Bukit Brown Cemetery is not just for the dead, it is for all living.
By Tay Kay Hwee, Mar 2012
I visited Bukit Brown Cemetery recently. I was spooked.
No, not by any ghost, but rather I was spooked by its hundreds of tombs; and its sheer vastness and untouched greenery. I thought, when almost every piece of our reserves has become smaller – chopped, trimmed and manicured for urban development, it is unconceivable that Singapore could still have such a huge area of indigenous forest in the heart of its island.
At 200 hectares, easily more than 200 football fields, it is no wonder that Bukit Brown Cemetery is seen as a juicy piece of land by those in dire position to solve urbanization problems. As a forest, it has been a piece of heaven for the birds and wildlife whose other space in Singapore has turned concrete. For the nature lover, Bukit Brown Cemetery is beautiful and natural, it is a rare gem of Singapore. As for the dead, there are the descendants who want to remember and show their respect for them by visiting their tombs every year, and there are those who feel that we should not disturb the dead, and let them be a part of our heritage where many stories of our forefathers could be told to our children and grandchildren, with vividity in front of their very tomb. For others, Bukit Brown Cemetery could place Singapore in the world map for a special kind of tourism – Paranormal tourism. Even the expatriates want a piece of our Bukit Brown Cemetery. During my visit, I saw an expatriate tagging toilet papers on the branches, I reckon he was planning for that weekend’s treasure run with his community. Naturally, for those who have been living around Bukit Brown Cemetery, the cemetery is their backyard garden.
From young, I learnt that the central part of Singapore is our catchment area. It has three big reservoirs surrounded by trees. To my understanding then, I am not sure how many Singaporeans also think this way, the catchment area would have lots of rain because of the trees. The reservoirs would collect the rainwater which would then be treated for us to drink.
Following the visit, I learn more. I learn that hugging a part of these reservoirs is the Bukit Brown Cemetery and it is actually sitting on a hill known as Bukit Brown Hill. By virtue of its cemetery, it was left untouched for many years. In these many years, Bukit Brown Cemetery grows itself into a huge forest, perhaps blessed by the fertile soil from the decomposed, it is very lush and rich. Then, something that the guide said got me thinking. He said, ‘Bukit Brown Cemetery collects rainwater and helps to drain water into the reservoirs.’ In other words, what might appear to many of us that Bukit Brown Cemetery is merely a cemetery is not it. Bukit Brown Cemetery lives in symbiosis with the reservoirs. As a high ground, it has been serving strategically as a large piece of drainage land much needed to catch, store, distill and gradually drain rainwater into the reservoirs. That is to say, Bukit Brown Hill, guarded by the dead, and its surrounding form the drainage and catchment area that supply us with natural water all these years.
But that is not it. When I left the east and moved to the central part of Singapore, I would proudly introduce to all my local and overseas visitors that this part of Singapore is its ‘green lung’.
Why a ‘green lung’? I am not sure how many of us will see it to mean a batch of green.
My 8 year-old son says to me, ‘If human beings breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide and plants breathe out oxygen and breathe in carbon dioxide, then, we will need a lot of trees.’
Indeed, our green lung gives us fresh supply of oxygen. No, I think our parks and parks connectors cannot form a lung, maybe arteries and veins.
To say that ‘Singapore is so small and needs land for redevelopment’ is to me taking a myopic view in looking after Singapore. Unlike infrastructure development, air is invisible. It is easy to make the value of air out of sight; while we let the tangible beauty of urbanization precedes our basic needs.
As a Singaporean, I feel that for Singapore is so small, we should do everything possible to preserve and protect our nature reserve for it is our source of fresh air and water. Even more so, to set aside more lands and let trees grow on it. Given that our nature reserve has not grown any bigger but our population has, to slice off a part of Bukit Brown Cemetery will appear to me as ‘not striking a balance’.
Seen from this light – our basic needs for water and fresh air, the fate of Bukit Brown Cemetery should not be just an issue of the government and some interest groups. As Singaporeans, we should take an interest in the fate of Bukit Brown Cemetery. Whilst we have heard from the LTA and Ministry of National Development on the need for redevelopment, what about the view from our Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources? Given the change in climate and the flooding problems, how will a change in our drainage affect the physical condition of Singapore?
