The Descendants’ Stories – A Guided Walk at Bukit Brown (English)

Sunday 24  August’14 :   9 am – 11.30am

Meeting Place: Bukit Brown Gates at end of Lorong Halwa.

For those who have written in asking about when the next upcoming tours will be:

Please check this blog under events every week for  upcoming guided walks. Blog posts should be up by Wednesday.  Guided walks are dependent on volunteers schedules but we try our best to organise guided walks every weekend.

The fastest way to find out about upcoming guided walks is to join the Heritage Singapore Bukit Brown facebook group here . The guided walks are generated as event pages from this FB group and are always pinned on top of the page. Please note if you are using a mobile device to access the FB page, you have to click on the pinned posts to get details.

Thank you everyone who wrote in, our apologies, we are unable to respond  individually.


To those who have registered and received confirmation, please meet by 9am. Just as you  pass enter the Bukit Brown gates,  on your left would be the LTA site office. This would be the gathering point of Sunday’s guided walk.  See you!

This guided walk is  now full.


All Things Bukit Brown* is pleased to curate a new guided walk in conjunction with the exhibition “Bukit Brown: Documenting New Horizons of Knowledge”

About the Walk:  News that a highway was to be built across Bukit Brown in 2011 led some descendants who had lost touch with their ancestral tombs to embark on a quest to find them. Some of those who were successful shared their stories of reconnecting with their ancestors and family oral history with the volunteers on the ground, called Brownies.

In this tour, Brownies will share stories recounted to them by descendants they have met and who have become friends. But the highlight of this guided walk is the descendants, who will share their stories first hand at the tombs of their ancestors.

Noreen Chan is the descendant of a long line of influential and wealthy “compradors” – the business relationship managers of the old banking regime. At the tomb of Chia Hood Theam, Noreen will recount stories of her maternal great-great grandfather’s frugality and contributions to women’s education from family oral traditions and historical records.

In Tiong Bahru, Singapore’s earliest housing estate, is a street named after Lim Liak (Leack). Lim Soon Hoe, a descendant of the 6th generation, will unravel the history of Lim Leack’s contributions to the mining industry in the region and his personal search for the family’s private burial grounds in a place today translated as “New Cemetery”.

The Brownies will reveal who is the inspiration behind Emily of the award- winning play “Emily of Emerald Hill” and share how a descendant “re-fengshui’ed” her great grandfather’s tomb upon discovery in 2012.

The guided walk will end at the largest family tomb cluster in Singapore, the “Ong Sam Leong” tomb cluster featured in the exhibition poster – the jewel in the crown of Bukit Brown due to its sheer size.


Disclaimer: By agreeing to take walking tours  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) Please read if you are attending our guided walks for the first time, useful info on safety : Getting There/游览信息

*All Things Bukit Brown is the banner for a group of volunteers called “Brownies” who conduct regular weekend guided walks and do independent research on the heritage, habitat and history of Bukit Brown. To date, they have guided almost 12,000 people since they started their guided walks at the beginning of 2012.

Chia Hood Theam in a car driven by his son Chia Keng Tye_CHT Family Archives

Chia Hood Theam in a car driven by his son Chia Keng Tye (photo CHT Family Archives)

Chia Hood Theam_CHT Family Archives

The Patriarch Chia Hood Theam (photo Family Archives)

Chia HT Funeral 10_CHT Family Archives

Chia Hood Theam’s grave at the time of his funeral. Today the grave and its surrounds look very different (photo CHT Family Archives)

As part of the exhibition, Bukit Brown: Documenting New Horizons of Knowledge, a series of English  (Sun 17 Aug’ 14) and Mandarin ( Sat 20th Sept’14) Public Talks  have been programmed by the documentation team under Dr. Hui Yew-Foong.

