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.


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



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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 )



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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:

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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by Sugen Ramiah

While exploring Hill 4, I stumbled upon a tomb of a young man,  by the name of Ee Tean Choon.(E Tean Choon on tombstone)

Ee 2 (Sugen Ramiah)

A dapper and genteel looking Ee Tean Choon (photo Sugen Ramiah)

It was very unique because the tomb was of a modern design in marble.  And so I started a little research on his family in early November 2013.  It was on the 31st of December 2013, while strolling with brownies Peter and Ee Hoon, that I was told that there was another art deco tomb, similar to that of Ee Tean Choon that also belonged to the Ee family, his grandparents. Here’s what I have traced of the Ee Tean Choon  family tree.

Grandparents:  Ee Swee Hin and Khoo Swee Yee

Ee Swee Hin passed away on the 8th September 1942 and his wife  Khoo Swee Yee,  on the 19th February 1955. They are buried together in Hill 5 Division B with LTA tag #1122 and will be exhumed in March.

Ee grandparents (Sugen Ramiah)

Father: Ee Yean Keat

Ee Yean Keat was the eldest son of Ee Swee Hin and  Khoo Swee Yee. He had two other siblings, Ee Yean Bee and another adopted brother – Tan Eng Yam. Born in Malacca in the year 1884, he was educated in a high school there and came to Singapore to look for a better future. He married Seow Joo Neo and had seven children. He first started work with Netherlands Trading Society in 1904. After 6 years, in 1910, he worked as a cashier with the KPM shipping company. He wanted an early retirement after 25 years with the shipping company. However, he later joined the Straits Times Press (Malaya) Ltd and officially retired in 1959 at the age of 75. He was also known as the “Grand Old Man’ of the accounts section of Straits Times Press (Malaya). He passed away on the 24th of September 1968 at the age of 84. The Obituary section in the archives indicates that he left behind 2 wives.   Seow Joo Neo  the mother of Ee Tean Choon,  passed away on the 4th of January 1985 at the age of 102. She left behind 19 grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren. No information has been uncovered about Ee Yean Keat’s other wife.

Ee Tean Choon (E Tean Choon on tombstone)

Ee Tean Choon  born in the year 1910 and was the first born of  Ee Yean Keat and  Seow Joo Neo of No.350 East Coast Road. He was the eldest of seven children. He married  Ruby Chia Boey Neo , the fifth daughter of Mr & Mrs Chia Keng Chin of No.8 Saint Thomas Walk, on the 3rd of October 1936. Chia Boey Neo the grand-daughter of Mr Chia Hood Theam, was born in July 1914 and was 22 years old when she married Ee. They didn’t have their own children but adopted two babies -Willie Ee Kean Leong and Margaret Ee.

Sadly,  Ee Tean Choon died of typhoid, on the 3rd of April 1938, at just  28 years old. He left behind a young widow and two infants, barely two years after his marriage. The two infants were then adopted by his brother, Ee Tean Cheng   and the young widow returned to her  parents’ house.

Inscribed on the tomb is an epitaph :

‘In the prime of his life death claimed him, In the pride of his manhood days, none knew him but to love him, None mention his name but with praise.’

Ee 3 (Sugen Ramiah)

I believe that the epitaph was taken from  ‘The life of Rev. William James Hall, M. D.:  Medical Missionary on the slums of New York, Pioneer Missionary to Pyong Yang, Korea’ 1897.  It is about how Rev Hall ministered  to the sick and wounded of Korea and his martyrdom.  Coincidentally, both William (Willie for short) Willie  and Margaret, were the names of Dr. Hall’s great grandparents.

Ee Tean Choon is buried in Hill 4 Division C with LTA tag #2612. He has been claimed by the family of his wife, the late Mdm Chia Boey Neo.

