Bukit Brown : Documenting New Horizons of Knowledge

Location: NLB 9th flood from now until 10 October’14 and thereafter it will travel to other regional libraries.

The exhibition was officially opened on Saturday 19 July,2014 by MOS (Ministry of National Development) Desmond Lee.

It represents almost one and half years of research and working the ground documenting some 4,153 tombstones which are affected by the building of a new highway across Bukit Brown, by a team under the leadership of Dr. Hui Yew-Foong, an anthropologist with ISEAS.

We have observed the team hard at work over these years, joined some of them during Qing Ming and exhumations as observers and friends of the family of descendants,  and the exhibition is a comprehensive and compact  expression of what they have uncovered, shared with the public with insight and interesting artefacts , enhanced by new technology.  We recommend it as a “must see” and “ground breaking”  for insights shared of customary practices and traditions of burial customs and respect for ancestors.

An extract from the media release:

Documenting New Horizons of Knowledge” assembles a diverse range of documents,maps, photographs and objects to demonstrate how a cemetery can open a window to Singapore’s historical past and cultural present. Through a multi-disciplinary approach employing cutting-edge methods, techniques and technology, the exhibition will bring to the fore new horizons of knowledge unveiled through the documentation of Bukit Brown.

The exhibition  opens with the origins of the cemetery, as a project of the Municipal Commissioners in early 20th in 1973, will be illustrated through maps and aerial photographs. Next, through explication of  tomb inscriptions, tomb typology and the material culture of the cemetery, the exhibition will demonstrate Singapore’s connectivity to the region, China and the world.

While the cemetery is a burial space for the dead, it is also a space for the living at different points of Singapore’s history and ritual calendar. This will be illustrated through the life of kampongs that used to be situated in the vicinity of the cemetery and the life of the cemetery during Qing Ming and the Seventh Month Hungry Ghost Festival.

As data for the graves was collected and organised within a Geographic Information System (GIS) framework, the exhibition will present a Centrepiece where visitors will be able to access data related to specific graves through a map-based database on a touch screen monitor.

Finally, visitors will get a glimpse behind the scenes of documentation work, to get a sense of the different methods, techniques and technologies that were employed in the course of documentation. These range from balloon photography to 3D scanning, from interviewing to filming, and from the work of architects to the work of archaeologists.


Highlights of the Exhibition Opening

Show and Tell photo Ang Hock Chuan

Dr Hui Yew-Foong, explaining material culture to MOS Desmond Lee during the curator’s walk through (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Show and Tell 1 (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Dr. Natalie Pang (NTU) who worked on the IT applications for the centerpiece map demonstrating how it works to MOS Desmond Lee (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Show and Tell 3  (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

The urn which used to house re-interred remains from other cemeteries to Bukit Brown (photo Raymond Goh)

This urn was used to re-inter bones exhumed from an older cemetery. It was from the grave of Madam Khoo Siok Hui, who died in 1836. Her grave was the oldest among those documented at Bukit Brown. Madam Khoo and her son Chee Yam Chuan were among the early settlers of Singapore. Mr Chee later returned to Malacca and made his fortune in tin mining in Selangor. Today, the Chee Yam Chuan Temple Trust continues to flourish in Malacca and Madam Khoo’s ancestral tablet can be found in the temple. The story behind this family shows the close links between Malacca and Singapore in the early years. It was Raymond Goh who first deciphered the inscription and unraveled  the connection.

Show and Tell 2  (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Treasure trove of jade bracelets worn by the women and traditionally buried with their wearers. (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Show and Tell 4  (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Descendant Serene Tan of pioneer Tan Quee Lan, gets one for the album when MOS Desmond Lee sportingly agrees to walk with her to visit her “great great grandfather’s road” ( photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Show and Tell 5  (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

They were accompanied by a entourage of brownies who have been sharing Serene’s journey of reconnecting with her ancestors since Raymond Goh found the Tan Quee Lan cluster re-interred from another cemetery at Bukit Brown (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

A video at the exhibition features Serene Tan and her family observing the first Qing Ming at Bukit Brown in 2012 after Raymond Goh discovered the cluster of  Tan Quee Lan tombs, and shows how the cluster underwent a renovation makeover by Serene and her cousin LT Tan who met at Bukit Brown itself.  Serene’s story can be read here

The cluster is not affected by highway.

Show and Tell 6  (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Brownies, academics, descendants, members of the documentation team at the exhibition (photo Khoo Ee Hoon)

“….to everyone who came and supported the launch, and most importantly, supported us and helped us generously with our research over the last 33 months. One of the purposes of the exhibition is to acknowledge all your contributions and I hope it accomplished that.” Dr Hui Yew- Foong, Curator of Exhibition on a FB posting.