Location:  Possibility Room on Level 5

(Look out for guided walks in English and Mandarin specially curated by
All Things Bukit Brown to complement the exhibition/talk when you attend
the talks,details to be posted later) 

Date: Sunday 17th August (English) Registration here (through eventbrite)

2-3pm Speaker: Dr Hui Yew-Foong

Bukit Brown: Documenting New Horizons of Knowledge

3-4pm Speakers: Dr Natalie Pang and Dr Liew Kai Khiun

The Internet and Bukit Brown

4-5pm  Speakers: Lim Chen Sian and Angela Goh

Digging Bukit Brown

5-6pm  Speaker: Mok Ly Yng

Documenting Bukit Brown: Maps and Mapping

Saturday, 20 September 2014 (Mandarin) Registration here through eventbrite

2-3pm  Speaker: Dr Lai Chee Kien

Tomb Architecture 

3-4pm Speaker: Ang Yik Han

Story Telling Stones – Tales from the Stone Carvings of Bukit Brown Cemetery 

4-5pm  Speaker: Mok Ly Yng

Documenting Bukit Brown: Maps and Mapping

 Selected Abstracts  and Bios

Bukit Brown: Documenting New Horizons of Knowledge

This talk introduces the various findings that have emerged from the multi-disciplinary study of Bukit Brown Cemetery. The speaker will share highlights from oral history interviews, field documentation of graves and fieldwork studying rituals performed at Bukit Brown. At the same time, the talk will demonstrate how various techniques and technologies employed in the course of documentation has enhanced the collection of data.

Dr Hui Yew-Foong is Lead Researcher of the Bukit Brown Documentation Project. He is an anthropologist by training, and has conducted fieldwork in Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong and the US. Prior to taking up the documentation of Bukit Brown Cemetery, he was involved in leading a group of volunteers to document Kwong Hou Sua Teochew Cemetery before it was fully exhumed. Dr Hui is the author of Strangers at Home: History and Subjectivity among the Chinese Communities of West Kalimantan, Indonesia.

Tomb architecture
The material culture at Bukit Brown cemetery, including tomb architecture, is unique and offer many insights on Singapore’s social, cultural and economic connections to the region and to Southern China and Singapore. This talk discusses the documentation of tomb architecture at Bukit Brown and the importance of such records. There are also opportunities for children at this talk to learn about tomb architecture using paper models.

Dr Lai Chee Kien 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.

(photo Ang Hock Chuan)

(photo Ang Hock Chuan)


(photo Ang Hock Chuan)

(photo Ang Hock Chuan)







Our Brick Estate

Image designed by Lai Chee Kien

National Day Celebrations@ Esplanade is here again with an exhibition :”Our Brick Estate”  and a series of talks on Sunday 10th August’14

Venue: library@esplanade (Open Stage)

Sunday 10th August’14: Talks

3pm – 3.45 pm
Our Brick Estate by Lai Chee Kien (赖启健)

Our island-city’s early foundations were laid at a time when the building material industry flourished. Join architectural and urban historian Lai Chee Kien as he traces the history of our local brick industry, from the early colonial period when they were handmade, to their industrial production and extensive use during our early days of nation-building.

This talk will be accompanied by an exhibition of the same title for the month of August.


Grandfathers’Roads : Legacy of Our Pioneers by Raymond Goh

Raymond Goh has been studying the legacies behind famous roads that have been named after the revolutionaries, war heroes, and builders of Singapore. Join him as he shares interesting stories behind some of them. Raymond is a specialised heritage tour guide who conducts tours for schools, community clubs and societies.

6pm – 6.45pm

Once Upon a Yesterday by Alex Tan Tiong Hee

Share your comments and sentiments with Alex Tan as he navigates the nation’s past in Once Upon A Yesterday, an interactive story tracing some of the historical events significant to Singapore’s socio-political environment in the 1950s, as seen through the eyes of a young boy. Alex graduated in law and is a trustee of the Settlement of Dr Lim Boon Keng (1921) and a committee member of the Singapore Heritage Society.

Brick Talk_Ee Hoon

(photo Khoo Ee Hoon)


Preamble : Hungry Ghost Festival

Saturday, 26th July was the eve of what is popularly known as the Hungry Ghost Festival, and less well known by its traditional name of  Zhongyuan Jie, which in essence is also about honouring ancestors.    It takes place at the start of  the Chinese 7th lunar month, and it is when the gates of hell  open and the spirits of dead are free to wander among the living  for a month. To appease them, offerings and entertainment is laid out  by  descendants at their homes, but  also by temples,  business and clan  associations. This year, the prediction was that  hell’s gates will open at 11pm on the eve of the festival.

