The Last Stand – relive the final hours before the fall of Singapore. Andrew will bring you to the site of the battle of Bukit Brown whereby the Japanese routed the British. You will walk the same paths where the combants have fought.
This guided walk starts at 7.00pm and ends at 9.00pm
Meeting Point: Bukit Brown entrance gates at Lorong Halwa. In the event that the old main Gate has been closed, kindly wait / meet at the new connecting road which is before the old road.
Difficulty: Average, some trekking required
Please bring umbrella or poncho / sun block / mosquito repellent.
Please wear covered footwear.
Please note: 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)
Please register at Peatix.
Becoming Bishan: A Heritage Exhibition
What is Bishan? A concrete jungle of million-dollar HDB flats? The futuristic, award-winning architecture of SkyHabitat and Bishan Library? Or even the bustling activity of Junction 8? These are the conventional perceptions of the young, vibrant town of Bishan – an ex-cemetery transformed into a heartland showpiece.
Our team, however, felt that there just had to be more to this rising area. Whether we were lifelong residents of the district or saw it as a mere part of our daily commute to school, we became increasingly curious about how this place came to be. Why was there even a cemetery in Bishan in the first place? Did people live in Bishan before the HDB flats were built? What was Bishan’s place in the Singapore Story?
Driven by overwhelming curiosity, we, in conjunction with the Raffles Archives and Museum, embarked upon the Becoming Bishan Project, hoping that the outcomes of our research would be able to provide a poignant contribution to our country’s jubilee celebrations.
Our first step was to analyse the development of Bishan through maps. One of our members, Yilun, is an avid map enthusiast with an especial interest in urban redevelopment. With gusto, he surfaced many old maps of the area, the oldest dating back to 1924. Through painstaking effort, he managed to highlight the stark changes in the landscape of the area, as well as match old landmarks of the area to more familiar present-day ones. The topographical studies revealed many details about the geography of the Bishan area. Today, the land that makes up Bishan is rather flat. However, the contours of old maps suggest that pre-redevelopment,
Bishan was covered by rolling hills. Many photographs also show the grave-covered hills with the HDB flats of Toa Payoh in the background. This explains the how the name “Bishan” (“Jade Hills” in Mandarin) came about. One of our interviewees even compared the view from a Toa Payoh flat to a green dragon, because of the undulating hills and the scale-like tombs on them.
There were several kampongs within the cemetery, the most notable one being Kampong San Teng, whose kampong association members still meet regularly today. Interviews with the old residents revealed a rather self-sufficient community, with a school, farms, a teahouse and a market. There was also a cinema, Nam Kok cinema, in the Bishan area that screened Chinese and Western films. A worker in the KPT coffee shop in Bishan North told us of how he used to work there, proudly showing us his old posters of Elvis Presley and actors from Hong Kong. But when we asked about people’s impressions of Bishan before redevelopment, the greatest fears were not ghosts and spirits, but secret society activity.
We also made several exciting discoveries along our research journey. One was that Bishan was once a World War II battlesite! Jon Cooper, who also runs the Bukit Brown battlefield tours, managed to surface the battalion diaries and hand-drawn maps of the Second Cambridgeshire Regiment. These documented the action at Braddell Road in the dying days of the Battle for Singapore (1942). Further research revealed that the battle positions occupied by the British troops are the present-day locations of Junction 8 shopping mall, Bishan Library and Raffles Institution. This story was corroborated by many residents, who recalled the sounds of gunfire through the rolling hills of Bishan. Another revelation we made was that the philanthropist Wong Ah Fook was once buried in the Peck San Theng cemetery and his ashes now lie in the columbarium, something that even those running the columbarium had been unaware of.
Along the way, our team has also met and befriended many diverse characters, who each have their own personal stake in Bishan. From the intriguing Mr. Molay, a Cantonese-speaking Indian man whose father once owned a hundred cows in Bishan, to the unabashed Mr. Loh, who once ate human flesh to survive the deprivation of the Japanese Occupation, it is the stories of these people who make the Bishan Story come alive. We thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to talk to these individuals and learn more about the almost-foreign land that is the past. Later, we also spoke to current residents who told us about their thoughts and memories about this place. Though it is hard to say that the HDB dwellers of today have the same community spirit as kampong residents did, it was interesting to note how people develop, or fail to develop, attachments to Bishan.
