This weekend there is a preview of 2 specially curated World War II Remembrance Walks at Bukit Brown on Sunday 25 Jan’15 from 9.30am to 11.30am. Don’t miss this! You can choose between 2 routes and sign up for a spot at Peatix (follow the link below). Tickets are free by registration, maximum 25 pax per route. 

Meeting point: Lorong Halwa gates at Bukit Brown cemetery.

Tay Koh Yat's tomb

Welcome to a new year, as we cross the threshold into 2015, we look back  on the year that has passed. 

A is for Advocacy

On 30 August 2014, “The Bukit Brown, Brownies” became the first recipient of the Civil Society Advocate Organisation of the Year Award in the inaugural Singapore Advocacy Awards.

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

It was  an honour that we could not have dreamed off  when we started our journey in January 2012 to raise awareness about the heritage,habitat and history of a 90 year old cemetery, that many say had been “abandoned” and “forgotten”.

Advocacy Awards in Newspaper

The ST report on the Advocacy Awards 2014

Well, here’s the news, they were wrong. And this is why: over 13,000 participants to the guided walks -  comprising a  demographic from all walks of life, from all ages, from students to community constituency groups, photography enthusiasts, international academics, meet-up groups,   and media crews, travel writers,  civil servants, docents etc etc;   4 exhibitions over 2 years,  the first ever listing for Singapore as a heritage site under threat, under the World Monuments Fund Watchlist 2014, and this year alone, 3 major academic publications. It is a record which speaks for itself,  carried by a momentum, best described as organic in nature, and a ground up initiative.  When it comes to development in Singapore and how it impacts our  history and heritage our sense of identity and place , Bukit Brown as a cause, as a movement, as a place in the memory scape of Singaporeans, refuses to die.

B is for Bukit Brown

2014 was a year Bukit Brown went off-site and  “broke new ground” in 2 major exhibitions  and  inaugural guided walks in the City.

In March, Woon Tien Wei and Jennifer Teo, the husband-and-wife artist-activist team behind Post-Museum curated “The Bukit Brown Index”  which was one out of 28 local works featured in  an exhibition called  “Unearthed”  The highlight of their work was a wall  on which the names of the exhumed and unclaimed which had to make way for the highway through Bukit Brown, were hand written with the help of Brownies, among others in the heritage and artistic community.

Unearthed photo courtesy of SAM

The Bukit Brown Index “memorial” wall – photo from Today online 22 March, 2014

In July, Bukit Brown : Documenting New Horizons of Knowledge was officially opened by MOS (MND) Desmond Lee at the National Library. It represents almost one and half years of research and working the ground documenting some 4,153 tombstones which are affected by the building of a new highway across Bukit Brown, by a team under the leadership of Dr. Hui Yew-Foong, an anthropologist with ISEAS. The exhibition is currently on tour at regional libraries until next year.

Show and Tell photo Ang Hock Chuan

(photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Roving Exhibition at Choa Chu Kang Library (photo Mok Ly Yng)

The Exhibition at Choa Chu Kang Library (photo Mok Ly Yng) The next and final venue will be at Toa Payoh Public Library. It will open from 4 January 2015 (Sun) till 31 January 2015 (Sat).

In conjunction with the exhibition,  All Things Bukit Brown curated 2 special guided walks The Descendants Stories which featured descendants of pioneers sharing their stories of uncovering their roots in Bukit Brown.

IMG_2430

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

Our march into the city was sealed when we partnered the Singapore Heritage Society and co-curated the Bukit Brown in the City and the City in Bukit Brown Walk  walks for the Singapore Heritage Festival 2014 in July.

Bukit Brown in the City Theresa Teng

Bukit Brown in the City (photo Theresa Teng)

In May, we partnered Jane’s Walks and curated a walk which took participants from the Botanic Gardens to Bukit Brown ,  bridging  the colonial and immigrant narratives of our history.

Janes Walk 2 _ Garden Hill

Bukit Brown Jane’s Walk (photo Garden Hill)

And in a nod to the Bukit Brown Jane’s Walk, 2 participants Louise and Bridget  organised of their own initiative and without any assistance from the brownies, a guided walk for a group of ten of their friends in September. We thank them and hope they will do more!

Louise and Bridgets Guided Walk photo Louise Ragget

Louise’s and Bridget’s Guided Walk for friends in September inspired by their participating in the Jane’s Walk (photo Louise Ragget)

In September also  All Things Bukit Brown, was invited to make a 10 minute presentation in the “Singapore Dreaming”  workshop   by the  Asian Urban Lab  as a lead up to a  the major conference in 2015 where leading artists, academics, professionals and other thinkers across diverse disciplines  will share and explore alternative visions of a Singapore that is sustainable, creative and vibrant.

