On 14 August, Samira Hassan joined Brownie Peter Pak for a Ramble thru’ Bukit Brown to Kopi Sua Cemetery .

It was her Samira’s first  visit and she penned these reflections to share.

“I doubt there are textbooks or academic sources that would be able to do justice to the arcane yet insightful details the places in Bukit Brown had revealed about our past – and these pieces of our tangible history are truly irreplaceable.”

by Samira Hassan

Dateline: Bukit Brown (14th August 2016)

Trail at blk 4

The trail off the sidewalk (photo Catherine Lim)

We started the trail off the sidewalk on Lornie Road near a clearing just pass the turn in to Caldecott Hill. It would have been all too easy to miss it out whilst walking – overgrown creepers had landscaped  the steep steps that led us down the path to the trail. The steps themselves were uneven and rickety, an omnipresent feature in Bukit Brown’s landscape.

Chyen Yee photo

Into hill 4 (photo Catherine Lim)

The cemetery is sprawled over 5 hills (blocks)  as  high ground was thought to represent the back of a dragon, an auspicious symbol  in Chinese culture.

We first made our way to the tomb of Lim Kee Tong and his wife.

Lim Kee Tong

Grave of Mr and Mrs Lim Kee Tong, note the grape vines on the border to the tombstone (photo Catherine Lim)

Their tombstone was largely inspired by post-modernist designs of colonial with Chinese lions. A mound behind the tombstone is where they are buried, enclosed in a horse shoe shape defined by a brick border.   Each feature on the tombstone it seems had its own specific meaning; for example, the vines of grapes at the border of the headstones, because of its seeds, signified the wish for many more generations to follow.

Peter Pak Chyen Yee photo

With Brownie volunteer guided Peter Pak (photo Chyen Yee)

The horseshoe shape is reminiscent of a womb, alluding to the circle of life. The design of the grave  also incorporates  a drainage system which would direct rain  water to flow to   the bottom, an important component in fengshui.  Water is “chi” or energy and also represents wealth. Diverting water away from the mound helps also to stay the course of decomposition, although it is inevitable.

Inscriptions on the tombstones  included  names of the deceased, dates of death and place of origin. It was  explained that sometimes posthumous auspicious names were given as mark of respect by the children.  Names of children are also included in the inscriptions so it seems  like each grave is family monument in itself. Features and inscriptions  on each grave  can reveal some aspect about the person’s life and hopes for the family.

And in Bukit Brown, every grave  has a story to tell – even the grave of  paupers. Moving into the pauper area of Bukit Brown, we learned of the rickshaw puller Low Nong Nong  who  died in clashes with police when  rickshaw pullers went on strike and demonstrated against   the increment of rickshaw rentals.

The other rickshaw coolies then pooled together enough money to buy Nong Nong a tombstone and a funeral to  acknowledge his sacrifice. In the midst of the other  *pauper tombstones where there was barely enough money to erect a simple headstone,  Nong Nong’s tombstone was comparable in size to the tombs in the paid plots and also because the mound itself had been cemented over, perhaps because his comrades realised that since  he died without kith and kin, there would be no one  to help maintain his grave should they themselves pass on or manage to made enough to make it back  home to China

*Under the colonial administration, free plots in Bukit Brown were set aside for those who died destitute

The fact that even paupers like this rickshaw puller  had a story, had a voice, was something that I really appreciated in Bukit Brown: there was no particular class, or group of people, that were entitled to the plot of land,  that all of these seemingly disparate narratives had managed to tell a bigger story of Singapore’s history. Such heterogeneity transcended into Ong Sam Leong’s tomb as well, the biggest one in Bukit Brown.

photo Peter Pak

Group photo of ramblers at Ong Sam Leong’s grave, Samira is in the middle in green tshirt, carrying  blue  and pink tote bags (photo Peter Pak)

The most fascinating thing about his grave  were the statues of the Punjabi guards stationed at each side. Around Malaya at that point in time, the British had recruited Punjabi soldiers and policemen from India. Given their positions of authority, they were almost seen as the “guardians of the state”  They became also personal body guards of rich towkays such as Ong Sam Leong at a time where lawlessness was more prevalent. For me it demonstrated   a  deep level of trust between  diverse communities  and reflected  a  nascent multicultural society Singapore in the 1900s.

Sikh guards with Kang You Wei (Photo- Lai Chee Kien)

Sikh guards protecting a Chinese reformist fugitive from the Qing Dynasty, Kang You Wei when he sought refuge in Singapore. (Photo from Lai Chee Kien)

Bukit Brown has grown to be more than a resting place for the deceased – it has become a physical emblem of a society that was present in early 20th-century Singapore. From the most minute details in the tombs to the way the entire cemetery is organized – all of these provide important snippets to what civil society used to be like back then,  I think this really goes to show that there is sometimes no alternative for trails and fieldwork such as this one.

I doubt there are textbooks or academic sources that would be able to do justice to the arcane yet insightful details the places in Bukit Brown had revealed about our past – and these pieces of our tangible history are truly irreplaceable.

=================

Samira is  a year 5 student with Raffles Institution, who is currently serving an internship with Singapore Heritage Society to better understand the challenges of conservation and heritage development

Information on public guided walks when and where and how to register can be found by following Bukit Brown Events on Peatix

Peter Pak

Almost the end of the 5.7km ramble off Gymkhana Rd (photo Peter Pak)

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning.”

(T S Eliot, “Little Gidding”)

The gates of Bukit Brown are now “reunited” with the pillars in the new entrance to the cemetery.

Painted black – which was established to be a common outdoor colour for gates in the past – it looks like a very different pair of gates from five years back in 2011, but its form and substance, remains.

It will take some getting use to as we all come to grips with the vast changes to the landscape of memory markers that are now being undertaken. But in time, we hope when the dust has settled, and the mechanical  cranes no longer dot the landscape,   there is much the community can contribute to  in restoring the sense of arrival, that once welcomed us into our past.

Until then here is look at the now and the before in  photographs which speak to us poignantly of what was lost. A special thanks to Leong Kwok Peng of Nature Society whose facebook album I had raided  for photos of the gates circa 2011/2013.