We feel immensely privileged to have had the experience of exploring Bishan’s story and curating this exhibition, and hope that you might find meaning of your own in our fruits of labour and love.
The Becoming Bishan exhibition will be officially launched on 11 July (Saturday), from 9 am – 12 noon, at the Bishan Community Library. This event will be graced by Senior Minister of State Josephine Teo. The exhibition will run at the Bishan Community Library from 1 July to 23 August, Ang Mo Kio Public Library from 24 August to 30 September and Toa Payoh Public Library from 1 to 31 October.
This is a student project from Raffles Institution, as part of the South cluster schools’ contribution to the SG50 celebration efforts.
This blog post is a team contribution from the students of Raffles Institution involved in Becoming Bishan.
atBB visited the exhibition and we are struck by the sheer breath of the history and heritage the students have been able to uncover of Bishan and how it has evolved into what it is today. From the old to the modern, the curated posters capture more than a snap shot, but with carefully chosen quotes, it has emotional resonance such that, one can be transported to a different time and space in Singapore.
Of particular interest was the coverage on how the community coped with WW 2 and provided refuge for other residents in other areas in war torn Singapore.
The exhibits on WW II was an eye opener with artefacts from both Japanese and British sides.
Augmented with video recordings of residents interviewed makes this exhibition a exemplar template for exhibitions on other neighbourhoods to emulate. Accompanying the exhibition is a pictorial booklet which value adds the exhibition and makes for a treasured keep sake for those interested in history and heritage and the transition to the modern.
atBB has been following the development of this project since the students first approached us for help in understanding cemetery culture and symbolism. We are proud to have made a small contribution to this project and have to say that full credit go to the students for taking it so far from when they first began. Congratulations and well done!
Mdm Chng of the Pang Family – A Mother of Journalists, Educationists and Revolutionaries
by Ang Yik Han
Located at Hill 4 in Bukit Brown, the Teochew style tomb of Mdm Chng of the Pang family (方母莊太夫人) is simple and nondescript. A sharp-eyed observer will notice however that the calligraphy on the tombstone came from the hand of Lin Sen (林森), Chairman, of the ruling pre war Nationalist government in China.
Another sign of her family’s close connection to the Kuomintang was the fact in her obituary in the Nanyang Siang Pau, she was described as the mother of a martyr. This was in reference to her second son, Pang Nam Gang (方南岡), whose story was recorded in Feng Ziyou’s “Anecdotal History of the Revolution《革命逸史》” published in 1948.
Although two of Mdm Chng’s sons passed away before her, the names of all her sons were inscribed on her grave: Siao Cheok少石 (deceased), Nam Gang 南岡 (matyred), Chee Dong 之 棟, Huai Nam 懷南, Chee Cheng 之楨. Also present were the names of two daughters, though her obituary only mentioned one surviving daughter.
Pang Nam Gang had a good grounding in classical Chinese education. However, he spurned the traditional path of becoming a mandarin and chose to pursue his studies in Japan. There, he joined the Tongmenghui. Deeply committed to overthrowing Manchu rule, he devoted his time outside of studies to learning how to make bombs.
In 1905, Pang and eleven of his compatriots in Japan were ordered by Sun Yat-Sen to return to China to assist in the Huang Gang uprising in the Teochew region. Injured while preparing bombs, he was brought to Hong Kong and hospitalised, hence missed out on the action. When the uprising petered out, Pang decided to join his uncle who was a local governor in Gansu, with the intention of seeking opportunities to incite the local Hui people to rise against the Qing. His uncle was initially pleased to see his nephew, but flew into a rage when word reached him that Pang was a revolutionary. Locked up by his uncle, Pang escaped with the help of other relatives, stealing two horses and riding to Hankou, where he sold the horses and boarded ship for Japan to continue his studies. Eventually, he made his way to Penang where he became the editor of the Kwang Wah Yit Poh newspaper which was linked to the Tongmenghui.