Look out for 2 specially curated walks by the Brownies in conjunction with the exhibition in August (English) and September (Mandarin).

Photos taken of the exhibition courtesy of  Brownie Ang Hock Chuan on Facebook  here

Read more about the exhibition by the Rojak Librarian here








by  Joshua Ng

Instead of enjoying a quiet and uneventful Saturday, I chose to spend it at a live tomb measurement exercise. Armed with a trusty can of mosquito repellent, jeans and covered shoes, I arrived at the Bukit Brown Main Gate at 3.30pm. It was 35 degrees Celsius and I started to doubt my decision.

After a round of introductions, I was assigned to a team with Wei Ming (the drawing maestro), Andrew  and Simone who are Brownies (volunteer guides). We had met briefly during the previous week’s theory and briefing workshop at NLB.

Our assigned tomb was Tan Ean Kiam’s wife, Ye Yan Niang (葉焉娘). Our task was to measure and draw the front view, section view and the plan view of the tomb.

Tomb Measurement _Ee Hoon

Wei Ming (foreground) , Simone and Joshua (photo Ee Hoon)

Initially I was wondering why we needed four people to measure a tomb. It only made sense when we began our work. The curves, elevation and non-rectilinear structure makes it really hard to get an accurate reading. We had to use strings, bamboo sticks, IKEA flexible paper rulers, a metal tape measure as well as insect repellent to get it done.

Tomb Measurement 2 Ikea _Ee Hoon

Simone and Joshua  using the “ikea paper” ruler (photo Ee Hoon)

The little insects that make their homes around the tomb were not amused — I even got a few ant bites on my hands. Some even crawled up my covered shoes and jeans and bit my calves.

Thankfully, after three hours of hard work, we finally finished our sketch. Our drawings were not the best. We committed at least one mistake, which was to assume that the sides are mirror images of each other. Chee Kien told us that we should not assume but measure and draw the tombs just as they are found. He pointed out that sometimes in a “couple” tomb, part of the tombs may be intentionally elevated so that the “water” will flow towards the descendants of one side.

This is not the first insight I gained from these two weeks of tomb measuring. I also learned that the different dialect groups have very different tomb designs. The one we measured clearly had a Hokkien design. Besides that, only the tombs in Bukit Brown have special bricks backing behind the head stone. It would have been very expensive to import bricks from China, so  brick making was one of the earliest industries in Singapore.

As our assigned tomb was Tan Ean Kiam‘s wife, I figured he must have been some important person. I looked him up and found out that he was one of the founding members of OCBC Singapore. And he was also one  of the founding members of the  Tong Meng Hui (同盟会), which supported Sun Yet Sen’s revolutionary effort.

Another unique feature of this tomb is that the history of Mrs Tan was written by Tan Ean Kiam himself. According to the Brownies, Tan Ean Kiam’s own handwriting was inscribed on the body of the pedestal altar. Other than the fact that Tan Ean Kiam was alive when his wife passed away, we also know that he must have loved his wife a lot to do something so unusual as to personally inscribe her life story.

Tomb Measurement 5 _Andrew Lim

Tan Ean Kiam’s tribute to his wife inscribed on her grave (photo Andrew Lim)

What amazed me the most is the fact that such a simple exercise like tomb measuring could connect the dots in my understanding of those who went before me. It makes me wonder what interesting facts I can discover from my grandparents’ tomb. Qing Ming (清明) would have been more fun if we were told about all these unique cultural factoids.

Mrs Tan’s tomb is just one tomb. There are about 4,000 tombs that are going to be destroyed without proper measurement and documentation because of the building of a highway that will cut Bukit Brown into half. Who knows what other important life insights we might have missed by not preserving and treasuring the stories of those who went before us.

There are 100,000 graves at Bukit Brown. Imagine how much time and effort will be needed to document them all. And as a digital heritage enthusiast, I can’t help but wonder if there could be better and faster ways to do this. Looks like my journey have just begun.

Tomb Measurement 1 _Ee Hoon

One for the album with the full team. Andrew on the left , Simone, Joshua and Wei Ming with his drawing, (photo Ee Hoon)

Tomb Measurement 4 _Ee Hoon

Dr Lai Chee Kien (third from left) sharing a light- hearted moment with his students (photo Ee Hoon)

Group photo_Tan Wei Ming

The inaugural class of June’14 (photo Wei Ming)

Drawings+Khoo Ee Hoon

Some of the drawings from mainly the architectural students of the workshop (photo Ee Hoon)


Editors note

Documenting and taking precise measurements provide valuable data  to analyze the proportions and variations through IT applications and ultimately relate it to Feng Shui. Tombstones are not just built, they are “feng shui’ed” Citizenry participation in a project like this is crucial because of the sheer size of Bukit Brown and because it signals a deeper engagement of ordinary people in wanting to understand all aspects of Bukit Brown. So kudos to Lai Chee Kien for this initiative and the first batch of participants for signing up. Hopefully there will be more.