Here’s a lesson that we can learn from a big country which tries even harder to protect their catchments. I quote from the website, www.melbournewater.com, ‘Around 80% of our drinking water comes from closed water catchments in the Yarra Ranges. 157,000 hectares of forest has been closed to the public for over 100 years. These native forests filter rainwater as it flows across land into creeks, rivers and our reservoir storages.’
I find this statement from the website just as salient, ‘The foresight of our city founders in putting aside land for catching and storing water has given us a fantastic legacy.’ The forefathers of our tomorrow’s children are alive today. Let’s think thrice before we cut down the trees. Technology could help us destroy a forest within days, but it has yet to help us build one. Till then, a forest will still take years to evolve.
Even at this final hour of breathing its last breathe, I still want to say that if only the dead in Bukit Brown Cemetery could rise up from their tombs and give witness and wisdom to their works, the wish of many Singaporeans to keep Bukit Brown Cemetery will well be echoed.
So, what about the transport problem?
Put it this way, as we see it now that Bukit Brown Cemetery is not just for the dead, it is for all living, building more highways do not solve the roots of our traffic problems. It pollutes the air and takes away our water.
Ms Tay blogged this on her Facebook page, where it was brought to the attention of all things Bukit Brown. This is reproduced with her permission. We thank her for her thoughtful post, and encourage Singaporeans to speak their minds in “Your Say“. Send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Jaimie Ho discovers her great grandfather was a war hero and wrote to us
Look out for more events by NSS and other interest groups
The search for a long lost aunt buried at Bukit Brown began last year, when Miho Tan requested the help of Raymond and Charles Goh to locate his father’s sister. She provided these details
Name : Tan Lay Chee
Grave : C III, 857
Age : 18
Year of death : December 1932
Following up this year, Raymond found Miho’s aunt and from her tomb inscription discerned that Tan Lay Chee died at the young age of 17 on Christmas Day, 1932. She was unmarried, but a boy was inscribed in the tomb as a “stepson”. According to the information Raymond gathered – the burial registry does record cause of death - she died of mo tan, a kind of high fever.
He recalls her family visiting her tomb a few years ago but they had forgotten the route as the surrounds had become quite inaccessible due to fallen trees and overgrowth.
The family of Tan Lay Chee visited her soon after Raymond located her tomb, and brother Lay Chee connected once more with his elder sister.
Also buried at Bukit Brown, is Miho’s grandfather. Miho captured a family visit to his tomb in February in a video here
Grandfather Tan Choon Kiat was a book keeper and died at the relatively young age of 51 years old.
Miho’s grandmother, Lim Geok Yan survived her husband by more than 30 years. She died just past her 80th birthday and her ashes are interred at Bright Hill Temple at Sin Ming. Her grandfather’s tomb, is a double tomb but he rests alone. It can be deduced that his wife was originally intended to rest side by side with him.
The life and times of Lim Geok Yan is deeply etched in the mind of Miho’s father. He was the youngest of 8 children, 6 boys and 2 girls. We know she had to bury a child and as a young widow life must have been tough. Miho recalls what his father shared with him:
“Being a tough nonya my Dad says she had to pawn her jewellery bit by bit in order to maintain the household , the daily expense had to cover (they lived in a traditional Peranankan house), around 16 members which included 7 “cha bor kan” – Hokkien for maids. She was a strict mother too (Dad did not elaborate). I’m sure she would have been been a strict grandmother too and maybe I’ll be allowed to wear traditional Baba wear on special days.”
Miho remembers being taken to the Baba House, where her father pointed to a portrait of Lim Ho Puan hanging there, and he said to Miho, “there, that is your chor kong - (Hokkien for great grandfather)”
Lim Ho Puan is among a list of luminaries which include Lim Boon Keng, Lim Nee Soon and Lim Yew Hock named in the book Singapore Chinese Society in Transition, Business, Politics and Socio Economic Change, 1945 – 1967
A simple tomb of a long lost aunt, has become for the niece who never knew her, a touch stone revealing a family history which is both personal and historical.
A few pieces of white rock accompany the green stone,
A little grave built but alas late one year
My dear I hope you can understand the reason,
I am late to build because of my poverty.
