A look back at 2013…
We lost a dear Brownie, Vicky Tan, but started the Tan Kheam Hock Tour as a tribute to her and her ancestors. Other kin have been clearing the tombs of Kheam Hock’s relatives, and in the process, prettifying entire clusters in Bukit Brown. It has added much needed cheer at a time exhumations have started.
We held 2 exhibitions, “Celebrating Bukit Brown” (above) as a “report” on our efforts to reach students and teachers and their works, and “Bukit Brown: Our Roots, Our Future” (below), an extensive exhibition at Chui Huay Lian Club that featured English and Mandarin speakers and brought attention to the threat to the Muslim graves at Jalan Kubor. Both enabled us to reach out to more communities and decision-makers. The latter also featured a rare reunion of the descendants of Seah Eu Chin. Walter Lim, Yik Han and Charlene Tan deserve special mention, aided by an army of volunteers to put it all together.
Victor Lim has added depth to the tours with his tile expertise. A tile expert team has now taken interest and plans to bring it to the attention of UNESCO.
Expats Bianca Polak and Ritsuko Saito joined the cause, Bianca avidly guiding and photographing, while Ritsuko has given talks in Taiwan and Japan on Bukit Brown. Again and again, Bukit Brown proves to be not just a treasure for Singaporeans. Brownies shared their expertise far and wide, and many a weekend, Yik Han, Mok Ly Ying, Raymond Goh, et al could be found giving talks on knowledge gleaned from Bukit Brown.
Catherine Lim helped put Bukit Brown in the living rooms of Singaporeans with “History from the Hills”, a TV documentary series that moved many and won mention in Parliament.
Ish Singh recently joined the Brownies as a co-guide after penning a reflective piece on how he felt connected to his Sikh history through Bukit Brown and Amardeep Singh has started research there – pointing to the Sikh interest in the history of Bukit Brown.
Sugen Ramiah and Ai Loon stepped outreach for the young, Simone Lee, Zhi Hao and Aaron Chan became our newest guides. More and more are coming out in support because they see the intrinsic value of Bukit Brown. We welcome anyone with the same passion.
Bukit Brown made it to Tripadvisor’s Travellers’ Choice 2013 Winners list.
Battlefield archaeologist Jon Cooper continues to uncover more of our past and his Battlefield Tours are always fully subscribed in record time.
Behind the scenes, many elves abound to do good work. Khoo Ee Hoon mapped out Bukit Brown and helped with the iBBC app. She, Danny Chew and Edmon Neo-Khoo are among those cleaning tombs every weekend. Lim Su-Min would be on call with his saw to clear fallen trees to prevent damage to graves or visitors.
Needless to say, stalwarts like Raymond Goh, Peter Pak and Walter Lim blogged avidly and added to our depth of knowledge of what we stand to lose by losing Bukit Brown. Guides Chew Keng Kiat, Fabian Tee, Andrew, Peter Pak, Beng Tang, Yik Han, Bianca, Mil Phuah, Raymond, Catherine and Claire were ably assisted by many in the community who shared their knowledge, time and talents, often as co-guides. We have now guided 10,000 visitors to Bukit Brown as a community.
Jennifer Teo and Tien of SOS Bukit Brown not only guided but gathered 7,000 signatures and delivered them to the government in the petition to save Bukit Brown. Georgina Chin’s book on the birds, including many at Bukit Brown, sold out.
And together, this community has put Bukit Brown on the world map by getting international recognition for its potential as a heritage site with the World Monuments Watch list 2014. Ian Chong deserves special mention for his help with the application. And you have been pushing the envelope with your letters to the government, giving us much encouragement.
If we missed out on anyone, think of it as a blessing that there were so many of you giving support that we cannot list everyone, and not that you have been forgotten.
We have come a long way in 2013. With the highway project starting, we need to do more, not less. We have 95,000 more tombs to save.
Rain or shine or exhumations, we carry on with our tours.
And we thank you, this wonderful community, for carrying us. We who stand on the shoulders of others see further. May you be blessed in 2014.
by Goh Si Guim, of Nature Society (Singapore)
Bukit Brown at a Crossroad; Possible alternative
With the increased in population in Singapore, We envisioned that more land would be taken up by infrastructures. Areas occupied by roads will also grow to accommodate the concomitant growth in car population in Singapore. We recognized that the relevant agencies have implemented various measures to manage and curb growth in car population. Over the years, these measures include improvement in road systems and ERP. At the same time efforts have been made to make public transportation palatable to a wider section of the population. The greatly expanded rail network is a case in point.
