Bukit Brown Watch Day 2015
All Things Bukit Brown, a civil society group of volunteers, will mark World Monuments Watch Day for Singapore’s first and only World Monuments Fund watch site, Bukit Brown Cemetery, on Saturday 14 March 2015 in a programme of exclusive events to raise awareness on the Heritage, Habitat and History of Bukit Brown.
Watch Day marks the listing of Bukit Brown Cemetery by the World Monuments Fund in October 2013, putting the site on the watch list with 66 other sites globally for 2014 to 2016, in a bid to raise global awareness of sites under threat and encouraging community engagement to take ownership.
On the Bukit Brown Watch Day, we celebrate community at the site with a choice of guided walks from nature trails to unravelling the ties of kin and clan, deciphering the stories of the exquisitely carved stones, storytelling for children, a sketch walk and stations to play some traditional games or try your hand at painting your own tiles inspired by the “Peranakan” tiles of the graves.
This is a ticketed event and registration on Peatix at this link bbwatchday.peatix.com opens on 1 March, 2015, 12 pm. Participants will receive a limited edition Watch Day Tote Bag with a magnet tile and a snack pack of traditional sweets. Registration for this specially curated morning of guided walks and activities is capped at between 20 and 25 pax to ensure maximum engagement with your volunteer guides. There are guided walks targeted at the first time visitor and those who have a deeper interest in history, and something for children of all ages.
The event is organised by All Things Bukit Brown with the support of the Singapore Heritage Society and the Nature Society of Singapore.
Bukit Brown Watch Day 2015 Programme
Date and Time: Saturday March 14, 8am – 12.30pm
Meeting Point and Registration: Open air-area, approximately 200 meters as you enter the main gates of Bukit Brown at Lorong Halwa, on your right just pass the green hoardings, there will be directional signs at various vantage points.
Please note ticketed events are limited to one event, the schedule and geography of Bukit Brown does not lend itself for attendance to more than one ticketed event. There will however be additional activities scheduled for ticket holders to participate in.
A Introduction to Bird Watching with Wing Chong
8.30am – 11.30am (20 tickets)
Home to over 90 resident and migratory birds, Bukit Brown in the morning greets with a chorus of bird song and flashes of colours from pink and green neck pigeons to the cobalt blue of kingfishers.
Join Wing Chong, Chairman of the Nature Society of Singapore (NSS) bird group and you may just catch more than a glimpse of the 13 endangered species which include the red jungle fowl and the Changeable Hawk. (binoculars recommended)
B Unravelling the Connections of Clan and Kin – by Ang Yik Han and Raymond Goh (20 tickets)
Part 1 8.30 am – 10 am with Yik Han
Part 2 10.15 am – 12 pm with Raymond
Conducted in English, this is highly recommended for those with knowledge of Mandarin who want to delve deeper into the familial and socio-economic ties of the past. Both tours will cover tomb inscriptions which are the stone thumb drives of the past. This is a 2- part tour with Yik Han conducting Part 1 covering Chinese clan connections and in Part 2, Raymond will share his new discoveries found just weeks ago during his “bush bashing” on the genealogy of pioneer families.
Raymond and Yik Han are the keen researchers of “All Things Chinese Past” among the Brownies.
C Tales of Wisdom and Wonder: The Young Story Teller with Rosemarie Somaiah
8.45am – 10.00am (25 Tickets including accompanying parents)
Suitable for 4 years upwards, please note a parent must accompany and be responsible for their child/children. Recommended that you bring your own mats to sit on
Join storyteller and published author Rosemarie as she shares stories that honour family and heritage and celebrate the world around us at the largest family tomb cluster of Bukit Brown where the carvings abound with stories of filial piety and animal statuary.
Rosemarie has led workshops and told stories in local and international schools, museums, corporations, over the radio, in libraries and even on the MRT
D Sikh Guards and Kampong Guided Walk with Peter Pak
10am-12pm (25 Tickets)
Combining his passion for Sikh Guard statuary and the flora and fauna of Bukit Brown, join the affable Peter on this trek retracing the bountiful harvest of the old Kampong and find out how a warrior race became elevated to tomb guardians and status symbols for the Chinese Towkays of the past.
E Sketching for Beginners with Marcus Lim
10am – 12pm (20 Tickets)
Please bring your own pen/pencil and sketch pad.
Get inspired by the beauty and serenity that is Bukit Brown and let it guide your first heritage sketch with Marcus, a historian painter who will help with introductory lessons on drawing.
For his feature on samsui women, Marcus won the ‘Cover Art of the Decade’ by the Asian Geographic Magazine and he was Singapore’s first representative to the International Portrait Artists’ Conference in Washington DC, in 2010.
Additional Activities opened to all Ticket Holders
F Old School Games with Andrew Lim
Suitable for the young and those forever young
This is a free and easy station starting from 9am onwards, ending at 12pm
Experience games which were more social and did not need batteries or high speed connectivity, yet still needed skills and just as competitive. Remember the capteh (shuttlecock), goli (marble balls), five-stones, zero-point (rubber-band rope), kuti-kuti (flick)? (Re)discover some of these toys at the Old-School Games station and find out if you (still) have what it takes to beat your opponents.