(Khoo Seok Wan (1874-1941) in memory of his wife, Lu Jie (陆结)
He was a Confucian scholar, a political activist in revolutionary China, a prominent community leader in Singapore and an early advocate for education for girls who helped set up the Singapore Chinese Girls School.
Born into a wealthy merchant family, Khoo’s fortunes waxed and waned because of his extravagant life style ( he was known to be a generous host) and the over extension of his funding activities to revolutionary causes. But embedded in his life is a love story which captured the heart of Bukit Brown resident tomb whisperer Raymond Goh; he was determined to find his grave.
When Khoo Seok Wan’s wife died in 1936 at the age of 44, his fortunes were on the wane and he was bankrupted. He could not afford a tombstone for his wife whom he buried in Bukit Brown. So he buried his own tooth with her and when he could afford it the next year also constructed his own tombstone in preparation to be reunited her one day. The poem was penned to mark the occasion.
Khoo was born in Fujian, China, and followed his mother to Macau before he joined his father in Singapore in 1881. His father, Khoo Cheng Tiong (邱正忠), was a successful rice merchant and prominent community leader in Singapore. Khoo was schooled in traditional Confucian education, and when he was 15 years old, he went back to his hometown to prepare for the Chinese imperial examinations. He passed the district and provincial examinations to attain the level of a juren (举人) that qualified him as a candidate for the central government imperial examinations in Beijing, but he failed in that attempt in 1895 and returned to Singapore.
Khoo suffered from leprosy and lived his last years on the generosity of his friends. He died in Singapore at the age of 68 on 1 December 1941.
He was buried in Bukit Brown cemetery beside his wife. Earlier this year, Raymond Goh finally tracked down the tombstone Khoo built for himself and his wife from records in the Burial Register lodged with the National Archives. Khoo Seok Wan’s tomb is in Blk 4 Section C, is in the path of new dual 4 lane road.
… How can the buried bones leap across the sword lake
Even if you beckon 3 times, I could no longer arise
That lay in Singapore enduring long thirst
Flying flowers realized their butterfly past life
Caressing the epigraph, thoughts stop and future generations
If you don’t believe just look at the tomb grass
88 old man Seok Wan
I stand before him, silent, in respect and awe.
His genes embedded in every cell of mine
We are bonded though the course of time.
A white stake declares a foreboding future
His eyeless sockets shedding copious tears
That eight lane highway: unspoken fears
“Could you not ask them to let us rest in peace”
His silenced tongue in eloquence loudly says
His bony hands grasp me in one last fond embrace.
by Lim Su Min 林蘇民 in tribute.
The prolific Khoo is responsible for composing epithets for luminaries buried at Bukit Brown. Among them the father of Khoo Teck Puat, Khoo Yang Thin. His epithet is an exhortation to the descendents through a list of things to do to live a good, honest and honorable life.
Another example is the epithet for Wee Teck Seng’s tomb (just below Gan Eng Seng):
Khoo Seok Wan was also responsible for popularizing the term Sin Chew which is a sobriquet for “Singapore” (translated) Khoo writes: Singapore is an island surrounded by the sea, and with vessels and boats large and small anchored around it; the glitter of artificial lights at night are like a crown of illuminated stars (“星”) when viewed from afar. “洲” (zhou, island) and “舟” (zhou, boat) are homonyms: while the boat lights are like stars, those on the island are like the Big Dipper to accentuate the constellation. This is why the term “Sin Chew” is widely known by folks here and afar.
Editor’s note: In the first posting of this article, Lim Su Min our tea master, believed Khoo Seok Wan to be his great great grandfather based on initial evidence. Further investigation has shown this trail to be false. But in the spirit of paying tribute to Khoo Seok Wan the poet, we are leaving in this post the poem composed by Su Min.
New activity for this Sunday, Eco Stations with Beng Chiak of Nature Society, hunt down ants and insects and understand their relationship to plants and trees, how trees host other living things and nature’s self help system! Check out more details here
Family Day, we did it last Sunday on March 11 and we now know we can do it even better. Up sized buffet of activities from guided tours to treasure hunts, to arts and crafts, haiku composing for all ages and nature gems for the whole family. Adults must be accompanied by children for treasure hunts!