The Salvation Rituals

At Bukit Brown,  devotees from the Taoist temple  Xuan Jiang Dian (Heng Kang Tian ) conducted a “chao du” or “salvation rituals”  -  considered an act of compassion – specifically for the forgotten and lost spirits there.

This is the 3rd year in a row, Xuan Jiang Dian  have done this,  ever since in fact news of the building of the highway across Bukit Brown in 2011 was announced. Exhumations of the some 4.153 graves which are in the way of the highway are drawing to  a close.  So there was added interest in this year’s ritual which was covered  by our national newspapers. The National Heritage Board (NHB) shared that a specially commissioned video on rites and rituals at Bukit Brown will be uploaded soon to you tube.

A First Hand Account of “chao du”

The ” chao du”  ceremony which was witnessed also by Brownies and other well wishers, started at around 8.3opm . It consisted of the setting up of  an altar table with offerings at the major  junction of  the 4 roads in  Bukit Brown which leads to Blocks 1, 5, 4 and 3.

The Taoist priests from China, resplendent in their robes, chanted and walked several ceremonial  rounds  in the area calling upon lost spirits. There was something soothing in their chanting and the air was redolent with the scent of what must have been a hundred lighted joss sticks. Each participant carried  3 sticks each throughout  the 40 minute long chanting.

There was a stillness in the air and the smoke and swish of the robes  carried the movement of the night.  It ended with the burning of paper offerings and just as quickly as it was set up, the devotees packed up and left, with the  the candles planted still burning  and the last vestiges of the paper offerings smouldering down to embers.  


Photo Gallery  :

Beauty shot_Ai Lin

The arrival of devotees making their way to the ceremonial site for the set up (photo Chua Ai Lin)

beauty shot_Teremce Heng

Chao-du (photo Terence Heng)

Burining offerings _Zhi Hao

Paper offerings (photo Zhi Hao)

candle lit_Claire Leow

Path of candle lights to show the spirits the way (photo Claire Leow)

Candle_Zhi Hao

(photo Zhi Hao)

Tablets _ Chua Ai Lin

Side View : Off site 3 tablets,  set up by  Xuan Jiang Dian at Bukit Merah Blk 123 for the wandering spirits of Kopi Sua aka Bukit Brown. [right] for animals killed during agricultural activity (prior to it becoming a cemetery)[centre] for wandering souls[left] for animals killed during construction works (photo and caption by Chua Ai Lin)

Paying my respects to my late father and also the uncared, wandering and uncrossed over souls of Kopi Sua during the seven month pudu festival of Xuan Jian Dian

Front View : Off site 3 tablets,  set up by  Xuan Jiang Dian  at Bukit Merah Blk 123 for the wandering spirits of Kopi Sua aka Bukit Brown. [right] for animals killed during agricultural activity (prior to it becoming a cemetery)[centre] for wandering souls [left] for animals killed during construction works (photo Raymond Goh)

Report in the Straits Times on last night's ritual by Heng Kang Tian at Bt Brown_Victor Yue

Report on the Straits Times 27 July,’14 on the ceremony

ZB report_YH

Report on Lianhe Zaobao, 27th July’14

Report on  Lianhe Zaobao on a ritual conducted last night at Bt. Brown which marked the opening of the 7th month:  A group from Heng Kang Tian including 8 Taoist priests conducted the ritual to invite spirits to a salvation ceremony conducted today in front of Bukit Merah View Block 123. The group has been going to Bt. Brown for the past two years to invite spirits from tombs which are not tended to by descendants. The event was attended by Brownies and participants of tours at the cemetery. It was also recorded by the Bt Brown Documentation Team. NHB is currently preparing a 10-15 min documentary on the rituals carried out at Bt Brown cemetery. This will be uploaded to the NHB channel on youtube, “yesterdaysg”, around end next month. (summary by  Ang Yik Han) Full report in Chinese:

文物局到武吉布朗坟场 记录“招魂”仪式











公众可通过在国家图书馆大厦9楼展出的“武吉布朗:记录新知识 开拓新视野”中英文展览,了解武吉布朗坟场上世纪的演变、坟墓设计和民间风俗等。图书馆大厦展览在10月10日结束后,将陆续在宏茂桥、裕廊、蔡厝港和大巴窑图书馆展出至明年1月底。


Register for our annual NDP Celebrations for 2014

Date 9 August, Time: 4pm – 7pm

Meeting place : Gates of Lorong Halwa, where we will begin by taking a group photo.

