by Norman Cho

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The grave of great grand father Cho Boon Poo (photo Norman Cho)

In 2011, I discovered the grave of my paternal grandfather, Cho Kim Leong at Bukit Brown Cemetery. Since then, I have been trying to locate the tomb of his father, Cho Boon Poo (Cho Poo), who was laid to rest in Malacca. I had absolutely no clue as to which cemetery he was buried. Bukit Cina and Jelutong cemeteries came to mind but these are huge cemeteries with more than a hundred thousand graves each. They are maintained by the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple but pre-war records are unavailable. It seemed that I had hit a dead-end!

However, miracles do happen. To me, these are little blessings from above. Perhaps, the old man had wanted his descendants to visit him and had influenced how things turned out. It must have been decades since the last time any descendants paid their respects at his tomb. He must have known my sincerity and had helped me along without my knowledge. The breakthrough came in April 2014. A relative whom I had never known, contacted me via Facebook to introduce himself as the maternal great-grandson of Cho Poo, after he had discovered that we have matching ancestors from an online Family Tree software on the internet. 70 year old Vincent Lee was descended from Cho Poo’s eldest son, Cho Kim Choon, while my paternal grandfather, Cho Kim Leong, was the third son. He resides in Australia and was planning a trip down to Singapore in April 2014. He requested my assistance to put him in touch with the relatives in Singapore.

It turned out to be a blessing for me! I talked to my eldest aunt, Rose Cho (88 years old), to ask for the contacts of other relatives from the Cho clan. That was how I found aunt Elizabeth Cho (62 years old), who was the only child from the fifth son, Cho Kim Hock, a famed state badminton player for Malacca in the 1930s. We organised a dinner for our overseas relative and his wife. During dinner, I had a nice chat with Elizabeth – whom the family affectionately calls Bert – about Cho Poo. She told me that her only visit to his grave was when she was a child of 9 years old. That was more than 50 years ago! Her father who was the only surviving son at that time dreamt of his father asking him why he had not visited him in such a long time. Heeding the call, he brought his wife and daughter to pay their respects to his father. Since then, he had visited the grave alone every year till several years before his death in 1990.

Aunt Elizabeth, had the memory of an elephant! She vividly recalled that the cemetery was about a 40-minutes-drive from the Malacca Town, but had no inkling about the name of the cemetery. She further described that the cemetery was sliced into two by the main road, there was a cemetery on the left and another on the right, and Cho Poo’s was on the right. The tomb was relatively large and on a gentle-sloping plain. It faced a vast and beautiful paddy field. She added that the cemetery was on the land which once belonged to Cho Poo and was probably the private burial ground of the Cho family. Later, when the family was not doing well financially, it was sold to the Malacca’s Eng Choon Hway Kwan and it became a cemetery for the Eng Choon community. She thinks that the tomb should still be there, given the leisurely pace of development in Malaysia. She asked if I would be able to find the tomb. I told her that I could try. All her clues were useful, except for the paddy field. I told her that I doubt the paddy field in her memory still exists. Nevertheless, I took whatever clues that I could use and converted them into intelligent information.

Firstly, I eliminated Bukit Cina as it was near Malacca Town and therefore could not be a 40-minutes-drive. Next, I looked at the map of Jelutong cemetery but it was not sliced into two by any road. I asked a few Malaccan friends of other lesser-known cemeteries and searched the Google Map for them. Finally, I found a relatively small cemetery, probably no larger than 20 acres, which was dissected by a main road. It was away from the Malacca Town and would probably take about 30 minutes to get there by car. This was the Krubong Cemetery. To be certain that I had located the correct cemetery, I contacted a Malaccan friend who verified that this cemetery is indeed managed and owned by the Eng Choon Hway Kwan. He helped me to obtain the mobile contact of the tomb-keeper to locate the grave. With modern technology, I communicated with the tomb-keeper via Whatsapp to economize on the phone bill. Amazingly, he found the tomb the very next day. The search was completed successfully in less than a week since I started piecing the information together!

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Locating Krubong Cemetery in Malaya on Google Map ( photo Norman Cho)

I informed aunt Elizabeth who was extremely excited and delighted with the news. We decided to go on a trip to Malacca to pay our respects to our common ancestor, Cho Boon Poo. He was the first ancestor who came to this part of the world to carve a better life for himself and his family. By braving the elements to come to the land across the Southern Seas, he had changed his destiny and that of all his descendants. It was through sheer grit and hard work that he built a successful business and owned vast plantations in Malacca and Seremban dealing in palm leaves, gambier, tapioca and rubber. We all had to be grateful to him for being able to lead good lives in Malaya and Singapore for six generations and counting. He married nyonya wives and that was how my Peranakan roots came about. Being a strict father, all his children were well-brought up and a few of his descendants took on key positions in the civil service.

I was told how strict he was about punctuality. The family would have dinner at 7pm sharp and everyone was expected at the table. Nobody could join in once dinner was served. If you missed dinner, it meant that there would be no dinner for you. During one occasion, his fourth son, Kim Tian came home late but the kind servant saved some food for him. When found out, the servant was sacked. He had a strong character and was on the board of the executive committee of the Eng Choon Hway Kwan.

