[a contribution by one of our walk participants earlier this year: Raymond Yeo]

From Park to Jungle (and back)

Raymond Yeo


I had been looking forward to this Jane’s Walk not just because I had never been to Bukit Brown, but also because it promised to be a long and leisurely walk on a Sunday afternoon, with the Bukit Timah entrance to Botanic Gardens as its starting point.

You see, I enjoy walking from Points A to B when they are fewer than 5 bus stops apart – it is cheaper than riding shared bicycles too, haha – and I occasionally take a slow walk home after visiting the civic district. So I was pleased to learn from 1 of our 2 sunny guides that we would have covered 10 kilometres on foot, give and take, by sundown. When I posed my question, we were deep inside Bukit Brown. 3 hours ago, I had linked up with the group hoping to walk off the lingering effects of a cold* and “shooting” pain in my right sole (metatarsalgia, according to WebMD.com). I
definitely got what I wanted…plus an unexpected bonus:

A timely reminder of what it means to have a calling.

You see, the most poignant moment of that day came after the walk had concluded. “Dinner, anyone?” The same guide, silver-haired, yet sprightly Claire, kindly invited everyone to join them for dinner. It was when we were making our way to the nearest but not-that- near bus stop together that the fact she had walked as much as I had and was still going strong struck me. I remember thinking my discomfort was no big deal…

Over a sumptuous 7-course set dinner at their post-walk haunt The Curry Wok (Coronation Road), Claire and Bianca as well as Darren (who had led another group because ours was oversubscribed) traded stories that illustrate as clear as day why they have kept going since 2011, sharing all things Bukit Brown with 18,000 visitors and counting! These stories featured a few visitors who had driven past Claire and another Brownie (an apt nickname) thinking they were spirits, those who ask for help to locate the graves of deceased family members mid-walk, and many who turn up for walks in “improper attire” such as hot pants and slippers. Indeed, the 500-odd words of this write-up can never do the stellar work that they have done and continue to do justice. That said, perhaps I will try again, after my next jaunt with the Brownies.

In the hallowed words of T.S. Elliot (from Four Quartets), “we shall not cease from exploration.”

Top: C J Koh Law Library, National University of Singapore | Bottom-left: Eco-Lake, Singapore Botanic Gardens | Bottom-right: A jungle path leading to…where else? [photography by: Raymond Yeo]

Top: C J Koh Law Library, National University of Singapore | Bottom-left: Eco-Lake,
Singapore Botanic Gardens | Bottom-right: A jungle path leading to…where else? [photography by: Raymond Yeo]

* I’m reminded of this riddle posed by my friend Annisa recently:

Q: Which travels faster, warmth or cold?

A: Warmth of course, because you can catch a cold!

Along with many teachers-in-training, Annisa and I studied in the same university campus more than 15 years ago, when its lush environs was home to the National Institute of Education (NIE). Claire and Bianca, thank you so much for sharing information about various buildings and points of interest that I used to know a lot less of during my NIE days – ahhh, nostalgia – before the turn of the 20th century. ^_^



Reflections in Bukit Brown

by Eugene Ang

Living in Pasir Ris, the prospect of having to wake up early on a Sunday morning for a 9am walking tour—in a cemetery of all places—is definitely unappealing. After all, I am your typical Singaporean millennial, more in tune with the modern than the traditional and more interested in the future than the past.

That said, I was glad that I did eventually pull myself out of bed in the nick of time to join Claire and Bianca for a tour of Bukit Brown’s hills #2 and #5. This was my first visit to Bukit Brown and I certainly learnt a lot about the place from both of them.

In fact, I left the place feeling that Bukit Brown’s heritage is relevant to all of us, including us millennials. In a quintessentially millennial-style listicle then, here are the 3 reasons why I think so:

  1. Bukit Brown is an organic repository of the myriad stories of individuals, young and old, rich and poor, who make up Singapore’s history.

 You might think: how would a bunch of unrelated dead people buried in a cemetery be of any relevance to me? I definitely thought so too, especially since I personally do not know of any relatives buried at Bukit Brown.

Yet, as Claire and Bianca led the group of us around the cemetery grounds, regaling us with the stories of their lives, I thought that these individuals constituted as much a part of Singapore’s history—my history—as the usual pantheon of figures that are found in our history textbook and featured in our museums.

There is good reason why social history, the branch of history that examines the lived experiences of ordinary people in the past, is now a major branch in the academic study of history. If history is to tell a story of our collective past, then it has to accommodate the range of individuals who are representative of our society—the young and old, the rich and poor, etc.