We have 3 Guided Walks which will all start at 4 pm at the gates

1 )Fabian and Simone  will retrace the steps of men and women who broke traditions, defied the odds, dared fate and thereby defined an era and shaped the destinies of many
2) Bianca and Claire takes you on a poetic trail on the life and times of some Bukit Brown residents.
3) Mandarin Tour by Walter Lim, please click on link to register.

The Brownies will lead you to the spot  for collecting goody bags, and observing the National Anthem and The Pledge at the end of the guided walk. The programme  after the walks will include  quizzes and ad hoc singing, in conviviality and camaraderie. 

NDP ’14 (Nations Deceased Pioneers) @ Bukit Brown this year honours the “can do” and caring spirit of our pioneers who helped to forge bonds which built the foundations for SG 50. It is the story of how “Our People” in Bukit Brown made Singapore, “Our Home”.

Please help us prevent wastage in preparing for food and ensure we have goody bags for everyone by registering here early so we can capture numbers early. Register by 6 August by clicking “join” . You may also register friends or family who are not on FB by leaving a comment on how many will be coming in this blog post. 

FB registration here

If you are not on FB,  you can register here by leaving  a comment with your name  if you would like to attend with your name and number of people who are coming with you.
Bring a torch light, as light will fade to night over the course of the celebrations. Please remember bring umbrella or poncho protect yourself against the sun with sunscreen and avoid donating blood to the mozzie brigade with.mosquito repellent.

We will celebrate regardless of rain, sun or exhumations

Disclaimer: By agreeing to take walking tours  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) Please read if you are attending our guided walks for the first time, useful info on safety : Getting There/游览信息 If you have a facebook account please register on the FB links provided  unless otherwise stated

Previous NDP reports :

NDP 2013

NDP 2012 here and  here

NDP 2012



Bukit Brown : Documenting New Horizons of Knowledge

Location: NLB 9th floor from now until 10 October’14 and thereafter it will travel to other regional libraries.

The exhibition was officially opened on Saturday 19 July,2014 by MOS (Ministry of National Development) Desmond Lee.

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.

We have observed the team hard at work over these years, joined some of them during Qing Ming and exhumations as observers and friends of the family of descendants,  and the exhibition is a comprehensive and compact  expression of what they have uncovered, shared with the public with insight and interesting artefacts , enhanced by new technology.  We recommend it as a “must see” and “ground breaking”  for insights shared of customary practices and traditions of burial customs and respect for ancestors.

An extract from the media release:

Documenting New Horizons of Knowledge” assembles a diverse range of documents,maps, photographs and objects to demonstrate how a cemetery can open a window to Singapore’s historical past and cultural present. Through a multi-disciplinary approach employing cutting-edge methods, techniques and technology, the exhibition will bring to the fore new horizons of knowledge unveiled through the documentation of Bukit Brown.

The exhibition  opens with the origins of the cemetery, as a project of the Municipal Commissioners in early 20th in 1973, will be illustrated through maps and aerial photographs. Next, through explication of  tomb inscriptions, tomb typology and the material culture of the cemetery, the exhibition will demonstrate Singapore’s connectivity to the region, China and the world.

While the cemetery is a burial space for the dead, it is also a space for the living at different points of Singapore’s history and ritual calendar. This will be illustrated through the life of kampongs that used to be situated in the vicinity of the cemetery and the life of the cemetery during Qing Ming and the Seventh Month Hungry Ghost Festival.

As data for the graves was collected and organised within a Geographic Information System (GIS) framework, the exhibition will present a Centrepiece where visitors will be able to access data related to specific graves through a map-based database on a touch screen monitor.

