Sunday, October 14, 2012

Fuk Teck Kong, Beliong - The Kiss Of The Dragon

Extracts from the Borneo Post..

From Fuk Teck Kong, Beliong - 2012
GOING to Beliong is a step back in time.

From Fuk Teck Kong, Beliong - 2012
Visitors are ferried across the Samarahan River by boatmen in sampans after a leisurely and refreshing drive through the Asajaya countryside. Alighting from the boats, they are greeted by farmers who peddle an array of fresh produce from their farms – sweet corn, pineapples, bananas and coconuts.

A cluster of Malay houses emerges from among coconut palms as you walk towards the Kampung. There is no road in Beliong. People walk or cycle. At mid-day, or anytime of the day, the place is quiet.

There is no sound of traffic except for the sputtering of the outboard engine from the sampan ferrying visitors to the village or that of the occasional motorbike. This is a place which seems out of this world, spared the trappings of modern development.

Meaning of Beliong

Beliong in Chinese is Wen Loong. Literally, it means kissing the dragon. But there are no dragons in Beliong, only a long sandy ridge created by the alluvial deposits of the Samarahan River running all the way from Kampung Beliong up to Kampung Tanju.

It is now covered with vegetation. Local fengshui gurus look at it as a grounded dragon, unable to take off. In the Hakka dialect, its name is Vut Leung, meaning captive dragon. The Malays, however, say Beliong is a special axe used in making a boat or sampan.

It is cleverly mounted on the forked end of a wooden pole and can be adjusted and used as a hoe as well as an axe. According to the Tua Kampung of Beliong, Sani Basah, Beliong, in its earlier times, was populated by many Bruneians who used the kapak beliong to make boats.

One day, one of them dropped his axe into a stream. In order to remember where he dropped the axe, he made a mark on the side of his boat. He then paddled to Kampung Tambirat on the opposite side where the water was shallow and started looking for his axe there.

All of a sudden, he realised his stupidity and remembered the original spot where he dropped his beliong. He pointed at the stream opposite Tambirat and exclaimed “there, beliong.”
The incident became a much talked about story and over the years, the stream simply became Sungai Beliong and the kampung, quite naturally, became Kampung Beliong.

Tua Kampung Sani whose family has lived there since the 1840s, said his grandfather was from Brunei. His name was Tengku Putih, and his father was Gafar Tengku Putih. It is likely many of the present Malay population in Beliong had come from Brunei.

Chinese Settlers

From Fuk Teck Kong, Beliong - Main Fuk Teck Temple
The Chinese began to arrive at the end of the 19th century.

Paying 50 cents for a licence from the white Rajah, they had unlimited access to clear and farm the land. Starting from Kampung Tanju and Sungai Pinang, they moved to Beliong and other surrounding areas, planting coconut as the main crop, with bananas, vegetables, and others as supplementary crops.

Over time, pepper, coffee, oranges were also cultivated. The batu oranges from Beliong became very famous. The population prospered and grew, even setting up their own school.

Beliong looked set to fly. But good times didn’t last. Beliong farmers switched from coconut to pepper and cocoa as demand and prices of these commodities fluctuated.

When their cocoa fruits were attacked by pests and there was no reprieve, many abandoned their farms and moved away.

Some switched to oil palm but by then, the Chinese population in the whole Beliong Delta Basin had been reduced to a few hundred. In Beliong village itself, there are fewer than 500 Malays and 200 Chinese and the student population of the Chinese school has dwindled to around 20.

From Fuk Teck Kong, Beliong - 2012
The Beliong Delta Basin is enclosed by the South China Sea in the east, the Sarawak River in the north, Sungai Batu Belah to its west and the Samarahan River to the south.

Beliong is cut off from the rest of the world, reachable only by river. Even if there is a profitable crop like oil palm, transporting it out of Beliong has to be by river first and then by road – a lengthy and inconvenient process.