G “Peranakan” Tile Painting
Session 1: 9am – 10am (limited to 15 tiles)
Session 2: 10.30am – 11.30am (limited to 15 tiles)
Paint, paint brush and tiles provided. Limited to one tile per participant.
“Peranakan” tiles are almost ubiquitous, gracing the shophouses of our past, temples, walkways, tombs and in some modern homes with a wide array of colours and designs. They are also rich in symbolism. These decorative tiles were very popular in the 20th Century and were imported from various countries. Learn the history of the “Peranakan” tiles and paint one of your very own.
H The Wayang of the Tombs by Yik Han
10.30am – 12 pm (limited to 30 participants)
The exquisite carvings on the tombstones of Bukit Brown, come alive with stories from the great Chinese classics, recounted by Yik Han who will also highlight the symbolism and significance of grave artefacts and statuary.
What you should Know
Disclaimer: By agreeing to take part in the activities of Watch Day at Bukit Brown Cemetery, I understand and accept that I must be physically fit and able to do so. To the extent permissible by law, I agree to assume any and all risk of injury or bodily harm to myself and persons in my care (including child or ward)
There are minimal toilet facilities and these are located near the entrance just for Watch Day.
In case of heavy rain and lightning, we will be taking shelter at a site office at the entrance of Bukit Brown. Activities will however continue if there is a light drizzle so please come prepared with umbrellas and/or ponchos.
What to Wear
Please wear comfortable clothes, covered shoes (suitable for light trekking) sunscreen and mosquito repellent.
What to Bring
Water and a packet of traditional sweets will be provided but feel free to bring your own snacks to munch along the way if you tend to get peckish. For Story Telling please bring mats and for Sketching bring your own pen/pencils and sketch pads. Umbrellas and/or ponchos
The World Monument Fund (WMF) mission is to preserve the world’s architectural heritage of significant monuments, buildings, and sites. Every two years since 1996, the World Monuments Watch is a call to action for cultural heritage around the globe that is at risk from the forces of nature and the impact of social, political, and economic change.
Inclusion on the list provides nominators and site owners with an important opportunity to promote their sites locally and internationally, to work towards improved site protection, and to build community engagement in their preservation efforts. Bukit Brown is the first site in Singapore to have gained a listing.
All Things Bukit Brown (atBB) is the banner for a community of volunteers (Brownies) of diverse backgrounds and different beliefs who conduct guided walks and independent research on the heritage, habitat and history of Bukit Brown. Formed in 2012, they have conducted tours for more than 14,000 people, organised two exhibitions and presented talks to schools and museums. In August 2014, All Things Bukit Brown became the first recipient of the Advocate Organisation of the Year Award in the inaugural Singapore Advocacy Awards, presented by civil society champions to recognise and encourage civil activism. For more, bukitbrown.com.
Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) is dedicated to the preservation, transmission and promotion of Singapore’s history, heritage and identity. Founded in 1986, the Singapore Heritage Society is a non-profit, non-government organisation and registered charity.
Nature Society of Singapore (NSS) is a non-government, non-profit organisation dedicated to the appreciation, conservation, study and enjoyment of the natural heritage in Singapore, Malaysia and the surrounding region.
Saturday 27th Dec’2014 9am – 12pm
Meeting place: At the Lor Halwa Main gates
Join the Brownies for the last guided walk of 2014, as they look back at their journey and share their collection of individual stories and experiences at their favourite tombs: stories of women breaking the glass ceiling, of great sacrifices and humble deeds, experiences of the joy of discovery and connecting the living to the dead. It is also our thank you tour for the community who have supported us all the way through this ongoing journey which began in 2011, of bringing our collective past and history into the present. We look to you to continue to grow and spread the word of Bukit Brown a Living Museum, Heritage Habitat History.
Bukit Brown Advocate Organisation of the Year 2014
Bukit Brown on the World Monuments Fund Watch List
Please sign up at Peatix: http://atbb2.peatix.com/ if you are coming!
We guide rain, shine or exhumations”
Please bring umbrella or poncho and sun protection.
Please wear covered footwear.
Please bring mosquito repellent.
For first time visitors, see below for some important things to note.
For information on how to get there and handy tips please visit
Disclaimer: By agreeing to take this walking tour of Bukit Brown Cemetery, I understand and accept that I must be physically fit and able to do so.To the extent permissible by law, I agree to assume any and all risk of injury or bodily harm to myself and persons in my care (including child or ward)
Our weekend public tours are FREE …
Optimally the group size is 30 participants (15 individuals/guide).
The Bukit Brown area is about 233 hectares in extent, bordered by Lornie Road, Thomson Road and the Pan-Island Expressway. It lies just to the south of the Central Catchment Forest, being separated from it by Lornie Road and includes Singapore’s only Chinese Municipal Cemetery. With more than 100,000 graves, Bukit Brown is also one of the largest Chinese cemeteries outside of China.