Finally, visitors will get a glimpse behind the scenes of documentation work, to get a sense of the different methods, techniques and technologies that were employed in the course of documentation. These range from balloon photography to 3D scanning, from interviewing to filming, and from the work of architects to the work of archaeologists.


Highlights of the Exhibition Opening

Show and Tell photo Ang Hock Chuan

Dr Hui Yew-Foong, explaining material culture to MOS Desmond Lee during the curator’s walk through (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Show and Tell 1 (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Dr. Natalie Pang (NTU) who worked on the IT applications for the centerpiece map demonstrating how it works to MOS Desmond Lee (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Show and Tell 3  (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

The urn which used to house re-interred remains from other cemeteries to Bukit Brown (photo Raymond Goh)

This urn was used to re-inter bones exhumed from an older cemetery. It was from the grave of Madam Khoo Siok Hui, who died in 1836. Her grave was the oldest among those documented at Bukit Brown. Madam Khoo and her son Chee Yam Chuan were among the early settlers of Singapore. Mr Chee later returned to Malacca and made his fortune in tin mining in Selangor. Today, the Chee Yam Chuan Temple Trust continues to flourish in Malacca and Madam Khoo’s ancestral tablet can be found in the temple. The story behind this family shows the close links between Malacca and Singapore in the early years. It was Raymond Goh who first deciphered the inscription and unraveled  the connection.

Show and Tell 2  (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Treasure trove of jade bracelets worn by the women and traditionally buried with their wearers. (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Show and Tell 4  (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Descendant Serene Tan of pioneer Tan Quee Lan, gets one for the album when MOS Desmond Lee sportingly agrees to walk with her to visit her “great great grandfather’s road” ( photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Show and Tell 5  (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

They were accompanied by a entourage of brownies who have been sharing Serene’s journey of reconnecting with her ancestors since Raymond Goh found the Tan Quee Lan cluster re-interred from another cemetery at Bukit Brown (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

A video at the exhibition features Serene Tan and her family observing the first Qing Ming at Bukit Brown in 2012 after Raymond Goh discovered the cluster of  Tan Quee Lan tombs, and shows how the cluster underwent a renovation makeover by Serene and her cousin LT Tan who met at Bukit Brown itself.  Serene’s story can be read here

The cluster is not affected by highway.

Show and Tell 6  (photo Ang Hock Chuan)

Brownies, academics, descendants, members of the documentation team at the exhibition (photo Khoo Ee Hoon)

“….to everyone who came and supported the launch, and most importantly, supported us and helped us generously with our research over the last 33 months. One of the purposes of the exhibition is to acknowledge all your contributions and I hope it accomplished that.” Dr Hui Yew- Foong, Curator of Exhibition on a FB posting.

Look out for 2 specially curated walks by the Brownies in conjunction with the exhibition in August (English) and September (Mandarin).

Photos taken of the exhibition courtesy of  Brownie Ang Hock Chuan on Facebook  here

Read more about the exhibition by the Rojak Librarian here








Disclaimer: By agreeing to take walking tours  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) Please read if you are attending our guided walks for the first time, useful info on safety : Getting There/游览信息 If you have a facebook account please register on the FB links provided  unless otherwise stated. There is also a walk by post museum in the after, please see details below for registration.

For all walks:

Please bring umbrella or poncho and sun protection.
Please wear covered footwear.
Please bring mosquito repellent.
Please bring sufficient drinking water.

Meeting place for all Walks : At the Lor Halwa Main gates at Bukit Brown

Sat 26 July’14 :  6.30pm – 8.30pm : A Journey into the Past with Andrew Lim

Follow Andrew for an evening stroll through Bukit Brown cemetery where he will share stories of the Past. We will go to a “mystery” location if time permits.


FB registration here

Mon 27 July’14: 9am – 11.30 am: Peranakan Tile Appreciation with Victor Lim

Join Victor Lim on his tour through the cemetery where he will focus on the various tiles used in the tomb designs.
Learn more about “Peranakan” or majolica tiles from our tiles expert!