Slide1

The topic of  the “Singapore Dreaming” workshop  (Artwork by Ee Hoon)

In 2014, Bukit Brown continued to be featured in student media projects, international news analysis on Singapore’s issues of development and heritage, local TV programmes from “My Grandfathers’ Road” to “Secret Singapore” and its sheer beauty and remembrance of Singapore as as a major battleground in WW 2 was visually showcased  in an award winning art house film called “The Canopy”  screened at this year’s Singapore International Festival in November.

Next year, watch out as one of the Brownies will  guest host a new programme on Channel 5 to introduce Bukit Brown.

Filming for a new TV show in 2015 (photo Peter Pak)

Filming for a new TV show in 2015 (photo Peter Pak)

After a  hiatus and the completion of The Adam Park Project TAPP , the ever popular Battlefield Tours conducted by Jon Cooper returned – once a month  every first Sunday – and continue to be over subscribed.

Last Battelfield Tour by the lively and knowledgable Jon Cooper of 2014 (photo Bianca Polak)

Last Battlefield  Tour of 2014 by the lively and knowledgeable war archeologists Jon Cooper (photo Bianca Polak)

In 2014, we conducted more guided walks by private request.  Of all the requests for guided walks, the most enthusiastic and frequent requests came from our educational institutions from secondary to tertiary institutions both local and international for “Learning Journeys”

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)

JNV-Students-at-Ong-Sam-Leong-photo-All-Things-Bukit-Brown

JNV-Students-at-Ong-Sam-Leong-photo-All-Things-Bukit-Brown

We shifted gears from  guided walks and organised on request by Standard Chartered Bank, a Corporate Social Responsibility event which was so successful, the bank has already completed 3 sessions at Bukit Brown of clearing and cleaning selected tombs between May and November 2014. They will make a comeback in 2015.

Stanchart Cleanup _Claire Leow

The first Stanchart Clean-up in May 2014 (photo by Claire Leow)

On site, discoveries continued to be made. This year alone, the two great finds were the founder of Hong San See temple Neo Jin Quee and the family cluster tombs of Lee Kuan Yew maternal ancestors.

Zaobao report on finding Neo Jin Quee May 5, 2014

Zaobao report on finding Neo Jin Quee, founder of Hong San See Temple, May 5, 2014

Reunion_-Raymond

A reunion of descendants of LKY’s maternal ancestry at Bukit Brown (photo Raymond Goh)

On site, as we have done, for every year since 2012, we celebrated NDP ’14 , Our Bukit Brown, Our People with both gusto and with sadness  in an landscape which has changed and will continue to change as the road works encroach slowly but surely .

NDP 14 _Lwarence Chong

NDP’14 (photo Lawrence Chong)

On site, sometime in November, while we were not looking, the  ole raintree was chopped down  and  overnight it was gone, our consolation  comes from our shared memories.

The Ole Raintree.jpg Lawrence Chong

The ‘ole rain tree – memories (photo Lawrence Chong)

The Ole Raintree

RIP Ole Rain Tree

 C is for Community

It has been the heart of community  and your passionate support which has sustained, encouraged and uplifted  the Brownies over the past 3 years. A community which includes academics, journalists, artists, writers, descendants, tomb keepers and fellow activists in heritage and the environment. We single out for  our gratitude the Singapore Heritage Society and the Facebook Group Community Heritage Singapore- Bukit Brown Cemetery.

When a call was made for feedback to be given on the URA Draft  Masterplan 2013 in December of the same year,  we received some 30 responses which were sent to the Ministry of National Development. You wrote   on how important it was to preserve Bukit Brown for future generations, for the environment,  as a space important to root Singaporeans to the land and for the sharing of collective memories.

In June 2014 the Masterplan was gazetted with no changes to plans for Bukit Brown. But if you thought, your efforts were for naught, let us reassure you, it was noted and it did make a difference in paving the way for better engagement on the future of Bukit Brown. We have only just began.

In 2014, three  major academic papers  on Bukit Brown were published

We thank : (Drs) Natalie Pang and Liew Kai Khuin “Archiving the Wild Archivists”, Dr Terence Chong (Singapore Heritage Society) “Bukit Brown municipal cemetery: Contesting Imaginations of the Good life in Singapore”  and Prof Huang Juanli ” Resurgent Spirits of Civil Society Activism: Rediscovering the Bukit Brown Cemetery in Singapore”  for their comprehensive and thoughtful and thought provoking papers.

To the descendants who have trusted us with their stories, we salute you.