2011 Gates _ KP

“They also serve who only stand and wait.” John Milton. The Gates, September 2011 (photo Leong Kwok Peng)

Gates restored 1_Claire Leow

The Gates 30 July, 2016 (photo Claire Leow)

gates 2013 Kwok Peng

The Gates at the old entrance in  2013 (photo Leong Kwok Peng)

 

Gates 2011 KP

Gates, Sept 2011 (photo Leong Kwok Peng)

 

detail 2-Catlim

Gates, 30 July 2016 (photo Catherine Lim)

 

Bats 2 Cat

“Bat” 30 July 2016 (photo Catherine Lim)

CU of Bats 1_Catherine

“Bat” 30 July 2016 (photo Catherine Lim)

gates 2011 KP 2

Gates September 2011 (photo Leong Kwok Peng)

Detail_catlim

Gates 30 July,2016 (photo Catherine Lim)

gates where to look _Catlim

Reps from atbb, NHB and MND with Fusion Clad Precision checking out the gates (photo Catherine Lim)

Gates restored 1_Catherine 30 July

The hinges are in working order, 20 July 2016 (photo Catherine Lim)

gates restored 2 with Serene Lee

Fusion Clad representative explaining the challenges faced in restoration (Catherine Lim)

Gates restored_ group shot Catherine Lim

Customary group shot. 30 July 2016 (photo Catherine Lim)

On 25 July 2016:

Gates with snake_ Serene Lee

On the first day of installation, a snake was spotted at the altar of the Earth Deity (photo Serene Lee)

Gates with snake_2 Serene Lee.jpg 25 July

Embracing the “Datuk Kong” on its way to the “Tu Di Gong” or Earth Deity” 25 July. 2016 (Photo Serene Lee)

shadow _Cat

“Ampersand” A new beginning (photo Catherine Lim)

*************

A postscript on the installation

installation 25 July 2016 tombkeeper 1

Start of installation 25th July 2016 (photo from a well wisher)

The installation began  on Monday 25th July and was anticipated to take 5 days but all went well and by Wednesday, it was in place and on Saturday 30 July, 2016, All Things Bukit Brown together with officers from the the National Heritage Board and Ministry of National Development had a viewing with a briefing from Fusionclad Precision which had undertaken restoration works over a more than 6 months.

A report on the restoration process is available here

Blog post compiled by Catherine Lim

by Catherine Lim

Considered the foremost authority on Raffles, the National Library Board  has acquired the collection of Dr. John Bastin’s more than 5000 materials. 38 of which have been curated  for public viewing on the 13th floor.

The exhibits  both showcases and makes accessible NLB’s existing Singapore and South East Asia Collection which “form an important nucleus of works on early Singapore. “  The rare materials collection is conventionally the preserve of academics,   perhaps perceived as” high brow”    located as such on the 13th  floor.

But this collection is curated with ordinary Singaporeans in mind with  both the personal – a  hand written letter by Raffles  to his cousin which more than hints at his displeasure with Farquhar – and the quaint – a book on Malay Poisons and Charm Cures – to the spiritual – an almost complete Malay translation of the the Anglican Common Book of Prayer.

But the highlight must surely be the leaflets which were air dropped in the 50s at the height of the communist insurgency in the jungles of Malaya, in an attempt to “persuade” –  both by threats and propaganda – insurgents to surrender peacefully. These leaflets dropped by the thousands and commonplace then, have become rare. I have seen them once in a private collection. The NLB rare gallery showcases three pieces.

Propaganda Leaflets

“Propaganda” leaflets airdropped in the 50s (photo Catherine Lim)

Propaganda Chin Peng 1955 CNY

A 1955 Chinese New Year “special” designed to tugged at the heartstrings and homesickness at a time of celebration (photo Catherine Lim)

Safe Conduct Passes

Leaflets in 4 languages which provided “safe conduct” upon surrender. An indication that the communist insurgency had support from all ethnic groups ? (photo Catherine Lim)

Other Highlights:

- Treasures of the Rare Gallery - Al-Qawl al-atiq iaitu segala surat Perjanjian Lama (Old Testament Bible in Malay)

Treasures of the Rare Gallery – Al-Qawl al-atiq iaitu segala surat Perjanjian Lama ,Old Testament Bible in Malay (photo NLB)

Malay Bible

From the translated Malay Bible (photo Catherine Lim)

Exhibits on Java, Sawarak , Sumatra written by the “colonial masters ” stationed here, a reminder that Singapore was part of the “Straits Settlements”

Book 2 sketches

Thirty-two such silhouettes of different types of Malaysian people of the 20th C from “Shadows in The Malay Peninsular” by W.G. Stirling, London 1910 (photo Catherine Lim)

book 2

(photo Catherine Lim)

book on Sarawak_ NLB

Written by Margaret Brooke “Ranee of Sarawak (1849-1936) and consort of the Sir Charles Brook. The copy on display establishes the social connection between the Brookes and Swettenham (Governor of the Straits Settlements). Swettenham refers fo Ranee as Margaret darling” in 2 handwritten letters (photo NLB)

My Life in Sawarak_NLB

“Margaret darling” (photo Catherine Lim)

Book

(photo Catherine Lim)

Expressing Raffles passion for  the biodiversity of the region.

Insect book

From “Descriptive catalogue of the Lepidopterous insectsnby Thomas Horsefield London, 1828/9 (photo Catherine Lim)

Poison Book

Malay Poisons and Charm Cures. John D Gimlette London, 1923 ( photo Catherine Lim)

And lets not forget, exhibits which clearly reminds us of the collector’s primary  interest,  Raffles himself.

Raffles baptism papers

Raffles Baptism papers (photo Catherine Lim)

Raffles Letter to Cousin

Handwritten letter by Raffles to his cousin (photo Catherine Lim)

Memoir of Raffles wth baptism_NLB

(photo NLB)

Of interest for further study an exhibit of : a  bill introduced to the British Parliament on 18 June 1824 to ratify the Anglo-Ducth Treaty of 1824 which concluded longstanding territorial and commercial disputes between Britain and Netherlands. A valuable source of information of how the two rival colonial and maritime powers decided on how to carve out their colonies in the region

As a collection, its importance is to give visitors a  flavour of our past, providing historical context in print that covers different facets of political, social and community engagement at a personal level.