FB registration here

Read more about the tiles here





by  Joshua Ng

Instead of enjoying a quiet and uneventful Saturday, I chose to spend it at a live tomb measurement exercise. Armed with a trusty can of mosquito repellent, jeans and covered shoes, I arrived at the Bukit Brown Main Gate at 3.30pm. It was 35 degrees Celsius and I started to doubt my decision.

After a round of introductions, I was assigned to a team with Wei Ming (the drawing maestro), Andrew  and Simone who are Brownies (volunteer guides). We had met briefly during the previous week’s theory and briefing workshop at NLB.

Our assigned tomb was Tan Ean Kiam’s wife, Ye Yan Niang (葉焉娘). Our task was to measure and draw the front view, section view and the plan view of the tomb.

Tomb Measurement _Ee Hoon

Wei Ming (foreground) , Simone and Joshua (photo Ee Hoon)

Initially I was wondering why we needed four people to measure a tomb. It only made sense when we began our work. The curves, elevation and non-rectilinear structure makes it really hard to get an accurate reading. We had to use strings, bamboo sticks, IKEA flexible paper rulers, a metal tape measure as well as insect repellent to get it done.

Tomb Measurement 2 Ikea _Ee Hoon

Simone and Joshua  using the “ikea paper” ruler (photo Ee Hoon)

The little insects that make their homes around the tomb were not amused — I even got a few ant bites on my hands. Some even crawled up my covered shoes and jeans and bit my calves.

Thankfully, after three hours of hard work, we finally finished our sketch. Our drawings were not the best. We committed at least one mistake, which was to assume that the sides are mirror images of each other. Chee Kien told us that we should not assume but measure and draw the tombs just as they are found. He pointed out that sometimes in a “couple” tomb, part of the tombs may be intentionally elevated so that the “water” will flow towards the descendants of one side.

This is not the first insight I gained from these two weeks of tomb measuring. I also learned that the different dialect groups have very different tomb designs. The one we measured clearly had a Hokkien design. Besides that, only the tombs in Bukit Brown have special bricks backing behind the head stone. It would have been very expensive to import bricks from China, so  brick making was one of the earliest industries in Singapore.

As our assigned tomb was Tan Ean Kiam‘s wife, I figured he must have been some important person. I looked him up and found out that he was one of the founding members of OCBC Singapore. And he was also one  of the founding members of the  Tong Meng Hui (同盟会), which supported Sun Yet Sen’s revolutionary effort.

Another unique feature of this tomb is that the history of Mrs Tan was written by Tan Ean Kiam himself. According to the Brownies, Tan Ean Kiam’s own handwriting was inscribed on the body of the pedestal altar. Other than the fact that Tan Ean Kiam was alive when his wife passed away, we also know that he must have loved his wife a lot to do something so unusual as to personally inscribe her life story.

Tomb Measurement 5 _Andrew Lim

Tan Ean Kiam’s tribute to his wife inscribed on her grave (photo Andrew Lim)

What amazed me the most is the fact that such a simple exercise like tomb measuring could connect the dots in my understanding of those who went before me. It makes me wonder what interesting facts I can discover from my grandparents’ tomb. Qing Ming (清明) would have been more fun if we were told about all these unique cultural factoids.

Mrs Tan’s tomb is just one tomb. There are about 4,000 tombs that are going to be destroyed without proper measurement and documentation because of the building of a highway that will cut Bukit Brown into half. Who knows what other important life insights we might have missed by not preserving and treasuring the stories of those who went before us.

There are 100,000 graves at Bukit Brown. Imagine how much time and effort will be needed to document them all. And as a digital heritage enthusiast, I can’t help but wonder if there could be better and faster ways to do this. Looks like my journey have just begun.