The young revolutionary could not sit still for long. When news of the successful 1911 uprising in Wuhan reached the Nanyang, Pang rushed back to China where he raised a fighting force in his home county of Pho Leng. When Yuan Shikai was elected the first President of the nascent Chinese Republic, Pang felt that Yuan could not be trusted as he had too many links with the old regime. Disgruntled, he returned to Penang where he took up his old job at the newspaper.
Pang’s worst fears came true in 1915 when Yuan Shikai assumed the title of Emperor. This time, he could no longer abide the situation and returned to China again to fan the flames of revolution. Unfortunately, he was captured in Macau by Yuan Shikai’s agents and smuggled across the border and imprisoned. At first, he assumed a false identity and did not divulge any information even under torture. However, his fervent preaching of revolutionary ideas to his fellow prisoners gave him away and he was summarily executed. So perished a martyr of the Chinese Revolution at the age of 29.
Mdm Chng’s obituary also mentioned that her three surviving sons were active in the areas of journalism, education and social works. Her youngest son, Pang Chee Cheng (方之楨), was in the limelight as well for his involvement in politics. A journalist, he was a KMT cadre who actively canvassed support for the party as one of the main committee members of the Nanyang branch headquarters.
In 1930, Sir Cecil Clementi became the Governor of the Straits Settlements. He had a dislike of the KMT due to its instigations of strikes during his previous posting in Hong Kong. On the day that he arrived and assumed office in Singapore, it was unfortunate that the KMT Nanyang branch headquarters chose to hold its general meeting at the same time.
One of the first acts of the Governor was to summon the KMT representatives to his office where he told them in no uncertain terms that the KMT was not allowed to operate local branches in the Straits Settlements and Malaya. A few months later, the Governor upped the ante by issuing orders to deport Pang Chee Cheng and another KMT stalwart; well aware of the situation, they left on their own for China first.
Quiet diplomacy between the British and Chinese governments behind the scenes eventually led to the deportation orders being rescinded. In later years, Pang Chee Cheng was based largely in China where he was active in the Overseas Community Affairs Council (僑務委員會) set up by the Nationalist government.
Pang Chee Cheng often met with renowned personalities of the day. So it was that when the Indian poet Tagore visited in 1927, Chee Cheng arranged for him to travel to Muar and visit Zhonghua School (中華學校, a forerunner to today’s 中化), where Tagore was received by his brother Pang Chee Dong (方之棟) who was the principal then. A graduate of a university in Beijing, Chee Dong was successively principals of Chinese medium schools in Kajang, Muar and Batu Pahat. In 1933, he may have worked as editor of a Chinese newspaper in Rangoon as well.
After the Japanese invaded, he perished during Sook Ching in Singapore, leaving behind his widow and 2 sons.
The fourth son Pang Huai Nam (方懷南) was the first editor of Nanyang Siang Pau (南洋商報) established by Tan Kah Kee in 1923. Slightly less than a month into its publication, he left the newspaper as the Straits Settlements authorities found his writing too political for their liking. He was also a committee member of the Poit Ip Huay Kuan and principal of Choon Guan School. It was mentioned in Phua Chay Leong’s “The Teochews in Malaya” that he shared the same sad fate as his elder brother Chee Dong during Sook Ching.
Mentioned as well in Mdm Chng’s obituary was one of her grandsons, Pang Say Hua (方思法). Born in Singapore to her eldest son, he was “fostered” to his uncle Pang Nam Gang; his father was convinced that his second brother would come to no good end with his revolutionary ways and hence it was better that he had a son to his name. Pang Say Hua went back to China to study and subsequently became a signaler in the Nationalist Army. He was one of the many caught up in the tumult of the times. Due to his background, he suffered after the Communists took over, being imprisoned for over ten years. After his release, he worked at various jobs and retired in 1980. His story became known when a civic organisation in the Teochew region which sought to recognize veterans of the Sino-Japanese War found him and publicised his story.