Likewise, goods from the city are ferried by boat. At the wharf, one can see packages of goods waiting to be collected. Unless something special happens in Beliong, or when it is eventually linked to the rest of the country by road, the Kampung is trapped – like the dragon in its Hakka name.

Hundreds visited temple

But recently, Beliong had been visited by hundreds from all over the country. They came to pray for good health, good fortune, and peace at the Tokong Fuk Teck Gong, a temple sitting by the shore of the Samarahan River.

From Fuk Teck Kong, Beliong - Main Fuk Teck Temple
Normally, visitors either drive to Kota Samarahan, where they take the ferry, sometimes queuing for up to two hours to cross over to Asajaya and drive on to Beliong, or they have the choice of skipping all that hassle and taking the “country road” – a longer drive taking them through banana farms in Kampung Tambirat to the Beliong crossing.

There, all at once, they see the shimmering golden roofs and red walls of the Fuk Teck Gong temple on the opposite side of the Samarahan River with coconut palms forming a picturesque backdrop.

It is a beautiful and mystical spectacle, like a mirage of a palace in the middle of nowhere.

Devout Buddhists believe Beliong is a floating lotus, a sacred flower which grows out of mud but looks pretty and pristine, and upon which the Goddess of Mercy stands as she transcends Heaven and Earth.

From a distance, Fuk Teck Gong temple is floating on water, like a floating lotus.

From Fuk Teck Kong, Beliong - 2012

Guardian of the soil

Vong Muk Chon, chairman of the Fuk Teck Gong management committee, said the temple started as a little hut thirty three years ago where locals prayed for safety, good health and good harvests.

The new temple was completed three years ago. It stands on more than two acres of land, donated by the state government.

From Fuk Teck Kong, Beliong - 2012
Fuk Teck Gong houses the Tua Pek Kong, one of the most worshipped among the many deities of the Chinese-Taoist-Buddhist communities.

David Liew Kiew Shing, advisor on Deity Affairs of the temple, said Tua Pek Kong is the guardian of the soil, vital in determining all aspects of the land from weather, productivity and general safety.

From Fuk Teck Kong, Beliong - Main Fuk Teck Temple
The farming community’s dependence on the soil makes Tua Pek Kong the most important deity in their lives. Over the years, this temple has attracted both Taoists and Buddhists alike and today, the Buddha and the Goddess of Mercy are also being worshipped here.

It is now a magnificent temple with an imposing building that is four-storey high – a Tower of Longevity, elaborate murals, and beautiful gardens.

100-year-old tortoise

From Fuk Teck Kong, Beliong - Main Fuk Teck Temple
There is a much visited wishing well in the garden of the temple where a 100-year-old tortoise and seven young tortoises reside.

A devotee purportedly deciphered a 4-digit number on the back of the tortoise and struck a fortune. Since then, hundreds have come to pray for a similar stroke of good luck.

The faithful also believe if they walk round the Longevity Tower three times or 108 steps each day, they would regain their health and achieve long life. Some have testified to the truthfulness of such claims, leading to a belief the deities and the temple have some mythical powers. Visiting the temple, therefore, becomes something of a pilgrimage.

Like the Muara Tebas Temple or the Ching San Yan, Beliong’s Fuk Teck Gong exemplifies the concept of 1 Malaysia. The Malay-Muslim villagers are not perturbed by the presence of the Tua Pek Kong Temple or the activities of the faithful.

They even welcome them, providing support services like the sampan to ferry the worshippers and manning parking spaces for cars at the wharf.

From Fuk Teck Kong, Beliong - 2012

With the influx of visitors to the temple, Beliong and its people have been given a new lease of life.

Chairman Vong said before the new temple was built, there were only five boats ferrying people to Beliong. Now there are 20.

But what they really wish for is a bridge, and a new, shorter road linking them directly to Kuching and the rest of the country. When that happens, perhaps the dragon that is Beliong can finally soar.

The Borneo Post
by Phang Chung Shin. Posted on September 23, 2012, Sunday

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