Tomb Measurement 1 _Ee Hoon

One for the album with the full team. Andrew on the left , Simone, Joshua and Wei Ming with his drawing, (photo Ee Hoon)

Tomb Measurement 4 _Ee Hoon

Dr Lai Chee Kien (third from left) sharing a light- hearted moment with his students (photo Ee Hoon)

Group photo_Tan Wei Ming

The inaugural class of June’14 (photo Wei Ming)

Drawings+Khoo Ee Hoon

Some of the drawings from mainly the architectural students of the workshop (photo Ee Hoon)


Editors note

Documenting and taking precise measurements provide valuable data  to analyze the proportions and variations through IT applications and ultimately relate it to Feng Shui. Tombstones are not just built, they are “feng shui’ed” Citizenry participation in a project like this is crucial because of the sheer size of Bukit Brown and because it signals a deeper engagement of ordinary people in wanting to understand all aspects of Bukit Brown. So kudos to Lai Chee Kien for this initiative and the first batch of participants for signing up. Hopefully there will be more.

What the tomb measurement workshop covered here.



Join Fabian and Andrew for a walk and listen to stories of Brotherhood in Bukit Brown.

Disclaimer: By agreeing to take walking tours  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) Please read if you are attending our guided walks for the first time, useful info on safety : Getting There/游览信息 If you have a facebook account please register on the FB links provided  unless otherwise stated. There is also a walk by post museum in the after, please see details below for registration.

Meeting place for all Walks : At the Lor Halwa Main gates at Bukit Brown

Sun 20 July 9am – 11.30am : Brotherhood in Bukit Brown (click on the link to visit the facebook event page) ————————–————————–———————- Please bring umbrella or poncho and sun protection.
Please wear covered footwear.
Please bring mosquito repellent. Note that there will also be a private tour conducted as part of Singapore Heritage Festival on the same date and time, so check that you are in the correct group when the tour starts to avoid disappointment!

More on the Walk: A  journey of brotherhood and sisterhood (of course) between strangers tied to each other by hardship and common dreams. Newly arrived immigrants unrelated by blood or kinship who vowed to look after one another’s families in a new island of opportunities. Idealists who join forces with the shared dream of a new China without feudalism and injustice. Coolies who just wanted to look out for each other’s livelihoods and safety. Celebrated sisters who moved heaven and earth to rescue their man. Woman who look after ladies deserted by fate or philanderers . And of course, there is the brotherhood of underground organizations e.g. Heaven & Earth Guild & Little Dagger Society. All these stories and more, lost in the mist of time and fog… Until now.

Sunday 20th July’14 : 4pm – 6.30pm : Outpost 76 Intro to Bukit Brown

In this walk, you’ll enjoy the lovely greenery and serene environment, see some of Singapore’s wildlife, visit some of our forefathers and learn more about the special heritage aspects of Bukit Brown.

RSVP is a must as we have only 15 spaces available. Please email with name, tel and number of spaces required and we’ll get back to you.

Tour group at Bukit [photo: Bianca Polak]

Tour group at Bukit Brown [photo: Bianca Polak]


For the first time Bukit Brown has been included in the Singapore HeritageFest with partners Singapore Heritage Society.

The walks are free but  registration is needed via the Festival website only here

Registration opens 1 July, 2014. Spaces are limited so register early to avoid disappointment!

Bukit Brown in the City

Saturday July 19 & July  26, 4pm – 6.30pm

A number of pioneering settlers of 18th and 19th century colonial Singapore who were buried in the Chinese cemeteries of the Greater Bukit Brown Complex (including the first Chinese Municipal Cemetery) are today still remembered by streets and buildings bearing their name.
The activities and efforts of these movers and shakers – many of whom were members of leading Chinese families in other contemporary European colonies -  contributed significantly to colonial Singapore’s transformation, from a  regional entrepot port to a modern and globally significant trade and finance hub, the enterprise envisaged at its founding in 1819

“Bukit Brown in the City” , takes you on a guided walk that covers Raffles Place; Boat Quay; Chulia Street (formerly Kling Road); Phillip Street; Telok Ayer Street; Club Street and eventually ending at Bukit Pasoh Road. Experience what life was like and what has changed over the years in old downtown Singapore.

The City in Bukit Brown

Sunday July 20th & 27th, 9am – 11.30am

Between 1922 and the period of the Second World War, a majority of the Chinese residents of Singapore were buried in Bukit Brown cemetery. Some of those buried here, were well-known and distinguished pioneers like Tan Ean Kiam; Gan Eng Seng; Tan Chor Nam; Lim Chong Pang; Tan Kheam Hock; Ong Sam Leong; Tan Boo Liat; See Tiong Wah – and they were leading contributors to the economic, social as well as cultural life of Singapore.

