For over 40 years, a banyan tree which is said to be guarded by a spirit was a landmark at Toa Payoh Central. It even had a small shrine at its foot for devotees to offer prayers.
Last September, a violent storm caused the tree beside Block 177, Toa Payoh Central, to fall.
For worshippers drawn to the shrine's Goddess of Mercy and other deities, the collapse seemed to mark the end of an era. However, the Singapore Toa Payoh Central Merchants' Association felt there was a need to preserve whatever remained of the tree and its shrine, knowned as Ci Ern Ge.
They took over the management of the shrine's daily operations and spent over $100,000 to spruce it up.
The vice-president of the association, Mr Lim Kok Siong, said in Mandarin: "NParks (National Parks Board) wasn't keen to keep the tree initially, but we managed to convince them eventually."
Now, as a result of the storm, the tree is only about three storeys high, about half of what it used to be. It has also lost its leafy crown.
Ci Ern Ge, however, boasts new flooring, lights, fans, fences and handrails after it re-opened in mid-June.
There is even a ramp providing easier access to the shrine for the disabled.
Retail assistant ET Teoh started praying at the shrine about five years ago.
The 40-year-old told The New Paper in Mandarin: "The new shrine is better. It is much cleaner and there is better ventilation. You also won't feel that it's crowded, even when there are a lot of people."
Ms Teoh works at a retail shop in the area and she would pray at the shrine whenever she walks past it.
She added: "I hope that the shrine will always be there as it is convenient for me (to pray there)."
Legend has it that the "god tree" did not give way during the development of the area for the construction of Toa Payoh New Town in the mid-1960s.
Legend also has it that a bulldozer was overturned when its driver tried to ram the tree down.
This led to people to believe that the tree was guarded by the Na Tuk Kong spirit. So a shrine was built.
In addition to having this spirit, which is said to reside in trees and other natural formations, the shrine also has Tua Pek Kong and Goddess of Mercy.
The shrine's owner, who wanted to be known only as Madam Low, has been helping to spruce up the place whenever she is free. She performs tasks such as wiping the chairs and altars clean and clearing the joss sticks.
Madam Low told TNP in Mandarin: "Many people come here to pray for safety. I also see many young people coming here to confide in Guan Yin (Goddess of Mercy)."
Since it re-opened, more than 100 devotees have been visiting Ci Ern Ge daily and the Singapore Toa Payoh Central Merchants' Association has pledged to use the donations for charity.
The president of the association, Mr Yeo Hiang Meng, said: "I hope that it can become the centre of attraction for Toa Payoh and that the residents here can get to know its history."
This article was first published on August 16, 2014.
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