What the tomb measurement workshop covered here.




by Norman Cho

Norman Cho_2

The grave of great grand father Cho Boon Poo (photo Norman Cho)

In 2011, I discovered the grave of my paternal grandfather, Cho Kim Leong at Bukit Brown Cemetery. Since then, I have been trying to locate the tomb of his father, Cho Boon Poo (Cho Poo), who was laid to rest in Malacca. I had absolutely no clue as to which cemetery he was buried. Bukit Cina and Jelutong cemeteries came to mind but these are huge cemeteries with more than a hundred thousand graves each. They are maintained by the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple but pre-war records are unavailable. It seemed that I had hit a dead-end!

However, miracles do happen. To me, these are little blessings from above. Perhaps, the old man had wanted his descendants to visit him and had influenced how things turned out. It must have been decades since the last time any descendants paid their respects at his tomb. He must have known my sincerity and had helped me along without my knowledge. The breakthrough came in April 2014. A relative whom I had never known, contacted me via Facebook to introduce himself as the maternal great-grandson of Cho Poo, after he had discovered that we have matching ancestors from an online Family Tree software on the internet. 70 year old Vincent Lee was descended from Cho Poo’s eldest son, Cho Kim Choon, while my paternal grandfather, Cho Kim Leong, was the third son. He resides in Australia and was planning a trip down to Singapore in April 2014. He requested my assistance to put him in touch with the relatives in Singapore.

It turned out to be a blessing for me! I talked to my eldest aunt, Rose Cho (88 years old), to ask for the contacts of other relatives from the Cho clan. That was how I found aunt Elizabeth Cho (62 years old), who was the only child from the fifth son, Cho Kim Hock, a famed state badminton player for Malacca in the 1930s. We organised a dinner for our overseas relative and his wife. During dinner, I had a nice chat with Elizabeth – whom the family affectionately calls Bert – about Cho Poo. She told me that her only visit to his grave was when she was a child of 9 years old. That was more than 50 years ago! Her father who was the only surviving son at that time dreamt of his father asking him why he had not visited him in such a long time. Heeding the call, he brought his wife and daughter to pay their respects to his father. Since then, he had visited the grave alone every year till several years before his death in 1990.

Aunt Elizabeth, had the memory of an elephant! She vividly recalled that the cemetery was about a 40-minutes-drive from the Malacca Town, but had no inkling about the name of the cemetery. She further described that the cemetery was sliced into two by the main road, there was a cemetery on the left and another on the right, and Cho Poo’s was on the right. The tomb was relatively large and on a gentle-sloping plain. It faced a vast and beautiful paddy field. She added that the cemetery was on the land which once belonged to Cho Poo and was probably the private burial ground of the Cho family. Later, when the family was not doing well financially, it was sold to the Malacca’s Eng Choon Hway Kwan and it became a cemetery for the Eng Choon community. She thinks that the tomb should still be there, given the leisurely pace of development in Malaysia. She asked if I would be able to find the tomb. I told her that I could try. All her clues were useful, except for the paddy field. I told her that I doubt the paddy field in her memory still exists. Nevertheless, I took whatever clues that I could use and converted them into intelligent information.

Firstly, I eliminated Bukit Cina as it was near Malacca Town and therefore could not be a 40-minutes-drive. Next, I looked at the map of Jelutong cemetery but it was not sliced into two by any road. I asked a few Malaccan friends of other lesser-known cemeteries and searched the Google Map for them. Finally, I found a relatively small cemetery, probably no larger than 20 acres, which was dissected by a main road. It was away from the Malacca Town and would probably take about 30 minutes to get there by car. This was the Krubong Cemetery. To be certain that I had located the correct cemetery, I contacted a Malaccan friend who verified that this cemetery is indeed managed and owned by the Eng Choon Hway Kwan. He helped me to obtain the mobile contact of the tomb-keeper to locate the grave. With modern technology, I communicated with the tomb-keeper via Whatsapp to economize on the phone bill. Amazingly, he found the tomb the very next day. The search was completed successfully in less than a week since I started piecing the information together!