Single for life, he attended church regularly and spent his last days in a Christian old folks’ home where his favourite pastime was to watch Teochew opera. He died in Jan 2015, a month after he celebrated his 104th birthday.
He was an old trustee of the Soon Thian Keing (Temple) who together with his wife is buried at Bukit Brown. Through his personal memories, Ho Siew Tien (1864-1960) helped shed light on the temple’s history.
This story by Ang Yik Han begins with the origins of one of the oldest temples in Singapore.
In the 1980s, a debate took place in the local newspapers over the age of an old Chinese temple dedicated to the earth deity Tua Pek Kong in Malabar Street. Historians argued over an ambiguous phrase in one of the temple’s old stelae, which stated that the temple, the Soon Thian Keing (順天宮), was established during the years of the reigns of Jiaqing and Daoguang (“嘉道之際”). As the Jiaqing Emperor ruled from 1796 to 1820 and Daoguang from 1821 to 1850, proponents of an earlier dating for the temple argued that its establishment may have predated the founding of Singapore in 1819. However, there was no direct evidence to support this claim. No artefacts survived from the temple’s earliest days and the stele in question was erected only in 1902 when the temple was reconstructed.
One the earliest known accounts of the Soon Thian Keing before its reconstruction was an interview given by one of its trustees, Ho Siew Tian (何秀填), in 1949. He recalled that when he first arrived in Singapore in 1882 at the age of 18, the temple was only a small shrine located next to a tree which housed the Tua Pek Kong statue. The shrine was refurbished by two merchants in 1888. It was only in 1902 (28th year of Guangxu’s reign) that some merchants based in the Sio Po area (the colloquial Chinese term for the part of town north of the Singapore River) came together to construct a proper building for the temple.
Other than getting a new building, the turn of the 20th century was significant for the temple for another reason. Some Hokkien merchants started a school in 1903 and then turned to the temple committee for funding to sustain the school. Thus began the decades long association between the temple and the Chung Cheng School (崇正学校) [not to be confused with Chung Cheng High (中正學校) which was managed by the Hokkien Association].
Every year, the temple provided for the school’s upkeep from the money paid by the resident monk who was contracted to run the temple. In 1916, a school for girls, the Chong Pun Girls School (崇本女校) was started and likewise funded by the temple. Committee members of the Soon Thian Keing sat on the boards of both schools. Prominent alumni members of the Chung Cheng School over the years included Lee Kong Chian and President Ong Teng Cheong.
As the number of students increased, the need for new premises for both schools was keenly felt. In 1938, the construction of a new school building at Aliwal Street was completed. This housed both the Chung Cheng School as well as the Chong Pun Girls School under one roof. It was recorded that Ho Siew Tian was a prime driver in the construction of the new school building along with the then temple chairman. A trustee of the Soon Thian Keing since 1933, he was concurrently the treasurer of the temple and the two schools, a position he held till after the war.
Hailed as one of the most modern Chinese school buildings of its day, the building has been preserved and is today the Aliwal Arts Centre.
As Aw Boon Haw donated substantial funds towards the building’s construction, the school hall was named after his company, Haw Par.
Old photos dating from 1950 which showed girls of Chong Pun exercising in the school field, today a carpark. Sultan Mosque can be seen in the background.
Ho Siew Tian ran a thriving hardware and building materials business under the chop Ho Hock Ann (何福安) at Beach Road. He also owned a number of twakows for transporting goods. As his wealth grew, he made substantial investments in properties. In 1948, he incorporated his firm as a limited company and handed over its running to his sons, who subsequently expanded the business to firearms.
It was urban redevelopment which spelled the end for the temple and the schools. In 1980s, the temple was acquired by the government for building the MRT. It moved successively to various temporary sites before its present building at Lorong 29 Geylang was completed. With the resettlement of the urban residents in the area, dwindling student enrolment led to the closure of Chung Cheng School in the 1980s as well. Its name was transferred to a primary school in Tampines.
