by Catherine Lim

Canopy by Arron Wilson is  a World War Two  film  shot mainly in Sungei Buloh and Bukit Brown, with flashback scenes that takes viewers to the Australian outback farm from where  Jim, the Australian fighter pilot – one of only  2 lead characters – is from.  It has a script which consists of  a few phrases of incoherent Hokkien spoken by Seng, the Chinese resistance fighter   – incoherent perhaps because my rudimentary Hokkien could not grasp it -  a smattering of Japanese dialogue among patrolling Japanese solders for which they were no subtitles, and Jim himself as I recall spoke nothing more than his own name through out.

But it did not matter, because the cinematography draws us into the depths of the landscape of war set in lush, verdant green as if we were there, and  the sound scape of gunfire, bombs, distorted  bird and insects calls, , the menacing rustling of undergrowth   and the silence of the jungle tells the story of a bond that is formed  over just one night.

Canopy unravels the story of  of 2 lone young fighters,  from  two vastly different cultures -  where even the  sound of their names Jim and Seng are so alien to each other’s tongues – running into each other,  caught in the bewildering jungle of war and what happens reaches spirituality.

There is an eye averting sequence when Jim tends to the wounds of Seng, and is forced to gag  his  screams as the Japanese soldiers patrol pass. The mirror scene is when Jim relives his nightmare of falling into the canopy of trees  and he wakes up with Seng’s hand over his mouth.  Seng is watching Jim even as he sleeps, the same way Jim had watched over Seng.

They are drawn together by a common enemy but more than that,  faced with fear, pain and ever present danger, they find in each other more than just comfort and respite.

Something quite extraordinary is experienced between Jim and Seng which passes in the moments of  silence and solitude in the jungle.   They bond in a way that plunges into their stream of consciousness even as the camera plunges the depths of the jungle. It is  as if they had a shared past in the flashback of the farm Jim lives in and in the black the white photograph of Seng’s parents. It is intimate, it is visceral.

War destroys lives but  war is also the great leveler ,  breaks down  the divide of colour,  culture, race and religion,  and forges a connection that unites humanity and uplifts the spirit in endurance and compassion.

The story of Jim and Seng is not an unlikely story, it is a story that could have happened in the 3 years of Japanese Occupation in Singapore between 1942 and 45,  it is a story that surely must have happened with the same intensity,  in some corner of war- torn Singapore. It is a story among many others, waiting to be uncovered.

The time has come to reclaim our past.

“Lest we forget”

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Ambassador Philip Green. Aaron Wilson and Pek Lian in animated discussion with audience. (photo courtesy of Australia High Commission)

Catherine was invited  under All Things Bukit Brown to a private screening of  the film as a guest of the Australian High Commission  A short discussion followed with producer Aaron Wilson and local film maker Pek Lian  who produced Synonara Changi which covered the theme of war remembrance.

Next year, All Things Bukit Brown will  commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Singapore from Japanese Occupation.

 

 

 

Saturday 27th Dec’2014 9am – 12pm

Meeting place: At the Lor Halwa Main gates

Join the Brownies for the last guided walk of 2014, as they look back at their journey and share their collection of individual stories and experiences at their favourite tombs: stories of women breaking the glass ceiling, of great sacrifices and humble deeds, experiences of the joy of discovery and connecting the living to the dead. It is also our thank you tour for the community who have supported us all the way through this ongoing journey which began in 2011, of bringing our collective past and history into the present. We look to you to continue to grow and spread the word of Bukit Brown a Living Museum, Heritage Habitat History.
Bukit Brown Advocate Organisation of the Year 2014
http://bukitbrown.com/main/?p=9425
Bukit Brown on the World Monuments Fund Watch List
http://bukitbrown.com/main/?page_id=7930

Please sign up at Peatix: http://atbb2.peatix.com/ if you are coming!

We guide rain, shine or exhumations”
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Please bring umbrella or poncho and sun protection.
Please wear covered footwear.
Please bring mosquito repellent.
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For first time visitors, see below for some important things to note.

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For information on how to get there and handy tips please visit
http://bukitbrown.com/main/?p=1347

Disclaimer: By agreeing to take this walking tour of Bukit Brown Cemetery, I understand and accept that I must be physically fit and able to do so.To the extent permissible by law, I agree to assume any and all risk of injury or bodily harm to myself and persons in my care (including child or ward)

Registration:

Our weekend public tours are FREE …
Optimally the group size is 30 participants (15 individuals/guide).