Don’t forget to bask in the peaceful surrounds, and also chat with your guides and make friends with other participants. We are amateurs and volunteers, but we are passionate and serious about what we do at Bukit Brown, and we encourage sharing of knowledge.
Here is a map of the grounds:
Please take note:
1. We will be walking mainly on paved roads. But there are hill treks so dress appropriately, especially your footwear.
2. Wear light breathable clothing. Long pants and long sleeves if you are prone to insect bites or sunburn. Bring sunblock and natural insect repellent.
3. Wear comfortable non-slip shoes as safety is important. Walking sticks are recommended.
4. Do read up on Bukit Brown before going so you have a better understanding of the place (e.g. BukitBrown.com)
5. Do bring water, light snacks, poncho/umbrella, sunhat and waterproof your electronics.
6. Please go to the toilet before coming. There are NO facilities anywhere there or nearby.
How to get there by MRT / Bus:
Bus services available: 52, 74, 93, 157, 165, 852, 855.
From North: Go to Marymount MRT and walk to bus-stop #53019 along Upper Thomson Road. Take Buses 52, 74, 165, 852, 855
Alight 6 stops later at bus-stop, #41149, opposite Singapore Island Country Club (SICC), Adam Road. Walk towards Sime Road in the direction of Kheam Hock Road until you see Lorong Halwa.
From South: Go to Botanic Gardens MRT and walk to bus-stop #41121 at Adam Road, in front of Singapore Bible College. Take Buses 74, 93, 157, 165, 852, 855. Alight 2 stops later at bus-stop, #41141, just before Singapore Island Country Club (SICC), Adam Road. Cross the bridge, walk towards Sime Road, follow the road until you see Lorong Halwa.
Turn in from Lornie Road, to Sime Road. Then, turn left into Lorong Halwa.
Parking space available along Lor Halwa and in the cemetery some distance after the cemetery gate
Dunman Secondary School brought around 40 students to Bukit Brown on 16 August 2014 for a learning journey. Our students marveled at the vast, rich sloping terrain covering over 200 hectres of land space. Some graves dot all the way to Mount Pleasant Road (along PIE).
Our students know that Joo Chiat and Boon Lay are familiar residential estates but little did they know them to be named after our pioneers who lie buried at BB. Tan Ean Kiam, the pioneer whose foundation donated to the construction of our school hall, lies buried at BB alongside his wife. Our students observed a minute of silence as a mark of respect for him.
Our students learned about the strong cultural links our pioneers had with China expressed in the Chinese poetry and the rich artistry in the sculptures and carvings on their grave stones.
The ultimate aim of education is known to be character-building, but certain values such as filial piety and fortune expressed in an abundance of descendants and sustaining blood lines, are so deep-seated that our pioneers bring them down to their graves in forms of figurines symbolizing these values. One grave had carvings showing a a daughter in law breastfeeding her aged and toothless- mother-in-law, choosing to feed her over her crying child, in an act of filial piety. Another grave had 2 Sikh guards standing erect and tall each by the side of a rich tycoon’s final abode. He even had them enshrined as a “sepoy” (stationary guard) and a “prowler” (one who patrols around). This setting reveals the trust placed on the Sikhs for protection during colonial times. Our students were amazed by the detail and rich history of Bukit Brown.
Our students learned that war time graves were smaller and have a unique serial numbering. They were also informed that mass graves were a norm during the Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1945.
We offer our deep heart-felt thanks to the brownies ( the Bukit Brown volunteers) Yik Han, Beng Tang and Catherine for an informative and educational tour of BB. Their passion and love for the history and heritage of the pioneers is evident during their explanations and guidance of the tour. We truly believe that Dunmanites in the tour benefited greatly from the sharing and discussions.
By Gopie Silvarajoo Naidu Prem ( Teacher in Charge)
The students were from the schools NPCC. Their teachers had worksheets which they worked on immediately on-site after the guided walk. The learning journey was documented and later published in their newsletter. We thank the teachers especially of Dunman for going the extra mile to do this despite their very busy schedule. We note that this was the third time the school has requested engagement on Bukit Brown with Brownies for various groups of students. There was one previous visit to Bukit Brown and a brownie had also made a presentation on Bukit Brown at the school itself.
Thank you for sending atBB the PDF of the newsletter.
Schools who are interested in learning journeys, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. and give us least 3 weeks notice.
by Sally T.
One recent Saturday, some friends and I had the pleasure of being guided around Bukit Brown Cemetery on a special tour led by three descendants of notable people buried there. The Descendants Tour was presented in partnership with the National Library of Singapore – a great community initiative on the part of the library. A few seasoned guides helped lead the group, which really helped to add insight and context along the way.
Each of the three descendants had fascinating stories to share and we were treated to what I would describe as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Hearing them so passionately and proudly tell familial histories and sing songs in honour of their ancestors, many of whom were pioneers of early modern Singapore, will be something I look back on as a highlight of my time living here. We visited the resting places of enterprising business people, diplomats and philanthropists – the type who have streets named in their honour.