In this respect, Bukit Brown is the perfect place to reflect Singapore’s social history. In just a short morning, Claire and Bianca got us acquainted to the diverse mix of individuals who were buried in Bukit Brown, from paupers and concubines to war heroes and business tycoons. For instance, Lee Kim Soo, who made his fortune selling latex cups and other manufactured goods in the pre-war era in Singapore, is buried at Bukit Brown in an impressive Art Deco-inspired grave.

The grave of Lee Kim Soo

There were also seemingly ordinary people there who we can easily identify with, such as Soh Koon Eng, a young woman who was presumably engaged. Unfortunately, she passed away at the tender age of 19 in a Japanese air raid in January 1942.

The grave of Soh Koon Eng

The grave of Soh Koon Eng

Perhaps, just as they are traditionally believed by the Chinese to serve as portals to the world of the deceased, the graves of Bukit Brown can serve as a portal for all of us to access the myriad stories of the individuals who make up Singapore’s history. As we learn about them then, it should not be surprising that we come away with a fuller and more holistic sense of our past.

  1. Bukit Brown is emblematic of Singapore’s multicultural and diverse landscape.

Taking a walk around Bukit Brown, Singapore’s multicultural past is evident. For instance, the graves of Teo Chin Chay, a trader in commodities in the pre-war era, and his wife are flanked by two Chinese lions, two Sikh guards and two topless angels, while adorned with many exquisite engravings of Chinese motifs. The décor of this grave certainly shows the mingling of Chinese, Indian and Western cultural influences by the time of the early 20th century.

The grave of Teo Chin Chay

The grave of Teo Chin Chay

One of the statutes of a Sikh guard at the grave of Teo Chin Chay

One of the statutes of a Sikh guard at the grave of Teo Chin Chay

Another fascinating “multicultural” grave is that of Dolly Tan. Although not much is known of her, her grave has an interesting feature: it has Japanese inscriptions. In fact, as Claire pointed out, there are not only three different languages on her tombstone—Chinese, English, and Japanese—but also three calendar systems on it too: the Chinese mínguó calendar, the Japanese kōki imperial calendar, and the Western Gregorian calendar.

grave of Dolly Tan with powder applied to bring out its inscriptions

The grave of Dolly Tan with powder applied to bring out its inscriptions

Indeed, the fact that disparate cultural symbols can appear in a single tombstone at Bukit Brown shows clearly that Singapore has always been multicultural and diverse. We are defined by the connections between cultures, rather than their divisions.

Hence, as we head toward an increasingly diverse population in Singapore thanks to globalisation and immigration, it is worthwhile to consider this past. As Bukit Brown shows us, being accepting of different cultures is a part of who we are.

  1. The plight of Bukit Brown forces us to confront the trade-offs that development brings.

Since the authorities first announced plans to construct a highway across Bukit Brown in 2011, what was originally an obscure and largely-forgotten cemetery became seared into the national consciousness as many Singaporeans from all walks of life banded together to petition the authorities against doing so.

Bukit Brown with the highway under construction in the background

Bukit Brown with the highway under construction in the background

Although the construction of the highway went ahead, the advocacy work of groups like All Things Bukit Brown catalysed much discussion about larger issues revolving around the consequences of our development choices. Bukit Brown, in a sense, has forced us to confront and consider the trade-offs that development brings: heritage and nature on one side, and transportation and housing needs on the other.

There is no easy way to resolve this tension, but it is an uncomfortable one that we Singaporeans have to grapple with. The trappings of the bustling global city that we often take for granted do not come for free. Sometimes, they require us sacrificing something, of which we must ask ourselves: are we willing to give it up?


Eugene Ang is just a regular young adult in Singapore, who is embarking on his working life in a cubicle, like many others in Singapore. Having spent some time overseas in the US and Turkey, he returned home with a renewed curiosity about Singapore’s own unique heritage and past. 

On 14 August, Samira Hassan joined Brownie Peter Pak for a Ramble thru’ Bukit Brown to Kopi Sua Cemetery .

It was  Samira’s first  visit and she penned these reflections to share.

“I doubt there are textbooks or academic sources that would be able to do justice to the arcane yet insightful details the places in Bukit Brown had revealed about our past – and these pieces of our tangible history are truly irreplaceable.”

by Samira Hassan

Dateline: Bukit Brown (14th August 2016)

Trail at blk 4

The trail off the sidewalk (photo Catherine Lim)

We started the trail off the sidewalk on Lornie Road near a clearing just pass the turn in to Caldecott Hill. It would have been all too easy to miss it  whilst walking – overgrown creepers had landscaped  the steep steps that led us down the path to the trail. The steps themselves were uneven and rickety, an omnipresent feature in Bukit Brown’s landscape.