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Bukit Brown:

The Bukit Brown area is about 233 hectares in extent, bordered by Lornie Road, Thomson Road and the Pan-Island Expressway. It lies just to the south of the Central Catchment Forest, being separated from it by Lornie Road and includes Singapore’s only Chinese Municipal Cemetery. With more than 100,000 graves, Bukit Brown is also one of the largest Chinese cemeteries outside of China.

Don’t forget to bask in the peaceful surrounds, and also chat with your guides and make friends with other participants. We are amateurs and volunteers, but we are passionate and serious about what we do at Bukit Brown, and we encourage sharing of knowledge.

Here is a map of the grounds:
http://bukitbrown.com/main/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/API.BBC_.Map_.ver3_4.jpg

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Please take note:

1. We will be walking mainly on paved roads. But there are hill treks so dress appropriately, especially your footwear.

2. Wear light breathable clothing. Long pants and long sleeves if you are prone to insect bites or sunburn. Bring sunblock and natural insect repellent.

3. Wear comfortable non-slip shoes as safety is important. Walking sticks are recommended.

4. Do read up on Bukit Brown before going so you have a better understanding of the place (e.g. BukitBrown.com)

5. Do bring water, light snacks, poncho/umbrella, sunhat and waterproof your electronics.

6. Please go to the toilet before coming. There are NO facilities anywhere there or nearby.

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How to get there by MRT / Bus:

Bus services available: 52, 74, 93, 157, 165, 852, 855.

From North: Go to Marymount MRT and walk to bus-stop #53019 along Upper Thomson Road. Take Buses 52, 74, 165, 852, 855
Alight 6 stops later at bus-stop, #41149, opposite Singapore Island Country Club (SICC), Adam Road. Walk towards Sime Road in the direction of Kheam Hock Road until you see Lorong Halwa.

From South: Go to Botanic Gardens MRT and walk to bus-stop #41121 at Adam Road, in front of Singapore Bible College. Take Buses 74, 93, 157, 165, 852, 855. Alight 2 stops later at bus-stop, #41141, just before Singapore Island Country Club (SICC), Adam Road. Cross the bridge, walk towards Sime Road, follow the road until you see Lorong Halwa.

By car:
Turn in from Lornie Road, to Sime Road. Then, turn left into Lorong Halwa.
Parking space available along Lor Halwa and in the cemetery some distance after the cemetery gate

Tour Report  by Catherine  Lim( Brownie safety marshal)

It was the last battlefield tour of 2014, and the “Commander-in-Chief” stood at the look out point of the Sime Road/Adam Rd pedestrian bridge for what has become the de factor lookout point for  “hell fire corner” and held captive the 25 participants who had turned up for the tour.

 

7 Dec Dec 2014 Bianca

Jon Cooper holding participants captivated (photo Bianca Polak)

The battlefield terrain included a golf course, graves, a nature reserve and came replete with maps and old photographs of landmarks some still in place in the last battle  which took place the last day  between the Japanese and British and Indian troops before the Surrender of Singapore on 15 Feb, 1942.

It was by far the longest this year ending past 12pm from the usual 11.30pm finishing time with very engaged group who never seem to flag despite the heat and humidity.

 

7 Dec Dec 2014 Catherine

Back on the Bukit Brown side, last debriefing beyond the barricades of the battlefield that is now no more (photo Catherine Lim)

Some of the comments from the participants included:

It was a fabulous tour! He’s (Jon) so knowledgable and enthusiastic” Shona Trench

Absolutely! His enthusiasm and passion for the subject was captivating!” Jennifer Gadd.

We thank participants who came , especially to Jennifer who has graciously shared her facebook photo album publicly.

Your safety marshals were Catherine, Bianca and Beng.

For more photos which you may access if you join the group Heritage Singapore- Bukit Brown Cemetery

 

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Sign up for this tour is limited to 20 participants. We are now using Peatix to manage the registration for this tour. The tickets are free by registration.

Peatix ticketing

3 EXTRA TICKETS ADDED FOR THIS TOUR! 

 

Dunman Secondary School brought around 40 students to Bukit Brown on 16 August 2014 for a learning journey. Our students marveled at the vast, rich sloping terrain covering over 200 hectres of land space. Some graves dot all the way to Mount Pleasant Road (along PIE).

