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.
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
by Sally T.
One recent Saturday, some friends and I had the pleasure of being guided around Bukit Brown Cemetery on a special tour led by three descendants of notable people buried there. The Descendants Tour was presented in partnership with the National Library of Singapore – a great community initiative on the part of the library. A few seasoned guides helped lead the group, which really helped to add insight and context along the way.
Each of the three descendants had fascinating stories to share and we were treated to what I would describe as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Hearing them so passionately and proudly tell familial histories and sing songs in honour of their ancestors, many of whom were pioneers of early modern Singapore, will be something I look back on as a highlight of my time living here. We visited the resting places of enterprising business people, diplomats and philanthropists – the type who have streets named in their honour.
In recent years I had heard a lot about Bukit Brown, a national treasure that had been rediscovered by a caring community and was being hard fought for. Despite my curiosity I’d never visited, perhaps not wanting to feel inappropriate or as an invasive foreigner, but a conversation with a friend who is a passionate historian prompted me to look up the next tour available. The fact that three descendants were taking the tour alongside a few experienced Brownies seemed like a unique opportunity and one not to be missed. I was right.
Our meeting point was just near the LTA temporary set-up, which we figured was the site headquarters for the current exhumation works taking place in certain sections of Bukit Brown. There’s no denying that it’s a confronting reality. While I’ve known for a while that exhumation is fairly common here, I learned that it has a relatively long history in Singapore and happened under British rule too, as one of the graves we visited had actually been moved there from somewhere else in the 1930s or 40s. The current works were well underway when we visited, with high fences erected throughout. From the main road, you would easily have mistaken it for any construction site.
Once the large group of about 30 was assembled, we walked a short distance to the tomb of Chia Hood Theam, who was a respected businessman with a lovely black and white home called Rosedale at the corner of Devonshire and Killiney Roads. Chia’s maternal great-great granddaughter Noreen Chan, along with some other family members present, shared a series of beautifully preserved photographs and stories that had been passed down through the generations. Noreen described how as well as being a ‘comprador’ – the business relationship managers of the old banking regime – her Peranakan grandfather was an early champion of women’s education in Singapore. The tomb was well preserved and had beautiful tiling work.
Next stop was the tomb of one of Dr Lim Su Min’s several ancestors buried at Bukit Brown. On this mother’s side, Dr Lim’s lineage can be traced back to Tan Tock Seng, a prominent merchant and philanthropist who of course the hospital is named after. We visited the tomb of a relation of Tan Tock Seng. An impressive tomb turned a rusty orange from the lichen, the resting place was a little way up a small hill. After sharing his fascinating family history, Dr Lim treated us to an intimate and special moment as he sang a song he had written in his ancestors’ honour. Standing there with only jungle noises to compete with the ukulele, we knew we were witnessing something heartfelt.
The third tomb we visited was tucked much further into the jungle, and on the way we passed some extraordinary tombs, all with different style and character. Clearly, grieving family members had gone to a great deal of trouble to put their loved ones to rest in a place of beauty. The third descendant to share with the group, Serene Tan, went on a mission to find her family’s cluster of tombs after being visited by a man in Mandarin robes in her dreams who encouraged her to visit. After a long search and some coincidences that could only have been fate, one of the Brownies came across the tomb of Serene Tan’s ancestors, including Tan Quee Lan, which were in somewhat of a rundown state. Together with family members, the Tans have done an magnificent job of restoring the tombs with an impressive marble structure.
Dr Lim Su Min once again led us to the last tomb of the tour, which belongs to the eldest son of Tan Tock Seng called Tan Kim Ching, who was successful in further expanding the family’s business empire with rice mills and tin-mining in Siam. The size and stature of the tomb was very impressive and Tan Kim Ching was clearly an important man. After gaining the trust and respect of the King of Siam, Tan Kim Ching was appointed a Singapore-based diplomatic representative of the court of Siam. We learned that he also represented Japan and Russia in diplomatic relations in Singapore. One of the most intriguing things I learned was that Tan Kim Ching was responsible for the posting of British governess Ann Leonowens to Siam to famously teach the children of the King.
I found Bukit Brown majestic in both the grandeur of the tombs and the beauty of nature which has enclosed or almost seemingly protected the site in its forgotten years. When one of my friends who came along mentioned that he was visiting Bukit Brown to some Singaporean business associates, he was met with wide eyes and trepidation! While I wouldn’t want to go there at night, it wasn’t as eerie as I suspected so I would strongly encourage those with an interest in Singapore’s history and culture, and strong sense of family values, to visit this special place. My friends and I will pass the word on about the tour to our friends – foreigners and locals alike – in the hope that more people will come and experience Bukit Brown. Who knows whether they will find an ancestor of their own.