Brother : Ee Tean Cheng

Ee Tean Cheng was actively involved in many athletic associations such as the Useful Lads Badminton Party, Horlicks Badminton Party and was elected as vice president of the S.A.S.U (Singapore Armature Sports Union) in 1940. The tournaments, training and meetings were often held in the badminton court of the Ee’s residence at East Coast Road. He worked for Ford Motors and  married to Ong Lian Neo Nellie  on the 15th December 1940. Unfortunately, she passed away on the 26th October 1941 while in labour, both mother and child didn’t survive. She was buried in Bukit Brown and Raymond Goh has a blog post on her life  here

Ee Tean Cheng had a second marriage to  Lily Oon Siok Neo. They had a son, Winston Ee Kean Leng and also adopted the late Ee Tean Choon’s children – Willie and Margaret. He had five grandchildren. He passed away on  3rd April 1999, coincidentally  the anniversary of his brother, Ee Tean Choon ( 3rd April 1938)

Brother:  Ee Tean Chye

Colonel Ee Tean Chye was the  first Commander of the Singapore Air Defence Command and in 1972,  the first Chief of Air Force of the Republic of Singapore Air Force.   He has three children, Patricia Ee, Laura Ee and Christopher Ee.

Son: Willie Ee Kean Leong

Willie Ee Kean Leong was the director of Sankyo Seiki Singapore Pte Ltd. He married  Lim Eng Hong, eldest daughter of Mr Lim Kim San, former cabinet minister and first chairman of HDB. They had two children, Ee Kuo Ren and Ee Yuen Ling.

Daughter: Margaret Ee

Margaret Ee married Mr Richard Png and had two children, Dr Kenneth Png and Keith Png.

Postscript : Unfortunately both grandparents and grandson will be moving house to make way for the new highway. However both grandparents and grandson will be interned in the same block in Choa Chu Kang Columbarium. This is just another story of another ordinary family that has contributed to this country. May they rest in Peace.

Ee 4 (Sugen Ramiah)

Offerings for Ee Tean Choon on the day of the Winter Solstice 21 December 2013, prepared by brownies Choo Ai Loon and Sugen Ramiah (photo Sugen Ramiah)

Sugen Ramiah is a teacher by training and his interest includes   observing and documenting Chinese festivals and rituals conducted by temples. This is his first foray into researching family trees.

Read his blog posts on Salvation for Lost Souls here and  here

References for Ee Family

The life of Rev. William James Hall, M. D. : medical missionary to the slums of New York, pioneer missionary to Pyong Yang, 1897. (E-book) Emmanuel College Library, Victoria University

Announcement. (1936, June 23). The Straits Times

Tean Cheng-Ong. (1940, December 16). The Singapore Free Press and the Mercantile Advertiser

Deaths. (1941, October 26). The Straits Times

Cashier, 75, Retires for Second Time. (1959, December 31). The Singapore Free Press

Deaths. (1968, September 25). The Straits Times

Deaths. (1985, January 5). The Straits Times

Condolences. (1994, September 4). The Straits Times

Deaths. (1999, April 4). The Straits Times

Deaths. (2000, June 20). The Straits Times

The Air Force, Singapore : Republic of Singapore Air Force, 1988

Controlled Growth Restriction Policies For Certain Closed Food-Chain Systems by Patricia G. M. Ee 1992. Simon Fraser University, April 1992.



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18th November, 2013


From Raymond Goh:

Today, the tomb keepers helped to clear the thick vegetation around a cluster of old graves in Hill/Blk 2, believed to be relocated from Tiong Bahru in the late 1920s due to development, thereby revealing more tombs previously hidden among thick vegetation. Some of these old graves are affected, while some are not due to the angle of the road project which slices  this cluster into half. One pioneering immigrant, that of the mother of Chee Yam Chuan has been found in this cluster. We believe other pioneers could be uncovered soon.

Read about how Raymond identified Madam Chee Kim Guan here

1830s cluster cleared (photo Raymond Goh)

1830s cluster cleared (photo Raymond Goh)


Seeing the cleared tombs for the first time inspired Claire Leow to pen these lines for these pioneers, who arrived about the time of Sir Stamford Raffles, making them the earliest immigrants of recent history.

The Sentinels of Bukit Brown

We stand
Sentinels of Bukit Brown
Watched this land we called Sin-chew (星 洲) from afar
Put down roots, rebuilt our lives,
Cajoled our families to join us.
We, the sinkehs, arrived.