Chyen Yee photo

Into hill 4 (photo Catherine Lim)

The cemetery is sprawled over 5 hills (blocks)  as  high ground was thought to represent the back of a dragon, an auspicious symbol  in Chinese culture.

We first made our way to the tomb of Lim Kee Tong and his wife.

Lim Kee Tong

Grave of Mr and Mrs Lim Kee Tong, note the grape vines on the border to the tombstone (photo Catherine Lim)

Their tombstone was largely inspired by post-modernist designs of colonial times with Chinese lions. A mound behind the tombstone is where they are buried, enclosed in a horseshoe shape defined by a brick border.   Each feature on the tombstone it seems had its own specific meaning; for example, the vines of grapes at the border of the headstones, because of its seeds, signified the wish for many more generations to follow.

Peter Pak Chyen Yee photo

With Brownie volunteer guided Peter Pak (photo Chyen Yee)

The horseshoe shape is also reminiscent of a womb, alluding to the circle of life. The design of the grave  incorporates  a drainage system which would direct rain  water to flow to   the bottom, an important component in fengshui.  Water is “chi” or energy and also represents wealth. Diverting water away from the mound helps  to stay the course of decomposition, although it is inevitable.

Inscriptions on the tombstones  included  names of the deceased, dates of death and place of origin. It was  explained that sometimes posthumous auspicious names were given as mark of respect by the children.  Names of children are also included in the inscriptions so it seems  like each grave is family monument in itself. Features and inscriptions  on each grave  can reveal some aspect about the person’s life and hopes for the family.

And in Bukit Brown, every grave  has a story to tell – even the grave of  paupers. Moving into the pauper area of Bukit Brown, we learned of the rickshaw puller Low Nong Nong  who  died in clashes with police when  rickshaw pullers went on strike and demonstrated against   the increment of rickshaw rentals.

The other rickshaw coolies then pooled together enough money to buy Nong Nong a tombstone and a funeral to  acknowledge his sacrifice. In the midst of the other  *pauper tombstones where there was barely enough money to erect a simple headstone,  Nong Nong’s tombstone was comparable in size to the tombs in the paid plots and also because the mound itself had been cemented over, perhaps because his comrades realised that since  he died without kith and kin, there would be no one  to help maintain his grave should they themselves pass on or manage to make enough money to return home to China

*Under the colonial administration, free plots in Bukit Brown were set aside for those who died destitute

The fact that even paupers like this rickshaw puller  had a story, had a voice, was something that I really appreciated in Bukit Brown: there was no particular class, or group of people, that were entitled to the plot of land,  that all of these seemingly disparate narratives had managed to tell a bigger story of Singapore’s history. Such heterogeneity transcended into Ong Sam Leong’s tomb as well, the biggest one in Bukit Brown.

photo Peter Pak

Group photo of ramblers at Ong Sam Leong’s grave, Samira is in the middle in green tshirt, carrying  blue  and pink tote bags (photo Peter Pak)

The most fascinating thing about his grave  were the statues of the Punjabi guards stationed at each side. Around Malaya at that point in time, the British had recruited Punjabi soldiers and policemen from India. Given their positions of authority, they were almost seen as the “guardians of the state”  They became also personal body guards of rich towkays such as Ong Sam Leong at a time where lawlessness was more prevalent. For me it demonstrated   a  deep level of trust between  diverse communities  and reflected  a  nascent multicultural society Singapore in the 1900s.

Sikh guards with Kang You Wei (Photo- Lai Chee Kien)

Sikh guards protecting a Chinese reformist fugitive from the Qing Dynasty, Kang You Wei when he sought refuge in Singapore. (Photo from Lai Chee Kien)

Bukit Brown has grown to be more than a resting place for the deceased – it has become a physical emblem of a society that was present in early 20th-century Singapore. From the most minute details in the tombs to the way the entire cemetery is organized – all of these provide important snippets to what civil society used to be like back then,  I think this really goes to show that there is sometimes no alternative for trails and fieldwork such as this one.

I doubt there are textbooks or academic sources that would be able to do justice to the arcane yet insightful details the places in Bukit Brown had revealed about our past – and these pieces of our tangible history are truly irreplaceable.