The Descendants’ Stories – A Guided Walk at Bukit Brown (English)
Saturday, 8 November 2014, 4 pm – 6.30pm.
All Things Bukit Brown* is pleased to curate a guided walk in conjunction with the roving exhibition “Bukit Brown: Documenting New Horizons of Knowledge”
Registration is required and all queries is through the NLB website here , spaces are limited to 28.
About the Walk:
News that a highway was to be built across Bukit Brown in 2011 led some descendants who had lost touch with their ancestral tombs to embark on a quest to find them. Some of those who were successful shared their stories of reconnecting with their ancestors and family oral history with the volunteers on the ground, called Brownies.
For this special walk, 3 descendants of prominent figures in business, philanthropy and diplomacy in the 19th and 20th centuries will be sharing their stories first-hand at the tombs of their ancestors.
- Dr. Lim Su Min’s maternal lineage can be traced back to Tan Tock Seng, whose eldest son Tan Kim Ching grew the family’s fortunes, expanding into Siam with rice mills and tin-mining. He became a confidante of the King of Siam, and was appointed a diplomatic representative of the court of Siam. (He held similar positions representing Japan and Russia.) Among the stories Dr. Lim will share at Tan Kim Ching’s tomb is his introduction of a young English widow, Anna Leonowens to the Siamese King, a story which became immortalized in an Oscar winning musical.
- For Serene Tan, the journey of discovering her family’s cluster of tombs at Bukit Brown started the night a man in traditional Mandarin robes came into her dream and passed her a note that simply said “Why no one visit?”. Serene will share how she was finally able to find the tombs of Tan Quee Lan of whom she is a direct descendant on her paternal side after a few years and in the process connected with a long lost cousin. Both then went on to restore and refurbish the family cluster of tombs at Bukit Brown, which had for so long been forgotten.
- Noreen Chan comes from a long line of influential and wealthy “compradors” – the business relationship managers of the old banking regime. At the tomb of Chia Hood Theam, Noreen will recount stories of her maternal great-great grandfather’s frugality and contributions to women’s education from family oral traditions and historical records
Please read if you are attending our guided walks for the first time, useful info on safety : Getting There/游览信息
*All Things Bukit Brown is the banner for a community of volunteers called “Brownies” who conduct regular weekend guided walks and do independent research on the heritage, habitat and history of Bukit Brown. They have guided over 13,000 people since they started their guided walks at the beginning of 2012.
The Story Behind Peg 2906
by Norman Cho
How many of us believe in the unexplained? There are reasons why certain things happen unexpectedly. But are we receptive enough to take the cue from such signs? One recent account was of tomb 481 which was pegged 2906 at Bukit Brown Cemetery, slated for exhumation to make way for the 8 lane highway due to slice the cemetery in half by 2017/
A post about the Ee Hoe Hean Club in the Facebook page of Heritage Singapore – Bukit Brown Cemetery, spurred me to do a search on my granduncle, Mr Tan Kay Tiang (ie) the husband of my paternal grandmother’s second sister, Mdm Yeo Say Neo. Grandmother had once told me that he worked for an exclusive millionaires’ club called the Ee Hoe Hean Club. No details of the position which he held or the period where he was under their employment were given.
Out of curiosity, I did a Google search over the internet and found to my astonishment that he was buried in Bukit Brown Cemetery and that his tomb was marked for exhumation with the peg number 2906.
I made a few enquiries and discovered that the tomb had yet to be claimed and that it was due for exhumation in only three weeks! I tried to contact the deceased’s three grandchildren unsuccessfully to make a claim. They are in their fifties and sixties and I sensed their reluctance. They probably have their reasons to decide not to do anything about it.
Looking back, I realised that discovering his tomb just three weeks before the exhumation was no mere coincidence! Possibly, he was trying to reach out to someone to handle his exhumation and to relocate him during the desperate final few weeks. I felt very uncomfortable if I did nothing about it and so I decided to claim the tomb on behalf of the family. To make sure that I had identified the correct tomb, I verified the name of his only child on the headstone – 月娘which corresponded with the name of my late aunt, Guek (Guat) Neo. I found a newspaper article in the online digital archive (Newspapersg) which confirmed the identity of the tomb.
