Overlooking a Tua Pek Kong temple that is decorated with flags and decorations
left arrowGo Back

Pulau Ubin Tua Pek Kong Festival

Jin Han


11 June 2023


I recalled that since the beginning of this project, I've been told that the most important day on Pulau Ubin is the Tua Pek Kong festival. It was an intriguing thought because firstly, I didn't know what is the Festival and secondly I would think Chinese New Year would be the most important day.

To my surprise, during the Chinese New Year visits to Pulau Ubin, there weren't much celebrations. We had helped the residents put up decorations, but there weren't more visitors during the holiday.

Mama shop with umbrellas and tables and chairs at the shop front

Yak Hong shop during Chinese New Year

As the date of the festival approached and the Team and I met up with Aunty Doreen, the caretaker of the Fo Shan Ting Tua Pek Kong Temple, we then learnt of the importance of this event. We were helping her out by packing biscuits, and she told us about the history of the festival. Tua Pek Kong birthday (千秋) is held on the second day of the second lunar month. So Fo Shan Ting Temple, as with most other temples celebrate it on that day. But the old temple committee wanted to hold a bigger celebration on another day, so they communicated with the deity through a ritual (筊杯), and ever since then they held the festival on the island every year, until the COVID-19 last year.

Fo Shan Ting Tua Pek Kong Temple with a red roof, plants and an altar at the centre

Fo Shan Ting Tua Pek Kong Temple

Aunty Doreen explained that the festival wasn't held for the last 3 years due to COVID-19 restrictions, and this year was the first time since the pandemic. Hence, this year's celebrations were exceptionally huge, and lasted 10 days. Whereas pre-COVID it usually lasted only 6 days. As we packed the biscuits, we also talked to Uncle Jason and other aunties who were helping with the preparations, and they shared about what rituals were going to happen on the day. When I left the island I was filled with excitement for the main celebrations that will happen in a weeks time.


Aunty Doreen talking to us about the festival

Festival Day

The day had come, and we arrived early at Changi Point Ferry Terminal. boats_at_changi_tpk_festival.JPG

Boats parked at the dock

I saw that the queue was really long in the morning, as so many Singaporeans from all walks of life waited to board the boats. It was a rare sight to see as the terminal is never usually this crowded, even on weekends. When I got off the boat, the island jetty and the island was beautifully adorned with many decorations, lanterns and flags. I'd never seen Ubin in this light, and it was truly a memorable sight.


Many decorations adorned the Jetty during the festival

The team and I were helping out at the festival, so we immediately changed into our uniforms and got to work. The morning crowd was chaotic as people streamed in and paid their respects at the temple altar. Some of us manned the donation counter, and some of us helped carry heavy goods. I was helping to replenish supplies as the counter distributed them. We also met many other volunteers who helped out at the festival.


Manning the counter

As we were helping, the many rituals and performances that Aunty Doreen had told us unfolded in front of the temple. The lion dance performers came, and the offerings were presented to the deity, and there were many bells and drums that rang through the air. The smell of incense and roast duck and cigarette smoke surrounded us. The heat during the day was almost unbearable as I reached for the third bottle of ice cold water. There were so many things happening all at once, the atmosphere was chaotic yet fulfilling.

distribute_duck_tpk.JPG visitors_tpk_festival.JPG ritual_tpk_festival.JPG

As we worked past noon, the crowd shrank and the atmosphere tamed. I was extremely exhausted from the heat and the work. The worst was over, and the team and I took a backseat for the rest of the day. As our hands were free, we explored the festival and had a lot of fun! There was an incredible artist by the name of Tungtong that painted the festival. And we got access to the backstage of the Teochew Opera, where we can see their costumes up close and how they do their makeup. I thought that the costume design was incredibly intricate, and it must be so hot to wear them and perform in this weather.


Tungtong artist painting outdoors


Teochew Opera performers backstage putting on their makeup

At night, we watched the Tua Li Ya Pek ritual and the Teochew Opera. I found the ritual to be a bit frightening and the opera to be really cool even though I didn't understand what they are saying. One of the aunties was kind enough to make muah chee which is a glutinous rice ball coated in peanut crumbs for us to eat.


Teochew Opera performance at night


Jin and Jin Han watching the Tua Li Ya Pek ritual

Finally we left after a full day at Pulau Ubin. I was exhausted and so was the team. But it was a day I won't forget, and I learnt a lot about the culture of Pulau Ubin, the festival and got to know an incredible community of volunteers and residents that came together and celebrate this event.