We arrived at his grave on the morning of 23 June 2014 and I noticed that his tomb was the largest amongst the 50-odd tombs in the vicinity.

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Among the largest grave in the area (photo Norman Cho)

What captivated me were the Peranakan tiles (Majolica tiles) which adorned his tomb. No other tombs in the surrounding area had this feature. I was told that having Peranakan tiles on the tombs was not widely popular with the Malaccans. Unlike in Singapore, figurines of the Golden Boy and Jade Maiden were conspicuously absent in Malaccan tombs of even the very wealthy. The tomb used to face water-filled paddy fields which are supposed to be auspicious – water and rice. Unfortunately the paddy fields had since given way to modern development. Cho Poo’s tomb seems to be steep in Fengshui elements : the front courtyard of the tomb forms part of a hexagon instead of the normal rectangle or semi-circle. Along the perimeter of the front courtyard lies a water catchment channel which would collect water when it rains. This had since been covered with soil. The tomb shoulders are angular but eventually taper to form convoluting arms that seem to embrace the courtyard. Likely, it symbolizes a firm hold on wealth.Through the tomb inscriptions, I found the names of one of his wives (Lee Hong Neo) and that of the male descendants – sons, grandsons and even great-grandsons! He died at the age of sixty-nine in 1930. My aunt offered joss-sticks and joss-paper as a form of respect to our ancestor.

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(photo Norman Cho)

This trip has been very fruitful not only about finding out more about Cho Poo and paying our respects to him, but it has built a closer bond between aunt Elizabeth, her husband and I, even though we had known each other only recently.

More on Norman Cho’s journey of discovery, here

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Family photo taken with the tomb-keeper. (L-R): Norman Cho, Elizabeth Cho-Tan, Peter Tan, Tomb-keeper Liow. (photo Norman Cho)

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The shrine of the Earth Deity for the tomb (Norman Cho)

 

 

 

“Moving House”

The Story behind the Painting

 by Alvin Ong

The story of 3 affected graves at Bukit Brown not too long ago inspired a revival of family interest; Tan Yong Chuan (Blk 4, Div C), Tan Tiam Tee (Blk 3, Div B), Wee Geok Eng Neo (Blk 4, Div 6) were exhumed in May 2014. Old photos were unearthed from family albums, and heirloom objects from another era suddenly came to light. For the first time in decades, stories and narratives unlocked themselves from these objects and brought new layers of meaning to the notions of home and identity.

Tan Tiam Tee was the son of the magnate Tan Hoon Chiang (buried in Bukit China, Malacca), one of the founders of the Straits Steamship Co. His wife, Wee Geok Eng Neo, and his son, Tan Yong Chuan were all affected by the proposed highway.

(click on images for a bigger view)

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Funeral of Wee Geok Eng Neo, nee Mrs Tan Tiam Tee. Upper Thompson Rd, 1926. (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

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Funeral of Tan Tiam Tee, 1930. (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

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Funeral of Tan Yong Chuan, died age 29, 26 November 1937, Neil Road (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

 

Funeral of Tan Yong Chuan, died age 29, 26 November 1937, Neil Road. (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

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Descendants at the tomb of Tan Tiam Tee, holding his portrait during Cheng Beng -tomb sweeping festival, 2012 (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

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Descendants at the tomb of Tan Yong Chuan, Cheng Beng-tombsweeping festival , 2012 (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong

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Pictures from the exhumation of Wee Geok Eng Neo, May 2014 (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

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Pictures from the exhumation of Wee Geok Eng Neo, May 2014 (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

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Pictures from the exhumation of Wee Geok Eng Neo, May 2014 (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

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Pictures from the exhumation of Wee Geok Eng Neo, May 2014 (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

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Pictures from the exhumation of Wee Geok Eng Neo, May 2014 (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

Miniature cooking pots were interred in Mrs Tan Tiam Tee’s tomb, presumably for her to cook in the afterlife, along with a pearl sanggul, and bracelets. According to my relatives, a set of gold teeth with an engraved heart shape was also found in Tan Yong Chuan’s tomb.

****

Tan Yong Chuan (son of Mr and Mrs Tan Tian Tee) was finally reunited with his wife for the first time in Holy Family Columbarium after 77 years. The columbarium has an unusual regulation that all photos of the deceased must be in color.

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Original photo of newly-wedded Tan Yong Chuan and his wife. (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

No color photographs of the deceased had existed at that time, so with the help of numerous correspondences, scans were digitally emailed, and the photos doctored and hand-painted.

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Painted portrait of Maria Anna Seet Chow Neo by Artist (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

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Painted Portrait of Tan Yong Chuan by Artist (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

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Reunited Mr. & Mrs Tan Yong Huan (photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

 

Studying overseas has allowed the artist the space, physically and emotionally, to explore ideas of home and identity. These graves were only re-discovered shortly after the redevelopment plans were announced. The sight of the many abandoned tombs on the artist’s first visit to Bukit Brown had sparked questions about what happened to the descendants of the people who were interred there, which in turn, prompted the artist to explore if there were indeed any family connections to the cemetery at all. Beyond the historical and material significance of the place, it also felt like a site where mystery, the past, and present all came together. Reuniting with the tombs for the first time in many years became an emotional moment for some, and it also made us feel as though we have touched history, an experience that is becoming exceptionally rare in Singapore.