If there is anything more the NLB can do to get more Singaporeans to “embrace” the rare collections , is perhaps for this collection to serve as an inspiration for other activities which could revolve round art and story imagining of a past which helped defined who we are today.

Guided tours of this collection will be held monthly between July and December. Do check listings here

———————————————————————————

Catherine Lim is co-editor bukitbrown.com

 

Moved by “unseen” hands, the deities which used to be located at the former entrance of Bukit Brown Cemetery, were also moved  when the pillars of the gates were relocated.

They now have a brand new shelter –  we have been informed by a credible source – which was “upgraded”  by Fusion Clad Precision (of their own initiative),  the company commissioned by the National Heritage Board to restore the gates.

Photos captured by Brownie volunteers help document the “sheltering” of the deities which we believe are the efforts of a community who work behind the scenes.

unsheltered in May 2016 Bianca Polak

An unsheltered Earth Diety also known as Tu Di Gong or Tua Pek Kong taken sometime in May 2016 by Bianca Polak before a new shelter was put in place.

Guanyin 2015 Photo Darren Koh

Guanyin captured in 2015 by Darren Koh before the gates were moved. According to Darren,  Guanyin is a heavenly deity unusual for a cemetery which is traditionally the purview of the Earth Deity . But then, this is Guanyin who will take any form necessary to help humankind.

Earth Deity flanked by 2 Datuk Kongs June 2016

Fast forward to June 2016, and the altar, now relocated along with the gates, have now been “regularised” with the disappearance of the Guanyins, and the installation of a “new” Tua Pek Kong flanked by two Datuk Gongs, one on each side. (photo by Darren Koh)

The “upgrade” by Fusion Clad include the paint job and sensor lights, shelving and a dry place to store  joss sticks and  with even a lighter in place (although the last may have been placed there by others for convenience). The community who work at Bukit Brown have been observed by Brownies to pay respects before they start each construction work day  as a mark of respect and request blessings for a “safe environment”

Upgrading (photo Catherine)

Lighter hidden out of sight (photo Catherine Lim)

Bamboo with felicitious wirtings on left Darren Koh June 2012

Together with this new shelter interesting is the emergence of the green bamboo inscribed with felicitations – not our local tradition, according to Darren and he wonders wonder what is the story behind them (photo June 2016 of bamboo inscriptions on left side of altar by Darren Koh)

Bamboo with felitications wriiten on right wall Darren Koh

Bamboo inscriptions on right side of altar (June 2016 photo by Darren Koh)

 

 

Outlook iv _photo AJ Leow

Raymond Goh being interviewed for “Outlook” on May 14 (photo AJ Leow)

The news broke this morning and was headlined  “The Outlook 15”

We are pleased to share breaking news that Raymond Goh has been shortlisted as the top 15 from among 50 inspiring individuals in their home countries nominated by listeners to “Outlook” – a weekly radio programme on  the other BBC – The British Broadcasting Corporation aka The Beeb.

He sits in good company among  indefatigable individuals who have survived against the odds and individuals who strive each day in challenging environments  to make life a little better;  from granting wishes to the terminally ill to being a voice for survivors of unspeakable tragedies; from Sierra Leone to our Singapore, where our nominee  gives voice to the dead in order that our past has a future.  The full report can be found here

The nomination was submitted at the end of April 2016 by A.J Leow.

In his submission  to the BBC nominating Raymond Goh in under 200 words (the limit) he wrote:

The Bukit Brown Cemetery (BBC) was largely a forgotten site in urban Singapore until the government announced plans in 2011 to build an 8-lane highway across it and exhume for a start 4,000 graves. Raymond and his brother Charles then started to explore the site. They organized guided tours and were soon joined by more volunteers known as Brownies.

Raymond has since discovered more hidden tombs and linked many descendants to forgotten ancestors who include the real early pioneers who founded schools, banks, clan associations, public parks and lent their names to some 50 streets in Singapore. Besides his frequent sojourns to BBC in his trademark white towel and T-shirt, Raymond also combs newspaper, clan and other archives.

As a result of his research, the Brownies even got BBC listed on the World Monument list and was recognised as Advocacy Organisation of the Year 2014. Their efforts have inspired new heritage trails, award-nominated plays and new books — all thanks to our very own tomb whisperer (and Indiana Jones) who has inspired a revival of Singapore’s own history.

The news that the submission was accepted came by way of a feature interview on the BBC World Service radio programme, Outlook “They call me Singapore’s Tomb Whisperer” conducted at Bukit Brown with Raymond and his nominator. The recording  can be found here

Raymond iv by BBC - AJ Leow

Explaining tomb inscriptions (photo AJ Leow)

In sharing the news this morning that he had been shortlisted, Raymond posted on his FB page:

From 50 to 15…..truly humbled and overwhelmed by this shortlist. I have all the Bukit Brown community volunteers and tombkeepers who have accompanied me on my journey for the past 10 years to thank. Without their encouragement, support and assistance, would not have walked so far. And of course my brother Charles, partnering me along the road ….”

For more on the passion and dedication of Raymond and Charles in uncovering our lost heritage, read The Goh Brothers – A Decade of Exploring, a decade of Sharing

Our best wishes and congratulations to Raymond, as someone posted, onward to the final 3.

 

 

Contrary to perceptions that the Brownie volunteers of Bukit Brown spend all their time at the cemetery, the reality is we are often exploring or chasing – either  individually and sometimes ( when we can co-ordinate our busy schedules)  as a community  –  other heritage and nature trails (before they are decimated by development)

A sunny Sunday morning saw an opportunity to explore a charming, idyllic stream, embraced in nature’s natural air conditioning right smack in the forested area known as Lentor (Tagore) Forest of Teachers Estate.  Our guide was Leong Kwok Peng of Nature Society of Singapore (NSS).

Here are some photos of that morning, where some “frolicked” and others explored or at times did both. We all came out came out refreshed and also sad that we are  in imminent danger of this intimate stream being “canalised” in concrete or buried over in development plans.