In recent years I had heard a lot about Bukit Brown, a national treasure that had been rediscovered by a caring community and was being hard fought for. Despite my curiosity I’d never visited, perhaps not wanting to feel inappropriate or as an invasive foreigner, but a conversation with a friend who is a passionate historian prompted me to look up the next tour available. The fact that three descendants were taking the tour alongside a few experienced Brownies seemed like a unique opportunity and one not to be missed. I was right.
Our meeting point was just near the LTA temporary set-up, which we figured was the site headquarters for the current exhumation works taking place in certain sections of Bukit Brown. There’s no denying that it’s a confronting reality. While I’ve known for a while that exhumation is fairly common here, I learned that it has a relatively long history in Singapore and happened under British rule too, as one of the graves we visited had actually been moved there from somewhere else in the 1930s or 40s. The current works were well underway when we visited, with high fences erected throughout. From the main road, you would easily have mistaken it for any construction site.
Once the large group of about 30 was assembled, we walked a short distance to the tomb of Chia Hood Theam, who was a respected businessman with a lovely black and white home called Rosedale at the corner of Devonshire and Killiney Roads. Chia’s maternal great-great granddaughter Noreen Chan, along with some other family members present, shared a series of beautifully preserved photographs and stories that had been passed down through the generations. Noreen described how as well as being a ‘comprador’ – the business relationship managers of the old banking regime – her Peranakan grandfather was an early champion of women’s education in Singapore. The tomb was well preserved and had beautiful tiling work.
Next stop was the tomb of one of Dr Lim Su Min’s several ancestors buried at Bukit Brown. On this mother’s side, Dr Lim’s lineage can be traced back to Tan Tock Seng, a prominent merchant and philanthropist who of course the hospital is named after. We visited the tomb of a relation of Tan Tock Seng. An impressive tomb turned a rusty orange from the lichen, the resting place was a little way up a small hill. After sharing his fascinating family history, Dr Lim treated us to an intimate and special moment as he sang a song he had written in his ancestors’ honour. Standing there with only jungle noises to compete with the ukulele, we knew we were witnessing something heartfelt.
The third tomb we visited was tucked much further into the jungle, and on the way we passed some extraordinary tombs, all with different style and character. Clearly, grieving family members had gone to a great deal of trouble to put their loved ones to rest in a place of beauty. The third descendant to share with the group, Serene Tan, went on a mission to find her family’s cluster of tombs after being visited by a man in Mandarin robes in her dreams who encouraged her to visit. After a long search and some coincidences that could only have been fate, one of the Brownies came across the tomb of Serene Tan’s ancestors, including Tan Quee Lan, which were in somewhat of a rundown state. Together with family members, the Tans have done an magnificent job of restoring the tombs with an impressive marble structure.
Dr Lim Su Min once again led us to the last tomb of the tour, which belongs to the eldest son of Tan Tock Seng called Tan Kim Ching, who was successful in further expanding the family’s business empire with rice mills and tin-mining in Siam. The size and stature of the tomb was very impressive and Tan Kim Ching was clearly an important man. After gaining the trust and respect of the King of Siam, Tan Kim Ching was appointed a Singapore-based diplomatic representative of the court of Siam. We learned that he also represented Japan and Russia in diplomatic relations in Singapore. One of the most intriguing things I learned was that Tan Kim Ching was responsible for the posting of British governess Ann Leonowens to Siam to famously teach the children of the King.
I found Bukit Brown majestic in both the grandeur of the tombs and the beauty of nature which has enclosed or almost seemingly protected the site in its forgotten years. When one of my friends who came along mentioned that he was visiting Bukit Brown to some Singaporean business associates, he was met with wide eyes and trepidation! While I wouldn’t want to go there at night, it wasn’t as eerie as I suspected so I would strongly encourage those with an interest in Singapore’s history and culture, and strong sense of family values, to visit this special place. My friends and I will pass the word on about the tour to our friends – foreigners and locals alike – in the hope that more people will come and experience Bukit Brown. Who knows whether they will find an ancestor of their own.
The Descendants’ Stories – A Guided Walk at Bukit Brown (English)
Saturday, 8 November 2014, 4 pm – 6.30pm.
All Things Bukit Brown* is pleased to curate a guided walk in conjunction with the roving exhibition “Bukit Brown: Documenting New Horizons of Knowledge”
Registration is required and all queries is through the NLB website here , spaces are limited to 28.
About the Walk:
News that a highway was to be built across Bukit Brown in 2011 led some descendants who had lost touch with their ancestral tombs to embark on a quest to find them. Some of those who were successful shared their stories of reconnecting with their ancestors and family oral history with the volunteers on the ground, called Brownies.
For this special walk, 3 descendants of prominent figures in business, philanthropy and diplomacy in the 19th and 20th centuries will be sharing their stories first-hand at the tombs of their ancestors.
- Dr. Lim Su Min’s maternal lineage can be traced back to Tan Tock Seng, whose eldest son Tan Kim Ching grew the family’s fortunes, expanding into Siam with rice mills and tin-mining. He became a confidante of the King of Siam, and was appointed a diplomatic representative of the court of Siam. (He held similar positions representing Japan and Russia.) Among the stories Dr. Lim will share at Tan Kim Ching’s tomb is his introduction of a young English widow, Anna Leonowens to the Siamese King, a story which became immortalized in an Oscar winning musical.