These were ideas that all came together in the painting, which were almost auto-biographical in that they featured vignettes of the artist’s experience with the discovery of the pioneers of Singapore and his roots. One random memory was a trek with Raymond Goh to Seah Eu Chin’s grave; One of the Teochew stone lions guarding the perimeter of the tomb eventually found its way into the picture. Raymond was featured in the early stages of the work, but in the end, this idea of displacement, loss and discovery surfaced in the final version titled, “Moving House”.

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“Work in progress” by artist Alvin Ong (image courtesy of the artist)

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Final work, “Moving House”, acrylic on canvas, 90 x 61cm (courtesy of Alvin Ong

This is not the end of the road. There is yet another tomb whose story remains waiting to be told, my maternal great grandfather, Peck Mah Hoe, pictured here. The artist will be heading to the Peck clan temple in attempt to uncover more. And hopefully, there will be more paintings to come.

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The grave of the artist’s maternal great grandfather, Peck Mah Hoe(photo courtesy of Alvin Ong)

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Stele in Peck clan temple with the name “Peck Mah Hoe” at the top, although the character for “Hoe” differs from the one on the tomb. Photo courtesy of Yik Han.

******

About  the writer who is an  artist :

Alvin Ong is reading fine art in Oxford, and did architecture at the National University of Singapore. In 2004, he was the youngest winner of the UOB painting of the year award at the age of 16. He had his first solo exhibition at 17, in the presence of His Excellency President S R Nathan.

 

 

 

 

 by Ang Yik Han

Chua Chwee Oh (蔡水湖) photo Yik Han

Chua Chwee Oh (蔡水湖) (photo Yik Han)

Born in Kulangsu Island off Amoy, Chua Chwee Oh came to Singapore at the age of 14. He studied till 17 or 18, after which he went into business. Beginning with trading between Singapore and Medan, he founded the firm Hock Heng in 1920 which had branches in Rangoon, Annam and other cities. It dealt mainly in local produce like dried fish and provisions. The biggest segment of his business was in French-controlled Annam, followed by British Malaya and the Dutch Indies. He was the second chairman of the Amoy Association (1940-1941) after its founding, and also a chairman of the Goh Loo Club.

Active in the China Relief Fund’s efforts in raising funds to support the Chinese forces against the Japanese, he was known for donating $100,000 single-handedly under his firm’s name. He also encouraged others to contribute by setting an example when the need arose. It must have been a bitter blow for him during the Japanese Occupation when he was forced to join the Hokkien section of the Overseas Chinese Association (OCA), the umbrella body set up by the Japanese to force the Chinese community to pay war reparations.

Chua Chwee Oh (蔡水湖) 1 photo Yik Han

Chua Chwee Oh (蔡水湖) (photo Yik Han)

Chua Chwee Oh died in 1960 at the age of 64. His first wife Mdm Tan passed away at the young age of 32 and is buried together with him. His second wife was Mdm Ng. The place of origin inscribed on his tombstone is “Si Ming” (思明), another name for Amoy coined by Koxinga when the island was his base of operations against the encroaching Qing forces. This name evokes Koxinga’s longing for the glory days of the Han Chinese Emperors in the  Ming Dynasty. Barred from use after the Qing Dynasty consolidated its control over all of China, this place name was revived after the Qing Dynasty was overthrown.

The tomb is at Hill 3, about 10m behind and to the left (facing uphill) of Tan Boo Liat’s tomb.

 

3rd June 2014

Tomb Measurement 2-Day Workshop with Dr. Lai Chee Kien

NB: There has been a change in starting time for Session one at NLB from 1 pm to 1.15pm.

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(photo Lai Chee Kien)

Places available: :30

Session One  : 1.15pm -4pm, Saturday 14 June 2014

Location: Imagination Room, 5th floor, National Library, Victoria Street

 Session Two  3.30pm- 6.30pm, Saturday  21 June 2014,

Location: Bukit Brown Cemetery Gate (meeting point)

1)  Description:

From 2011-2013, several architecture students supervised Dr Lai Chee Kien have measured tombs at the former Bukit Brown Municipal Cemetery as an attempt to record the historical and unique types and hybrids found in the cemetery, now under threat of road development. This workshop aims to share the basics of measuring objects and buildings, but with a focus on the experiences of measuring tombs at Bukit Brown. It is hoped that design students and members of the public can learn the basics of tomb measurement, and in future volunteer to record other significant tombs, or those of deceased relatives. These will serve as archival records in the future for all.

2) Scope

14 June 2014 (Theory session)

(a) Introduction to measuring objects and buildings

(b) Methods, tools, and practices

(c) Tomb types and features

(d) Inhouse practice session

21 June 2014 (Practical session at Bukit Brown)

(e) Introduction to Bukit Brown

(f) Groupwork: measuring a small tomb

3. Things to bring (theory session)

(a) A4 clipboard

(b) Measuring tape (5m or more)

(c) Pen or pencil (paper will be provided)

[Items for practical will be discussed at theory session]

4. Pre-requisites

(a) Participants who have attended guided tours of Bukit Brown cemetery would be appreciated.