A natural erection from an most unnatural angle_Lawrence Chong

Well, hello there are you pleased to see me? Photo captured by Lawrence Chong from a most unusual angle.

A natural erection

A more natural angle captured by Simone Lee

Brownies wet and wild_Simone Lee

And hello there again from 2 brownies, no they did not fall down from what looks deceptively like a long distance. It’s a stream so getting wet is par for the course (photo Simone Lee)

Cupping _Simone Lee

“I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o’er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden toilet pumps” – with apologies to Wordsworth , Simone thought of toilet pumps when she saw them. Photo by Ang Hock Chuan

Toliet pumps

(photo Simone Lee)

Fungi_Simone Lee

More fungi (photo Simone Lee)

Lector Stream Fern 2_Simone Lee

“Fern Gully” – not the scientific name, just a hark back to some old movie title (Photo Simone Lee)

More ferns _photo Catherine Lim

(photo Catherine Lim)

Leong Kwok Peng _Simone Lee

Our Nature Society guide Kwok Peng trying not to get his feet wet (photo Simone Lee)

Lighting Stream_Simone Lee

(photo Simone Lee)

Simone Lee photo by Ang Hock Chuan

Maybe she had a sip of the water “Youthful Exuberance” (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Simone Lee

(photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Brownies Streaming _Simone Lee

Brownies streaming….. (photo Lawrence Chong)

A little slope up and down _ SImone Lee

Not that difficult to get up and down with a gallant hand to this neck of the woods, just some light bush bashing through forested trek and voila you are there. (photo Simone Lee)

Join the Nature Society of Singapore (NSS)  FB group here and you can find more  photos on the stream and its environs.

The NSS wrote a position paper proposing a  phased development of the area leaving   the streams untouched. Their rationale was quite simple, since not all the  land was needed urgently :

“We leave a valuable stretch of forest as a land-bank with its ecological and biodiversity values for future generations to decide as to whether they want to preserve it or to exploit it for other uses. Tastes and needs can vary and differ from generation to generation. What is of no value today may be in great demand for a future generation. People, whether in the immediate or far future, may appreciate natural greenery and its wildlife more as these become rare or scarce —- apart from what is already there in our limited protected nature areas.”

To that we say, hear, hear and Amen. Please help to spread the word to your MPs!

You can read more about the position paper which can be downloaded here

Change is inevitable; Memories endure; The tangible is the gateway to the intangible.

image3

A closeup of the iron wrought  design  detail shows what uncannily  looks like a bat . In Chinese “Fu” is a homonym for fortune.  (photo Chua Ai Lin)

The iconic gates of Bukit Brown which had stood in the same spot for some 90 years were removed on September 2015,  and have been  undergoing the delicate process of refurbishment since January 2016. It   is expected to be relocated back in June 2016 and enjoined with the pillars which  have already been relocated to the new entrance.

Members of All Things Bukit Brown and the Singapore Heritage Society as part of the working committee on Bukit Brown chaired by the Ministry of National Development  were invited to a private viewing of the work in progress in March. The refurbishment is being undertaken by Fusion Clad Precision who were  hired by the National Heritage Board.

image2

Explaining the process (photo Chua Ai Lin)

image4

SHS, NHB and ATBB representatives at Fusion Clad Precision premises in March 2016 (Photo Chua Ai Lin)

According to a Straits Times report published on May 3, 2016 “Iconic Gates to Greet Visitors to Bukit Brown Cemetery Again” :

“The refurbishment, which started in January, has five core steps. Rust is first removed before coatings are applied to reduce future corrosion.

The gates’ lock and latch components as well as lampholders are then repaired before missing parts are replaced. The last step is to reinforce the gates’ structural integrity.

The team, comprising four master craftsmen and three other members, is at step two of the process.

Its managing director Teo Khiam Gee said the gates need a lot of attention as well as “the human touch”.

“Skilful hands are important as the parts are in varying states of disrepair. Its original state was very fragile. It is like handling a baby,” he said.

The structure is made up of parts, such as a pair of cast-iron gates through which cars used to pass, two side gates for pedestrians, and four free-standing square columns.

It was likely prefabricated in Britain and shipped to Singapore. Its square columns were cast on the spot.”

The report adds:

“NHB’s assistant chief executive of policy and community, Mr Alvin Tan, said retaining and refurbishing the gates are important as they “provide a sense of arrival to the cemetery and preserve a sense of continuity for visitors and interest groups”.

The refurbishment is an initiative of a multi-agency work group chaired by the Ministry of National Development. It includes NHB, the Land Transport Authority (LTA), and civic organisations All Things Bukit Brown and the Singapore Heritage Society (SHS).

The effort is guided by conservation best practices shared by SHS. The heritage board also has its own in-house metals specialist, Mr Ian Tan, manager of the heritage research and assessment division.

When ready, the gates will be painted black – a common colour for outdoor use.”

You can find  is a  step by step graphic representation provided by ST on the process here

NHB produced a short documentary on the removal of the gates and the relocation of the pillars which supports it:

Bukit Brown Gates March 2012_Chua Ai Lin

The Way We Were : Bukit Brown Gates at Lorong Halwa Qing Ming, March 2012 (photo Chua Ai Lin)

 

We honour the memory of the gates in our recently launched book WWII@ Bukit Brown.

coverFA2_Back

An artist impression of the iconic gates which graces the back cover of the recently launched WWII @ Bukit Brown book

“In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love
only what we understand; and we will understand only
what we are taught.” (Baba Dioum, 1968.)

 

A quote by the Guest of Honour  Senior Minister Desmond Lee (National Development and Home Affairs) in his address , captured aptly the journey of the Bukit Brown community leading to another milestone in what has been dubbed ” a movement” with the launch on 16 April, 2016 of the book WWII@Bukit Brown –  a collection of essays, poems and stories from the community of Brownies and descendants.

In his speech, Minister Lee recounted his first guided walk at Bukit Brown Cemetery with his constituents :

“During the visit three years ago, we learnt about the history and heritage of our pioneers from the stories shared by the Brownies.

Over the years, we have all been very impressed by the passion demonstrated by the Brownies, as they have contributed so much of their personal time, personal energy and expertise to research, document and share the history of Bukit Brown with the rest of us in Singapore.