- For Serene Tan, the journey of discovering her family’s cluster of tombs at Bukit Brown started the night a man in traditional Mandarin robes came into her dream and passed her a note that simply said “Why no one visit?”. Serene will share how she was finally able to find the tombs of Tan Quee Lan of whom she is a direct descendant on her paternal side after a few years and in the process connected with a long lost cousin. Both then went on to restore and refurbish the family cluster of tombs at Bukit Brown, which had for so long been forgotten.
- Noreen Chan comes from a long line of influential and wealthy “compradors” – the business relationship managers of the old banking regime. At the tomb of Chia Hood Theam, Noreen will recount stories of her maternal great-great grandfather’s frugality and contributions to women’s education from family oral traditions and historical records
Please read if you are attending our guided walks for the first time, useful info on safety : Getting There/游览信息
*All Things Bukit Brown is the banner for a community of volunteers called “Brownies” who conduct regular weekend guided walks and do independent research on the heritage, habitat and history of Bukit Brown. They have guided over 13,000 people since they started their guided walks at the beginning of 2012.
In Bukit Brown, one can find various forms of art, structure and inscriptions, auspiciously incorporated within individual tombs to enhance the happiness and prosperity of the deceased’s family.
Tomb whisperer, Raymond Goh translates a poem found on the couplets from a tomb in Bukit Brown:
The Golden Sheep leads the eternal dance
The Earthen Ox draws the rising tide
The earth presents the elegant vigor
The hill offers the heroic spirit
On a different tomb, Raymond translates the poem engraved on its couplets, with the help of Alex Loh and Tan Kim Hong, members of the Heritage Singapore – Bukit Brown Cemetery Facebook group:
The green dragon forms the mountain in front of the tomb
The white tiger meets with a good water formation
The spiritual mountain concentrate the earth veins
The elegant water produces academic descendants
Do join the discussions in the Heritage Singapore – Bukit Brown Cemetery Facebook group page, a platform for all members to learn, as well as contribute and share their knowledge in all things related to heritage, habitat and history.
Disclaimer: By agreeing to take walking tours of Bukit Brown Cemetery, I understand and accept that I must be physically fit and able to do so.To the extent permissible by law, I agree to assume any and all risk of injury or bodily harm to myself and persons in my care (including child or ward) Please read if you are attending our guided walks for the first time, useful info on safety : Getting There/游览信息 If you have a facebook account please register on the FB links provided unless otherwise stated. There is also a walk by post museum in the after, please see details below for registration.
***Haze: We will cancel tours should AQI/PM2.5 reach 100. Please check this post 7.30am for any changes on the days of the tour.
For all walks:
Please bring umbrella or poncho and sun protection.
Please wear covered footwear.
Please bring mosquito repellent.
Please bring sufficient drinking water.
Meeting place for all Walks : At the Lor Halwa Main gates at Bukit Brown
Sat 4 Oct’14 : 8.30am – 12 pm :
Sun 5 Oct’14 : 5pm – 7pm : A Walk into Twilight with Beng Tang
Follow Beng Teng for an evening stroll through Bukit Brown cemetery where he will share stories of the Past.
PLEASE BRING TORCH LIGHTS FOR THIS WALK
FB registration here
Mon 6 Oct’14: 9am – 11.30 am: Hill 5 and 2 Tour
This Hari Raya Haji public holiday, join Keng Kiat for a walk around Hill Five and Two and uncover stories that are sometimes less heard of from the regular tours.
We will not be visiting the biggest tomb in Bukit Brown, that of Mr Ong Sam Leong’s.
FB registration here
by Ang Yik Han
Born in Kulangsu Island off Amoy, Chua Chwee Oh came to Singapore at the age of 14. He studied till 17 or 18, after which he went into business. Beginning with trading between Singapore and Medan, he founded the firm Hock Heng in 1920 which had branches in Rangoon, Annam and other cities. It dealt mainly in local produce like dried fish and provisions. The biggest segment of his business was in French-controlled Annam, followed by British Malaya and the Dutch Indies. He was the second chairman of the Amoy Association (1940-1941) after its founding, and also a chairman of the Goh Loo Club.
Active in the China Relief Fund’s efforts in raising funds to support the Chinese forces against the Japanese, he was known for donating $100,000 single-handedly under his firm’s name. He also encouraged others to contribute by setting an example when the need arose. It must have been a bitter blow for him during the Japanese Occupation when he was forced to join the Hokkien section of the Overseas Chinese Association (OCA), the umbrella body set up by the Japanese to force the Chinese community to pay war reparations.
Chua Chwee Oh died in 1960 at the age of 64. His first wife Mdm Tan passed away at the young age of 32 and is buried together with him. His second wife was Mdm Ng. The place of origin inscribed on his tombstone is “Si Ming” (思明), another name for Amoy coined by Koxinga when the island was his base of operations against the encroaching Qing forces. This name evokes Koxinga’s longing for the glory days of the Han Chinese Emperors in the Ming Dynasty. Barred from use after the Qing Dynasty consolidated its control over all of China, this place name was revived after the Qing Dynasty was overthrown.