Our students know that Joo Chiat and Boon Lay are familiar residential estates but little did they know them to be named after our pioneers who lie buried at BB. Tan Ean Kiam, the pioneer whose foundation donated to the construction of our school hall, lies buried at BB alongside his wife. Our students observed a minute of silence as a mark of respect for him.

Dunman Sceondary School  at Tan Ean Kiam photo Yik han

Dunman Secondary School students observing a minutes silence at the grave of Tan Ean Kiam (photo Yik Han)

Our students learned about the strong cultural links our pioneers had with China expressed in the Chinese poetry and the rich artistry in the sculptures and carvings on their grave stones.

The ultimate aim of education is known to be character-building, but certain values such as filial piety and fortune expressed in an abundance of descendants and sustaining blood lines, are so deep-seated that our pioneers bring them down to their graves in forms of figurines symbolizing these values. One grave had carvings showing a a daughter in law breastfeeding her aged and toothless- mother-in-law, choosing to feed her over her crying child, in an act of filial piety. Another grave had 2 Sikh guards standing erect and tall each by the side of a rich tycoon’s final abode. He even had them enshrined as a “sepoy” (stationary guard) and a “prowler” (one who patrols around). This setting reveals the trust placed on the Sikhs for protection during colonial times. Our students were amazed by the detail and rich history of Bukit Brown.

Our students learned that war time graves were smaller and have a unique serial numbering. They were also informed that mass graves were a norm during the Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1945.

We offer our deep heart-felt thanks to the brownies ( the Bukit Brown volunteers) Yik Han, Beng Tang and Catherine for an informative and educational tour of BB. Their passion and love for the history and heritage of the pioneers is evident during their explanations and guidance of the tour. We truly believe that Dunmanites in the tour benefited greatly from the sharing and discussions.

By Gopie Silvarajoo Naidu Prem ( Teacher in Charge)

Editors Note:

The students were from the schools NPCC. Their teachers had worksheets which they worked on immediately on-site after the guided walk. The learning journey was documented and  later published in  their newsletter. We thank the teachers especially of Dunman for going the extra mile to do this despite their very busy schedule. We note that this was the third time the school has requested engagement on Bukit Brown  with Brownies for various groups of students. There was one previous visit to Bukit Brown and a brownie had also made a presentation on Bukit Brown at the school itself.

Thank you for sending atBB the PDF of the newsletter. 

Schools who are interested in learning journeys, please email a.t.bukitbrown@gmail.com.  and give us least 3 weeks notice.

Catherine Lim

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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.

Claire, a Bukit Brown volunteer guide gave a brief introduction on the history of Bukit Brown Cemetery and Singapore's pioneers (photo by Simone)

Claire, a Bukit Brown volunteer guide gave a brief introduction on the history of Bukit Brown Cemetery and Singapore’s pioneers (photo by Simone)

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.

A door deity guards a tomb (Sally T)

A door deity guards a tomb (Sally T)

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.

Noreen, a descendant of Chia Hood Theam, showing pictures of her family (photo by Sally T)

Noreen, a descendant of Chia Hood Theam, showing pictures of her family (photo by Sally T)

 

Some of the beautiful tiles on a tomb (photo by Sally T)

Some of the beautiful tiles on a tomb (photo by Sally T)

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.

Lim Su Min shows his family tree at Seow Poh Leng's mother's tomb (photo by Simone)

Lim Su Min shows his family tree at Seow Poh Leng’s mother’s tomb (photo by Simone)

 

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.

Descendant, Serene at Tan Quee Lan's family cluster (photo by Simone)

Descendant, Serene at Tan Quee Lan’s family cluster (photo by Simone)

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.

 

A group photo at Tan Kim Ching's tomb

A group photo at Tan Kim Ching’s tomb

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.

A stream in Bukit Brown (photo by Sally T)

A stream in Bukit Brown (photo by Sally T)

 

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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

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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.

 

 

In Bukit Brown, one can find various forms of art, structure and inscriptions, auspiciously incorporated within individual tombs to enhance the happiness and prosperity of the deceased’s family.