They are an example of what the community can do to connect with, and to celebrate our history. But if we reflect on it, although Bukit Brown is a cemetery, their work is so much more than just about the past. It is also very much about our future.

The research that the Brownies did led descendants to approach them for help to identify their ancestors’ resting places, and from there, an opportunity to open up conversations about their personal and family stories, which they then shared for the benefit of posterity.

I understand that some of the descendants are here. Some of your stories and stories of your forefathers have made their way into this book. This book is a testament to the hard work and effort the Brownies had invested over the years.”

We were also honoured  to have descendants among the contributors to the book grace the launch and they included the descendants of Tay Koh Yat, Tan Ean Kiam, Cho Kim Leong and Tan Kim Cheng.

Tan Keng Leck _Demond Lee Photo LC

Tan Keng Leck, grandson of Tan Ean Kiam with Minister Desmond Lee. The Tan Ean Kiam foundation is also one of the sponsors for the book  (photo Lawrence Chong)

Claire Leow wth grandsons of TKY photo Carolyn Lim

Claire Leow (Editor) with the youngest and oldest grandsons of Tay Koh Yat showing them the chapter on their grandfather.(photo Carolyn Lim)

Jenny Soh photo Carolyn Lim

Jenny Soh in maroon top is the niece who was saved by her Aunt Soh Koon Eng who died during a bombing raid at their home in Geylang. (photo Carolyn Lim)

Philip Green and Susan_Lawrence Chong

Among the guests who attended,  the Australian High Commissioner Philip Green and his partner Susan who have been guided by Brownies (photo Lawrence Chong)

Editorial Team_ LAwrence Chong

The Editorial Team (minus 2, Yik Han and Raymond Goh) with Minister Desmond Lee. L-R Catherine, Claire, Simone, Peter, Minister Lee, Bianca, Fabian, Chyen Yee, Charles (photo Lawrence Chong)

It was an occasion for connections and re-connections.

Frm Tan Cheng Bock Album

SHS President Chua Ai Lin with Dr. Tan Cheng Bock an old family friend and Alex Tan Tiong Hee who contributed a chapter in the book. (photo Lawrence Chong)

Lawrence Chong

SHS President Chua Ai Lin, Catherine (editor) Kevin Tan (former SHS President and Editor of ” Spaces of the Dead- A Case from the Living 2011″) Minister Lee and Claire (editor) – Overheard, Kevin recounting to Minister it took 11 years to raise funds for the book Spaces of the Dead also published by Ethos (photo Lawrence Chong)

Vera Teo with CW Chan Photo Carolyn Lim

Descendant of Dr Lee Choo Neo – Singapore’s first female doctor –  with CW Chan who contributed a profile piece of Lee Choon Seng – “oh to be a fly on the wall of this conversation” (photo Carolyn Lim)

 

Jon Cooper with Desmond and Ai Lin photo Lawrence Chong

Minister Lee meeting Jon Cooper who contributed a chapter to the book and recently launched his own book Tigers in the Park on the WW II  archeological digs he conducted over a span of 6 years as part of the Adam Park Project

Jon Cooper 1 Simone Lee

Jon holding the audience spell bound during his presentation (photo Simone Lee)

Jon Cooper Lawrence Chong 2Minister Lee Lawrence Chong

Jon, captivated the audience at the launch with his stories of the descendants and survivors of POW camps he had met in the course of his research  (photos of Jon’s presentation  by Lawrence Chong)

And finally a pictorial thanks  to our sponsors in no particular order :

NHB photo Lawrence Chong

Norsaleen Salleh of National Heritage Board (photo Lawrence Chong)

Darren Koh Sponsor Lawrence Chong

Darren Koh (photo Lawrence Chong)

James Khoo Sponsor Lawrence Chong

James Khoo (Lawrence Chong)

Norliag Saadon sponsor Lawrence Chong

Norliah Saadon (Lawrence Chong)

Victor Lim Lawrence Chong

Victor Lim (photo Lawrence Chong)

Bianca Polak sponsor Lawrence Chong

Bianca Polak (photo Lawrence Chong)

Ee Hoe Hean rep Lawrence Chong

Representative from Ee Hoe Hean Club (photo Lawrence Chong)

Kevin Ang

Representing the venue sponsor Kelvin Ang of URA (photo Lawrence Chong)

And as previously mentioned Tan Ean Kiam Foundation is one of the sponsors.

You can support funds for the book by purchasing a copy or more here

If you would like to bulk purchase books to donate to community organisations, drop us an email a.t.bukitbrown@gmail.com

Hoe Fang Carolyn Lim

Co publisher Fong Hoe Fang of Ethos (photo Carolyn Lim)

And here’s a reminder of “who”  this is all about:

Jon Cooper Simone Lee

“In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” (Baba Dioum, 1968.) Photo Simone Lee

Acknowledgments:

To everyone who came, out heartfelt gratitude. To our official photographers,  Lawrence Chong and Carolyn, thank you.

Look out for more stories about the launch and updates about the book in the blog under History : Books

Co Publishers:

Ethos Books and Singapore Heritage Society

BB

Cover design by Matt3r design and research

Update: Snr Minister of State Desmond Lee (MND, MHA) will be the guest of honour  and present books in appreciation to contributors after his address.

****Please note change in programme and we appreciate punctuality in attendance. Audience to be seated in Auditorium by 2.55pm. 

Dress code: Casual

Saturday 9 April 2.30pm – 5.30 pm @  The URA Centre, 5th Floor Auditorium.  45 Maxwell Road, 069118.