Farewells aplenty in our lifetimes
To family, to China.
Here in our new home, to our former burial grounds which looked after us,
As we made way for our descendants, and for more sinkehs.
Goodbye Tiong Bahru, hello Bukit Brown.

Years have passed. Like a gentle breath. Like the wind.

Bombs came, new inventions we did not yet know.
Shouts of languages we did not fully understand.
In death, others whispered to us that which we did not witness
The Japanese came with shouts of Banzai! The British scrambling in the undergrowth to hide amongst us.

Then peace and quiet again.
Roots grew around us, sheltered us.
And we hosted the birds and monkeys and spied an occasional dog. Hid a few snakes in our time.
We enjoyed the distant voices of children at play.
We, the sentinels of Bukit Brown.

And now,
Time for more farewells.
Our friends and neighbours in death,
Long have we stood together.
Decades have come and gone and among many farewells, we never expected the dead would be parted.
Not like this.

Ong, I see you over there. Chew, you look bright and clean with the grass trimmed. Lim, I never knew you had that many children!
So many years, and now, not enough time!
We don’t have time left to get to know each other better.
We thought we had eternity…

We thought we were the sentinels of Bukit Brown.
All we had was time.

Come, let us not tarry.
Lets get to know each other better.
Before our final farewell.
We who know how to depart and how to find new homes, come.



“Sin Chew” is a sobriquet for “Singapore” popularized by Nanyang literatus Khoo Seok Wan (also buried at Bukit Brown and to be exhumed for the highway). Singapore is an island surrounded by the sea, and with vessels and boats large and small anchored around it; the glitter of artificial lights at night are like a crown of illuminated stars (“星”) when viewed from afar. “洲” (zhou, island) and “舟” (zhou, boat) are homonyms: while the boat lights are like stars, those on the island are like the Big Dipper to accentuate the constellation. This is why the term “Sin Chew” is widely known by folks here and afar.

(Liang Shao Wen, “Nanyang Travels”, p. 62, circa 1920s, translated by Lai Chee Kien)


Related posts:

Staked tombs

A Brief History: Walk of Fame, Darkly

A Voice for the Unclaimed


Memory (Photo: Peter Pak)

Memory (Photo: Peter Pak)

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Baby Buddha


Dateline 22 October 2013

Spotted at Bukit Brown by Raymond Goh while bush bashing, a grave with 4 statues, each carrying a child.

Buddha Statue 1 Raymond Goh

(photo Raymond Goh)

Buddha Statue 2  Grave Mdm Fong Raymond

The tomb with the 4 statues belong to a Mdm Fong (photo Raymond Goh)
Buddha Statue 2 Raymond Goh

(photo Raymond Goh

Pat SG  from the facebook group Heritage Singapore Bukit Brown cemetery has identified them as  Baby Buddha in Old Monk’s Arms, symbolising:

Infinity ∞ : Beginning ⇔ End ]

Baby Buddha statue (Japan):…/2012/01/Baby-Buddha.jpg

Baby has the sign of the snake (Naga) on his scalp. (Baby appears to be dozing, but how do you know he isn’t meditating & contemplating ?)

Note that the mediating adult Buddha is typically depicted as being surrounded by snakes, or with the Naga sheltering & protecting him from the elements.

* Buddha Statue (Mahabodhi Temple, Bodh Gaya):…/uploads/2011/07/muchlind.jpg

Old (& hopefully wiser) monk is the custodian of enlightenment & wisdom-in-waiting. This is akin to how the new moon is cradled in the old moon’s arms during the the start of every lunar cycle (a process that repeats itself continuously).

* New moon in old moon’s arms:…

* Saṃsāra = cyclic existence, “continual repetitive cycle of birth and death [arising] from ordinary beings’ grasping and fixating on a self and [on] experiences”

“The Buddha was not the first Buddha, nor the last.”…
“The 28 Buddhas described in the Buddhavamsa are not the only Buddhas believed to have existed. Indeed, Gautama Buddha taught that innumerable Buddhas have lived in past kalpas.”