Soon Thian Keing today in Lor 29 Geylang (photo Yik Han)
Ho Siew Tian is buried at Hill 4 together with his wife who died 12 years before him. According to obituaries in the Straits Times and the Singapore Free Press, he was one of the oldest men in Singapore at the point of his death at the age of 96. He was survived by 5 sons (2 other sons died before him), 3 daughters, 2 sons-in-law, 7 daughters-in-law, 81 grandchildren, 8 grand sons-in-law, 4 granddaughters-in-law and 37 great grandchildren.
Ang Kok Kian – A Pioneer of the Soap industry
by Ang Yik Han
It is not clear if Ang Kok Kian (洪轂堅) grew up in Penang or he travelled there from his ancestral village in Nan’an county, Fujian province. During the 1910s, he moved to Taiping with his family but left after two years for Singapore, where he felt there were better prospects.
Of the businesses he established in Singapore, the most successful was the See Sen Soap Factory (時鮮肥皂廠), one of the local firms which rose to challenge the dominance of the market by Western manufacturers then. Although sales trailed behind another local firm Ho Hong Soap Factory, its distinctive “Dog’s Head” (狗頭標) brand soap was popular in Singapore, Malaya, Borneo and Hong Kong, both before and after the war.
Ang Kok Kian passed away in 1939, leaving behind 4 sons. By then, his eldest son Ang Hai Sun (洪海山) was actively involved in the family business. Not content with expanding the soap factory, he went into oil milling to ensure a stable supply of raw materials for the factory.
Although “Dog’s Head” soap has disappeared from the market for decades, the mark of this locally produced soap can still be seen today adorning the house which Ang Hai Sun built, where his descendants still reside.
More information on his descendants here
Double tomb of Ang Kok Kian and his wife at Bukit Brown Hill 4
Researched by Ang Yik Han
Died in the year of the Horse, 19 July 1942 and survived by one son named Kah Bo (嘉謀), Hou Xiu Xi ( 侯秀西 )located at Hill 1 was said to be a good orator and a staunch supporter of the China Relief Fund led by Tan Kah Kee.
He spoke at public rallies and occasions such as temple celebrations to exhort the local Chinese to support the anti-Japanese cause. According to an account, he was beaten to death during the Japanese Occupation for refusing to cooperate with the Japanese authorities.
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.
This weekend there is a preview of 2 specially curated World War II Remembrance Walks at Bukit Brown on Sunday 25 Jan’15 from 9.30am to 11.30am. Don’t miss this! You can choose between 2 routes and sign up for a spot at Peatix (follow the link below). Tickets are free by registration, maximum 25 pax per route.
Meeting point: Lorong Halwa gates at Bukit Brown cemetery.
Welcome to a new year, as we cross the threshold into 2015, we look back on the year that has passed.
A is for Advocacy
It was an honour that we could not have dreamed off when we started our journey in January 2012 to raise awareness about the heritage,habitat and history of a 90 year old cemetery, that many say had been “abandoned” and “forgotten”.
Well, here’s the news, they were wrong. And this is why: over 13,000 participants to the guided walks – comprising a demographic from all walks of life, from all ages, from students to community constituency groups, photography enthusiasts, international academics, meet-up groups, and media crews, travel writers, civil servants, docents etc etc; 4 exhibitions over 2 years, the first ever listing for Singapore as a heritage site under threat, under the World Monuments Fund Watchlist 2014, and this year alone, 3 major academic publications. It is a record which speaks for itself, carried by a momentum, best described as organic in nature, and a ground up initiative. When it comes to development in Singapore and how it impacts our history and heritage our sense of identity and place , Bukit Brown as a cause, as a movement, as a place in the memory scape of Singaporeans, refuses to die.
B is for Bukit Brown
2014 was a year Bukit Brown went off-site and “broke new ground” in 2 major exhibitions and inaugural guided walks in the City.
In March, Woon Tien Wei and Jennifer Teo, the husband-and-wife artist-activist team behind Post-Museum curated “The Bukit Brown Index” which was one out of 28 local works featured in an exhibition called “Unearthed” The highlight of their work was a wall on which the names of the exhumed and unclaimed which had to make way for the highway through Bukit Brown, were hand written with the help of Brownies, among others in the heritage and artistic community.