Please read handy tips for a more enjoyable day, there will be a quiz before you can join – just kidding – but do, DO read it for safety precautions!
The event begins at 9 am and will end by 12.30 pm.
Tours will be done differently, instead of one long guided tour, there will be 4 stations to stopover and participants may drop out anytime they want to sample other delights. Student volunteers will usher participants from station to station in 2 rounds of tours one starting at 9 am and the second at 9.30 am. They will also point out directions to those who want to return to the roundabout.
Please download this map and take note that the 4 stations covered in the route are group 1, group 3, group 4 and group 12. Constraint by time guides may not be able to cover every tomb in each group. The estimated schedule if you visit every station is 2 hours. This is the timetable with estimated times and guides :
9.oo at Sikh Station - introduction by Catherine (Second tour starts at 9.30 am if there are more than 10 people and follows the same schedule as tour 1)
a)9.15 at group 1 – by Peter (second tour eta 9.45)
b)9.50 at group 3 – by Raymond (second tour eta 10.20)
c).10.30 at group 2 – by Yik Han (second tour 11.00)
d) 11.10 at group 12 – by Charles, this last station will be capped by a short uphill (easy) to the jewel in crown Ong Sam Leong’s family grave site and group photo. ( the second tour eta 11.50 will be led Catherine and Peter )
This gives you some idea what some of your guides look like:
For the treasure hunts starting at 9.30am, look out for :
Your Emeritus Zoo Keeper of Bukit Brown – She is responsible for collecting “animals” for the treasure hunt and the design.
Saturday Morning, March 3 Bukit Brown volunteers welcomed its first professional group. Architect Mok Wei Wei and his team together with some friends including artist friend Eng Tow, and Kenson Kwok, former Director of the ACM was lead by Raymond Goh.
Joining Raymond was architect Lai Chee Kien, who shared the work of his team of NUS students who have been mapping out tomb design as part of the documentation team for graves affected by the proposed highway. Christian Bonneta, a writer from Lonely Planet was also among the group.
It was a morning of rare insights and some shared memories and we are very heartened that the heritage, habitat and history of Bukit Brown is taking flight in minds and hearts.
Getting down to business without much ado, Angie weighs in on measures……
Measurements could be precisely determined to infer a conclusion, Angie told us.
Chee Kien shares his knowledge of tomb design, and shows great depth of knowledge combined with passion. Note the emblem on his polo which he designed inspired by his work on Bukit Brown.(Look out for his contribution in an upcoming post!)
Chee Kien postulated the Omega concept of tomb design around the mound where the deceased is buried. Hence, his shirt emblem.
Raymond Goh takes them to the triple tombs with the unusual lotus shape design and offers the perspective of the design as symbolic of womb, birth and death intertwined.
The curved brick work no longer in production but which has weathered the test of time.
The group make tracks…..
And along the way, Angie Ng who is the plant expert with the nature society does a side show of show and tell on Bukit Brown’s bounty. Find out more about her tour Saturday 10th here
It was also a bumper day encountering horses from the nearby Polo Club
The children lapped it all up….
And they were really taken with his chap……
No photo op here and so we have to console ourselves with the spectacular Ong Sam Leong family plot
and then group makes tracks downhill….
The car had been “towed” away…….
Also spotted at the bottom of hill…
Dang, missed him but here is the reward after a 2 hour tour which ran into over time (as usual)
But most definitely food for thought exemplified by this photo
Eng Tow paid her respects to her grandmother during her visit. She is said to look like her but never had a chance to know her as she passed away by the time Eng Tow was born.
“Young people have told me that as a result of their experiences in Nature, they have discovered a new sense of love for the place. It would not be too much of a stretch to say this can extend to a love for the country . Imagine what this can do for national identity, and give reasons for staying when the going gets rough.”
In her maiden speech to Parliament NMP Faizah Jamal, NMP ( People and Civic Sector) defines what is land in relation to self and nation, framing it in terms of “nature, national identity and character”. To watch and listen, click here.
This is the full text of her speech.
Budget Debate 2012 ‘An inclusive society, a stronger Singapore’
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to join in the debate.
Mr Speaker, it is indeed an honour for me to be here today .