Gillian Mendy photo Catherine

Gillian Lim-Mendy with her husband flew from London to pay their respects to their Grandfather Lim Hock Seng for the first time in December. Her story can be found here (photo Catherine Lim )

Yap geok song

Brownies visit the grave of Yap Geok Song, newly renovated after descendants contacted Peter Pak to show them  their ancestor’s tomb after reading his blog

Zaobao News Sep 22 Yap

On Sept 22, Zaobao reported on the Yap descendants

And a special mention and shout out to Zaobao journalist Chia Yei Yei and the heritage reporters of Zaobao for the breathe and depth of coverage they have given to all things related to Bukit Brown from pioneers to Brownies in 2014.

The Chinese daily  capped off the year in recognition of the part the Goh Brothers have played in uncovering our historical and heritage gems by headlining  them among the paper’s Personalities of 2014.

ZB Personality of the Year

Zaobao Headline News on 28 December, 2014

We ended  2014 on site, in the last guided walk of Bukit Brown for the year with some 50 people turning up.

Recollections Collections Favourite Moments photo Yeo Hong Eng

Collections, Recollections and Our Favourite Moments, last guided walk for 2014 on Sat, 27 Dec (photo Yeo Hong Eng)

50 is of course a significant number as  we cross the threshold into 2015. 2015 is SG50, a year of national celebration of 50 years of our history and achievements. But what can we look forward to in a landscape which will continue to be pockmarked and drastically changed by construction work on the development of a highway?

We will keep calm and carry on, engage constructively, walk the ground, walk the talk, continue to be excited by new discoveries and we will – and this is a clue – write a new chapter on our past and take  it into the present. In short, we will continue to honour our heritage, habitat and history, and remember those who laid down their lives in memoriam for without them, SG50 would not be possible.

“Lest we Forget”

We remember Victoria Tan and Edmon Neoh-Khoo

RIP

Compiled by Catherine Lim

 

 

 

 

All Things Bukit Brown congratulates  Raymond and Charles Goh who have been chosen by Chinese news daily Zaobao to be included in  their list of Personalities of 2014. For the Brownies, it is a timely recognition for the 2 brothers who have been exploring and uncovering the “lost” heritage and history of Singapore since the mid 2000s. Their hard work, sheer doggedness in research and walking the ground, is our inspiration, and we are proud to claim them as Brownies and proud, we walk with them

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Translated Article by Raymond Goh

2014 Personality of the Year by Zaobao weekly, Dec 28, 2014

Raymond Goh (51) and Charles Goh (46),  Looking at history through the departed

If not for praying to one’s ancestors, one would not usually go to the cemetery. That day the reporter asked a taxi driver to drive her to Bukit Brown cemetery. The driver was not very happy, and so she has to alight at approx. 200 metres from the cemetery at the road cross junction. But the Goh brothers does not have any sort of taboo. They keep on bringing people to the cemetery to look for their roots, rediscovering old tombs hidden in the depths of the forest, bringing history back to life.

Ever since Sep 2011 when news broke out that part of Bukit Brown has to give way to a road and approx 5000 tombs has to be exhumed, nearly twice a month during weekends and public holidays, one would see volunteer guides from all walks of life known as “Brownies” wearing Bukit Brown heritage T shirts, and guiding the public on the history and heritage of Bukit Brown.

Raymond and Charles Goh are a familiar pair among the Brownies and the pioneering guides among them.

Bukit Brown Pioneering Explorers

Charles Goh is a construction safety manager and has from young like to explore the unknown to get to the root of matters. Some things will be forgotten or disappear as one grow up, and Charles hope to revive the forgotten collective memories. Since the SARS crisis of 2003, Charles responded to the call of STB and together with his brother registered as tourist guides. They do voluntary guiding for visitors to the cemetery, and let these visitors know Singapore in an unique way.

Together with Raymond Goh, a pharmacist, they founded Asia Paranormal Investigators, as a step forward to fulfil their ambition to research all things unknown. Since 2006 they also started to lead tours to Bukit Brown, do research into tombs and even design a cemetery map for the public to do DIY tours on their own.

Raymond said that Bukit Brown and the surrounding Seh Ong and Hokkien cemeteries has a total of 200,000 tombs, with the earliest dating all the way to 1826. From that year to the closure of the cemeteries in the early 1970s, one can see 150 years of changes and transformations reflected through the tombstones of Bukit Brown. Our history is gathered piece by piece from the collective stories of all these tombstones.