Tomb whisperer, Raymond Goh translates a poem found on the couplets from a tomb in Bukit Brown:

金羊恆率舞
土牛畫來潮
坤輿呈秀氣
艮岫献英靈

The Golden Sheep leads the eternal dance 
The Earthen Ox draws the rising tide 
The earth presents the elegant vigor
The hill offers the heroic spirit

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Poem 1: Photos and translation by Raymond Goh

On a different tomb, Raymond translates the poem engraved on its couplets, with the help of Alex Loh and Tan Kim Hong, members of the Heritage Singapore – Bukit Brown Cemetery Facebook group:

青龍(去來)寶案
白虎會佳城
靈山鍾地脉
秀水啟人文

The green dragon forms the mountain in front of the tomb
The white tiger meets with a good water formation

The spiritual mountain concentrate the earth veins
The elegant water produces academic descendants

 

Photo by Raymond Goh

Poem 2: Photos by Raymond Goh

 

Do join the discussions in the Heritage Singapore – Bukit Brown Cemetery Facebook group page, a platform for all members to learn, as well as contribute and share their knowledge in all things related to heritage, habitat and history.

 

by Perry Tan

Standard Chartered Bank

In April 2014, in collaboration with All Things Bukit Brown, we conceptualised a guided walk with a  Clean-Up at Bukit Brown, where a team of 35 volunteers from Standard Chartered were taken on a guided tour, before spending  up to 4 hours cleaning  tombs. The organising committee were initially ambivalent about volunteer response and feedback, since such an unique CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) event at a cemetery was previously unheard of. Our ambivalence proved to be unfounded, as we were pleasantly surprised and heartened by the very positive volunteer feedback. This prompted us to plan 2 additional sessions for the year.

So on a cloudy but dry Saturday morning (13 Sept’2014) , we found ourselves back at Bukit Brown five months after our inaugural CSR event at the heritage cemetery. Read Perry’s report on Standard Chartered Bank’s first CSR @ Bukit Brown here.

Back for more (montage by Perry Tan)

Back for more (montage by Perry Tan)

The programme was similar –  starting with an hour-long tour the tombs of prominent pioneers guided by Claire Leow, co- founder of All Things Bukit Brown (bukitbrown.com) , followed by a clean-up of  tombs* in various stages of clean up needed,  hand-picked by  brownie Khoo Ee Hoon. A few of the volunteers were repeat volunteers, who found the initial session  April so enriching that they came back for more. Although we used the same programme, the beauty of Bukit Brown is that it is so rich in history that our guide easily customised our tour to be different from the first one by simply taking a new route and stopping by the tombs of different pioneers.

The presence of repeat volunteers meant that we had a cleaning crew that was semi-experienced. We identified 3 cleaning clusters, two of which were  heavily covered with undergrowth and trees. Volunteers were split into 3 teams, with those who were stronger and more experienced assigned to the more challenging clusters. The result was excellent – we were faster, more efficient and managed make quick work of heavy vegetation in our way. We even sawed down and uprooted quite a number of small trees that some of us could now moonlight as lumberjacks!

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The volunteers (montage by Perry Tan)

The day ended up with a light hike up to Ong Sam Leong’s magnificent tomb, where we were treated to a King of the Hill view of Bukit Brown, ornate designs of the tomb and stories of the Ong clan.

Hard at work (montage by Perry Tan)

Hard at work (montage by Perry Tan)

We went home sweaty and slightly filthy, but fulfilled by the meaningful work we did. Once again, a few volunteers enjoyed the experience so much that they indicated their interest to join us again in the next round – this certainly is starting to look like a sustainable CSR initiative that brings a very progressive heritage ring to tthe Bank’s “Here for Good”  brand promise!

Before and after the cleaning (montage by Perry Tan)

Before and after the cleaning (montage by Perry Tan)

 

Here’s what some volunteers had to say about their experience…

“It was a very nice experience, learning about the history of Singapore, and the people who built Singapore and gave opportunities to many others who follow. It is a very historical area – good place to visit for the people who want to know more about the history and preserve it.” Hari Natarajan


“I am very glad to be part of the team and it was a wonderful experience. I learnt a lot about Singapore’s history and enjoyed the physical exercise as well. Although the event dealt with graves, there was no taboo, but actually fun. And I think this heritage and history theme goes well with our slogan of “Here for Good”. We remember history, we are here for good.” Ye Yang

 

Editors note:

*Tombs selected for cleaning are those which -  for reasons unclear -  have been forgotten and have not been visited for a number of years. One reason shared with us by descendants who have been recently  reunited with their ancestors, is the main caregivers had themselves passed on. In respect for the tomb keepers whose livelihoods for generations  are dependent on  the services provided to descendants, All Things Bukit Brown, to the best of its abilities, ensures that no tomb selected for volunteer cleaning is not under the care of tomb keepers. Our hope is that a tomb once cleared will reveal information that will trigger a memory which will lead to a reunion. We believe in  Serendipity because it has happened.