I am privileged to be the first representative of the newly-included People and Civic sector with my own platform of Environment and Heritage. I pay tribute to previous NMPs Mr Edwin Khew and Dr Geh Min who had also, during their tenure as NMPs spoken up on various environment concerns.
I especially pay tribute to the organisation and the people who nominated me, the Nature Society Singapore. It is a credit to the integrity of Nature Society Singapore built over the last 30 years that I am here today at all. It is also a testimony on the part of the government , government agencies and the Society for being able to engage in more meaningful conversations with each other over the years.
However Mr Speaker Sir, I am not here just to represent only Nature Society or environmentalists, heritage or nature lovers. To limit myself to those roles would be an injustice to the wide range in which the natural environment and heritage impacts on all of us, regardless of race or religion, income or social status.
I believe the sector I represent has relevance to all Singaporeans including the people who are specially mentioned in Budget 2012.Yesterday we heard members of the House share their perspectives on the Budget.
We heard a few members wonder what it is about our education system, whether ITE or Poly or University that perhaps may not have prepared our citizens with the necessary skills for the workforce. Mr Zainuddin Nordin also mentioned that school leavers seemed to be ‘book smart’ but not ‘work smart’. We also heard members emphasising ‘self reliance’.
Allow me now to expand on the discussion, and present my perspectives. I believe there is one element that we have missed. Sir, I do believe that ‘an inclusive society, a stronger Singapore’ can and must include placing emphasis on the intangible value of the natural world.
In this regard, I am thrilled to hear the words ‘values based education’ spoken by our Education Minister some time last year . A cynic may wonder what then has our education has been based on all this time. Be that as it may, I believe this is where Nature comes in. Nature itself is already a ‘values based educator’.
Mr Speaker Sir, Sir I have worked with students from as young as 10 to young adults of 22 for some years now.
While for the most part I have found these young people intelligent, in the words of Mr Zainuddin ‘book smart’, I am also struck by how disconnected they are from Nature and the environment as they revealed to me that either they have never been or have seldom been, to nature areas or even when they have, these are usually for the purposes of data collection for a school curriculum or hurried post exam trips meant to get them out of the way of teachers marking exam papers.
More importantly I am struck by the impact this disconnect has on their relationships with other people and the world around them, and what is worse, their relationship with their own selves. It is no longer news that Singapore is a very wired nation . We only need to look around when travelling in the MRT to see how almost everyone is plugged in to their gadgets.
It is easy enough to blame technology. That would be dis empowering. Blame only make us victims. Technology is a tool and a very useful tool . The question is whether we see a problem with over dependence on technology, the consequences of that, and what can we do about it.
Mr Speaker Sir, in the course of my work taking young people for nature walks where they are encouraged to touch, feel, smell, hear and sometimes even taste what is around them , here is what I found. Not distracted by laptops or encumbered by worksheets or the goal of ‘data collection’, they are free to experience as their senses take them.
It is said that the ultimate state of learning is when you are open to what you see touch and hear.
Stopping to focus, really observing and really listening, these young people learn that this is what ‘being connected’ is about. Imagine the value of this when young people step into the working world. With some music students that have been taken on walks as a prelude to their music composition classes, they have even found Nature walks helped them become more creative with their music. We have heard many times yesterday the words ‘ innovation’ and ‘creativity’. From my reality, nature and environment education is what will lead us there.
I am struck Sir, by the number of times, these young people use the word ‘awe’ and ‘sense of wonder’ at the end of such experiences. These are words we rarely hear anymore in the cynical blasé world of many young people.
It seems to me that what is happening is that young people are re- membering something they have forgotten – once again, they are beginning to feel.
Sir, while in Nature is indeed all the things we need to study science and ecology and geography, I suggest that this is not giving Nature a chance to teach us more. I suggest that here might be some of the answers to the questions raised by Members yesterday.
Yesterday the Honourable Member Yee Jenn Jong shared his experience walking in the forest in Sabah and noticing how the little trees are overshadowed by the big ones. Far from being a competition, and contrary to all that we have been taught in school, it turns out that Nature is in fact, collaborative.
When we understand that nature is collaborative, not competitive, we learn that we too can do the same as we respect and celebrate all views, all perspectives and all differences. In short, ‘ an inclusive society, a stronger Singapore’.