With “City in Bukit Brown”, we invite you to join the “Brownies” who will introduce you to the tombs of these prominent pioneers who landmarked street names and places all over Singapore. Listen to accounts of their lives, their fascinating backgrounds and the endearing legacies they handed down to our generation today.”


About the Guides:

Alex Tan Tiong Hee, “Curator” and lead guide of “Bukit Brown in the City”

Alex, who studied law in England, was brought up on the lap of history. He was very close to his father, the late Tan Yeok Seong, who was a historian and scholar, as well as a publisher of educational textbooks for schools in Singapore. From his father was nurtured, an acute appreciation for the colonial history of Singapore vis-a-vis developments in China at that time Alex, lends to this heritage walk, his personal experience of historical places and the pioneers who are buried in Bukit Brown. Alex is an Executive Committee member of the Singapore Heritage Society.

The Brownies: The Brownies are the volunteers who have been spending their weekends conducting heritage walks at Bukit Brown since 2012. To date, over 11.000 people have visited Bukit Brown in organized walks. Inspired by positive responses from the public, the Brownies would like to spread and share the collective stories of the pioneers in Bukit Brown to the rest of the island. Chew Keng Kiat who is curating “The City in Bukit Brown” has conducted 120 guided walks at Bukit Brown.

More on the walks:

The Bukit Brown in the City and the City in Bukit Brown walks were specially curated for the Singapore Heritage Festival so as to storyboard a direct connection between two places – the City and the Cemetery. The former which stretches from the present Raffles Place to Club Street landmarks the commerce and business networks of our colonial past; the latter, the contributions of pioneers buried in Bukit Brown and our migrant history.

Many of the places within the city which served as offices for banks, shipping and trading houses no longer exist in their original physical form, but they are nonetheless still landmarked by the names of the pioneers who breathed life to them. The handful that still exist physically have been re-purposed to keep up with the times.

Consider “The Arcade” in Raffles Place and the connection with number 26 Boat Quay. The Arcade of yesterday was the offices of Guthrie; 26 Boat Quay – today “Penny Black” – was the business premises of Tan Kim Ching, eldest son of Tan Tock Seng. Both Guthrie and Tan Kim Ching were the builders of the Tanjong Pagar Dockyards – the precursor of what became the Port Authority of Singapore.

Penny Black Pub James Tann

Penng Black pub formerly offices of Tan Kim Ching (phot James Tann)

Some 10 doors away, 17 Boat Quay (present day OUB concourse) does not exist today, but back in the day it harbored a political fugitive from China.  Kang You Wei was the architect of the failed movement to reform and stem the decline of the Imperial Qing from corruption and systemic abuse. The man who provided him refuge, Khoo Seok Wan, was an intellect and poet who inherited his father’s vast fortunes founded on rice trading of which number 17 was the office.

The City was more than just a place of commerce, it was a gathering of prevailing social, economic and political thought congregated at the Goh Loo Club, a gentlemen’s club, the last stop of the walk.  

As such the walks are bespoke in nature, drawing on the personal as well as the broad strokes of the historical context of the life and times of the pioneers buried in Bukit Brown, and their web of connections as the elite of the day. But though elitist in make-up, it was their collective actions that had reflected their concerns for the larger populace and how to uplift their lot in life.

In contrast, with the City, the Cemetery has better withstood the test of time until plans were announced for an 8 lane highway which will slice it into half. As a burial ground for the Chinese from as far as back as the late 1800s, the Cemetery with 100,000 graves has been fertile ground for a group of volunteers called “Brownies”, who have been sharing what they have learned about the life stories of the pioneers in the City in their guided walks. The tomb of Tan Kim Ching is inscribed with Qing imperial titles as well as titles from Siam, Japan and Russia.

As a complementary to the City In Bukit Brown, the walk in the Cemetery is a gateway into another dimension of their life stories, the compelling inscriptions and the architecture of the graves.

Heritage Fest 2014 FLyer


March 2015
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