In July, Bukit Brown : Documenting New Horizons of Knowledge was officially opened by MOS (MND) Desmond Lee at the National Library. 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. The exhibition is currently on tour at regional libraries until next year.
In conjunction with the exhibition, All Things Bukit Brown curated 2 special guided walks The Descendants Stories which featured descendants of pioneers sharing their stories of uncovering their roots in Bukit Brown.
Our march into the city was sealed when we partnered the Singapore Heritage Society and co-curated the Bukit Brown in the City and the City in Bukit Brown Walk walks for the Singapore Heritage Festival 2014 in July.
And in a nod to the Bukit Brown Jane’s Walk, 2 participants Louise and Bridget organised of their own initiative and without any assistance from the brownies, a guided walk for a group of ten of their friends in September. We thank them and hope they will do more!
In September also All Things Bukit Brown, was invited to make a 10 minute presentation in the “Singapore Dreaming” workshop by the Asian Urban Lab as a lead up to a the major conference in 2015 where leading artists, academics, professionals and other thinkers across diverse disciplines will share and explore alternative visions of a Singapore that is sustainable, creative and vibrant.
In 2014, Bukit Brown continued to be featured in student media projects, international news analysis on Singapore’s issues of development and heritage, local TV programmes from “My Grandfathers’ Road” to “Secret Singapore” and its sheer beauty and remembrance of Singapore as as a major battleground in WW 2 was visually showcased in an award winning art house film called “The Canopy” screened at this year’s Singapore International Festival in November.
Next year, watch out as one of the Brownies will guest host a new programme on Channel 5 to introduce Bukit Brown.
After a hiatus and the completion of The Adam Park Project TAPP , the ever popular Battlefield Tours conducted by Jon Cooper returned – once a month every first Sunday – and continue to be over subscribed.
In 2014, we conducted more guided walks by private request. Of all the requests for guided walks, the most enthusiastic and frequent requests came from our educational institutions from secondary to tertiary institutions both local and international for “Learning Journeys”
We shifted gears from guided walks and organised on request by Standard Chartered Bank, a Corporate Social Responsibility event which was so successful, the bank has already completed 3 sessions at Bukit Brown of clearing and cleaning selected tombs between May and November 2014. They will make a comeback in 2015.
On site, as we have done, for every year since 2012, we celebrated NDP ’14 , Our Bukit Brown, Our People with both gusto and with sadness in an landscape which has changed and will continue to change as the road works encroach slowly but surely .
On site, sometime in November, while we were not looking, the ole raintree was chopped down and overnight it was gone, our consolation comes from our shared memories.
C is for Community
It has been the heart of community and your passionate support which has sustained, encouraged and uplifted the Brownies over the past 3 years. A community which includes academics, journalists, artists, writers, descendants, tomb keepers and fellow activists in heritage and the environment. We single out for our gratitude the Singapore Heritage Society and the Facebook Group Community Heritage Singapore- Bukit Brown Cemetery.
When a call was made for feedback to be given on the URA Draft Masterplan 2013 in December of the same year, we received some 30 responses which were sent to the Ministry of National Development. You wrote on how important it was to preserve Bukit Brown for future generations, for the environment, as a space important to root Singaporeans to the land and for the sharing of collective memories.
In June 2014 the Masterplan was gazetted with no changes to plans for Bukit Brown. But if you thought, your efforts were for naught, let us reassure you, it was noted and it did make a difference in paving the way for better engagement on the future of Bukit Brown. We have only just began.
In 2014, three major academic papers on Bukit Brown were published
We thank : (Drs) Natalie Pang and Liew Kai Khuin “Archiving the Wild Archivists”, Dr Terence Chong (Singapore Heritage Society) “Bukit Brown municipal cemetery: Contesting Imaginations of the Good life in Singapore” and Prof Huang Juanli ” Resurgent Spirits of Civil Society Activism: Rediscovering the Bukit Brown Cemetery in Singapore” for their comprehensive and thoughtful and thought provoking papers.