When we understand that in Nature, the greater the diversity of species, the stronger the forest, we recognise and appreciate that each one of us is unique with our own individual gifts. We are not just economic digits to be boxed into whatever the changing economic demands of the day may be, good though it is to fill an economic need. In short, ‘an inclusive society, a stronger Singapore’.
When we see how in Nature there are no straight lines; rather it is twists and turns and curls and twirls, we too understand that we need not expect our lives to be one linear path.
Our young people will not beat themselves up when they have stepped off the path, in despair that they are ‘not good enough’. It is alright to turn back and choose another path, and start again. This allows our young people to know that they do not have to be perfect. Imagine the value of this as they leave the safe confines of schools and into the stressful world juggling personal needs, family and work.
Sir, yesterday a Member of this House mentioned the word ‘passion’ for the work that we do. Many years ago I was a corporate lawyer specialising in Intellectual Property Law. I have since given it up to pursue my passion for nature and environment education . It was a risk as my two daughters were very young then.
However I have learnt that when we understand that to be out in wild nature, with all the risks, real or perceived, which to many young people in Singapore is really a big step out of their comfort zone, we understand that it is at the end of our comfort zone that real learning begins.
Imagine the value of this as our young people navigate the changes in their lives where the only thing that does not change is change itself. Imagine this being the answer to the feeling among some quarters that our young people are ‘risk averse’ as reported in the press recently.
When we understand that all things in Nature are interconnected, we understand that this teaches us humility.. In the words of Chief Seattle, the great Native American leader, ‘ man does not weave the web of life, he is but a strand in the web of life. What he does to the web he does to himself’.
In case Sir, what I have shared is not convincing enough, allow me to expand on Mr Chen Show Mao’s emphasis on ‘human capital’. Allow me to introduce the idea of nature as ‘capital’.
Last week I attended the World Oceans Summit where experts discussed at length the meaning of this term and why it is important to include this in economic growth.
As an aside, the irony is not lost on me that here we are hosting the first World Oceans Summit with luminaries like World Bank President Mr Robert Zoellig and Mr Peter Seligman, the CEO of Conservation International which incidentally has an office in Singapore, and Singapore does not even have its own marine conservation laws! But that is a debate for another day.
One of the speakers at the Summit is well known Mr Pavan Sukhdev, Founder and CEO of GIST Advisory and Lead Author of TEEB of United Nations Environment Program, who pointed out that the tendency of governments is to focus on the ‘built economy’ and to underestimate the ‘natural capital’.
So what is this ‘natural capital’? According to the definition of the International Institute of Sustainable Development in Canada, ‘natural capital’ is the land, air, water, living organisms and all formations of the earth’s biosphere that provide us with ecosystem goods and services imperative for survival and well being. In short, the basis for all human economic activity. Some people call it ‘eco services’.
Sir we have not emphasised enough in our economy that it is the natural world that has given us these services , without a fee, without which our economy cannot function. Mr Peter Seligman the CEO of Conservation International at the World Oceans Summit I mentioned earlier had this to say: ‘A society cannot survive if it does not value its natural resources’.
While it is popular to say that Singapore does not have ‘natural resources’ let us not forget that small though we may be, the biodiversity we have in places like Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, Sungai Buloh and Chek Jawa is immense.
Lesser known to most people, except to members of the Nature Society, at least up until now, is the rich biodiversity in a place like Bukit Brown, a fact that more and more Singaporeans are beginning to appreciate only very recently.
These spaces offer more than just a sense of physical, mental and emotional well being. They offer us a safeguard against consequences of man made activities of rapid urbanisation that we have seen especially in the last five years, activities which will impact on economic growth.
Sir in my work with young people I have found that they are weary of the message of extremes in weather and climate change. They feel helpless and dis-empowered.
Imagine how much more positive our message to them will be if we tell them that in these changes is an enormous opportunity for creativity; a creative new way of life through new jobs, new businesses, new cities and new civilisations. Yesterday the Honourable Member Mr Yee Jenn Jong mentioned the need for the government to encourage what he calls ‘home grown green technology’, green products and green businesses.
There is an old Malay wisdom ‘tak kenal maka tak cinta’ .Loosely translated it means ‘you cannot love what you do not know’.