However, it has been demonstrated that these measures, touted as ways to slash or curb car numbers, have been unsuccessful. It must also be recognized that the car population cannot be allowed to grow unabated, especially when there is fierce competitive uses for limited land. A measure of proportionality must prevail. Should it be skewed one way or another, they should be for the good of the great majority.
In this instance, a eight-lane highway is to be built to allow for a smoother flow of traffic over a short stretch of road. This is essentially to address a localized problem for some transient periods of time.
This problem could also be contributed by heavy and slow traffic flow in regions immediately adjacent to Lornie Road. We ponder its necessity and its ability to ameliorate the bottleneck encountered here and further afield, in areas leading to and leading away from Lornie Road.
These glacial traffics hinder the flow of vehicles, including public buses, which serve a greater proportion of the commuting public. With these schedules disrupted, it is not surprising that public transportation has been branded as unreliable.
An alternative passage to the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) can be implemented that could alleviate the congestions experience along Lornie Road and the close vicinities.
With the continuing expansion of the rail network (more in the pipeline), it is also time to relook current measures to manage car population.
The traffic coming from the north-east region of Singapore is largely channeled to the PIE via Lornie Road. The main axes leading to Lornie Road are Bartley Road, Upper Serangoon Road and the Central Expressway (CTE), through Braddell Road. Lornie Road also receives substantial traffic coming down from Upper Thomson Road, serving heartland areas of Bishan and Ang Mo Kio. Traffic going down Adam Road could have been slowed down by the busy Farrer-Bukit Timah junction. The slip roads from Lornie Road into both direction of PIE may also be inadequate.
Furthermore, the PIE itself may have been overwhelmed by heavy traffic, streaming from the east and city and north, via the CTE. This, in turn, slows down the traffic joining and leaving PIE at that junction. Several schools are situated around Whitley Road and Bukit Timah Road. Parents dropping off and picking up their children also impede traffic.
All in, the traffic in the wider area around and linked to Lornie Road are in the same state, slowed to a crawl in those hours!
Lornie Road merely serves as a conduit to channel traffic from one congested area to another. Having passed through the snarl on Lornie Road itself, motorist would still find themselves inching their way through many of the roads with myriad of intersections. During peak hours, the traffic exceeded the carrying capacities of Lornie and these other roads that are either feeding traffic into or draining traffic from it.
The junction of Sime Road and Lornie Road with traffic lights serves the needs of a small number of cars leaving Singapore Island Country Club. But it contributes substantially to the congestion and should be done away with.
The capacity of the PIE can be doubled with a extensive viaduct built over PIE (akin to West Coast/Pasir Panjang Road, Upper Serangoon Road, near Lor Lew Lian) as a two-tier highway.
With leaving Bukit Brown intact in mind, a viaduct can start from the Thomson/Marymount /Braddell junction (Junction A) area, above the Thomson Road southward towards the old Police Academy, swing west at the corner on PIE west of the Thomson Flyerover (Junction B). A slip road can allow traffic to join the PIE towards the East. The viaduct then follows the course of the PIE, over the Mt Pleasant Flyover (Bottleneck 2) and Adam Flyover (Bottleneck 1). It may rejoin PIE somewhere before the Eng Neo (or even before Exit 22). Alternatively, it can continue westwards to reach BKE. Eastwards, the viaduct can link up with CTE and perhaps beyond.
This viaduct would allow a large part of the east-west traffic to avoid those junctions that are feeding traffic into the PIE or bleeding traffic to surrounding regions. It thus allows some unhindered traffic on the viaduct, enabling them to avoid junctions or exit roads of no relevance to them. At the same time, these measures de-congest the original PIE, early smoother traffic flow in and out of peripheral roads.
Similar viaducts like the West Coast/Pasir Panjang Road viaduct and Upper Serangoon (passing Paya Lebar Methodist Church) viaduct and others essentially serve to allow motorists unimpeded travel,
Doubling the capacity of main carriageways through multi-tier methodology should be carried out more widely. This would allow the capacity of existing land devoted to roads to be harnessed several hundred percents. Converting new land to roads can be avoided, allow them to retain its present purpose or purposes that benefit other segment of the population (other than the motoring population). We ‘double’ exploit, where possible, the thousands of square kilometer of existing road surface that has already covered a substantial amount of land area in Singapore.