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Dateline 19 October 2013

The Story of the Rickshaw Pullers Strike and a Man called Low Nong Nong

(compiled with research by Raymond Goh and a Pat Sg, a member of the Facebook Group -Heritage Singapore Bukit Brown Cemetery)

Today, Raymond Goh located the tomb of rickshaw puller Low Nong Nong who died during a confrontation between striking rickshaw pullers and the police. In the clash which occurred on 17th October 1938, Nong Nong lost his life, and there were no witnesses to his death.

The rickshaw pullers were striking for lower rents of their rickshaws from the owners.

“EXCERPT: {{{ Low Nong Nong was found dying from a fractured skull, face down on the side of the street emptied of his comrades. His death sent reverberations through the rickshaw districts, making pullers more determined than ever to force the owners to come to an agreement on their terms.”

“His funeral the same day was an unnerving, demonstrable display of strength and solidarity. Three thousand men solemnly followed the lorry bearing his coffin to BUKIT BROWN CEMETERY to a pauper’s grave, and, as the police anxiously stood by and watched, one of the longest funeral processions in Singapore’s recent history, stretching from Wajang Satu to Newton Circus, passed.”  (Source: Rickshaw Coolie: A People’s History of Singapore, 1880-1940)

The community of rickshaw pullers saw Low Nong Nong as a martyr to their cause. On his tomb his epithet reads:

He died for the public, his death is as heavy as Taishan, tomb erected by his fellow rickshaw pullers

Low Nong Nong Rickshaw Puller (photo Raymond Goh)

Tomb of Low Nong Nong, Rickshaw Puller (photo Raymond Goh)

“Taishan” in this case is 泰山, Mt Tai, one of the sacred mountains of China. (from Jason Kuo)

Rickshaw puller_National Archives of Singapore

Unnamed  rickshaw puller (National Archives of Singapore)

Background to the rickshaw pullers strike : The Lot of the Coolie

Many rickshaw pullers had been on prolonged strike during that period (04 Oct – 15 Nov 1938), & thus had no earnings. Low Nong Nong himself died on 17 Oct 1938 — penniless & w/o any kin in Singapore.

The community of rickshaw pullers had been periodically unemployed from 1928 onwards & throughout the post-Depression 1930s. During this period, the colonial govt had been reducing the no. of rickshaw licenses so as to encourage the use of the motorcar.

In response, profit-seeking rickshaw fleet owners (the “siong thau”) took the opportunity to hike up the rental fees. Fleet owners also made rickshaw pullers contribute part of their earnings to the mandatory “China Relief Fund”, which purportedly assisted countrymen who were suffering “deep water and scorching fire” back in China.

Low Nong Nong was probably described as a martyr by his rickshaw brethren, because:-

Despite being hungry & desperately in need of money, he dutifully observed the rickshaw strike, as previously agreed upon amongst the pullers at the 小坡 (xiǎo pō, “Small Town”) area of town.

He lost his life while participating in a rescue group that had attempted to free a Hockchew rickshaw puller, who was arrested by the police during an earlier confrontation at around 11am on 17 Oct 1938.

Background on the incident : The Betrayal 

The morning altercation had occurred because Low Ah Law, a Henghua puller, had unilaterally disregarded the rickshaw strike, & blatantly plied his rickshaw on the streets of 小坡 (“Small Town”) — ie. the side of Sg River where most of the rickshaw pullers were supportive of the ongoing rickshaw strike.

Subsequently, the Henghua puller was confronted & restrained by a “Hockchew crowd” of fellow rickshaw pullers at Victoria Street. The police intervened & one of the Hockchew pullers was consequently arrested.

The “rescue” clash between the Hockchew rickshaw pullers & the police occurred during the afternoon of the same day at the junction of Arab & Victoria Streets. Police reinforcements were deployed & “strong-arm measures” were used to subdue the angry “rescuers”.

It was in this clash that Low Nong Nong was found lying face-down & dying from a broken skull on a street that had been cleared out by the police.