The tomb is at Hill 3, about 10m behind and to the left (facing uphill) of Tan Boo Liat’s tomb.
On 2nd January, 2014, June Tan witnessed and photo documented the exhumation of her grandfather, Ong Kim Soon. She also shared with us the testimonial of how a promise was fulfilled to carry on the lineage of another family. It speaks to men and women of honour and ties of kinship which live on till today.
By June Tan
My grandfather was an ordinary man. He worked hard to make ends meet and was an honest man of principles. When he passed away at the age of 47 , he left behind his wife & 6 children aged between 6-22 years old then.
The story I want to share of my grandfather has to start from my great great grandparents.
My great great grandfather Ng died at a very young age. He was in his 20s then. He left behind his wife but no descendants. The women of that era usually did not remarry if their husband passed on. It was deemed to be their duties to take care of their in- laws .
However, my great great grandmother was a young lady in the prime of her life at that time. Her mother- in- law decided that she should not stay as a widow and allowed her to remarry. She, however, set a condition for the man (suramed Ong) who was to marry her- that the first son born by them had to take the surname “Ng” (黄). As a gratitude to the old lady, they readily agreed.
Soon after, my great grandfather was born and he took the Ng surname. However, great great grandfather Ong soon fell very ill and with his wife they were unable to produce a 2nd child. Their son, my great grandfather had no option but to reinstate his surname to Ong in order to perpetuate the Ong family line.
The older generation is a generation of principles. It was resolved that the next male child born in the family will carry the surname of Ng to honour the promise of my great great grandparents.
Years later, my grandfather was born and he adopted the “Ng” (黄) surname. In fact, of the 3 sons born in that generation, my grandfather and his 2nd brother took on the Ng surname as a gratitude to the Ng family.
At age 47, my grandfather passed away. All that he left behind was a meagre sum of S$24. The family was faced with the task of paying for a decent burial place.
Seh Ong Sua (which adjoins Bukit Brown) was the only cemetery with free burial grounds available for the Ong descendents . My grandfather’s brothers, my grand uncles, approached the person in charge of the Ong Clan then. However, only descendants of the Ong clan could be buried there. After hearing the origins of my grandfather’s surname, the Ong clan agreed to accord him a burial ground in Seh Ong on condition that that he had to use his Ong surname on the headstone of his grave.
Hence, the surname on his tomb is Ong (王) whereas his children will continue to take the Ng surname.
For these reasons, my great grandmother had “set” a rule for my mum’s generation that they are allowed to marry Ngs’ but not Ongs’ as that is the origin of their bloodline.
A few photos from June Tan’s album of her grandfather’s exhumation. The coffin was fully intact and the set of bones, nearly complete. With her permission, the complete album which she has captioned as a photo essay, is available here
Ong Kim Soon has moved to Yishun Columbarium. Rest in Peace.
Editor’s note: We would like to thank June Tan for sharing her photos of her grandfather’s exhumation and her family story with us. If you are a descendant who has ancestors staked for exhumation, please share your story with us.
Email us: email@example.com
You can read about another first hand account by a grandson, who witnessed his grandfather’s and aunt’s exhumations, here
Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice® 2013 Winner “Ranked #16 of 665 attractions in Singapore. “
6 November, 2013.
“Get there before its too late…This is a very special place – peaceful, beautiful, historic, and a natural wildlife haven”
Visit Bukit Brown cemetery while you still can – before the bulldozers move in to create yet another expressway. This is a very special place – peaceful, beautiful, historic, and a natural wildlife haven. Intricately carved statues guard many of the old gravestones, which are often adorned with gorgeous antique tiles painted with flowers and peacocks. There are several pathways to explore and so the cemetery also makes a lovely place just to visit for a ‘country’ walk. Kingfishers, monitor lizards, monkeys and nightjars are common sights, and some of the huge banyan trees are staggering. In recent months the ‘Friends of Bukit Brown’ have painstakingly signed and cleared pathways to the gravestones of many notable names from Singapore’s history, making this an even more interesting place to visit.
Visited October 2013
Singapore is a concrete jungle and if there is a garden, it is man-made, like Gardens by the Bay…..(except for) a historical site called Bukit Brown.
Today, I had the privilege of touring a historical site called Bukit Brown. Bukit Brown is a cemetery, where many of Singapore’s pioneer are buried and may soon be “awakened” from their peaceful slumber to make way for 8 lanes highway.
I toured with volunteers of Bukit Brown, and learn about the tombs of Tan Kheam Hock and his family. History is being collected as I write this review. The tour is made even more interesting with the descendants of Tan Kheam Hock in our midst. A definitely worthy visit for any tourist to Singapore, to see a side of Singapore which money cannot buy.
As Bukit Brown tour is manned by volunteers with a passion to preserve the heritage and culture of this little city state, one will need to visit Bukit Brown FB page to make enquiries of any tours.