We are heartened and encouraged by the experience of Standard Chartered Bank and thank them for initiating this project.  If you are corporation or a community group and are interested in sharing their experience, please drop an email to a.t.bukitbrown@gmail.com. Subject Title:  ” CSR @ Bukit Brown Programme”

 

 

 

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.

Tan Kay Tiang Grave 1

The Grave of Tan Kay Tiang #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.

The tombstone of Tan Kay Tiang with closeup of daughters name 月娘 (photo Norman Cho )

The tombstone of Tan Kay Tiang with closeup of daughters name 月娘 (photo Norman Cho )

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.

TanGuekNeo

The wedding photo of Robert Chia and  Yeo  Guek  Neo ( courtesy of Family Archives of Tan Kay Tiang

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.

Yeo Say Neo circled (courtesy of Tan Kay Tiang family archives)

Yeo Say Neo circled (courtesy of Tan Kay Tiang family archives)

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A footnote:

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.

TanKayTiang_CCK

The final resting place of Tan Kay Tian at CCK (photo Norman Cho)

TanKayTiang_Artifacts

Artifacts found at the exhumation ot Tan Kay Tiang’s grave (photo Norman Cho)

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

You can find out more about Norman’s search for his roots here and here and posts about Peranakan culture here and here.

 

 

 

 

 

SAA award

The Award (Photo: Theresa Teng)

 

All Things Bukit Brown is pleased to announce that it is the first recipient of the Civil Society Advocate Organisation of the Year Award in the inaugural Singapore Advocacy Awards. This is our acceptance speech at the ceremony on August 30, 2014. 

“We are honoured and humbled to have been deemed deserving to receive this award by a dedicated and diverse panel of activists, many of whom have worked tirelessly and for a much longer time on a variety of causes such as foreign worker abuse, AIDS awareness and education, the protection of women’s rights and the championing of the local arts scene.

While we are very much the “new kids on the block” among causes highlighted today, we have stalwarts before us who championed the cause of heritage preservation and protection. We look upon this award as encouragement and affirmation, that what we do in promoting awareness of the Habitat, Heritage and History  of the iconic Bukit Brown Cemetery is contributing to the growing voices of concern about how rapid development has resulted in the loss of our old places and a growing sense of alienation of what is home.

Our encounters on the ground talking to and documenting stories from tomb keepers to descendants have been enriching, and our wider Bukit Brown experience has led us to places we have never been, to temples and other areas of cultural and ethnic significance, and in observing the customary rites and rituals which are being practiced today, and further afield to maritime port cities linked to our past. By celebrating the rich diversity of a shared past which is being kept alive by sheer dint of devotion and effort, we find ourselves sharing in a larger collective act of preservation of our culture and identity. We are far from alone.

In receiving the honour of this award, we pledge to continue to engage in conversation and in concert with all stakeholders to make heritage a part of the development paradigm, and to re-imagine spaces which will reinforce memory and identity from one generation to another generation.

We would like to thank especially Raymond and Charles Goh, for leading the way and sharing with us so generously and so passionately all your research from when both of you started exploring Bukit Brown eight years ago. Our abiding gratitude goes to the community especially on Heritage Singapore – Bukit Brown Facebook group which have encouraged and supported us, and which enlivens Bukit Brown daily with the members’ sharing of interesting articles and stories, anecdotes and sometimes grave discussions. It is your enthusiasm that led us all on this journey; unlike most online communities, we are glad to have met many of you face-to-face in on- and off- site events.

We thank the Singapore Heritage Society for nominating us and finally we thank the SAA for this honour, which we will endeavor to live up to. We have much to live up to.

We acknowledge and congratulate all the other nominees. For us, it was enough to have been nominated.