Young people have told me that as a result of their experiences in Nature, they have discovered a new sense of love for the place. It would not be too much of a stretch to say this can extend to a love for the country . Imagine what this can do for national identity, and give reasons for staying when the going gets rough.
While I am inclined to be a purist and see Nature as inherently valuable in and of itself, I understand the need to put some kind of monetary value and to see the relevance of the word ‘natural capital’ ’ if this is the language that the government and business understand and if this will jumpstart the government and the private sector to start valuing the natural world.
Sir, all that we discussed yesterday and all that is in the Budget will come to nothing if we do not recognise Nature not only as educator, but also as partner.
Learning from Nature is not a linear process. It takes time, it takes people who know how to facilitate such learning; it takes civil society who know the value of such places to educate the public, it takes companies who know that when they value our natural spaces they can continue to exist at all, it takes policy makers with vision and foresight who are aware of the need to preserve and conserve such natural places over and beyond immediate economic needs. It takes the engagement of all three sectors the People, the Private and the Public, to make this work. In short it takes an ‘an inclusive society’. More importantly it takes the very presence of such natural spaces in the first place. Yesterday the Honourable Member Mr Zainuddin Nordin asked what if we have one less national park. I hope I have given him some reasons why.
More importantly and very simply Sir, I am a mother. I have seen for myself how my own teenage daughters’ lives are made richer as a result of their exposure, at a very early age to nature, the environment, and a consciousness of this shared natural heritage.
At a time many years ago when we were ourselves undergoing some major life challenges it is to Nature that we turned. As a mother, I intuitively know that it is these experiences in the wild that has put us all in good stead long after the experiences are over. It has kept us grounded, emotionally secure , and gives us a sense that it is not in what happens to us but how we respond to what happens that makes us empowered. Nature has been our best teacher.
Singaporeans have been warned that the economic forecast is not good. When you are so used to rapid growth this may sound like doom and gloom. I suggest that this is not so.
I suggest that this quieter economic time is a great opportunity to take stock of who we are and where we come from and the values that are important to us. It is a good time to start a conversation and start engaging in a real process between the government and the voices on the ground that are getting louder and louder.
When PM Lee was interviewed in Davos last month about what we can expect from the Budget he said to expect a ‘qualitative transformation’.
I believe that what I have shared is one way to move towards that ‘qualitative transformation’ that PM Lee talked about and DPM Tharman’s well-chosen phrase of ‘an inclusive society, a stronger Singapore’.
Mr Speaker Sir, I support the motion. Thank you.
Faizah Jamal, NMP ( People and Civic Sector)
29 Feb 2012
夹马异香 A Riddle From a Tomb At Bukit Brown
Contributed by Wang Cheng Min
While searching for the biggest grave at Bukit Brown, I chanced upon this grave, drawn to its unusual mirror- like stand .
I could not fathom the significance of the structure. And moved on to look for clues in the 2 pillars which flanked the tombstone and was stuck by the only two characters on each of the pillars.
The pillar on the left read 夹马 (squeeze the horse with your calves).
The pillar one on the right read异香 (extraordinary fragrance). I was wondering why 夹马异香 was used. It appeared to me that this could well be a riddle. But it had become far too hot to decipher what it means at Bukit Brown.
I studied the photographs of the pillars at home and came up with this answer:
走 (walk) is the answer for 夹马 (squeeze the horse with your calves to move the horse forward)
异香 (extraordinary fragrance) is from 八月放异香 – a riddle which 桂花is the answer. There is a classic song called “八月桂花遍地香” – ” August is the month for full boom of Osmanthus.” I therefore deduced that 八月 is the answer for异香.
Buy some good 桂花 tea to experience the unique fragrance of 桂花.
When I put 走 and 八月 together, it is 赵. 赵 - Zhao (Hanyu Pinyin) - the surname of the deceased’s husband.
The riddle夹马异香solved at last!
But the mirror, eludes me.
Editor’s postscript: A few days hours after Cheng Min posed his riddle on the facebook group he got word from a tomb keeper that clocks were once embedded in such mirror structures . But not this one; the mystery continues, tick tock tick tock tick tock
About Cheng Min: he loves reading ancient Chinese literature including books by Taiwanese Master Nam Huai Jin (南怀谨老师).