A lonely temple near the junction of Kallang Road and Lavender Street now sits across a plot of overgrown land that was once a Huay Sia, a city of fire that inspired hellish fears among people in the neighbourhood and towered 25 storeys over a river from which coal was unloaded to seed its furnaces. The villages that lined the road are also gone, some lingering in the names of tiny lanes, others a mere footnote in the history of a basin deemed too rude to be left alone to its own filthy devices. The real threat came not from the gasworks but from infernos that swept through the swamps, turning shanty towns and attap sheds into war zones whose refugees found themselves disowned, displaced and dispatched to holes of a higher order.
All that remains of a century of heat and humanity is a shrine built by the men who shovelled coal and stoked the harsh throats of a plant that powered the streets of Singapore and later, the kitchens of coffee shops and homes. The temple still receives a sprinkling of devotees during its evening pujas, but its heydays have dispersed across the island as the gasworks wound down and its workers found new employment in the outskirts or retired to the margins of public gratitude. For all its solitude, the sanctuary still suffers the nods of a faithful few; one trishaw man, passing by in the window of a clear road, let his ride glide as he turned his body, bowed head and raised clasped hands in a second of homage. For the family who resides in these halls and receives tributes of coconuts and chrysanthemums, it was a brief communion with fellow relicts who refuse to keep up with the times and hold fast to the creep of unaugmented reality.