Norman Cho_6 pg

Locating Krubong Cemetery in Malaya on Google Map ( photo Norman Cho)

I informed aunt Elizabeth who was extremely excited and delighted with the news. We decided to go on a trip to Malacca to pay our respects to our common ancestor, Cho Boon Poo. He was the first ancestor who came to this part of the world to carve a better life for himself and his family. By braving the elements to come to the land across the Southern Seas, he had changed his destiny and that of all his descendants. It was through sheer grit and hard work that he built a successful business and owned vast plantations in Malacca and Seremban dealing in palm leaves, gambier, tapioca and rubber. We all had to be grateful to him for being able to lead good lives in Malaya and Singapore for six generations and counting. He married nyonya wives and that was how my Peranakan roots came about. Being a strict father, all his children were well-brought up and a few of his descendants took on key positions in the civil service.

I was told how strict he was about punctuality. The family would have dinner at 7pm sharp and everyone was expected at the table. Nobody could join in once dinner was served. If you missed dinner, it meant that there would be no dinner for you. During one occasion, his fourth son, Kim Tian came home late but the kind servant saved some food for him. When found out, the servant was sacked. He had a strong character and was on the board of the executive committee of the Eng Choon Hway Kwan.

We arrived at his grave on the morning of 23 June 2014 and I noticed that his tomb was the largest amongst the 50-odd tombs in the vicinity.

Norman Cho_1

Among the largest grave in the area (photo Norman Cho)

What captivated me were the Peranakan tiles (Majolica tiles) which adorned his tomb. No other tombs in the surrounding area had this feature. I was told that having Peranakan tiles on the tombs was not widely popular with the Malaccans. Unlike in Singapore, figurines of the Golden Boy and Jade Maiden were conspicuously absent in Malaccan tombs of even the very wealthy. The tomb used to face water-filled paddy fields which are supposed to be auspicious – water and rice. Unfortunately the paddy fields had since given way to modern development. Cho Poo’s tomb seems to be steep in Fengshui elements : the front courtyard of the tomb forms part of a hexagon instead of the normal rectangle or semi-circle. Along the perimeter of the front courtyard lies a water catchment channel which would collect water when it rains. This had since been covered with soil. The tomb shoulders are angular but eventually taper to form convoluting arms that seem to embrace the courtyard. Likely, it symbolizes a firm hold on wealth.Through the tomb inscriptions, I found the names of one of his wives (Lee Hong Neo) and that of the male descendants – sons, grandsons and even great-grandsons! He died at the age of sixty-nine in 1930. My aunt offered joss-sticks and joss-paper as a form of respect to our ancestor.

Norman Cho_3

(photo Norman Cho)

This trip has been very fruitful not only about finding out more about Cho Poo and paying our respects to him, but it has built a closer bond between aunt Elizabeth, her husband and I, even though we had known each other only recently.

More on Norman Cho’s journey of discovery, here

Norman Cho_5 jpg

Family photo taken with the tomb-keeper. (L-R): Norman Cho, Elizabeth Cho-Tan, Peter Tan, Tomb-keeper Liow. (photo Norman Cho)

Norman Cho_4 jpg

The shrine of the Earth Deity for the tomb (Norman Cho)



by Raymond Ang

We visited Bukit Brown on a warm Saturday morning on June 7th , to find that the usual scene to the cemetery gates changed. There are now fences leading all the way to the gates. Clearly the construction for the highway has started.

I had brought my students from the Jakarta Nanyang School here to Bukit Brown to learn more about the links between Indonesia and Singapore. The students sweltered in the humidity. I had two groups and one group had lost their way. They had set off from Nanyang Girls’ High School and one of them took a wrong bus.

Beng from the heritage group for Bukit Brown arrived on his bicycle dressed in green cargo pants and wellies. He wore “the” plastic Casio digital watch – the one I wore growing up in Secondary school. He had jerry rigged a plastic bottle to act as a mud guard for the rear wheel of his bicycle. I knew I was going to like him already.

Just as Claire arrived in a taxi, the group that was lost called me on the phone. They were still trying to figure out where they are. Their teacher was from Jakarta too and didn’t know her way around. We decided to start the walk with the one group of students first.

Claire led the way and started to draw connections between the pioneers’ lives, history and culture in Singapore and Indonesia for the students. The tombstones started to mean more than just a random collection of stone, concrete and tiles. The Japanese attack and occupation of Singapore was a large theme – Mr Tay Koh Yat had fled to Batavia on the second last day of the fall of Singapore.

JNV Students with Claire Leow at Tay Koh Yat(photo Raymond Ng)

JNY Students with Claire Leow at Tay Koh Yat (photo Raymond Ng)

Mr Lee Kuan Yew had family ties in Indonesia. Though bothered by mosquitoes and the heat, the students trudged on. Beng brought out his insect repellant and sprayed the students down. I had told the students to bring some repellent yesterday, but I guess no one did.