Visited October 2013
It was like stepping back into another place and time. You can see rays of sunshine illuminating the misty verdant hills, rich smell of the forest and hear sounds of delightful birds. It was somewhat surreal in heavily urbanised city but the oasis of tranquility calms the soul and the mind is clarified. What a wonderful place to go for a walk!
I joined a friend to witness the Cheng Beng festivity and was overwhelmed by the throngs of people with their prayer paraphernalia and the heavy traffic winds patiently through the hills. It was BUSY!
Then some 3 months later, I took a trip with the Brownies who gave free guided walks through Bukit Brown practically every weekends! It was like stepping back into another place and time. You can see rays of sunshine illuminating the misty verdant hills, rich smell of the forest and hear sounds of delightful birds. It was somewhat surreal in heavily urbanised city but the oasis of tranquility calms the soul and the mind is clarified. What a wonderful place to go for a walk!
Yes, we have the crowded Botanic Gardens, the monotonous MacRitchie & Pierce reservoirs, the hot Sungei Buloh Reserve and Chek Jawa Park is a little too far to reach but Bt Brown is way too cool! If you dare venture off the main track, you will encounter unusual structure, designs, engravings, statutes, reflecting the various cultures, beliefs & eras. You might encounter a monitor lizard, horse riders and almost always expats walking their dogs. Join the Sats & Suns groups of 10-20 people on the guided walks like the one I’ve taken, listening to the passionate guides who are bursting to share with you the stories of the hills.
Visited September 2013
“The most beautiful place on earth”
Jo Prudence, descendant of George Henry Brown, after whom the cemetery is named.
A spectacular time-lapse aerial video of Bukit Brown
More beauty shots of Bukit Brown here
by Walter Lim
(Published in Zaobao on 1 November, 2013, translated by Fabian Tee )
Taking a Closer Look at Singaporeans’ “Interest in the Wild (side)”
I refer to the commentary by Mr Goh Choon Kang ( a media professional and a former MP) entitled “Looking from the sidelines at Singaporeans’ interest in the wild side” dated Oct 23, 2o13. In it he posed the question : “why did the dialogue between civilian and government not take place before unilateral action was taken by one party with the expressed hope of opening more channels of communication? Just reflect for a moment, how the official in charge of heritage affairs must be feeling right now.”
This article has created considerable public misconception. The Prime Minister, after all, had on the occasion of the opening of the Heritage Festival 2013 said that:
“The government does not own the Singapore heritage. It does not define the Singapore heritage. Our heritage is a collection of individual memories, woven together into a national story. It is something that belongs to every Singaporean, and which each one of us can contribute to and help to preserve, individually and collectively”. PM Lee.
Therefore, it stands to reason that any civilian initiative to help Singapore preserve its heritage should be a source of comfort for the authorities. Besides, the National Heritage Board’s Alvin Tan is a broad-minded and enlightened official, and not a petty/small-minded individual as implied by Goh.
In Goh’s article entitled “The basis and limits of dialogue”, he stated that “perhaps I lacked culture or cultural depth, but I feel that most Singaporeans are unlikely to bring their old or young to a desolate place in the middle of nowhere during their free time”.
(I agree) Most people are of this (Goh’s ) same mindset – civilians and officials alike, think that way. It was under such dire circumstances that the application to World Monuments Fund was made. Can anyone imagine holding a dialogue under such circumstances? It would have been laughable. Fortunately the unrelenting efforts (of many) have paid off and many parents do bring their children and elderly parents to Bukit Brown. For his sake and society at large, I sincerely hope that Goh will deepen his cultural depth so that more young and old will come to Bukit Brown for leisurely walks.
On the government’s heavy burden of providing for the basic necessities for millions, Goh said that the volunteers are of the opinion that “you (government) can resolve to solve the existing traffic problems, just leave our Bukit Brown alone. For the record, many alternative plans/suggestions were submitted to the government once the road announcements were made. Subsequently there were suggestions to leave the tombstones by the roadside, blending the past with the modern. Recently, we also took part in the exercise to incorporate Biddari’s history into the planning of the new town. These efforts collectively demonstrate that the volunteers are trying to strike a balance between preserving the past and developing the future. Unfortunately, none of our suggestions/feedback for Bukit Brown found fertile ground and they have since fallen by the wayside.
On the other hand, the plan for Lornie Road reflects a lack of foresight and planning. Three years after expanding the number of lanes on Lornie/Adam Roads in 2009, the government now anticipates a reduction in the (Lornie) lanes after the Bukit Brown highway is built. Instead of expending money on the expansion and subsequent shrinking of Lornie Road, why not just build the Bukit Brown highway in the first place? The excitement that followed the government’s undertaking to quicken the pace of housing and transport infrastructural development after the last General Election quickly morphed into a hidden worry. Plans for building Bukit Brown highway were carried out without the benefit of any impact assessment particularly that of a heritage impact assessment in face of a large scale destruction of historic artifacts. In the final analysis, is the Bukit Brown highway really meant for development or is it an unmitigated disaster?