Family accounts has it that he died due to septic wound on his foot caused by a nail which he accidentally stepped on. He had concealed nails on the ground along the exterior wall of his house at Neil Road to deter thieves. The irony was not lost on me that these nails were what caused his death, A newspaper report in The Straits Times, 19 June 1938, “Nail Causes Man’s Death” returned a verdict of misadventure. The date of death on the tomb was 10 June 1938.
Tan Kay Tiang married my grandaunt, Yeo Say Neo, in 1923 at his family home in Neil Road. He was 39 and she was 27. During those days when people commonly married in their teens, they were considered an old couple. The couple stayed together with Kay Tiang’s widowed elder sister and his mother.
My grandmother recalled visiting the 3-storey townhouse and was intrigued by the many carpets that she saw on each floor. The couple had their first and only child, a daughter, Guek Neo, in 1925. He was a doting father who was known to piggy-back his daughter till she was nine or ten. The maid would take over after he was tired. As a child, my aunt was thoroughly spoilt and there was an account where the maid was made to walk the dark alley to buy her favorite char siew pau for her supper.
After her father’s death when she was twelve, Guek Neo’s life took a drastic change. She had become a sensible young lady. The house was sold several years later and Guek Neo was arranged to be married to a Baba named Robert Chia, the son of a well-known nyonya medium in the 1920s and 30s who was known by the name “Ah Lian Potong Lemo” She could predict fortunes by reading the sliced limes.
Mrs Tan Kay Tiang (Yeo Say Neo) was the ideal wife and homemaker. She excelled in cooking and sewing. She was soft-spoken and mild-tempered. She did not gamble and hardly stepped out of the house. The maid would run all the family errands and do the marketing. To supplement her living expenses after the death of her husband, she made nyonya kueh which her maid would take to the coffee shop at Joo Chiat Road to sell. She eventually had to let her maid go as she could no longer afford to keep her but the maid was reluctant to leave her and stayed on for a few more years.
Every tomb is a repository of personal stories of the family that was left behind
Moving forward 76 years later, I had made a claim for the tomb to be exhumed on 14 July 2014 and the remains to be re interred at Block E0116-202 in Choa Chu Kang Columbarium. It would be easier for me to visit since most of my relatives are placed there. He was buried in the traditional Chinese coffin which was relatively intact and had several funeral artifacts which included miniature clay kitchen utensils and two pieces of circular glass which I suspect could be reading glasses – one concave and the other bi-convex.
About Norman Cho:
Norman Cho is a regular contributor to atBB and guest blogs about his search for his roots and Penanakan material culture. He is the founder of the facebook group Peranakan Material Culture
Singapore is 49 and Bukit Brown is 92! The invitation went out weeks before on the blog, on Facebook, the event of the year at Bukit Brown, celebrating the nation’s birthday. Thank you to all who came, regulars, first timers, old and young, singers and well wishers. The official NDP’14 theme was a good fit :
NDP ’14 (Nations Deceased Pioneers) @ Bukit Brown this year honours the “can do” and caring spirit of our pioneers who helped to forge bonds which built the foundations for SG 50. It is the story of how “Our People” in Bukit Brown made Singapore, “Our Home”.
We promised 3 guided walks, goody bags, eats and music. But the highlight as always is the singing of the National Anthem – this year led by Brownie Mil Phuah, the reciting of the Pledge – this being Raymond Goh’s first ever NDP@Bukit Brown (previous years he was away on business trips) it fell on his shoulders, followed by a minutes silence to remember especially the 4,153 pioneers who have had to make way for the highway. Our resident videographer James Tann captured an NDP on the celebratory Hill 1 festooned by flags large and small, and the pride of over 50 voices.
It has been a momentous past year for Bukit Brown from being on the World Monuments Fund watchlist to be being voted by Singaporeans as their top 3 sacred sites . The good news continued as Claire Leow, co founder of All Things Bukit Brown, shared some more developments .
“We are humbled and honoured to announce that thanks to the nomination by the Singapore Heritage Society, all things Bukit Brown has been shortlisted for the inaugural Singapore Advocacy Awards 2014, under the category of Civil Society Advocate Organisation of the Year.
The winner will be announced Aug 30, but let us say now for the record, just being nominated has been a real honour as a recognition of all that this community has achieved since early 2012.