This initiative by SAA makes all of us nominees winners because it celebrates the acts and sacrifices made by volunteers across different communities. Volunteers are the heart of many communities, raising awareness, lifting spirits, affirming shared values, shaping aspirations, and connecting the different threads of society into a fabric that is stronger for weaving its constituents together. Volunteerism is often driven more by passion and purpose than resources, and demands us to be creative, persevering and collaborative. It is often, especially in the nascent stages, lonely and intimidating, confusing and almost crippling in the face of lofty expectations of what a few individuals can and should achieve.

We acknowledge and endorse the efforts of the SAA to bring voices to the communities that need encouraging, causes that need acknowledgement and affirmation, and issues that benefit from airing in public discourse. We do ourselves a service by taking ownership of issues and responsibility for making dreams a reality. This is our contribution to our society. It is humbling to be acknowledged.

Next year, we as a country will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Singapore as a republic, and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Singapore from occupation during WWII. We salute all the communities and civil society activists before us who have taken our country to where it is today.”

 

Claire Leow & Catherine Lim, Co-Founders, All Things Bukit Brown

***

The Brownies with Constance Singam, one of the judges and a highly esteemed civil activist and writer

The Brownies with Constance Singam, one of the judges and a highly esteemed civil activist and writer

 

The symbol chosen is an inverted ‘A’ (for Advocacy) and stems from the idea of the ‘tipping point’, which in sociology is defined as ‘a point in time when a group —or a large number of group members— rapidly and dramatically changes its behavior by widely adopting a previously rare practice’. Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘The Tipping Point’, defines the tipping point as “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire”.Here, the inverted ‘A’ is placed in a transient state in which it may sway both ways. Its position and layout in relation to the text suggest that the ‘A’ will stand firmly over the text if you choose to tip it over.
The Judges:

  1. T. Sasitharan (Panel Chair) – Arts educator and Cultural Medallion winner
  2. Cherian George - Academic
  3. Richard Ho - Architect
  4. Faizah Jamal – NMP & Environmental Activist
  5. Sharon Siddique – Consultant
  6. Constance Singam - Civil Society Activist and Writer
  7. Wong Ting Hway – Medical Doctor
  8. Geoffrey Yu – Arts Supporter and Former Diplomat

 

“Activism and advocacy are the cornerstones of an active and vital civil society movement and the need to establish and protect free space for civil society has never been more urgent than it is now,” said Mr Sasitharan. “A strong civil society will lead to healthy, functioning democracies. Conversely, healthy, well-functioning democracies must allow strong civil societies to exist.”

“If civil society in Singapore is to grow and mature, then it is crucial that good advocacy work that makes an impact on society, that is engaged with the community and that empowers people, should be properly recognised, acknowledged and applauded.” (Source: TOC article here)

 

The Honours List:

ACRES * All Things Bukit Brown * Braema Mathi * Chan Li Shan * Damien Chng * Eugene Tay * Jeremy Boo and Lee Xianjie * Louis Ng * M Ravi * Pink Dot

 

SAA honorees

SAA honorees

 

 

Advocate of the Year: Braema Mathi (President of Maruah, a human rights advocacy group)

Advocate of the Year: Louis Ng (ACRES - Animal Concerns Research and Education Society)

Advocacy Organisation of the Year – All Things Bukit Brown

Most Promising Advocate – Chan Li Shan (mental health advocate, author of A Philosopher’s Madness)

Most Promising Advocate – Damien Chng (We Believe in Second Chances)

***

 The citation:

citation for SAA I

citation for SAA II

 

Postscript: It is worth mentioning that we acknowledged fellow nominee Eugene Tay, who supported us from the early days, and blogger Jerome Lim of The Long and Winding Road fame, for bringing us together. They inspired us in their railway walks, a precursor to the Green Corridor campaign.

 

Jerome Lim and Eugene Tay at SAA

Jerome Lim and Eugene Tay at SAA, with us and Constance Singam

 

We received the award from William Lim, one of the greatest honours we have experienced.