In a sense, Low Nong Nong — who was already famished & simply getting by his day — died alone on a street at 小坡 (“Small Town”), because a fellow 小坡 & Foochow prefecture rickshaw puller had betrayed his brethren by not observing the strike.

Meanwhile, the 大坡 (“Big Town”) rickshaw pullers (including the majority Hokkiens) — who had refused to support the strike — merely looked the other way.

* Account of Low Nong Nong’s death on the afternoon of 17 Oct 1938 from ‘Rickshaw Coolie: A People’s History of Singapore, 1880-1940′ (James Francis Warren):

EXCERPT: {{{ Unemployed, hungry, and desperately in need of money, [Hockchew puller Low Nong Nong] had visited Seah Toon Tan, a Hockchew friend, that morning. He borrowed a dollar from him and left his house in Geylang at about 9 am, without ever having discussed the strike.

The trouble leading up to his death began when a crowd attempted to restrain a Hengwah, Low Ah Law, who had ventured along Arab Street with his rickshaw. At the junction of Victoria Street he was assaulted by a Hockchew crowd.

Police had barely arrived in time to rescue Low Ah Law and arrest one of the assailants. At once, a new crowd of around 400 began to take shape to rescue the captured puller.

Some were armed with fighting sticks, rickshaw shafts, bottles and bricks, and among them was Low Nong Nong. A clash ensued with the police. Shouts of “pah, mata, pah” (“strike, police, strike”) rent the air, as the crowd of pullers slowly closed in, injuring several constables with wooden clogs, poles and stones they hurled at them.

The situation was desperate with police injured and rickshaws wrecked all over the adjacent streets, until reinforcements arrived. Strong-arm measures were used to control and eventually disperse the crowd. Low Nong Nong was found dying from a fractured skull, face down on the side of the street emptied of his comrades. }}}

Newspaper reports: on the clash and the riskshaw pullers who were shipped back to China.
Burial registry entry for Low Nong Nong (captured by Pat Sg)

Low Nong Nong can be found in blk 3, Div 7, no. 120A @ the pauper’s section (on a hillock about 200 meters from the tombkeepers shed at the foot of Ong Sam Leong family cluster)


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Dateline 6 October 2013

A tomb with a loving  epitaph was found by Brownie Simone Lee at Kopi Sua today . It reads:

A bitter grief
A shock severe
to part with one
I love so dear
My loss is great
I wont complain
But hope through God
to meet again
In memoriam
my dearly
beloved father
Gone but not forgotten

Epitaph Kopi Sua _ Simone Lee

The moving epitaph at Kopi Sua (photo Simone Lee)

Kopi Sua – a clan cemetery – is part of the Greater Bukit Brown Complex which includes Bukit Brown Municipal Cemetery and the adjoining clan cemeteries of Seh Ong and Lao Sua.  Together they have a combined total of 200 tombs


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Located by the roundabout in Hill 1 (near the LTA signboard) is the tomb of Thio (Teo) Guan Tat who came from Fujian Province and was a pioneer in the remittance business.

Teo_Thio Guan Tat.jpg  3 Ee Hoon
Thio Guan Tat _Ee Hoon

Thio (Teo) Guan Tat ( photo Khoo Ee Hoon)

On the altar of his tomb, is an epitaph  inscribed in elegant calligraphy

Teo_Thio Guan Tat.jpg 2 Ee Hoon

Thio (Teo) Guan Tat ( photo Khoo Ee Hoon)

Summarised by Brownie  Khoo Ee Hoon:
“Mr Thio Guan Tat came to Singapore as a youth with high aspirations and who strived for many years before succeeding. Finally in 1920 he started “Thio Guan Tong” a import and export business. He profited from his business and shortly after started a remittance agency  at South Bridge Road. His remittance business became  the most well known and popular Hokkien Remittance company.
Mr Thio is a generous and kind man, who lend a hand to his fellow clan men and  society.”
Teo_Thio Guan Tat.jpg 1 Ee Hoon

(photo Khoo Ee Hoon)

Thio’s tomb  stake number 1044  will have to be exhumed to make way for the highway