We found out that the other group were on the other side of the hill – Mount Pleasant. Beng offered to go get them and dashed off on his bicycle. Claire drew the connections between saga seed and karats for diamonds; between colourful European tiles, Japanese innovation and adaptation and the Ming Chinese influence on Dutch kitchen tiles.

We visited Ong Sam Leong’s tomb and learned about fengshui and distinctive role of Sikhs in Singapore’s colonial history. This is the Nanyang style. One of my students asked me what would happen when the highway gets built. I replied that all this would disappear eventually – she didn’t seem to quite understand. “But it is interesting”, she said. “Yes I agree. I don’t think there is anything else quite like it in the world.” She frowns. “So it would all be gone?”. I nodded. It was sweltering hot. Some of the students were running low on water. Beng pulls out his canteen and starts topping up bottles. I feel very grateful and touched, but wasn’t sure how to express that. So I just smiled and made a mental note.

JNY Students with Beng Tang _photo Raymond Ng

JNY Students with Beng Tang (photo Raymond )

We ended the tour with a visit to Mr Tan Chor Nam’s tomb. It is simple and distinctively modern. A rectangular plot with a black rectangular headstone. No angels nor lions here. Herein lies one of the founders of Nanyang Girls’ High School. I asked the students to observe the differences between this tomb and the others we have visited in the morning – they could clearly see the difference. The principle of Nanyang Girls High (Singapore), Mdm Heng had told me once that Mr Tan Chor Nam had died a simple man – apparently he had dedicated a large part of his fortune in setting up the school. I tried to draw the connections between Nanyang Girls’ High School and the sister school in Jakarta, and asked the students to maybe think about how they would like to be remembered in the future.

For me Bukit Brown is a reminder that we stand on the shoulders of giants who have come before us, and shaped the environment in which we have grown and “become”. “What would your legacy be?” I asked? The students looked back at me without speaking. It was a serious question. Maybe too serious. I smiled and said, “alright, you don’t have to tell me. Just think about it.” I hope they do.


Raymond Ang, a Singaporean, is the Head of Experiential Education Centre at the JNY, the Jakarta Nanyang School. He requested a visit to Bukit Brown when his students were on a week long learning journey to Singapore. Brownies Claire Leow and Beng Tang, who stepped up to the plate, despite the late notice, were very impressed with how engaged the students were and their independence as they had to find their own way to Bukit Brown.

JNY Students at Ong Sam Leong (photo All Things Bukit Brown)

JNY Students at Ong Sam Leong (photo All Things Bukit Brown)

 by Ang Yik Han

Chua Chwee Oh (蔡水湖) photo Yik Han

Chua Chwee Oh (蔡水湖) (photo 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 (蔡水湖) 1 photo Yik Han

Chua Chwee Oh (蔡水湖) (photo Yik Han)

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.


3rd June 2014

Tomb Measurement 2-Day Workshop with Dr. Lai Chee Kien

NB: There has been a change in starting time for Session one at NLB from 1 pm to 1.15pm.


(photo Lai Chee Kien)

Places available: :30

Session One  : 1.15pm -4pm, Saturday 14 June 2014

Location: Imagination Room, 5th floor, National Library, Victoria Street

 Session Two  3.30pm- 6.30pm, Saturday  21 June 2014,

Location: Bukit Brown Cemetery Gate (meeting point)

1)  Description:

From 2011-2013, several architecture students supervised Dr Lai Chee Kien have measured tombs at the former Bukit Brown Municipal Cemetery as an attempt to record the historical and unique types and hybrids found in the cemetery, now under threat of road development. This workshop aims to share the basics of measuring objects and buildings, but with a focus on the experiences of measuring tombs at Bukit Brown. It is hoped that design students and members of the public can learn the basics of tomb measurement, and in future volunteer to record other significant tombs, or those of deceased relatives. These will serve as archival records in the future for all.

2) Scope

14 June 2014 (Theory session)

(a) Introduction to measuring objects and buildings

(b) Methods, tools, and practices

(c) Tomb types and features

(d) Inhouse practice session

21 June 2014 (Practical session at Bukit Brown)

(e) Introduction to Bukit Brown

(f) Groupwork: measuring a small tomb

3. Things to bring (theory session)

(a) A4 clipboard

(b) Measuring tape (5m or more)

(c) Pen or pencil (paper will be provided)

[Items for practical will be discussed at theory session]

4. Pre-requisites

(a) Participants who have attended guided tours of Bukit Brown cemetery would be appreciated.

(b) Participants who have prior 3D drawing knowledge (architects, designers, architectural and design students) would have an advantage.