 

(Photo: SAA)

(Photo: SAA)

 

William Lim and his wife at the SAA

William Lim and his wife at the SAA

 

Lim Su Min, a Brownie and a descendent of Tan Tock Seng and Lim Boon Keng, sketched the historic inaugural awards:

 

SAA sketch (Credit- Lim Su Min)

Related Posts:

Bukit Brown named World Monuments Watch site

 

“Ullambana” Festival by Bukit Timah Seu Teck Sean Tong @ Tangling Halt.

by Sugen Raniah

The Ullambana Festival is observed and celebrated by the Buddhists during the Seventh Lunar Month. The Sanskrit term, ‘Ullambana’, refers to the compassion for all beings suffering in the realms of misery. The observance of this festival is based on a discourse by the Buddha – where Maudgalyayana, a disciple of the Buddha, discovers that his mother, Lady Niladhi, had been reborn into the realms of misery. The troubled Maudgalyayana then seeks the Buddha for help. The Buddha advises him to make offerings to the Sangha, as the merit of doing so would help relieve the suffering of his Mother, and that of other beings in the same state.

Here in Singapore, it is a common sight for Teochew sian t’ngs (temples) to perform these rituals during the seventh lunar month. I observed and documented the Ullamabana Festival at Tanglin Halt Market and Hawker Centre by the members of Bukit Timah Seu Teck Sean Tong.

There are three temporary ceremonial altars set up in the tentage – the main altar of the three Buddhas, the altar for the Patron Deity, Du Di Gong and the last for Da Shi Ye (King of Ghosts). Offerings of dried goods and drinks, vegetables, a variety of meat and paper offerings are assembled in the centre of the tentage. Here associate members of the market and members of public are invited to offer joss sticks to the wandering spirits. There are also smaller areas around designated for the spirits for ‘lodging’, ‘washroom’ and ‘leisure’ purposes.

A Main Altar of the Three Buddhas

Main Altar of the Three Buddhas (photo Sugen Ramiah)

B Food offerings of meat (photo Sugen Ramiah)

Food offerings of meat  and seafood (photo Sugen Ramiah)

C Meat Offerings (photo Sugen Ramiah)

Meat Offerings (photo Sugen Ramiah)

Unlike the elaborate Taoist salvation rituals by Xuan Jian Dian, the Buddhists embrace the recital of Ulka Mukha Sutra. Men, draped in red vestments, are represented as the Sangha (the community of disciples). The Sutra recited is an amalgamation of the mind, body and mouth. Mind in absolute contemplation, with hand gestures of the mystical Mudras and together with the recitation of esoteric words of the Sutras- they invite the wandering spirits to listen to the teachings of Buddha and liberate them from all sufferings. These men sing the Sutra in Teochew and the lyrics are accompanied by beautiful Teochew styled music. It is meant to work like a beautiful charm that draws the spirits to listen and attain liberation.

Men draped in red vestments are represented as the ‘Sangha’ (photo Sugen Ramiah)

Men draped in red vestments are represented as the ‘Sangha’ (photo Sugen Ramiah)

E The ‘Sanghas’ (photo Sugen Ramiah)

The ‘Sanghas’ (photo Sugen Ramiah)

F The ‘Sanghas’ paying homage to the Patron Deity of the market and hawker centre – Du Di Gong (photo Sugen Ramiah)

The ‘Sanghas’ paying homage to the Patron Deity of the market and hawker centre – Du Di Gong (photo Sugen Ramiah)

G The assembly of ‘Sangha’ and the recital of the Ulka Mukha Sutra (photo Sugen Ramiah)

The assembly of ‘Sangha’ and the recital of the Ulka Mukha Sutra (photo Sugen Ramiah)

H Performing a Mudra while in deep contemplation by the head ‘Sangha’ (photo Sugen Ramiah)

Performing a Mudra while in deep contemplation by the head ‘Sangha’ (photo Sugen Ramiah)

The tossing of longevity buns to liberate the wandering from all sufferings (photo Sugen Ramiah)

The tossing of longevity buns to liberate the wandering from all sufferings (photo Sugen Ramiah)

J – A happy supplicant

A happy supplicant (photo Sugen Ramiah)

The day ritual comes to a close with the tossing of longevity buns. The food offerings are then packed and distributed to contributors and friends. Members of the temple take a break before preparing for the dance of the auspicious lanterns later in the evening.

****

Sugen Ramiah a teacher by training, has been observing and documenting Chinese festivals and rituals conducted by temples for the past one and half years.

More on  the Hungry Ghost Month from Sugen  here  and here .

 

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