Please register here: http://peatix.com/event/159461

Programme:

2.30pm : Registration

3pm to 4 pm: Launch Programme:

Welcome Address: Editors

Presentation by Jon Cooper, War Archeologist : Stories Behind Battle at Cemetery Hill and The Adam Park Project

Slide Presentation of WWII @ Bukit Brown

Minister Desmond Lee Address,  followed by Presentation of Book to Contributors and Sponsors

4pm-4.30 pm:  Refreshments

4.35 pm – 5.45 pm Presentations on Panel Discussion

“The Role of Community Engagement — Shared Experiences”

Dr Chua Ai Lin, president Singapore Heritage Society : The Multiple Spaces of Bukit Brown (based on a paper with Dr Terence Chong)

Kok Heng Leun :  “Socially-Engaged Art: Bukit Brown”  – Key Note address by the  Artistic Director of Drama Box and recently-appointed Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP). At the 2015 Singapore International Arts Festival, Heng Leun conceptualised an ambitious triple-bill production on Bukit Brown and the contestation over land use entitled ‘It Won’t Be Too Long’. In particular, the part called ‘The Lesson’ was a forum theatre piece around the construction of a fictional MRT station, and was performed in Drama Box’s inflatable Goli Theatre to audiences in Toa Payoh Central. ‘It Won’t Be Too Long’ received rave reviews and was one of ST Life’s Best Theatre productions of the year.

Following Heng Leun’s presentation, Chua Ai Lin and Jon Cooper will each respond briefly before the discussion is opened to the floor.”

Moderator: Assoc Prof Darren Koh, Head -Master of Taxation Programme, School of Law, UniSIM. Special interests, Chinese cemetery practices and  culture

5.45 pm: Ends

****************************************************************

The Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) and Ethos Books with All Things Bukit Brown (atBB)  will launch  WWII @ Bukit Brown on Saturday April 9, 2016  –  a collection of stories, essays  and poems  which looks at the Japanese Occupation in the Second World War (1942-1945) and the impact on Singapore from the perspective of those interred at Bukit Brown Cemetery.

The highlight  of the book is  stories shared by descendants from family oral archives and albums of their ancestors who survived  or perished  in  the darkest chapters of Singapore’s history.

Bukit Brown remains the largest cemetery in Singapore for the war dead in situ, and buried with them are many untold stories of bravery, resilience, tragedy, survival and amid the darkness, hope.  The book offers new material and insights into the human tragedy of war as an act of commemoration, adding  another layer to the already vast literature on WWII in Singapore.

“The stories have taken us to the Endau Settlement in Johor, to Taiping (Malaysia) and to the battlefields of Europe  in ways so unexpected they took our breath away,” said Claire Leow and Catherine Lim, the co editors of the book.   “It is a slow and at times painful unraveling of family history, lost in memory but for the persistence of descendants. It has taken seven decades for some of these fragments to be pulled together, and we see this not as a one-off book but a first step in the difficult journey of “re-discovery” and “re-membering”. The narratives also re-affirm to us Singapore’s place in regional and global historical narratives. We hope it serves as a curtain raiser to 2017, the 75th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore. ”

The stories are nested  around essays – which provide context and background –   written by the community of volunteers, who have come to be known as brownies  under the banner of All Things Bukit Brown. They are neither historians nor academics but the editorial team conduct regular guided walks on site which in themselves are learning journeys as they expand on their body of knowledge from engaging with descendants and a myriad web of networks including academics and historians.

“Bukit Brown has unexpectedly turned out to be a touchstone about the loss of heritage – tangible and intangible – in a Singapore eager to modernise and develop,” Chua Ai Lin, President of SHS. “The book is an important evolution of the civil society movement to uphold Bukit Brown as a site of national significance, and illuminates one of its more fragile narrative threads. It brings together at once the strategic and personal importance of the site, and SHS is pleased to once again support All Things Bukit Brown, which has evolved from a volunteer base guiding weekly public tours and regular customised tours, to hosting exhibitions and participating in arts programmes to reach as broad a support base as possible to save what is left of the site.”

The book has been made possible with a grant from National Heritage Board and the help of generous contributions to the Singapore Heritage Society from its members and other well wishers.

The Editorial Team behind WWII@Bukit Brown, acknowledges in gratitude the support and encouragement  of  a community too many to name, and in recognition of this  support have gifted the copyright for the book to the Singapore Heritage Society for the work they have done in heritage education and advocacy and Ethos Books for their support of home grown writing.

Singapore Heritage Society (SHS)  was founded in 1987 and is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation and registered charity with Institution of Public Character (IPC) status. It Singapore’s leading organization dedicated to research, education and advocacy on Singapore’s history, heritage and identity. SHS is behind many significant publications on Singapore history including Syonan: Singapore under the Japanese, 1942-1945 (1992); Memories and the National Library: Between Forgetting and Remembering (2000); Spaces of the Dead: A Case from the Living (2011).

The Ethos Books imprint was founded in 1997 by Pagesetters Services Pte Ltd. The imprint focuses on publishing works by Singapore writers. The main genres are poetry, literary fiction, creative non-fiction, memoirs, and Heritage books. It has worked with the SHS before in jointly publishing “Spaces of the Dead. A Case from the Living”. Other heritage books published include “Faith in Architecture”; “Teo Eng Seng: Art and Thoughts”; “Memoirs of a Migrant”; and “The Politics of Defeat”.

All Things Bukit Brown (atBB) is the banner for a community of volunteers who conduct independent research and guided walks on Bukit Brown Cemetery. Since they came together as a community in 2012, they have collectively organised public talks with partners such as the NUS Museum and Chui Huay Lim Club, two exhibitions and successfully nominated Bukit Brown Cemetery as the first site in Singapore to be placed on the World Monuments Fund Watch list 2014-2016. Claire Leow and Catherine Lim, co-founders of the blog, bukitbrown.com,  are the editors for the book, backed by a volunteer editorial team from within the community.

We are grateful to the Urban Redevelopment  Authority URA for sponsorship of venue for the launch.

 

coverFA2_Back

Cover design by Matt3r design and research

It’s the end of another weekend and rarely a weekend passes when Raymond Goh aka  “Tomb Whisperer” is not to be found  doing ground exploration and research  at Bukit Brown, nowadays often with  tombkeeper  Soh who helps him bush bash and lends his knowledge of the grounds he grew up in.

Today’s sharing on his “finds” on  the Heritage Singapore Bukit Brown FB group included a   tomb “gift wrapped”  in Peranakan tiles, a newly refurbished tomb ( more signs that descendants are returning) , a tomb with a story to be unraveled,   and a tomb bearing 中華民國  – Republic Of China.