(b) Participants who have prior 3D drawing knowledge (architects, designers, architectural and design students) would have an advantage.

(c) Participants are required to attend both the theory and practical sessions.

Disclaimer: By agreeing to participate in the practical session held at Bukit Brown Cemetery, I understand and accept that I must be physically fit and able to do so. To the extent permissible by law, I agree to assume any and all risk of injury or bodily harm to myself.

To register, please email latest Wednesday 11   June’2014 to : a.t.bukitbrown@gmail.com
with Subject; Registration for Tomb Measurement Workshop.Participants to indicate name, IC, contact number, email and relevant interest/experience as stated in 4 (a) and (b). Successful applicants will be informed by email. 

About Dr. Lai Chee Kien:

Dr Lai is a registered architect, and graduated from the National University of Singapore with an M Arch. by research [1996], and then a PhD in History of Architecture & Urban Design from the University of California, Berkeley [2005]. He researches on histories of art, architecture, settlements, urbanism and landscapes in Southeast Asia

Lai Chee Kien of the documentation team (photo: Claire Leow)                 Dr.  Lai Chee Kien of the documentation team (photo: Claire Leow)

Tan Ean Teck  (1902-1944)

Tan Ean Teck (photo: Family Archives)

Tan Ean Teck (photo: Family Archives)

According to “Biographies of Famous Personalities in the Nanyang,” Tan Ean Teck came to Singapore from Tong Ann, China at the age of 16. He worked for about four years in his brother’s (Tan Ean Kiam) company before striking out on his own,  setting up  his own rubber trading firm.

He was a strong supporter of the anti-Japanese war effort in China, and contributed to charitable causes in both China and other lands. He also contributed to the Hokkien Huay Kuan, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, the Tong Ann District Guild, as well as many schools and social institutions,

But Tan Ean Teck’s life was tragically gunned down when he became a casualty of WW 2. On 19 April, 1944, the MPAJA (Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Army)  ambushed officials of the OCA ( Overseas Chinese Association)  en route to visit the Chinese settlement of Endau in Johor.

A member of the OCA convoy,  captures vividly what happened:

Extract:: Scholar, Banker, Gentleman Soldier: The Reminiscences of Dr. Yap Pheng Geck

Extract:: Scholar, Banker, Gentleman Soldier: The Reminiscences of Dr. Yap Pheng Geck

Tan Ean Teck’s body was taken back to Singapore and  4 days later on 23ed April , he was buried in Bukit Brown, close to his brother Tan Ean Kiam.  He was 42 years old.

Tan Ean Teck (photo Raymond Goh)

Tan Ean Teck (photo Raymond Goh)

Prologue: Endau and World War II

In August 1943, in order to ease the food shortage problem in Singapore, the Japanese authorities mooted the idea of setting up new settlements outside Singapore and encouraging Singaporeans to relocate to these settlements to cultivate the land there. These settlements were planned to become self-sufficient in food supply. A settlement was created for Chinese settlers at Endau in Johore. (Source: Iinfopedia)

From Alex Tan Tiong  Hee

My understanding, based on my late father’s (Tan Yeok Seong)  account:

The OCA was not popular with the anti-Japanese elements that went underground to survive. Those living an open unconcealed life in public were natural targets for the Kempeitai who sought revenge against the Chinese, hence the pogrom.

The pacification of Japanese antagonism was the OCA’s raison d’etre and which had to be traded by the raising of $50million from the Chinese community as a gift for the Japanese emperor’s approaching birthday. This being done, the persecution or ‘sook ching’ then ended.

The communist terrorists were enterprising enough to merge with the anti-Japanese underground group to form the MPAJA. They accused the OCA as collaborators and monitored the Endau Project. Their opportunity came when they ambushed and fired at a convoy killing all except Lee Choon Seng who was Vice President of the OCA.

The $50 million ( Tan Yeok Seong family archives)

The $50 million “ransom”( Tan Yeok Seong family archives)

Extract from Collaboration during the Japanese Occupation : Issues and Problems focusing on the Chinese Community by Han Ming Guang (Hons thesis for history):

Even though Endau was administered by the Chinese, the fact that it was sponsored by the Japanese military and established by the O.C.A whom the MPAJA saw as an organisation of collaborators, meant that the Chinese administrators that administered the settlement were now targets for the MPAJA guerrillas. The MPAJA guerrillas ambushed the O.C.A officials that were on their way to visit Endau and in the process wounded Mr Lee Choon Seng, the chairman of the Overseas Banking Corporation. They also managed to kill Mr Wong Tatt Seng, who was in-charge of maintaining peace and order within the settlement, along with other Chinese administrators who were also living in Endau at the time of the attacks.

While it was clear that the MPAJA viewed the members of the O.C.A as well as the Chinese leaders of Endau as collaborators and traitors, in general the people who were living in Endau did not share those views. They understood that the Endau plan was conceived by the O.C.A and Mamoru Shinozaki in order to save Chinese lives from the dreaded Kempeitai , by giving the Chinese community a piece of land in Johore, for them to live separately and free from the Japanese military.