(c) Participants are required to attend both the theory and practical sessions.

Disclaimer: By agreeing to participate in the practical session held 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.

To register, please email latest Wednesday 11   June’2014 to : a.t.bukitbrown@gmail.com
with Subject; Registration for Tomb Measurement Workshop.Participants to indicate name, IC, contact number, email and relevant interest/experience as stated in 4 (a) and (b). Successful applicants will be informed by email. 

About Dr. Lai Chee Kien:

Dr Lai is a registered architect, and graduated from the National University of Singapore with an M Arch. by research [1996], and then a PhD in History of Architecture & Urban Design from the University of California, Berkeley [2005]. He researches on histories of art, architecture, settlements, urbanism and landscapes in Southeast Asia

Lai Chee Kien of the documentation team (photo: Claire Leow)                 Dr.  Lai Chee Kien of the documentation team (photo: Claire Leow)

Tan Ean Teck  (1902-1944)

Tan Ean Teck (photo: Family Archives)

Tan Ean Teck (photo: Family Archives)

According to “Biographies of Famous Personalities in the Nanyang,” Tan Ean Teck came to Singapore from Tong Ann, China at the age of 16. He worked for about four years in his brother’s (Tan Ean Kiam) company before striking out on his own,  setting up  his own rubber trading firm.

He was a strong supporter of the anti-Japanese war effort in China, and contributed to charitable causes in both China and other lands. He also contributed to the Hokkien Huay Kuan, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, the Tong Ann District Guild, as well as many schools and social institutions,

But Tan Ean Teck’s life was tragically gunned down when he became a casualty of WW 2. On 19 April, 1944, the MPAJA (Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army)  ambushed officials of the OCA ( Overseas Chinese Association)  en route to visit the Chinese settlement of Endau in Johor.

A member of the OCA convoy,  captures vividly what happened:

Extract:: Scholar, Banker, Gentleman Soldier: The Reminiscences of Dr. Yap Pheng Geck

Extract:: Scholar, Banker, Gentleman Soldier: The Reminiscences of Dr. Yap Pheng Geck

Tan Ean Teck’s body was taken back to Singapore and  4 days later on 23ed April , he was buried in Bukit Brown, close to his brother Tan Ean Kiam.  He was 42 years old.

Tan Ean Teck (photo Raymond Goh)

Tan Ean Teck (photo Raymond Goh)

Prologue: Endau and World War II

In August 1943, in order to ease the food shortage problem in Singapore, the Japanese authorities mooted the idea of setting up new settlements outside Singapore and encouraging Singaporeans to relocate to these settlements to cultivate the land there. These settlements were planned to become self-sufficient in food supply. A settlement was created for Chinese settlers at Endau in Johore. (Source: Iinfopedia)

From Alex Tan Tiong  Hee

My understanding, based on my late father’s (Tan Yeok Seong)  account:

The OCA was not popular with the anti-Japanese elements that went underground to survive. Those living an open unconcealed life in public were natural targets for the Kempeitai who sought revenge against the Chinese, hence the pogrom.

The pacification of Japanese antagonism was the OCA’s raison d’etre and which had to be traded by the raising of $50million from the Chinese community as a gift for the Japanese emperor’s approaching birthday. This being done, the persecution or ‘sook ching’ then ended.

The communist terrorists were enterprising enough to merge with the anti-Japanese underground group to form the MPAJA. They accused the OCA as collaborators and monitored the Endau Project. Their opportunity came when they ambushed and fired at a convoy killing all except Lee Choon Seng who was Vice President of the OCA.

The $50 million ( Tan Yeok Seong family archives)

The $50 million “ransom”( Tan Yeok Seong family archives)

Extract from Collaboration during the Japanese Occupation : Issues and Problems focusing on the Chinese Community by Han Ming Guang (Hons thesis for history):

Even though Endau was administered by the Chinese, the fact that it was sponsored by the Japanese military and established by the O.C.A whom the MPAJA saw as an organisation of collaborators, meant that the Chinese administrators that administered the settlement were now targets for the MPAJA guerrillas. The MPAJA guerrillas ambushed the O.C.A officials that were on their way to visit Endau and in the process wounded Mr Lee Choon Seng, the chairman of the Overseas Banking Corporation. They also managed to kill Mr Wong Tatt Seng, who was in-charge of maintaining peace and order within the settlement, along with other Chinese administrators who were also living in Endau at the time of the attacks.

While it was clear that the MPAJA viewed the members of the O.C.A as well as the Chinese leaders of Endau as collaborators and traitors, in general the people who were living in Endau did not share those views. They understood that the Endau plan was conceived by the O.C.A and Mamoru Shinozaki in order to save Chinese lives from the dreaded Kempeitai , by giving the Chinese community a piece of land in Johore, for them to live separately and free from the Japanese military.

