly explain.
There’s this tree in Singapore, got hit by a car, shed a piece of bark and revealed a monkey shape on its trunk. People claimed that the Monkey God of Chinese mythology had come to Singapore, so they started praying to the tree. [Click here to read the whole story]
So, this fabled tree was what I was out searching for.
It wasn’t very hard to find, as you can tell from the above pictures.
The first thing that raised a smile on my face was the colour of opportunism.
It came in red and orange and blue and green.
What a beloved sight of Singapore.
Anywhere with a crowd, you can be sure to see these ice cream uncles helping Singaporeans quench their thirst.
But what’s remarkable was that there were about six ice cream vendors on that one street alone.
I didn’t buy an ice cream because I was too busy trying to figure the trees out.
I had only expected to see two “deity trees”. But when I arrived, I found that at least six trees were being worshipped. Apparently, after the Monkey God’s appearance, other gods starting popping up at neighbouring trees.
This is what a worshipped tree looks like.
This tree is supposed to be Lord Ganesha, the Hindu elephant god. I don’t quite see the resemblance, though.
Next, I saw this tree surrounded by a bunch of folks staring up at its crown.
Half the crowd there was trying to describe where and what they were seeing, while the other half were perplexedly trying to see it.
I was one of the perplexed for a whole 10 minutes. I listened while many an excited auntie and uncle tried but failed to describe the exact spot of interest.
One of the funniest conversations I heard came from two very young, plumpish ladies.
For reference, this was what everyone was looking up at:
[Translated from Mandarin] Girl 1: Where is it?
Girl 2: (Pointing) There!
Girl 1: Where is there?
Girl 2: (Pointing) There!
Girl 1: I know! But where is there?
Girl 2: (Pointing) There!!
Girl 1: You keep saying there but it’s such a big tree!
Girl 2: (Pointing) There lah!!
Girl 1: I’m trying to see where you’re pointing but I can’t see it!
Girl 2: (Pointing) There there there!!
Girl 1: Where???
Girl 2: The branch there lah!!
Girl 1: The tree got so many branches!!! Which one??
Girl 2: That small branch lah!!
Girl 1: Got so many small branches!!! Which one??
Girl 2: Aiyoh!! The shape there lah!
Girl 1: What shape?? The whole tree everywhere got shape!!
Girl 2: The white white part, there!
Girl 1: So many white parts!! Which one?
Girl 2: (Pointing) There! That one!
Girl 1: I can’t see lah!!!
I didn’t know whether to laugh or to strangle Girl 2.
They finally walked off as Girl 2 tried frustratedly to find another angle from which to exercise her amazing pointing finger.
I continued standing there, looking up, waiting for another stranger to describe it better so I could see what the heck was going on.
I heard about five different descriptions before I heard one which made sense and told me exactly where to look. Then, I saw it.
I don’t know what’s so hard about describing a spot. It took me all of 10 seconds to successfully describe it to the Goonfather (who had earlier wandered off in boredom while I stood by the same tree for 10 minutes, determined to find out what everyone was looking at).
This was it:
It’s a shape of some say Buddha, some say Kwan Yin (Goddess of Mercy), on the bark.
And I had wasted a good eight minutes staring at leaves and branches because people weren’t describing it properly.
I’ve outlined the shape so you can see it clearer:
And there’s a better picture in The New Paper report.
Hmm, ok. I must admit the shape does look a bit like Buddha and Kwan Yin statues. But I wonder who was the first bloke who decided to go staring up random tree trunks to find deity-shaped anomalies.
I’m not quite convinced that this means some deity has decided to favour this tree or take up residence in it or whatever it is people are thinking.
It’s just a random shape, isn’t it? Like how you see random shapes in clouds and random shapes in… just about anywhere.
I’m sure if I had the time and inclination, I could find other deity shapes in any random tree in Singapore.
The other trees on Jurong West St 42 which have been set up as shrines are even less convincing. They just take any bump on the tree and claim that it’s this god or that god. Totally weird.
But I have to say the Monkey God Tree is something else.
This really does look like a monkey.
I don’t think it looks like the Monkey God, though. It looks more like a random monkey at the zoo.
And there’s so much litter around the shrine.
If the Monkey God were really staying here, I’m embarrassed on behalf of my fellow countrymen.
Lord Ganesha has a neater shrine.
But I guess the Monkey God appeared earlier, so his tree has had more time to accumulate more mess.
This guy was standing by the monkey tree giving out joss sticks to anyone interested in praying to the tree. Awfully nice of him.
Well, I don’t know what to make of this craze.
The Straits Times has a good article on this, with quotes from different camps of people — believers, scientists, tree experts and assorted professors. Read it here.
But I think the best reading material comes from a blog. This guy has made this “Journey to Jurong West” comic spoof and I think it’s quite charming.
I’m kind of on the fence about this because I’m agnostic. Maybe something supernatural is really at work. Maybe it’s just the overactive imagination of a bunch of heartlanders. I don’t know.
It doesn’t really matter, does it? Either way, it’s quite entertaining and it’s always good to see something different once in a while.
What do you think?