Chong Hua Min Kuo_ Raymond

中華民國 Republic of China (photo Raymond Goh)

Patterned Tile _Raymond

(photo Raymond Goh)

refurbished tomb_ Raymond

Tomb Keeper Soh pictured with refurbished tomb (photo Raymond Goh)

Title Tomb _ Photo Yuk Han

“Gift Wrapped” tomb (photo Ang Yik Han)

Tomb with a story inscription _Raymond

An inscription to be unravelled (photo Raymond Goh)

Unusually Raymond was also at Bukit Brown this  Saturday (he splits weekend days  between his family and his  passion ) to meet an independent researcher who hopes to write an article on a prominent pioneer whose tomb Raymond had found much earlier and wanted to tap his knowledge

Then I learned that much earlier in the week, Raymond got up at 4 am one weekday morning  so he could help facilitate a fervent request by an international documentary crew to film an exhumation at Bukit Brown.  Exhumations are  private family affairs and it was indeed a testimony to Raymond’s reputation for sensitivity and discretion  in such matters that he was able to persuade family to allow for the filming and be interviewed.

All in a weeks work  you could say for Raymond who has to juggle his passion with his career heading a multi- national healthcare company which finds him traveling on average once a month on business trips.

It is a passion which can be traced back a decade when he teamed up at the instigation of his younger brother Charles  – who heads  workplace safety and health at a Japanese firm –  to explore  and uncover the “lost heritage and history of Singapore”.  The siblings have  more than a blood bond, as they leverage on each other’s strengths.  It was Raymond’s interest  in Chinese and regional culture and history which Charles’ sought to complement his own skills in map-reading and understanding of title deeds and ownership.

Their decade of exploration and what they have uncovered including   the community which has rallied around them   was documented recently in a  feature  called Life Extraordinare 

http://video.toggle.sg/en/series/life-extraordinaire/ep8/358863

The Goh brothers  intrepid exploration of forgotten places – more often than not sited in thick forested areas – paired with their investigative work trawling the archives for maps and records, have helped Singaporeans  connect to their past, and sparked personal journeys into the search for their roots for a new generation of Singaporeans.

The discovery of the grave of Singapore’s foremost Teochew pioneer Seah Eu Chin (1805-1883) by the Goh brothers in November 2012 is an exemplar of their commitment and passion, one with wider resonance in 2015.

In 2011, prompted by a request from a descendant of Seah who went to school with Raymond, they found a  Straits Times obituary (1883)  that described Seah Eu Chin’s funeral procession, from his home in North Boat Quay to his plantation in Thomson Road, about 4.8km away from town. From the description of the funeral procession, Charles extrapolated the approximate location from a 1924 map. But to confirm whether it was indeed the grave of Seah Eu Chin, what was needed was an understanding of the Chinese practice whereby family members of the same generation used the same characters in their names. And that was where Raymond’s interest in Chinese culture and tradition came to the fore.
“Knowing the generation name, which was certified in an imperial edict he found, helped him confirm that the grave he found on Grave Hill belonged to Seah Eu Chin”. ST Nov 28, 2012, Teochew pioneer’s grave found in Toa Payoh

Of the discovery, Dr Hui Yew-Foong, an anthropologist at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies and the appointed documentarian of Bukit Brown Cemetery commented, “This grave is of the same level of historical significance as the graves of Tan Tock Seng and Tan Kim Ching, and therefore serves as an invaluable part of Singapore’s heritage.”

For the Goh brothers it was mission accomplished. For the Seah clan, it was the beginning of the unravelling of familial connections lost after the devastation of World War II. Before the war, the 2,000-strong family of descendants spanning at least five generations had gathered regularly. The 130th anniversary of Seah Eu Chin’s death was marked at his grave site in 2013 a year later by descendants and members of the two Teochew Clan Associations he help found, the Po Ip Huay Kuan and Ngee Ann Kongsi.
For Sean Seah 39, a 6th generation descendant of Seah Eu Chin who took part in the memorial prayers, it was followed by a journey tracing the steps of personal history when he made a trip back to the ancestral home and villa of Seah Eu Chin in Yuepu village, Chaozhou province in 2014 which he documented in this  video. https://vimeo.com/95650452

“When I was young, my father used to tell me stories about Seah Eu Chin.  when I went to school, I learnt more about him, but many questions still lingered. When I gazed upon and touched the tomb of Seah Eu Chin, I felt a a tangible visceral connection to my roots and moved to embark on a quest for these questions to be answered, and so to the Goh brothers, I am grateful”Sean Seah (personal communication)

Intrigued by this unearthing of history, in November 2015, the Goh brothers revealed the significance of two stone markers they found in MacRitchie area. One was inscribed with the words “Dare” in English and the other “Seah Chin Hin” in Chinese for Mr Seah’s plantation, as well as the stone and brick foundations of Mr Dare’s former home. “Dare” was George Mildmay Dare  a former secretary of the Singapore Cricket Club. The two stone markers are discoveries which tell the complementary stories of the land, of our colonial past and our migrant pioneers.
The Goh brothers cache lie in ignominious stones, the kind you trip upon when taking a road less travelled but when examined closer becomes a doorway to our historical landmarks.

The curiosity as well as the passion for our history drives them to search on the ground as well as delve into archives for supporting evidence or clues. Charles was exploring the old forested area near Macalister Road when he stumbled upon a wall in the grounds of the Singapore General Hospital in September 2014. The National Heritage Board was alerted to its discovery by the Goh brothers and through further research, found that the remnants belonged to the New Lunatic Asylum which 128 years ago was revolutionary for its time, a period when strait jackets was more the norm. The perimeter wall was to allow patients to move about freely under protection. Within the grounds of the SGH carpark, which was undergoing development in 2014, was also the remnants of a burial site belonging to a Chua clan dating back to the 1860s, occupying a private strip of land then sandwiched between Tiong Bahru (New Cemetery) and Tiong Lama (Old Cemetery) that would have been referred to as Seh Chua Sua (Chua Hill)  On a visit to the site led by Raymond and Charles organised by the Tiong Bahru heritage group earlier this year , participants found four gravestones cordoned off for protection in the midst of the construction site.