2014 Great Finds

Through the efforts of Charles, Raymond and the Brownies, there has been a surge in interest to find one’s ancestor. Due to the passage of time and insufficient information, the success rate of finding one’s ancestor for these tombs is only about 50%, but the rediscoveries of pioneers’ tombs provide much encouragement to the Goh Brothers. This year alone, the two great finds are the founder of Hong San See temple Neo Jin Quee and the family cluster tombs of Lee Kuan Yew maternal ancestors.

According to the archives, Hong San See founder Neo Jin Quee was relocated to Bukit Brown cemetery. When Raymond Goh first encountered this tomb, he combined forces with local history researchers Walter Lim and Ang Yik Han to research into this tomb and finally confirmed the identity of this tomb. The discovery of Neo Jin Quee’s tomb and the tombs of his wife, son and daughter-in-law provide important clues to the study of the immigrant stories of early Lam Ann people to Singapore.

Apart from this, in Jun this year, a news report to find the rickshaw puller Koh Teong Koo made Raymond recalled about Lee Kuan Yew maternal grandfather Chua Kim Teng and maternal grandmother Leong Ah Soon. Based on the clue provided by tombkeeper Soh Ah Beng, Raymond and Walter Lim finally found the tombs of Chua Kim Teng, his second wife and his father’ tombs. They later managed to find Leong Ah Soon’s tomb from the burial register, that is Chua Kim Teng’s third wife. The Chuas were a typical Peranakan family, and Chua Kim Teng was a successful merchant. These finds provide important historical information for the study of this early Chua pioneer family.

Apart from graves, Charles Goh is also interested into heritage sites and ruins. Not long ago, together with NHB Group Director (Policy) Alvin Tan, they rediscovered a century old lunatic asylum wall, which provide valuable information for the study of this early institution.

The greatest difficulty in finding graves is not mosquitos and insects bites, nor wild snakes or animals, nor wild vegetation, but the limited information and resources to find the graves.

Although there are burial records in Bukit Brown, many descendants does not know the dates their ancestors passed away, and some can only remember their ancestors’ Chinese names, while the records are in English. The lesser the information, the more difficult will be the tomb find.
As such, Raymond said that sometimes it require more than the efforts of one or two persons, but the combined efforts and expertise of many volunteers to help find a tomb.

As for 2015, the Goh brothers will keep on their volunteer work of researching and finding tombs, and their mission is to find an earlier tomb than 1826 as there were already Chinese people then who died before that.

By Mok Mei Ngan

ZB Personality of the Year

Photo by Yap Chin Tiong – Raymond and Charles Goh has been researching and rediscovering old tombs in Singapore and sparked local grave interest

Catch a video of Raymond Goh on zaobao.com, sharing his interesting discovery of Bukit Brown Cemetery here

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ZB Personality of the Year 3

ZB Personality of the Year 4

Zaobao weekly – 2014 Personality of the Year
They may not be famous people in the limelight,
But yet each in their chosen field give out their own light and heat and leave behind beautiful imprints in 2014

There is a Western proverb “The devil is in the details”, which means that it is in the details which spell success

These six personalities selected by Zaobao Now are chosen especially for their insightful analysis and acute observation, taking care of the whole situation, yet not leaving out the smallest details to ensure success for their endeavours

They are :

Two relatively unknown “amateur archaeologists” brothers Raymond Goh and Charles Goh who started to find old tombs to return back history. In this rapidly growing city of ours, they search for old tombs and uncover lost history. They also bring people to cemeteries to search for their roots and let the light shine once more upon the hidden tombs in the forest, bringing history back to life

Artist Ong Keng Seng who revamped the Singapore International Festival of Arts to reach out to a wider audience. His 12 chosen productions attracted widespread discussion

Chef Julien Royer from Swissotel Stamford Jaan restaurant for his passon in the culinary arts and for winning multiple culinary awards, and let foreigners look at Singapore food scene

Photographer Sim Chi Yin. Originally an ST correspondent based in Bejing, she give up journalism for photography, and use her passion for the lens to reflect Chinese mainstream society in China. In July this year She became the only Asian photographer to join the Internationally renowned VII Photo Agency. In Oct she was selected by Her World magazine as this year Young Woman Achiever

Christopher Lee Meng Soon for beig the first non-Taiwanese to win the Best Actor Award in the 49th Golden Bell Awards. His win means that the top awards coming from Taiwan for the Cinema, Music and TV all have been won by our local artistes, and mean that here we do have internationally recognized acting talents.

JJ Lin for winning the 25th Golden Melody Awards for best mandarin male singer. He also won two awards from the 19th annual Composers and Authors Society of Singapore (COMPASS) for top local artiste for the 6th consecutive time and best song writer for the 4th time

ZB Personality of the Year 2

 

 

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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W12_2692

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 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!

image003

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)

 ***

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

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