Pat Lin on life in Endau:

According to my parents, Maggie Lim and Lim Hong Bee (H.B. Lim) both of whom were actively involved with the MPAJA in the Endau settlement (Yes, I was there too) there were people in the OCA who were what we may today call double agents. They included some very prominent local people who on the surface professed to be anti-Japanese, but who were informers who were usually rewarded by the Japanese.

As with the French resistance, it was a very difficult time as people all lived under a climate of uncertainty as to who was about to betray them to the Japanese. My mother also had her suspicions as to those who carried out the covert assassination of informers.

She has a vivid story of having to deal with someone who was brought into the Endau clinic (she was the Endau doctor) one evening with a bullet in his head. As a physician she was duty bound to do everything to save him. She was filled with the reluctance to do anything as it was known by the Endau leadership that he fed information to the Japanese that led to people being taken away for execution or disappearing suddenly. Possession of any sort of weapons was punishable by death, but people like my father possessed hand guns that they somehow received from some source and were very carefully hidden.

Endau was located in healthier environs and there were more people who managed to make a go of farming. The staples were kangkong and ubi kayu. My little family brought chickens up from Singapore piled up In chicken coops on top of a lorry. Some of them ran off into the jungle, and others fell prey to wild animals. Wild animals including roaming tigers were a real threat.

The first year in Endau and Bahau were particularly bad before the first harvests. OCA members from Singapore would make periodic visits with whatever they could scrounge up including medicines. Some within the community tried being entrepreneurial by trying to sell black market food stuffs they somehow managed to obtain. Mom recalled being so hungry from having to work and nurse me but my father being ever the man of high ethical standards refused to allow the purchasing of black market goods.

An Epilogue on a Life Miraculously Saved

The metal badge of the OSA worn on the chest, deflected the bullet  that could have fatally wounded  the Vice President of the OSA,  Lee Choon Seng. He believed he was saved for a reason and his life took on a spiritual quest in the aftermath of war. Lee Choon Seng subsequently founded the Poh Ern Shih to  dedicate merits to people killed during the occupation. His grandson transfromed the monastery into Singapore’s first green temple.


Editor’s Acknowledgement : This blog post is a compilation of first hand accounts and research from the  Heritage Singapore Bukit Brown  Facebook Community.



by Ang Yik Han

Cheok Hak Leng (石学能)  2Yik Han.jpg NUS  chinese lib

Cheok Hak Leng (石学能) (image source: NUS Chinese Library)

Cheok Hak Leng (石学能) died in 1929 at the age of 34. His father was a rice merchant and he studied in Chong Cheng School. After leaving school, he founded Seng Cheong Sawmill with two other partners. He was the firm’s general manager.

It was mentioned in an account of his life that he joined the Tong Meng Hui in Singapore (Lim Nee Soon’s list of Tongmenghui members does not include his name, unless he joined under a pseudonym). Given that the Chinese Revolution took place in 1911 when he was only 16, he would have been a very young member.

Cheok Hak Leng (石学能)  (photo Yik Han)

The tomb of Cheok Hak Leng (石学能) (photo Yik Han)

On his tomb, a pair of couplets.

Cheok Hak Leng (石学能)  1Yik Han.jpg 精魂游仙界 The immortal spirit wanders about the heavenly realms

精魂游仙界  (photo Yik Han)



The immortal spirit wanders about the heavenly realms








Cheok Hak Leng (石学能)  1Yik Han.jpg 2 金尸埋俗尘 The corporeal body lies buried in the mortal world

金尸埋俗尘 (photo Yik Han)






The corporeal body lies buried in the mortal world









A footnote:

8 December 2012
Straits Time: Life!
Meaningful to find ancestors’ tombs

Melissa Sim’s article Finders Of Long- forgotten Tombs (Sunday Life!, Dec 2) was unique and interesting.

I had long wanted to find the tomb of my grandfather, who died in 1929 and was buried at the Bukit Brown cemetery. When the Land Transport Authority announced its plans last year to build a highway that will cut through the cemetery, my interest was reignited.

Armed with a copy of the register of burials from the National Archives, I made my way to the cemetery full of hope of locating my grandfather’s grave. How wrong I was. Bukit Brown is a massive place with no proper signs and directions, making it difficult to find ancestors’ tombstones.

It was during my second trip there in January this year, after a futile attempt the previous month, that I discovered not only my grandfather’s tomb but also those of his two brothers adjacent to his.

All this was made possible through the assistance of Mr Raymond Goh, who was featured in Ms Sim’s article.