Pat Lin on life in Endau:

According to my parents, Maggie Lim and Lim Hong Bee (H.B. Lim) both of whom were actively involved with the MPAJA in the Endau settlement (Yes, I was there too) there were people in the OCA who were what we may today call double agents. They included some very prominent local people who on the surface professed to be anti-Japanese, but who were informers who were usually rewarded by the Japanese.

As with the French resistance, it was a very difficult time as people all lived under a climate of uncertainty as to who was about to betray them to the Japanese. My mother also had her suspicions as to those who carried out the covert assassination of informers.

She has a vivid story of having to deal with someone who was brought into the Endau clinic (she was the Endau doctor) one evening with a bullet in his head. As a physician she was duty bound to do everything to save him. She was filled with the reluctance to do anything as it was known by the Endau leadership that he fed information to the Japanese that led to people being taken away for execution or disappearing suddenly. Possession of any sort of weapons was punishable by death, but people like my father possessed hand guns that they somehow received from some source and were very carefully hidden.

Endau was located in healthier environs and there were more people who managed to make a go of farming. The staples were kangkong and ubi kayu. My little family brought chickens up from Singapore piled up In chicken coops on top of a lorry. Some of them ran off into the jungle, and others fell prey to wild animals. Wild animals including roaming tigers were a real threat.

The first year in Endau and Bahau were particularly bad before the first harvests. OCA members from Singapore would make periodic visits with whatever they could scrounge up including medicines. Some within the community tried being entrepreneurial by trying to sell black market food stuffs they somehow managed to obtain. Mom recalled being so hungry from having to work and nurse me but my father being ever the man of high ethical standards refused to allow the purchasing of black market goods.

An Epilogue on a Life Miraculously Saved

The metal badge of the OSA worn on the chest, deflected the bullet  that could have fatally wounded  the Vice President of the OSA,  Lee Choon Seng. He believed he was saved for a reason and his life took on a spiritual quest in the aftermath of war. Lee Choon Seng subsequently founded the Poh Ern Shih to  dedicate merits to people killed during the occupation. His grandson transfromed the monastery into Singapore’s first green temple.

***********

Editor’s Acknowledgement : This blog post is a compilation of first hand accounts and research from the  Heritage Singapore Bukit Brown  Facebook Community.

 

 

by Ang Yik Han

Cheok Hak Leng (石学能)  2Yik Han.jpg NUS  chinese lib

Cheok Hak Leng (石学能) (image source: NUS Chinese Library)

Cheok Hak Leng (石学能) died in 1929 at the age of 34. His father was a rice merchant and he studied in Chong Cheng School. After leaving school, he founded Seng Cheong Sawmill with two other partners. He was the firm’s general manager.

It was mentioned in an account of his life that he joined the Tong Meng Hui in Singapore (Lim Nee Soon’s list of Tongmenghui members does not include his name, unless he joined under a pseudonym). Given that the Chinese Revolution took place in 1911 when he was only 16, he would have been a very young member.

Cheok Hak Leng (石学能)  (photo Yik Han)

The tomb of Cheok Hak Leng (石学能) (photo Yik Han)

On his tomb, a pair of couplets.

Cheok Hak Leng (石学能)  1Yik Han.jpg 精魂游仙界 The immortal spirit wanders about the heavenly realms

精魂游仙界  (photo Yik Han)

 

精魂游仙界

The immortal spirit wanders about the heavenly realms

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheok Hak Leng (石学能)  1Yik Han.jpg 2 金尸埋俗尘 The corporeal body lies buried in the mortal world

金尸埋俗尘 (photo Yik Han)

 

 

 

 

金尸埋俗尘

The corporeal body lies buried in the mortal world

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A footnote:

8 December 2012
Straits Time: Life!
Meaningful to find ancestors’ tombs

Melissa Sim’s article Finders Of Long- forgotten Tombs (Sunday Life!, Dec 2) was unique and interesting.

I had long wanted to find the tomb of my grandfather, who died in 1929 and was buried at the Bukit Brown cemetery. When the Land Transport Authority announced its plans last year to build a highway that will cut through the cemetery, my interest was reignited.

Armed with a copy of the register of burials from the National Archives, I made my way to the cemetery full of hope of locating my grandfather’s grave. How wrong I was. Bukit Brown is a massive place with no proper signs and directions, making it difficult to find ancestors’ tombstones.

It was during my second trip there in January this year, after a futile attempt the previous month, that I discovered not only my grandfather’s tomb but also those of his two brothers adjacent to his.

All this was made possible through the assistance of Mr Raymond Goh, who was featured in Ms Sim’s article.

Mr Goh said: “This is my country, it’s worth fighting for because my ancestors are here.” I echo that statement.

Bennie Cheok
—————————-
NB: Bernie Cheok is a grandson of Cheok Hak Leng

Cheok Hak Leng (石学能) (photo Yik Han)

Cheok Hak Leng (石学能) (photo Yik Han)

(The tomb is at Hill 3,  up the track after Tan Chor Lam’s grave)

 

 

by Ang Yik Han

白心正, Pek Sim Jia (photo Yik Han)

白心正, Pek Sim Jia (photo Yik Han)

The tomb  of 白心正 (probably Pek Sim Jia in romanised Hokkien) at Hill 3. Hailing from Anxi (安溪 – An-khoe) county of Fujian, he was the proprietor of Pek Sam Choon (白三春) -  a tea importer who was one of the founding members of the Singapore Chinese Tea Importers and Exporters’ Association in 1928.