To the descendants who have trusted us with their stories, we salute you.
And a special mention and shout out to Zaobao journalist Chia Yei Yei and the heritage reporters of Zaobao for the breathe and depth of coverage they have given to all things related to Bukit Brown from pioneers to Brownies in 2014.
The Chinese daily capped off the year in recognition of the part the Goh Brothers have played in uncovering our historical and heritage gems by headlining them among the paper’s Personalities of 2014.
We ended 2014 on site, in the last guided walk of Bukit Brown for the year with some 50 people turning up.
50 is of course a significant number as we cross the threshold into 2015. 2015 is SG50, a year of national celebration of 50 years of our history and achievements. But what can we look forward to in a landscape which will continue to be pockmarked and drastically changed by construction work on the development of a highway?
We will keep calm and carry on, engage constructively, walk the ground, walk the talk, continue to be excited by new discoveries and we will – and this is a clue – write a new chapter on our past and take it into the present. In short, we will continue to honour our heritage, habitat and history, and remember those who laid down their lives in memoriam for without them, SG50 would not be possible.
“Lest we Forget”
We remember Victoria Tan and Edmon Neoh-Khoo
Compiled by Catherine Lim
All Things Bukit Brown congratulates Raymond and Charles Goh who have been chosen by Chinese news daily Zaobao to be included in their list of Personalities of 2014. For the Brownies, it is a timely recognition for the 2 brothers who have been exploring and uncovering the “lost” heritage and history of Singapore since the mid 2000s. Their hard work, sheer doggedness in research and walking the ground, is our inspiration, and we are proud to claim them as Brownies and proud, we walk with them
Translated Article by Raymond Goh
2014 Personality of the Year by Zaobao weekly, Dec 28, 2014
Raymond Goh (51) and Charles Goh (46), Looking at history through the departed
If not for praying to one’s ancestors, one would not usually go to the cemetery. That day the reporter asked a taxi driver to drive her to Bukit Brown cemetery. The driver was not very happy, and so she has to alight at approx. 200 metres from the cemetery at the road cross junction. But the Goh brothers does not have any sort of taboo. They keep on bringing people to the cemetery to look for their roots, rediscovering old tombs hidden in the depths of the forest, bringing history back to life.
Ever since Sep 2011 when news broke out that part of Bukit Brown has to give way to a road and approx 5000 tombs has to be exhumed, nearly twice a month during weekends and public holidays, one would see volunteer guides from all walks of life known as “Brownies” wearing Bukit Brown heritage T shirts, and guiding the public on the history and heritage of Bukit Brown.
Raymond and Charles Goh are a familiar pair among the Brownies and the pioneering guides among them.
Bukit Brown Pioneering Explorers
Charles Goh is a construction safety manager and has from young like to explore the unknown to get to the root of matters. Some things will be forgotten or disappear as one grow up, and Charles hope to revive the forgotten collective memories. Since the SARS crisis of 2003, Charles responded to the call of STB and together with his brother registered as tourist guides. They do voluntary guiding for visitors to the cemetery, and let these visitors know Singapore in an unique way.
Together with Raymond Goh, a pharmacist, they founded Asia Paranormal Investigators, as a step forward to fulfil their ambition to research all things unknown. Since 2006 they also started to lead tours to Bukit Brown, do research into tombs and even design a cemetery map for the public to do DIY tours on their own.
Raymond said that Bukit Brown and the surrounding Seh Ong and Hokkien cemeteries has a total of 200,000 tombs, with the earliest dating all the way to 1826. From that year to the closure of the cemeteries in the early 1970s, one can see 150 years of changes and transformations reflected through the tombstones of Bukit Brown. Our history is gathered piece by piece from the collective stories of all these tombstones.
2014 Great Finds
Through the efforts of Charles, Raymond and the Brownies, there has been a surge in interest to find one’s ancestor. Due to the passage of time and insufficient information, the success rate of finding one’s ancestor for these tombs is only about 50%, but the rediscoveries of pioneers’ tombs provide much encouragement to the Goh Brothers. This year alone, the two great finds are the founder of Hong San See temple Neo Jin Quee and the family cluster tombs of Lee Kuan Yew maternal ancestors.