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Mian-Yu-Ting Cemetery, Johor (Part II)

by Choo Ai Loon

(Ai Loon continues from  part one  of her blog post on Mian-Yu-Ting Cemetery )

Among the tombstones at the Mian-Yu-Ting , is one belonging to  Wu You-Xun (邬有询),  which pays tribute to his alma mater, Chinese High School (華僑中學 in traditional Chinese characters)


The tombstone of Wu You-Xun (邬有询) (photo Choo Ai Loon)

A student with a promising future, Wu You-Xun (邬有询) aspired to become a doctor, In 1920, after completing his Senior Cambridge examination (equivalent to GCE “O” levels) , he enrolled at Chinese High. He graduated among the first batch of students, two years later. In the graduation year book, he was described as a hardworking student who “had no time to chit-chat as time was too precious”.

Wu excelled in English and  was a committee member of an English speech society, which I presume was the “Nanyang version of the Toastmasters Club”, and chief editor of an English magazine.

But alas! Wu passed away at just 22 years old, a year after graduation. Inscribed on his tombstone is “graduate of Chinese High School” is a reflection of how proud he must been of his school

In contrast, one grave has only 3 characters inscribed but no name. Gu-ren-mu (古人墓), literally means “the tomb of someone who has passed away”.

Tomb with (photo Choo Ai Loon)

Gu-ren-mu (古人墓) (photo Choo Ai Loon)

This typical Teochew tomb which resembles an arm chair, a pair of couplets in red on the scroll pillars.

Teochew Tomb with couplets ( photo Choo Ai Loon)

Teochew Tomb with couplets ( photo Choo Ai Loon)

The arms of the tomb curve gracefully and there is a dragonhead  carved on it The usual practice of depicting the whole dragon it seems has been adapted to just a dragon’s head. I have observed these variations in motifs and representations. This dragon appeared benign compared to the fierce-looking ones found in older tomb carvings.

Another view of Teochew tomb (photo Choo Ai Lin)

Another view of Teochew tomb (photo Choo Ai Lin)

Close up of dragon motif (photo Choo Ai Loon)

Close up of dragon motif (photo Choo Ai Loon)

Another grave had steps leading up the tombstone perhaps imitating a stupa, influenced by Buddhism.

Tomb with steps (photo Choo Ai Loon)

Tomb with steps (photo Choo Ai Loon)

The Tomb of She Mian-Wang

She Mian-Wang (佘勉旺), belonged to a wealthy Teochew family. The surname “She” is more commonly spelt as Sia or Seah.

Tomb Of  She(photo Choo Ai Loon)

Tomb Of She Mian-Wang (佘勉旺)(photo Choo Ai Loon)

The She Mian-Wang family profile in Johor parallels that of the Seah Eu Chin in Singapore. Both families had made their fortune from the cultivation and trade of gambier.

She (photo Choo Ai Loon)

She Mian-Wang (photo Choo Ai Loon)

Seah Eu Chin’s tomb was discovered in 2012 within Greater Bukit Brown, in a forested area called Grave Hill in Toa Payoh West, Singapore. He co-founded and led the  Ngee Ann Kongsi in Singapore, to look after the religious needs and welfare of early Teochew migrant workers.

Similarly, She Mian-Wang was an important figure in the Ngee Heng Kongsi The enormous plot size and the expansive tomb arms of She’s grave reflects his status and wealth in those days. Interestingly, his tablet is enshrined and worshipped at Pu Zhao Chan Si Temple (普照禅寺) in Singapore.

So could these two powerful families in the Teochew community be related? I leave you  with this parting thought .

My thanks once again to Mr Bak Jia How and Mr Pek Wee-Chuen for the insightful and enjoyable tour of Mian-Yu-Ting.

Mian-Yu-Ting Cemetery (photo Choo Ai Loon)

Mian-Yu-Ting Cemetery (photo Choo Ai Loon)

Thanks to Mr Bak Jia How and Mr Pek Wee-Chuen for the insightful and enjoyable tour.

Choo Ai Loon, works as a translator and is passionate about art and heritage, She supports Hair for Hope for children with cancer. She blogs at

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