To date, the Brownies have guided more than 12,000 people, staged two exhibitions, and tried to connect descendents, academics, students and teachers, docents, heritage bodies and communities. We don’t always succeed but we surely give everything a passionate shot! Your unstinting support as a community has sustained us. We have guided rain or shine or exhumations. Behind the scenes, many work hard to raise awareness of the intrinsic value of this historic site, and a few have worked patiently with the authorities for a better outcome.
We thank all of you for your support in our endeavour. It is an understatement to say it has not been an easy mission. But driven by conviction, we have carried the heart of this community. We have become good friends, and made good friends. Inspired by the early groundwork laid by Raymond Goh and Charles Goh, the Brownies have built on a solid foundation to spread the word: this is our heritage, habitat and history – and we appeal to you to join us, and honour our pioneers and save this sacred site.
On this, the 49th birthday of Singapore, we say, Majullah!” Claire Leow, Co Founder, All Things Bukit Brown.
Bukit Brown was also highlighted in the national daily Today August 9th Special issue Preserving Memories of a Changing Nation
“In 2012, the two women created a blog, all things Bukit Brown, to provide a platform for people to share memories of the area as well as to raise awareness of the walks they were planning there. Since then, the blog has garnered more than 550,000 views and more than 4,000 members on its Facebook page.
With the help of 40 volunteers called Brownies, the two women have also guided more than 11,000 (now 12,oo0)people on their Bukit Brown heritage trails.
“This shows we made the right move and have won the hearts and minds of the public,” said Ms Lim, now a freelancer in broadcast media. She attributed the positive response to the blog and heritage trails to more than just nostalgia. “It’s a much deeper meaning — a yearning, post- sickness, when old places have to move for new ones.”
Since 2012, all things Bukit Brown has also added a unique twist to the National Day celebrations: While others get ready for the National Day Parade, its members have their own National Deceased Parade. This year, they plan to go on a heritage trail in Bukit Brown to commemorate Singapore’s pioneers for their resilience, contributions to and sacrifices for the country.”
Here are highlights from the different heritage trails, behind the scenes set up and the camaraderie and conviviality that took the celebrations from dusk to moonlit night. Thank you to all who came, regulars, first timers, old and young, singers, photographers and well wishers. the Brownies are grateful for your support. Here are your memories:
The Guided Walks by Claire, Bianca, Fabian, Simone and Walter
Behind the Scenes, A Team of Brownies Setting the Stage for Celebration
National Anthem as recorded by Albert Ong
Not Just Singapore’s birthday but 3 Brownie Birthdays in August!
” Deeply reflective and moving National Day observance at Bukit Brown today, with graves already exhumed and half the site sectioned off for the road. There are some things that money can’t buy. A big thank you to Catherine Lim, Claire Leow and others!” Philip Holden.
A big shout out to those behind the scenes and catering:Brownies Victor Lim, Sugen, Mil Jonathan, Raymond, Ee Hoon, Peter, Steven, Mitch, Andrew and tombkeeper Lim Ah Chye. To Lee Kok of Asia Pac Publishers for contributing goodies to goody bags, National Heritage Board for the bags and National Library Board for commemorative books on Khoo Seok Wan.
Preamble : Hungry Ghost Festival
Saturday, 26th July was the eve of what is popularly known as the Hungry Ghost Festival, and less well known by its traditional name of Zhongyuan Jie, which in essence is also about honouring ancestors. It takes place at the start of the Chinese 7th lunar month, and it is when the gates of hell open and the spirits of dead are free to wander among the living for a month. To appease them, offerings and entertainment is laid out by descendants at their homes, but also by temples, business and clan associations. This year, the prediction was that hell’s gates will open at 11pm on the eve of the festival.
The Salvation Rituals
At Bukit Brown, devotees from the Taoist temple Xuan Jiang Dian (Heng Kang Tian ) conducted a “chao du” or “salvation rituals” - considered an act of compassion – specifically for the forgotten and lost spirits there.
This is the 3rd year in a row, Xuan Jiang Dian have done this, ever since in fact news of the building of the highway across Bukit Brown in 2011 was announced. Exhumations of the some 4.153 graves which are in the way of the highway are drawing to a close. So there was added interest in this year’s ritual which was covered by our national newspapers. The National Heritage Board (NHB) shared that a specially commissioned video on rites and rituals at Bukit Brown will be uploaded soon to you tube.
A First Hand Account of “chao du”
The ” chao du” ceremony which was witnessed also by Brownies and other well wishers, started at around 8.3opm . It consisted of the setting up of an altar table with offerings at the major junction of the 4 roads in Bukit Brown which leads to Blocks 1, 5, 4 and 3.
