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  • It stood there, an imposing elegant edifice, cool pink, its curved Chinese roofs like depicted orange waves against the bright sky. Did my great-great-grandfather Lee from the sacred province of Shantung in northern China worship in temples much like this? Who would know? Who could I ask? Could I ask? Was the temple a crematorium?

    Out from the wide gate of the Ta Pi Kung temple a Chinese man appeared. He was walking towards where I stood and I thought, I could ask him.

    He said It was Taoist. People go there to pray. No, it was not a crematorium. There are no ashes anywhere in the temple. But "gods we bring from China."
    "Your gods..." I began.
    "Our great people who live long ago."

    The gods must be their saints, I believed.

    I named my great-grandfather Lee Toh Siong. He named a Shantung, Mr Y C Lee, who could tell me about the Shantung society which records people of Shantung. Mr Y C Lee's shop was behind there, he pointed. He said he could be contacted at his company. He wrote down his company's email address. Only then did I notice the logo mechanically embroidered on his white shirt. CKS. Chua Kah Seng Supermarkets! Your truly local store! I voiced my concern over using his company email. He dismissed it, You can use it. Below the two email addresses - he had also written down his personal account - he put down Mr Lee's shoplot. I told him I go to Chua Kah Seng all the time. Then he was gone and I was making my way to the temple...

    There seemed to be a bit of construction going on. From under the temple a lean man stepped out from the two or three persons there. Was he one of the workers?

    Then he was in front of me and he was an older Chinese man. We began to communicate in the national language. I explained about my grandfathers.

    Was he a sinfoo? I asked.
    "A priest !" he barked in laughter. "Not just anyone can sit in that seat !"
    He bent forward from the waist and made as if to lower himself slowly onto a seat.

    I started to laugh and then stopped, startled by his next words.

    He looked at the ground, concentrating, so I would understand. He gestured towards his chest. You have to be given [the] Power !! [The] Holy Spirit !!

    How did he know the Christian concept of the Power of the Holy Spirit !? in English !? I marvelled at the motivating linguistic force that led him to know these words. Power! Holy Spirit!

    The temple keeper - for that was what he said he was and there were two of them - said I was most welcome to enter the temple. He said something I did not get at first. Oh yes, he was saying I was free to look around, even take photographs.

    We heard someone near the cars and it was the kind CKS man. The temple keeper went to him and from their gestures I could see that the man from CKS was explaining what I was looking for and the temple keeper turned to me and they both urged me upstairs.

    I walked slowly up the stairs. I discerned no indications of forebodings or misgivings. But still, a strong sense of the alien and unfamiliar. The railings consisted of artistically rendered nature, masterpieces, placed at regular intervals up the steps. So glossy, the surfaces of the two by three feet rectangular dark granite (?) etchings of wildlife - Wasn't that a swan with a wing outstretched standing in the river? I looked up and higher up the stairs, on the wall, was an eagle. I began to feel more at home. They are so beautifully done. How were they able to etch so smoothly the curves of the creatures and plants in stone, even polished stone?

    And then I was at the top of the stairs. On the right, on the square covered balcony was a big brass vat with what looked like wood ashes filled to the top from which stood a joss-stick. (Now that I think of it, was that lit by the man from CKS who said he had just been to pray?) In front of it, so that it's the first thing you see when you have climbed the stairs, is a squarish rectangular table. Or was it a square? It is covered with a white tablecloth on which sit about eight round plates of offerings of fruit and dainties. On the left hand side of the table one of the plates hold green apples. I know there are oranges. On their red ancestor-shrines in their homes and shops, Ta Pi Kung always place a plate of Mandarin oranges or orange tangerines.

    I turn to the left. There is a big double door way. It opens into opulence. The marble floor shines. There is someone here. Just as the temple keeper assured me: there are people upstairs. The balcony narrows into a verandah corridor along both sides of the prayer hall entrance and on the right side, a young man leans back, relaxed, on a wooden chair. Then another man comes round the curve of the balcony, passing the young man. He must be the other temple keeper. I tell about my wish to know who my Chinese ancestor was all over again.

    By this time the incense is overpowering. A big gleaming statue resplendent in ancient China costume is directly in front, at the far wall. It has been given every honour possible, I can feel it. How can I enter Confucius' palace? For perhaps that is him. So I don't.

    I take my leave of the second temple keeper, and leave.

    Through the temple arch, at the start of the side road leading in to the temple gate, erected between the Chinese bank from whence I came and the library to which I am headed. Into the library itself.
    I read the words in caps placed high, above the glassy inner doors: WELCOME TO YOUR LIBRARY
    I tell you, I couldn't have felt any more relieved if they had said: WELCOME HOME

    I think I was better at 15, my younger truer self. I hope you will forgive me, Great-Great-Grandfather Lee.

    My favorite corner - Lincoln's Corner - is cosily covered by a display wall. At one end is a ladies' fan, the cloth made of the Stars and Stripes. And then, the wish:
    HAPPY 4th of JULY.

    I look at the books on America on the display table underneath. Walk round to see the other side of the display wall. I read the names of the US Presidents, all 44 of them. Stand before the pledge of allegiance. Read President Abraham Lincoln's quote under his Lincoln Memorial image. I sit on the long bright pink-mauve-maroon couch under all these, the familiar contemporary world.

    Painting by Kao K'o Kung (1248 - 1310)
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