No longer in operation today, the firm was known to still exist in the 1950s when it was run by one of his sons, Thiam Hock, whose name appears on his tombstone. As Anxi county is famed for producing tea especially Ti Kuan Yin (铁观音), a sizable proportion of local Chinese tea merchants hail from that county. Some old firms founded before the war are still around today.

advertisement for Pek Sam Choon in the 30th anniversary commemorative publication of Singapore Ann Kway Association 1952

Advertisement for Pek Sam Choon in the 30th anniversary commemorative publication of Singapore Ann Kway Association 1952

Registered trademarks of Pek Sam Choon (ST 12 Dec 1931)

Registered trademarks of Pek Sam Choon (ST 12 Dec 1931)

 

 

Chew Chai Pin

(b. 11 November 1911 – d. 13 June 1941)

Among the 4,000 graves which will have to be exhumed to make way for the highway is that of Chew Chai Pin (# 1253)

Chew grave documentation project

The Grave of Chew Chai Pin  ( photo credit : The Bukit Brown Documentation Project)

Chew Chai Pin was one of three founders  of the Chinese High School in Batu Pahat.  Unlike the other prominent Chinese men who contributed to the school, Chew was not well known then in the community.    He held the concurrent  position of director and teacher of  the Ayer Hitam School. But he was soon to answer a higher calling.

On March 6, 1940,  Chew went to China from Singapore to Yangon and China, to  visit and give moral support to the Nanyang  volunteer mechanics and drivers, as well as civilians and troops.  The Nanyang  Volunteers were  recruited and trained  from  South East Asia,  to transport war and logistic supplies through the notorious China-Burma highway to sustain  China’s war effort against the invading Japanese. Chew represented Batu Pahat as  part of a deputation comprising of representatives from the overseas Chinese communities of South East Asia.
But on March 29 1940, the vehicle he was in overturned and he sustained serious injury to his spinal cord.  He was warded at a hospital at Xiaguan (Yunnan)  while the rest of the deputation proceeded to their destinations.  He was visited by none other than Tan Kah Kee,  who was instrumental in  galvanizing  the support of  the overseas Chinese in Nanyang (South East Asia)  for the second Sino-Japanese War.  Tan made arrangements to have Chew sent to Yangon for treatment as the doctors in Xiaguan were unable to heal him. Chew’s legs were numb and he could not walk for more than a year.  Chew also received a letter of consolation  from the  Commander-in-Chief of the war and leader of the Kuomintang , Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek.

On March  4th of 1941, a year after his accident,  an arrangement was made for him be transported to Singapore for treatment. Just when many thought Chew would recover, he died in Singapore on June 13, 1941  at 0615 hours. It was said that his funeral in Singapore  was attended by more than 400 people. He was hailed in both Singapore and Malaysia as a patriot who sacrificed his life for  China.

citation for Chew

An obituary in the  Nanyang Siang Pau to the memory of Mr Chew Chai Pin proclaims:  “He Died for his Country”

On his deathbed, he urged his compatriots to spare no effort for China’s salvation. He said:

“I am ashamed to have done nothing in service of my country. How can I die without doing anything for the motherland? I must do something for the nation when I come back in another life.” Chew Chai Pin.

Chew  was just 30 years old when he died.

Tan Kah Kee wrote in his memoirs that when the deputation left Singapore by ship on the 6th of March, it was sent off by a crowd in high spirits. Only Chew’s mother and wife were weeping. Somebody observed to Tan,  that the deputation would be away for only 3 months and it was an honour to be a delegate, so even though one could excuse Chew’s mother as she was of an older generation, his wife who was educated and a teacher was showing too much emotion. After seeing Chew in hospital six months after his accident, when he could not be cured by the doctors there, Tan Kah Kee remarked that it seemed the mother and wife had been prescient of what was to come at the point of parting.

Chew  was born on 11/11/11 in the Hokkien Province, Tong An County, Au To village. He married in November 1937,  and was childless at the time of his death.  After he  passed  away,  his parents adopted a son on his behalf.

Article

An article from Sin Chew Jit Poh 19 Dec 2012 on Chew Chai Pin

 

Chinese High School (photo Raymond Goh)

The Chinese High School in Batu Pahat co founded by Chew Chai Pin (photo Raymond Goh)

postscript : Chew Chai Pin’s grave has been claimed.

***

Source: From  the blog  of 沈志堅’who is a teacher at Chinese High School in Batu Pahat. (Translated by Fabian Tee)

Additional information from the Memoirs of Tan Kah Kee

 

 

 The Lim Hock Seng Family

An update:

On the morning of Sunday, June 22 ’14,  Raymond Goh was on his usual weekend exploration of Bukit Brown when he came across the tomb of Ngo Kim Neo who died young at 22 years old in 1927.

Ngo Kim Neo 1_wife of Lim Hock Seng

Ngo Kim Neo (1927), wife of Lim Hock Seng (photo Raymond Goh)

On her tomb was inscribed,  she was the wife of Lim Hock Seng (see the original story below) and she left behind 4 children, Sons: Lim Cheng Chuan and Lim Cheng Ean; Daughters:  Lim Khoon Neo (Lucy) and Lim Geok Kiat.