With direct reference to Bukit Brown, the grounds should be left in its existing state. The value of natural greenery defies easy quantification in terms of its biodiversity, climatic and environmental moderation, aesthetic and therapeutic benefits.
The quality matters a great deal too. Open grasslands, such as golf courses, are not substantive greenery, lacking in diversity and biomass. Here the greenery needs to be ‘multi-tiered’ as well and would do better to contribute the benefits mentioned prior.
Spaces need to be set aside for the times when the populace is not contributing to the GDP. Nature areas play valuable roles while seem idle. They contribute to the GDP by providing the counterbalance to a hectic lifestyle; rejuvenate us, enabling us to contribute to the GDP through healthy productivity and optimal consumption of resources. Nature heals in mysterious ways. Though unquantifiable, they nevertheless have immense power and value and contribute positively to the national ‘pie’, our economy.
Overall, this new highway does not alleviate the jam if the downstream hiccups are not done away with. By zooming out, It would be noted that the traffic snarl cover areas greater than Lornie Road itself. A more comprehensive study is needed.
By building this highway, it could only mean that a greater volume of vehicles is trapped and sitting through the jam, spewing toxic gases into the atmosphere.
On a wider perspective, it will be a very expensive undertaking to accommodate more cars on our road. This is in terms of the resources and their impact on the health of the environment and the population.
A high level panel must be created to comprehensively relook the overall infrastructural needs at many levels and involving many levels of consultation. All concepts and projections, however mundane or radical, must not be hastily dismissed but duly and rigorously addressed.
The relevant agencies must be forthcoming in seeking expertise input, even non-mainstream ones. Pertinent information must be shared in order that consultation covers all aspects.
A convincing outcome would be one that is acceptable to all.
The community of concerned groups over the future of Bukit Brown is formally calling for a moratorium on all plans for Bukit Brown. This moratorium should be in place until there is clarity over long-term plans for the area and discussions over alternatives have been exhausted. Given on-going national discussions over housing, transportation and immigration, there is room for policy adjustments. Plans to develop housing and transport infrastructure in the greater Bukit Brown area cannot be made when these discussions are underway and before the public has had an opportunity to fully consider the details surrounding such proposals.
In addition, there has not been sufficient time for a public conversation over plans by the Urban Redevelopment Authority and Land Transport Authority for Bukit Brown, nor a discussion about the alternatives proposed by the Nature Society’s position paper issued in December. We are asking for more meaningful engagement than what we have experienced so far. Bukit Brown is important enough that all parties should be able to participate in discussions over its future reasonably as interested citizens, whether individually, as informal communities, or organised formally.
More on the NSS Position Paper
What would Singapore be like if our grandparents had won?
By Lisa Li
Cemeteries now occupy less than 0.95% of land – do our grandchildren really need this?
“Do you want me to look after our dead grandparents or do you want me to look after your grandchildren?” asked then-Cabinet Minister Lim Kim San in the 1960s, and Minister of State Tan Chuan-Jin in 2012.
What would Singapore be like if our grandparents had won?
For one, we wouldn’t have the clear, grassy slopes of Fort Canning Park for WOMAD and Ballet Under the Stars. No, in its place, we’d have a messy Fort Canning Cemetery crowded with 19th-century graves of governors, administrators, sailors, traders, teachers, many young women and children – some even buried two to a grave.
Instead of Bishan housing estate, home to 91,298 people at last count, the Cantonese Kwong Wai Siew Association might still have their Peck San Theng (Jade Hill Pavilion) built in 1870 – the largest cemetery in Singapore, with 75,234 graves eventually exhumed. Likewise parts of Tiong Bahru, Henderson, Redhill, Serangoon, Jalan Bukit Merah would still have cemeteries where public housing now stands.
A Jewish cemetery dating from 1838 or 1841 would stand in place of Dhoby Ghaut MRT station, its small plot housing 160 graves. And instead of the shops at Velocity, Novena Square, Phoenix Park, we might see Jewish tombs designed by the famous Italian sculptor Cavalieri Rodolfo Nolli in the Thomson Road Jewish Cemetery, in use from 1904 onwards.