According to the archives, Hong San See founder Neo Jin Quee was relocated to Bukit Brown cemetery. When Raymond Goh first encountered this tomb, he combined forces with local history researchers Walter Lim and Ang Yik Han to research into this tomb and finally confirmed the identity of this tomb. The discovery of Neo Jin Quee’s tomb and the tombs of his wife, son and daughter-in-law provide important clues to the study of the immigrant stories of early Lam Ann people to Singapore.
Apart from this, in Jun this year, a news report to find the rickshaw puller Koh Teong Koo made Raymond recalled about Lee Kuan Yew maternal grandfather Chua Kim Teng and maternal grandmother Leong Ah Soon. Based on the clue provided by tombkeeper Soh Ah Beng, Raymond and Walter Lim finally found the tombs of Chua Kim Teng, his second wife and his father’ tombs. They later managed to find Leong Ah Soon’s tomb from the burial register, that is Chua Kim Teng’s third wife. The Chuas were a typical Peranakan family, and Chua Kim Teng was a successful merchant. These finds provide important historical information for the study of this early Chua pioneer family.
Apart from graves, Charles Goh is also interested into heritage sites and ruins. Not long ago, together with NHB Group Director (Policy) Alvin Tan, they rediscovered a century old lunatic asylum wall, which provide valuable information for the study of this early institution.
The greatest difficulty in finding graves is not mosquitos and insects bites, nor wild snakes or animals, nor wild vegetation, but the limited information and resources to find the graves.
Although there are burial records in Bukit Brown, many descendants does not know the dates their ancestors passed away, and some can only remember their ancestors’ Chinese names, while the records are in English. The lesser the information, the more difficult will be the tomb find.
As such, Raymond said that sometimes it require more than the efforts of one or two persons, but the combined efforts and expertise of many volunteers to help find a tomb.
As for 2015, the Goh brothers will keep on their volunteer work of researching and finding tombs, and their mission is to find an earlier tomb than 1826 as there were already Chinese people then who died before that.
By Mok Mei Ngan
Zaobao weekly – 2014 Personality of the Year
They may not be famous people in the limelight,
But yet each in their chosen field give out their own light and heat and leave behind beautiful imprints in 2014
There is a Western proverb “The devil is in the details”, which means that it is in the details which spell success
These six personalities selected by Zaobao Now are chosen especially for their insightful analysis and acute observation, taking care of the whole situation, yet not leaving out the smallest details to ensure success for their endeavours
They are :
Two relatively unknown “amateur archaeologists” brothers Raymond Goh and Charles Goh who started to find old tombs to return back history. In this rapidly growing city of ours, they search for old tombs and uncover lost history. They also bring people to cemeteries to search for their roots and let the light shine once more upon the hidden tombs in the forest, bringing history back to life
Artist Ong Keng Seng who revamped the Singapore International Festival of Arts to reach out to a wider audience. His 12 chosen productions attracted widespread discussion
Chef Julien Royer from Swissotel Stamford Jaan restaurant for his passon in the culinary arts and for winning multiple culinary awards, and let foreigners look at Singapore food scene
Photographer Sim Chi Yin. Originally an ST correspondent based in Bejing, she give up journalism for photography, and use her passion for the lens to reflect Chinese mainstream society in China. In July this year She became the only Asian photographer to join the Internationally renowned VII Photo Agency. In Oct she was selected by Her World magazine as this year Young Woman Achiever
Christopher Lee Meng Soon for beig the first non-Taiwanese to win the Best Actor Award in the 49th Golden Bell Awards. His win means that the top awards coming from Taiwan for the Cinema, Music and TV all have been won by our local artistes, and mean that here we do have internationally recognized acting talents.
JJ Lin for winning the 25th Golden Melody Awards for best mandarin male singer. He also won two awards from the 19th annual Composers and Authors Society of Singapore (COMPASS) for top local artiste for the 6th consecutive time and best song writer for the 4th time