500 'good luck' hongbao taken from Choa Chu Kang temple, woman caught on CCTV
CCTV footage shows woman took them but temple will not report her to police
Volunteers at a Taoist temple in Choa Chu Kang were left flabbergasted on the first day of Chinese New Year.
The entire tray of "good luck" red packets they had prepared - about 500 in total - were gone.
The packets, each containing two 10-cent coins and a 4-D number, were meant as "blessings" for devotees.
It was part of a Chinese New Year tradition at the temple, which is among a collection of shrines at the site known as the Choa Chu Kang Combined Temple.
Closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage later showed that a middle-aged woman was responsible for the incident in Nine Dragon Palace Temple in Teck Whye Lane last Tuesday.
Mr Ivan Teo, 26, a volunteer at the Choa Chu Kang temple, said yesterday that the woman in the CCTV footage was not a familiar face to regular worshippers, and that she has not returned since the incident.
"We will not be reporting the incident to the authorities," he said.
"After all, the hongbao (red packets) were left there for people to take. If she does return, we will just persuade her not to take so many in future," he said.
He added that the temple committee had since decided to modify the practice.
"Now, instead of putting out 500 hongbao at once, we will lay out maybe 40 or 50," said Mr Teo, a warehouse storeman.
He also disclosed that the committee had considered discontinuing the 27-year-old tradition.
The incident highlights the dilemma that Taoist temples here have in maintaining such popular traditions while at the same time preventing abuse.
Some have modified their practices by enlisting volunteers as monitors while others have turned to technology to boost security, temple leaders told The Straits Times.
They are also restricting the number that each devotee can now take.
The popular Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple in Waterloo Street, for instance, distributes red packets annually on the 26th day of the first lunar month.
But devotees have said that they are limited to four red packets each.
The Hong San See Temple at Bukit Batok Street 23 gives out red packets on three occasions throughout the year, including during Chinese New Year.
But it modified its practice after a man took hundreds of red packets about 20 years ago.
Now, volunteers give out the red packets and limit each devotee to one hongbao.