Instead of KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, on the land between Bukit Timah, Kampong Java, Halifax and Hooper Road, we’d have a flood-prone Bukit Timah Cemetery packed with Catholic and Protestant graves from 1865.
Neither would we have Ngee Ann City, Mandarin Hotel, Cathay Cineleisure and Wisma Atria. Instead, in the heart of Orchard Road would sit a 28-hectare burial ground Tai Shan Ting, managed by theTeochew Ngee Ann Kongsi.
And of course, we wouldn’t have those clear, flat fields along Upper Serangoon Road, a space now emptying itself out in preparation for new condominiums and residential towns. In its place, we might still have the 10.5-hectare early 20th-century Bidadari Cemetary, with its delicate marble sculptures and tombstones etched with different languages in the Christian, Muslim and Hindu sections.
One might conclude that the 1960s generation did the right thing. They were self-sacrificial enough (or, were forced) to forgo their ancestors’ graves so that their grandchildren could have the space for housing, shopping, infrastructure, all these modern amenities we now enjoy.
Especially for those of us living and working in Orchard, Novena, Tiong Bahru, Henderson, Redhill, Serangoon, Jalan Bukit Merah, this giving up of graveyard space for modern development seems good and necessary.
Burial grounds now occupy less than 0.95% of Singapore’s land area
But the fact is, back in 1967, burial grounds only made up 1.1% (619 hectares) of land area on Singapore Island, and by 1982, after the clearing of Bukit Timah Cemetery, Peck San Theng (Bishan) etc, it was down to 534 hectares (approx 0.95% of Singapore’s land area).
Furthermore, this 0.95% figure doesn’t even include the Thomson Road Jewish Cemetery (cleared by 1985), 10.5 hectare Bidadari Cemetery (cleared by 2006), and 7-hectare Kwong Hou Sua in Woodlands (cleared by 2009).
Is it really necessary to wipe clean these remaining precious spaces that take up less than 0.95% of Singapore’s land area?
And if Singapore desperately needs more land, why aren’t we first using the land area currently occupied by Orchid Country Club, Raffles Country Club, Singapore Island Country Club, Warren Golf & Country Club, and the golf and country clubs in Changi, Jurong, Keppel, Marina Bay, Kranji, Selatar Base, Sembawang, Tanah Merah?
(Golf courses cover 2.2% of Singapore, according to the URA Land Allocation Focus Group Final Report 2001.)
Perhaps in the past, it was deemed necessary for our grandparents to relinquish their burial grounds for public housing and the development of the shopping belt in Orchard and Novena.
But how much is enough, and what is the optimum point between preserving tangible heritage and history, and allowing the land to be taken over by even more modern amenities, condominiums and wider roads? This concerns all of us and future generations, and we need proper, genuine discussion before bulldozers irreversibly destroy these old spaces.
Minister of State Tan Chuan-Jin’s argument hinges on Mr Lim Kim San’s question, but asking Singaporeans to choose between our dead grandparents and our grandchildren is a severe misrepresentation of the issue.
I strongly suspect our grandchildren will not live in misery for want of that extra 0.95% of land. In fact, I hope our grandchildren will be more creative in their urban design, with efficient use of land and infrastructure, without resorting to the destruction of the few cemeteries left.
And if current public sentiment is anything to judge the future by, I suspect our grandchildren will enjoy walking in a protected, conserved Bukit Brown, seeing and touching history in tangible forms, and will one day ask, what would Singapore be like if our grandparents had won? That is, if we don’t win today.
Lisa Li is a member of SOS Bukit Brown. The Community of Bukit Brown calls for a moratorium on all plans for Bukit Brown, until there is clarity over long-term plans for the area and discussions over alternatives have been exhausted.
Tan, K. YL, ‘Introduction: The Death of Cemeteries in Singapore’ from Spaces of the Dead: A Case from the Living, (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2011.
Tan, B.H. & Yeoh, B. SA, ‘The Remains of the Dead: Spatial Politics of Nation-Building in Post-war Singapore’ from Spaces of the Dead: A Case from the Living, (Singapore: Ethos Books, 2011).
If you have come to know Bukit Brown and feel that it embraces our collective identity of Heritage.Habitat.History, then join the people of all ages and from all walks of life who have signed the open letter to the authorities to save it. Spread the word so it may be appreciated by future generations as a living legacy.
Heritage. Habitat. History.