Ngo Kim Neo 2_Cheng Ean son

Lim Cheng Ean’s name inscribed on tombstone (photo Raymond Goh)

What was intriguing was the name of Lim Cheng Ean  which was included in the  inscription as her son, as he was born in 1934,  7 years after the death of Madam Ngo Kim Neo.

We emailed the daughter of Lim Cheng Ean  to inform her of the find and if she could throw some light on the matter.

This was her reply:

“I have managed to gather some brief knowledge about Ngo Kim Neo from my mother.  Apparently Lim Hock Seng married 2 sisters.  The first died very young without children and her grieving parents offered their second daughter, who must be Ngo Kim Neo, to him.  She had 2 daughters and then sadly died giving birth to my father’s older brother, Lim Cheng Chuan, who was known in the family as the ‘Tiger Baby’ because he ‘ate his mother while being born’ (1927 was indeed the year of the tiger) .  I’m not sure if this is a Chinese superstition, or just a Lim family ‘fable’.  My father will be so moved to see the photo that I am posting to him today.  I doubt he has ever seen the grave, or his own name credited as her son on the tombstone.  His sister, Lucy (Lim Khoon Neo), was very close to him  ” Gillian  Mendy nee Lim, 23 June’2014  

Gillian further explained that, her father’s (Lim Cheng Ean) mother was Lim Hock Seng’s third wife, Khoo  Ah Tho,  brought from Penang to marry him and look after the 3 young children left behind by Ngo Kim Neo.

From Gillian’s information, we gleaned that after Lim Cheng Ean was born, the tombstone of Madam Ngo was replaced to include his name to acknowledge Madam Ngo as his mother. We are not sure what customary practice led to this, or maybe it was  a husband’s last loving tribute to the wife who bore him 3 children before she  passed away at childbirth at the tender age of 22.

In sharing with us the close relationship her father had with his half sister, Lucy Lim Khoon Neo, Gillian attached an article  on her aunt’s wedding and another line  of family connection was revealed.  Lucy  Lim married   Cheong Thiam Siew, Chairman of Frank Knight,  who was the  son of Cheong Hock Seng, and grandson of Cheong Koon Seng  Her husband came from an illustrious and blue-chip line of property auctioneers.

And finally Gillian shared  that her father who was in a fragile state of health when she first wrote to us in in January of this year,  has improved and just celebrated his 80th birthday. The family put together a scrap book of his Lim ancestors, and the photos we had sent earlier of his father’s and his grandparent’s graves at Bukit Brown was the centerpiece of the book.

*****

All Things Bukit Brown received an email this morning  (14 January) addressed to Raymond Goh. It was from Gillian Mendy (Lim)  from London, asking if her grandfather’s  Lim Hock Seng’s grave was affected by the highway. Her email read:

“Your Bukit Brown website is incredibly informative and interesting.  We have only just discovered about the planned road works through the cemetery.

My grandfather is buried at Bukit Brown and we are trying to find out if his grave is affected by the road project.  The family now live in England.  If it is affected then we would come to Singapore to  claim the remains.  

My father is now 80 and very ill so I would be extremely grateful if you could either help or let me know who is the appropriate person to contact to try and trace the grave because it would mean a lot to him. 
 
The documentation of the affected graves online is very helpful but the names are mostly in Chinese so I have been unable to find if he is listed.
 
I have found the burial register and plot details.  These are:
 
Name: Lim Hock Seng
Date: 9 April 1946
Age: 46 years
Plot ‘A’ 368 (IV)
Register Entry: 1554
 
This was his Death Announcement in the Straits Times.

 
I believe the plot may come under the affected area but I cannot find a list of affected graves showing their original plot number. His name is not listed on the published lists but I am worried that his tombstone may be one of the illegible or damaged ones.
 
We are grateful for any help you may spare, I look forward to hearing from you.” Gillian Mendy.
We forwarded Gillian’s email to Raymond who is presently in India on a business trip and within one and a half hours,  Raymond replied :
“Hi Gillian, don’t worry, the tomb is not affected. In fact Hock Seng and his parents’ tomb are now one of the most beautiful tombs in BB. Hock Seng father is Lim Peng Chin and mother is Tan Po Neo, and I believed his uncle was Lim Peng Siang, one of the pioneers of Singapore. Here is a news of his mother death. You can see they stay in the same address.  I am overseas now , but will be able to send you photos in a couple of days when I am back. Cath, their tombs is in Blk 4a before going to Tan Quee Kan cluster, we pass by a trio of very big and beautiful tombs with exquisite carvings of deities, Hock Seng is positioned on front of his parents’ tombs” Raymond Goh.
We did not wait for Raymond to return. Brownies Sugen Ramiah and Victor Lim were mobilized , with Catherine following Raymond’s directions to a “T” . We found the tombs and  have forwarded the photos to Gillian. She has given us permission to share her story.
” It was very moving to receive the photographs of the family tombs, especially after hearing so much about my grandfather since I was small. The information you have given will be such a great assistance in tracing the family history.
 