Mr Goh said: “This is my country, it’s worth fighting for because my ancestors are here.” I echo that statement.

Bennie Cheok
NB: Bernie Cheok is a grandson of Cheok Hak Leng

Cheok Hak Leng (石学能) (photo Yik Han)

Cheok Hak Leng (石学能) (photo Yik Han)

(The tomb is at Hill 3,  up the track after Tan Chor Lam’s grave)



by Ang Yik Han

白心正, Pek Sim Jia (photo Yik Han)

白心正, Pek Sim Jia (photo Yik Han)

The tomb  of 白心正 (probably Pek Sim Jia in romanised Hokkien) at Hill 3. Hailing from Anxi (安溪 – An-khoe) county of Fujian, he was the proprietor of Pek Sam Choon (白三春) -  a tea importer who was one of the founding members of the Singapore Chinese Tea Importers and Exporters’ Association in 1928.

No longer in operation today, the firm was known to still exist in the 1950s when it was run by one of his sons, Thiam Hock, whose name appears on his tombstone. As Anxi county is famed for producing tea especially Ti Kuan Yin (铁观音), a sizable proportion of local Chinese tea merchants hail from that county. Some old firms founded before the war are still around today.

advertisement for Pek Sam Choon in the 30th anniversary commemorative publication of Singapore Ann Kway Association 1952

Advertisement for Pek Sam Choon in the 30th anniversary commemorative publication of Singapore Ann Kway Association 1952

Registered trademarks of Pek Sam Choon (ST 12 Dec 1931)

Registered trademarks of Pek Sam Choon (ST 12 Dec 1931)



By Perry Tan, Senior Manager, Cash Management Services, Standard Chartered Bank

On a misty Saturday morning, 33 volunteers from Standard Chartered Bank congregated at a most unlikely venue – Bukit Brown Cemetery.

Cleaning Tombs 2_Perry Tan

(photo montage by Perry Tan)

This is no ordinary cemetery. Home to 100,000 tombs, Bukit Brown  which opened in 1922  as a municipal cemetery  is part of a complex of older adjoining clan cemeteries. The complex is  the biggest outside of China. Its historical significance is substantial, and  include  tombs that date back to the last days of the Qing dynasty from  the 1840s which were relocated from private burial grounds and clan cemeteries which had to make way for development.  Bukit Brown is listed on the World Monuments Watch list 2014 as a heritage site threatened by the development of an 8 lane highway.

Armed with water bottles, shovels, saws, garden shears and other equipment, we were ready to explore the cemetery and clean up some of the tombs.

We were joined by seven Brownies, veteran citizen volunteers who dedicate their time and expertise to preserving Bukit Brown. The Brownies were our tour guides and provided cleaning work supervision, while we played tourists before offering our helping hands in tomb cleaning.

We started with the Brownies taking us on a walking tour that educated us on the history, culture, and heritage of the cemetery, as well as the rich stories of the men and women who were laid to rest. Bukit Brown is the final resting place for many famous pioneers of Singapore. We walked through the dirt tracks, stopped by prominent tombs and listened to numerous stories of many pioneers of Singapore – educators, scholars, doctors, businessmen, bankers, philanthropists, and the common men who built up the city state during its early days. Many of the names, like Chew Joo Chiat, Chew Boon Lay and Gan Eng Seng, were names that were not unfamiliar to us.

Next, we literally rolled up our sleeves and split into groups. Supervised by the Brownies, we proceeded to clean up several tombs that had been covered with vegetation, roots and dirt, restoring dignity to the pioneers resting below. We pulled weeds and shrubs, chopped at overgrown roots and dangling branches, scraped and removed algae, swept away fallen leaves, and wiped grime off the tomb stones. It was a good solid three hours of sweaty and grubby hard work, but the sense of satisfaction was immeasurable when we inspected our handiwork at the end of the session, knowing that we made a contribution towards the preservation of a heritage site of such significance.

Cleaning Tombs_Perry Tan

(photo montage Perry Tan)

The day culminated in a finale where we trekked to the magnificent tomb of Ong Sam Leong, where we were treated to a top-of-a-hill view and stories of the biggest tomb in Bukit Brown.

At the end of the day, we shook hands to express mutual appreciation with the Brownies. Something tells us that this would not be the last community activity at Bukit Brown as several volunteers have expressed their desire to be back for more.

Shaking Hands_Perry Tan

(photo montage Perry Tan)


Stanchart Cleanup _Claire Leow

Brownie Khoo Ee Hoon briefing Stanchart volunteers (photo Claire Leow)

The Standard Chartered Clean-up took place on  Saturday 26 April 2014


July 2014
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