The Taoist priests from China, resplendent in their robes, chanted and walked several ceremonial rounds in the area calling upon lost spirits. There was something soothing in their chanting and the air was redolent with the scent of what must have been a hundred lighted joss sticks. Each participant carried 3 sticks each throughout the 40 minute long chanting.
There was a stillness in the air and the smoke and swish of the robes carried the movement of the night. It ended with the burning of paper offerings and just as quickly as it was set up, the devotees packed up and left, with the the candles planted still burning and the last vestiges of the paper offerings smouldering down to embers.
Photo Gallery :
Report on Lianhe Zaobao on a ritual conducted last night at Bt. Brown which marked the opening of the 7th month: A group from Heng Kang Tian including 8 Taoist priests conducted the ritual to invite spirits to a salvation ceremony conducted today in front of Bukit Merah View Block 123. The group has been going to Bt. Brown for the past two years to invite spirits from tombs which are not tended to by descendants. The event was attended by Brownies and participants of tours at the cemetery. It was also recorded by the Bt Brown Documentation Team. NHB is currently preparing a 10-15 min documentary on the rituals carried out at Bt Brown cemetery. This will be uploaded to the NHB channel on youtube, “yesterdaysg”, around end next month. (summary by Ang Yik Han) Full report in Chinese:
Romancing Taiping (Part 1)
A photo essay by Simone Lee
“I was a little apprehensive at the beginning. Even as a Malaysian, I’ve never heard of anyone raving about a visit to Taiping. But while we were there, I fell in love…………” Simone Lee (Brownie*)
Taiping History (in brief)
Plagued by fierce feuds ( The Larut Wars) between 2 prominent Chinese secret societies(Ghee Hin and Hai San, this once flourishing town in Perak, which prospered from tin mining was said to have been named Taiping – 太 (tai – ‘great’) and 平 (ping – ‘peace’) – after a truce was brokered in the Pangkor Treaty. The treaty was the result of a politically motivated call for British intervention aided by a friend from Singapore, Tan Kim Ching (son of Tan Tock Seng).
Day 1: Taiping Town and Kuala Sepetang
At the sleepy town, we met our guide, Ah Kew (Lee Eng Kew), a freelance writer and field historian. Our first stop: The Old House Museum. One of the earliest 3-storey shophouses built in Taiping, the museum/antique shop retains much of its original architecture.
(please click on images for full size photos and captions)
The next stop surprised everyone. As we drove into the compound of a charcoal factory, the scene took our breath away. The smoke from the kilns filters the sun rays, reminding me of movies with scenes of a dreamy, foggy mornings by the lake, embraced by mountains.
Here, Ah Kew explained the charcoal making process which typically takes several weeks before it is ready to be marketed. In the process, a by-product “‘charcoal water” is distilled from the baking wood. It is bottled and sold as a beauty product – slightly acidic but gentle enough to be used on the skin. I tried some on my face and arms, and instantly my skin felt supple, toned and smooth! Feeling vain, I wanted to order a bottle, which was selling at just RM5, the retail outlet was closed.
At the mangrove forest, Ah Kew regaled us with stories of 2 notorious pirates with fearsome reputations in the post war era.
Tan Lian Lay once hid bags of rice in a mangrove forest but they were destroyed when the tide rose. After his death, he was immortalised as a deity because his spirit was giving out winning numbers in repentance for his sins. It has been said Tan Lian Lay was also a trouble maker in Singapore. When he was killed in Bagan Api in Riau, Sumatra, a well- wisher from Singapore sent gifts as a reward for slaying Tan Lian Lay’s reign of terror.
Tan Hua Siea aka Raja Laut (King of the Sea) monopolized the shellfish farms and was on Perak’s most wanted criminal list. Despite that, he eluded capture, sheltered by the locals. Even though he was always dangerously armed, he never terrorised the villagers and was revered as the Robin Hood of the coast. What happened to him remains a mystery to this day.
Look out for Romancing Taiping Part II next week
*The Brownies’ yearning to connect to history and thirst for adventure, brings them to various locations within and beyond Singapore. The objectives of these retreats are, to study the historical and cultural links to Singapore, and to strengthen kinship amongst the brownies.
(Brownies are the volunteers who conduct regular weekend guided walks and independent research on heritage, habitat and history of Bukit Brown Cemetery.)
Bukit Brown : Documenting New Horizons of Knowledge
Location: NLB 9th floor 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
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.
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.
“….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 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!
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.
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.
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