When the plans were announced last year, an estimated 5000 gravestones were to be affected and LTA then reduced that to 3746 due to a change in road plans. Now the official number has been re-estimated at 4153. What is really going on here? Even more worrisome for us is the sense of how heritage preservation is considered in this country. Minister Tan Chuan Jin said in parliament that (the preservation of) material culture including gravestone, carvings and tiles etc are very important. Yet after discussions at the higher level, there has been no concrete plans for a proposed memorial garden for the preservation of gravestones of important personalities. The imminent threat of destruction to thousands of graves has not provoke the local museums or Chinese clan associations to show any interest in preservation whatsoever. Dare I ask , is any government body or department truly satisfied with this (state of affairs) or process?
Leaving aside Goh’s portrayal of the Bukit Brown volunteers as a bunch of “wild enthusiasts”, this unlikely group of individuals who busy themselves over all things related to Bukit Brown, stands in stark contrast with the total lack of interest displayed by the leaders of the Chinese Clan Associations. This lackadaisical attitude even extends to the discovery of the tombstones of founding fathers of their clans.
At a time when the Gan Eng Seng alumni paid their respects to his grave during Qing Ming, the Chinese High and Nanyang Girls High and Industry Commerce Schools etc have instead chosen to forget their history.
When a country’s polity has no regard for our collective history and the hallowed grounds of our Chinese pioneers and civilisation, evoke nothing but disdain, are policies to blame and have the people all forgotten (the past)?
As Bukit Brown is doomed to its fate, a group of volunteers -whose ranks comprises Indian, Dutch and Japanese and others who know not a single Chinese character – are picking up the Chinese language to decipher tomb inscriptions, studying the various pioneers’ connections with old temples, clan associations, schools and some even extending their research into local history and the Chinese civilization. This abiding interest of the so called “wild enthusiast” calls for a deeper sense of reflection. Surely, this phenomenon is hardly one that can be understood by anyone looking from the sidelines.
More on the road expansion at Lornie Road here.
The full report in Chinese:
官民就不能先磋商好才行动，而必须等到单边行动过后，才希望展开 更多的对话呢？试想，如果你是官方负责文化遗产事宜的单位，你会 有什么感受？”这番话已经造成公众的错误解读。
来定义，人们都可做出贡献和协助保留。”因此对民间自发性的协助 新加坡保留文化遗产，官方理应欣慰，而文物局陈子宇先生是位胸襟 阔达的开明主管，并非吴先生所形容的小家子气。
应有的文化与人文素养，但总觉得，一般国人不太可能在闲暇时间， 扶老携幼到这么一个四野荒冢的地方逛。”这是当时一般人的观感， 民间如此，官方亦然。
说磋商，恐怕告诉别人也会让人笑掉大牙。所幸在不间歇的努力下， 今天可以看到父母带着小孩或是长者到武吉布朗，祈望吴先生为自己 、为社会增添多一份文化与人文素养，一家大小也来武吉布朗逛逛。
法解决交通问题，只要别动到坟山分毫。”这已将志愿者描绘成一味 坚持保留而罔顾发展所需。事实上，政府宣布征用坟场之后就提出代 替方案，过后又建议保留墓碑在路旁，将过去融入未来，也讨论名人 墓园之建议；近期更参与将历史遗迹融入比达达里新镇，这一切都有 目共睹，说明志愿者是在旧事物和新发展之间谋求平衡，但各项建议 都进不了当局的视野之内，结果不了了之。
得开辟新道路缓和交通；而今开辟武吉布朗新道路完成后，又要减少 罗尼路的车道，请问当年为何不直接开辟武吉布朗新道路，却大费周 章的扩建又再收缩罗尼路呢？上届大选之后，政府在房屋与交通方面 加快建设脚本，这喜讯反而成为隐忧，道路未全面评估就匆匆建造， 尤其不曾评估对文化遗迹所带来的破坏。开辟武吉布朗新道路，究竟 是发展所需或许是无妄之灾？
3746座；今年8月却飙升到4153座，请问发生了什么事？令 人担忧的是文物保留意识，陈川仁代部长在国会上说，实质文物，包 括墓碑、雕塑、瓷砖等也很重要，过后召开名人墓园事项的会议，现 已沦为一记空炮；而本地展览馆华社并不热衷保留先贤墓碑，公路工 程即将展开，大批墓碑已陷绝境；敢问政府各部门主管诸位部长，对 整个流程是否满意？
夜为武吉布朗奔波的是一介平民，华社领袖对华人坟场，甚至创办人 或先贤的坟墓却无动于衷；在颜永成学校清明节到武吉布朗献花之际 ，华侨中学、南洋女中和工商等学校却选择遗忘过去。
或是人民已经遗忘？武吉布朗遭人遗弃之际，却有印籍、日籍、荷籍 与认识汉字不多的志愿者，为了理解碑铭而学起中文，更进一步探讨 古迹庙宇、社团、学校，甚至钻研本地历史与中华文化，新加坡人的 “野趣”，有太多值得令人深思之处，岂是斜眼侧观之士所能理会？