2015 is a significant year for  the Goh brothers as it marks a  decade of exploration of Bukit Brown Cemetery and the adjoining cemeteries which have become an important memory marker for Singaporeans.

It is what the Goh brothers have become most known for in the public consciousness, ironically because of the unexpected controversy which erupted in 2011 when the government revealed plans to build an 8 -lane highway across the last remaining Chinese cemetery, one with a history dating back to the 1800s. The Goh brothers had started to explore Bukit Brown as early as 2005, and uncovered the tombs of pioneers such as Cheang Hong Lim, Tan Keong Saik, Khoo Siok Wan, Seah Imm, Tan Ean Kiam, Chew Boon Lay, Chew Joo Chiat, Tan Kheam Hock – more than 30 pioneers to date whose names are immortalised in our streetscape.

By 2011, they had the best working knowledge on the ground of Bukit Brown which had closed in 1973 – the final resting place of an estimated 100,000 pioneers and whose terrain had become overgrown, the kind of challenging landscape the Goh brothers relished.

As descendants’ awareness of their familial obligations to claim and exhume their forebears grew, it was to the Goh brothers that they turned to unravel the clues to locate ancestors’ graves or other related information lost to time. Others, their interest piqued by the circumstances, started to trace if they had ancestors buried there, leading to even more leads to chase.

Many who requested help from the Goh brothers to trace their ancestors even mistook Raymond as being employed by Land Transport Authority to help them verify whether the graves of their ancestors would be affected by the highway. Both brothers were members of the Advisory Council on the Bukit Brown Documentation Project, a committee set up by the government in recognition of the heritage and historical value the cemetery. It was made up of stakeholders who could advise on documentation of the approximately 4000 graves which had to be exhumed to make way for the highway. Nonetheless, their endeavours were beyond the remit of the advisory council, and testament to the true value of the Goh brothers to the broader community.
It was this broader interest in helping descendants seek their ancestors, regardless if they were affected by the highway, that resonated with ordinary Singaporeans and residents.

Besides Seah Eu Chin, early clues in Bukit Brown also led to the discovery of Chia Ann Siang, who was not buried there. The discovery of Chia Ann Siang’s grave in a forested hilllock off Malcolm Road, also led to reunions and connections. Alphonsus Sng, 6th generation Chia Ann Siang  writes,

” We were told growing up we were descendants of Chia Ann Siang on my mother’s side, but it was not until his grave was discovered by the Goh brothers, that we could confirm, from the names of his sons etched on his grave we were in fact descendants from his 3rd son Beng Chiang, who was my great grandfather on my maternal side. The reunion at the grave was a first in meeting cousins we never knew existed of my generation, descended directly from Chia Ann Siang. We have since kept in touch, exploring our shared ancestry together”Alphonsus Sng (personal communication)

Raymond Goh estimates that he has helped to connect about 50 families whose roots are in Bukit Brown. But the Goh brothers’ contribution in a body of work that spans a decade is exponential.

Leveraging on their research, a community of volunteers came together in 2012 almost spontaneously and started conducting regular public walks in Bukit Brown to instill awareness on its intrinsic heritage and history, some later expanding on the research of the Goh brothers to conduct their own independent research. They became collectively known as the “Brownies” – a motley group from different professional backgrounds from lawyers to engineers, of different faiths, different ethnicity including a Sikh and a Catholic Indian. The youngest is below 30 of age the oldest, above 60. For them Bukit Brown has taken them to places outside of Bukit Brown and indeed out of  Singapore to explore the history and heritage of our migrant roots, our diaspora. A handful have also joined the ranks of Raymond and Charles in helping to connect descendants with ancestors.

“2015, Singapore’s Jubilee, was a year to take stock of where we are heading, and where we came from.  In this connection, very few ordinary Singaporeans can claim to have played as significant a role in helping us appreciate our past.  Raymond and Charles Goh are arguably pioneers in their own right in exploring and sharing with the public the significance of cemeteries, particularly, Bukit Brown in linking the dots between the past and the present, the departed and those living

On a personal note, I have had the pleasure to be a former classmate of Raymond and we are both alumni of Gan Eng Seng.  I was moved by the tour of Bukit Brown conducted by Raymond which culminated in homage paid at the tomb of our school’s founder. This reminded me of the Raymond Goh I remembered when he was a boy, a classmate with an enquiring mind, a strong sense of curiosity, who excelled in the sciences.  I am proud that he has applied these skills in his Bukit Brown related pursuits, for he is an excellent detective and investigator of the past.” Khir Johari, Singapore Heritage Society, SHS Vice President (personal communication)   

The  Goh brother’s  decade-long track record, and an undaunted and persevering spirit to a cause despite a lack of early support have been self-less. They have willingly shared their knowledge and skills and created space for other like-minded persons to follow in their very large footsteps. They have inspired other volunteers, but also a broader public, which has opened their eyes to alternative histories and an independent route of inquiry.

In the words of a recent reflection by journalist Lisabel Ting in the last week of 2015.
“Like a salmon swimming upstream, I think all humans have an innate desire to return to where we came from and to site ourselves in the continuum of history by knowing what has come before. …..This urge to return to our source may be particularly compelling for Singaporeans, especially the many of us who are culturally adrift and loosely moored to this island only by the strength of several generations.For the majority of us, whose parents and grandparents hail from countries across the ocean, our kin are scattered around the world, and may be culturally and linguistically distinct.Having a family tree on which to hang our heritage could, in an impalpable sense, provide a sense of deep-rooted belonging or affiliation which is sometimes missing here.” ST 29 December 2015 “ My surreal connection to my ancestral home”

Today 24 January, 2016,  I came across another  reflection which  resonated ” We cannot protect what we do not know”  and the Goh brothers have  shared what they know and will continue to explore and unravel so we can also also  embark on our personal journeys to learn.

“We cannot protect what we do not know”

Goh Brothers_ 2011

Goh Brothers (circa 2012)

ZB-Personality-of-the-Year

Goh Brothers Zaobao Personalities of the Year 2014 (photo Yap Chin Tiong, ZB)

Archives

August 2016
M T W T F S S
« Jul    
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031