Young and faithful: 20-year-old ordained as Taoist priest

SINGAPORE - I get called 'boy boy' sometimes because of the way (I look). Someone once told others, 'Look at that Taoist boy!' - Mr Eugene Choy, 20

He is only 20, but commands a following and has the power to preside over important rituals like weddings, funerals and blessing ceremonies.

He is still waiting to serve national service.

Mr Eugene Choy, the only son of a welder, was among seven Singaporeans ordained as a Taoist priest yesterday.

His mere presence during the rites invoked double-takes among followers and strangers alike.

Smiling, Mr Choy said: "I get called 'boy boy' sometimes because of the way (I look). Someone once told others, 'Look at that Taoist boy!'"

He usually laughs off the comments.

They are not the only ones who are surprised. When his father, Mr Choy Kwok Weng, learnt of his religious interest, his first words were: "Really? I thought those of your generation are not keen on such things."

Mr Choy, 53, said in Mandarin: "We're Taoist and visit the temples on special occasions. But my (younger) daughter, nieces and nephews have never asked about religious matters.

"Our family is quite open (when it comes to faith), I leave it to my children to decide."

SEEKING FAITH ONLINE

The younger Mr Choy's interest in Taoism started at the end of 2012.

He was then studying game and entertainment technology at Temasek Polytechnic and he chanced on Mr Chung Kwang Tong's blog.

Mr Chung, 29, who is also known as Master Wei Yi, is the youngest council member on the Inter-Religious Organisation, which promotes religious harmony.

Said Mr Choy said: "I wanted to know more about Taoism. After I e-mailed Master Wei Yi, he invited me to visit the temple."

Mr Choy began spending almost every Sunday afternoon at the Hiang Tong Keng Temple in Tampines, chanting scriptures and learning about appropriate mannerisms such as when to bow or stand and where to place certain offerings.

Taoist Federation chairman Tan Thiam Lye, 65, said that more young people are seeking out the faith, thanks to social media.

The youth group started in 2007 and got on social networking site Facebook a year later. They intend to be on Twitter soon.

Mr Tan told The New Paper in Mandarin: "Many who sought us out are still studying. With the young (on board), we can better boost the faith and ensure continuity."

Added his Hong Kong Taoist Association counterpart Leung Tak Wah: "The Singapore side has been very successful in attracting young people.

"We keep in close contact, exchange ideas and join each other's activities to learn more."

Mr Tan thinks the rise in the number of believers shows things are on the right track. (See report above.)

He added: "People tend to mix up Buddhism with Taoism. Our efforts (through religious classes and workshops) have worked."

Choy's achievements have brought change to his family's Simei home.

While the family still observes certain religious practices, they are more relaxed about the process.

For instance, they no longer insist on getting the most expensive or longest joss sticks to "prove" their sincerity to the gods.

"I used to buy up to 10 stacks of joss paper offerings," his father said. "But he tells me just a bit will do because it's the sincerity that counts."

The senior Mr Choy said: "This way is more environmentally-friendly too."

His son added: "What's in the heart is more important."

CHANGES IN BELIEFS

This article was published on May 5 in The New Paper.

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