When he last visited Singapore, my father spent hours searching for the location of his family tombs but gave up and assumed all was lost.  Even yesterday, when I mentioned that I had found the burial register entry for Lim Hock Seng, my father sadly said that his grave was no longer there!  He will be very overcome when I give him the photos.  My father’s Chinese name is Lim Cheng Ean and he is listed on Tan Po Neo’s tombstone as a grandchild.  This brought tears to my eyes.Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your help.”  Gillian Mendy
Request fulfilled in record time, because Raymond Goh seems to carry with him,  where ever he goes, an inbuilt repository of Bukit Brown in his head and heart.
***
1) The grave of Lim Hock Seng (Gillian’s grandfather) , behind are the graves of  his parents (Gillian’s great grandparents)
Lim Hock Seng (Sugen Ramiah)
2) The double graves of Lim Chin Peng & his wife Tan Po Neo  (Gillian’s great grandparents)
Lim Peng Chin (photo Sugen Ramiah)
3) An unusual memorial stone (about the size of the earth deity) dedicated to the memory of Mr & Mrs Lim Peng Chin located on the right hand corner of their graves. It singles out  Tan Po Neo’s  (Mrs Lim Peng Chin) death date. Note the name of son  Lim Hock Seng and  grandson Lim Cheng Ean ( they are father and son respectively)
Tan Po Neo (photo Sugen Ramiah)
4)  The Earth Deity located on the left hand corner  of Mr & Mrs Lim Peng Chin’s graves.
Earth Diety (photo Sugen Ramiah)
 (photos by Sugen Ramiah )

 

 

 

On  2nd  January, 2014, June Tan   witnessed and photo documented the exhumation of her grandfather, Ong Kim Soon. She also shared with us the testimonial of how a promise was fulfilled to carry on the lineage of another family. It speaks to men and women  of honour and ties of kinship which live on till today.

Ong Kim Soon 1  (photo June Tan)

The exhumation of Ong Kim Soon begins, after the family conducted their  pre- exhumation rituals (photo June Tan)

***

By June Tan

My grandfather was an ordinary man. He worked hard to make ends meet and was an honest man of principles.  When he passed away at the age of 47 , he left behind his wife & 6  children aged between 6-22 years old then.

The story I want to share of my grandfather has to start from my great great grandparents.

My great great grandfather Ng died at a very young age. He was in his 20s then. He left behind his wife but no descendants. The women of that era usually did not remarry if their husband passed on. It was deemed to be their duties to take care of their in- laws .

However, my great great grandmother was a young lady in the prime of her life at that time. Her mother- in- law decided that she should not stay as a widow and allowed her to remarry.   She, however,  set a condition for the man (suramed Ong) who was to marry her- that  the first son born by them had to take  the surname “Ng”  (黄). As a gratitude to the old lady, they readily  agreed.

Soon after, my great grandfather was born and he took  the Ng surname. However, great great grandfather Ong soon fell very ill and with his wife they were unable  to produce a 2nd child.  Their son, my great grandfather had  no option but to reinstate his surname to Ong in order to perpetuate the Ong family line.

The older generation is a generation of principles.  It was resolved that the next male child born in the family will carry the surname of Ng to honour the promise of my great great grandparents.

Years later, my grandfather was born and he adopted the “Ng” (黄) surname. In fact, of the 3 sons born in that generation, my grandfather and his 2nd  brother took on the Ng surname as a gratitude to the Ng family.

At age 47,  my grandfather passed away. All that he left behind was a meagre sum of S$24.  The family was faced with the task of paying for a decent  burial place.

Seh Ong Sua (which adjoins Bukit Brown)  was the only cemetery with free burial grounds available for the Ong descendents . My grandfather’s brothers, my grand uncles,  approached the person in charge of the Ong Clan then. However, only descendants of the Ong clan could be buried there. After hearing the origins of my grandfather’s surname, the Ong clan agreed to accord him a burial ground in Seh Ong  on condition that that he had to use his Ong surname on the headstone of his grave.

Hence,  the surname  on his tomb is Ong (王) whereas his children will continue to take the Ng surname.

For these reasons, my great grandmother had “set” a rule for my mum’s generation that they are allowed to marry Ngs’ but not Ongs’ as that is the origin of their bloodline.

***

A few photos from June Tan’s album of  her grandfather’s exhumation.  The coffin was fully intact and the set of bones, nearly complete. With her permission, the  complete album which she has captioned as a photo essay,  is available here 

Ong Kim Soon 2 (photo June Tan)

Setting up the canopy, getting ready to remove the remains from the coffin (photo June Tan)

Ong Kim Soon 6   (photo June Tan)

The remains after the coffin (which was fully intact) was opened with an electric saw (photo June Tan)

Ong Kim Soon 5   (photo June Tan)

The bones are washed with white wine as required by traditional exhumation practices. (photo June Tan)

***

Ong Kim Soon has moved to  Yishun Columbarium. Rest in Peace.

Editor’s note: We would like to thank  June Tan for  sharing her photos of her grandfather’s exhumation and her family story with us. If you are a descendant who has ancestors staked for exhumation,   please share your story with us.

Email us: a.t.bukitbrown@gmail.com

You can read about another  first hand account by a grandson, who witnessed his grandfather’s and aunt’s exhumations, here

 

 

 

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