Samira is  a year 5 student with Raffles Institution, who is currently serving an internship with Singapore Heritage Society to better understand the challenges of conservation and heritage development

Information on public guided walks when and where and how to register can be found by following Bukit Brown Events on Peatix

Peter Pak

Almost the end of the 5.7km ramble off Gymkhana Rd (photo Peter Pak)

An update on this post as Jing Xiang has completed his Masters thesis

Abstract : Housed within Bukit Brown Cemetery are the many tombs of pre-independent Singapore pioneers with syncretic elements of a multicultural milieu. It remained a largely forgotten site except to families who visit the burial ground especially during the annual Qing Ming (tomb sweeping) festival.

In 2011, the state announced plans to redevelop Bukit Brown. Civil society groups, who saw the site as one rich in biodiversity and embedding an important historical past, contested the decision. This contestation rehearses a long-standing tension between heritage and progress in Singapore. This dissertation recasts Bukit Brown Cemetery as a highly charged site where notions of identity and belonging are latent.

The dissertation argues for an understanding of this forgotten landscape as integral to the Singaporean psyche of home and nation. Using Benedict Anderson’s concept of imagined communities and Henri Lefebvre’s spatial trilectics as its theoretical
frameworks, this paper outlines the spatial taxonomies present in Bukit Brown, and how identity is produced and anchored in those spaces. The inquiry unfolds on two scales: the first is a micro-territorial scale where the spatial practices of the individual and domestic unit are studied in relation to the tombs and myths found within and around Bukit Brown. The second one looks at Bukit Brown as macro-territory dotted with cultural anchors signifying collective histories.
Taken together, these two scalar frames reveal the complex structures of individual and collective identity, and how such structures are still actively forming/reforming at the Bukit Brown Cemetery.

His thesis can be found here


First Published on the blog on 20 August, 2014

I am Jing Xiang, an architecture student from NUS. I would like to dedicate a drawing of Bukit Brown I did in 2013 to Bukit Brown, those interred there whose histories precede their death and of histories yet discovered, and to All Things Bukit Brown for raising awareness of this rich heritage site.
About the Drawing…..
It’s not an accurate depiction of the physical landscape, but rather it represents the landscape as imprinted onto my mind that which is then translated into a drawing. In short it is my memory of the landscape. The section drawing also reveals the underground, a condition that we cannot see but doesn’t mean it isn’t present. The roots of the trees intermingle with some remains of the body. This relationship is open for interpretation, one obvious one is the connection between bodies (pioneer/ancestors) and ‘root’.

Some elements in the drawing are all too familiar landmarks in the cemetery, while others suggest hidden secrets, or things that,as of the present moment, has disappeared due to the roadworks. The drawing straddles between what is real and what is imagined, what is there and what is not there, or ‘not there’ because we can’t see it (yet) like other intangible (forces or) values of Bukit Brown.

(please click to view and appreciate full image)

sectional landscape Jing Xiang jayx89@msn.com

Sectional landscape by Jing Xiang

“The use of the image for private or educational purposes is permitted, however, for public related matters that involves making the image physical such as publication, mass-printing, or for other forms of commercial purpose; I would appreciate that the relevant person would first seek my consent”  Jing Xiang

By Zhang Jiayi

In the early afternoon last Sunday (2 August, 2015) I dreaded my decision to go for a guided walk  around Bukit Brown cemetery. However, I have promised my friends that I will turn up, so grudgingly, I made my way to the meeting point for the walking tour. Three hours and a lot of mosquito bites later, it is a decision that I did not regret.

Tombstones don’t lie. All aspects of the tombs – from the layout, the materials used, the carvings and statues around the tomb – give us snippets of information about the individuals and the Chinese immigrant community in early Singapore. The tour shed light on the stories of the individuals; after the tour, the occupants of Bukit Brown turned from random people to dignified individuals who made a difference to the social reality we experience today. Our history and social studies curriculum doesn’t do justice to the various individuals who made a difference to Singapore. While we know a significant bit about Tan Tock Seng, we overlooked the contributions of his eldest son, Tan Kim Ching, who is also buried in Bukit Brown. Tan Kim Ching not only participated actively in philanthropy, just like how Tan Tock Seng did, he also had a close relationship with the royal family of Siam (known as Thailand now), and played an important role in diplomatic relations between the Straits Settlements and Siam. It is also to my surprise that the 72nd generation of Confucius also set foot in Singapore, and is also buried in Bukit Brown cemetery *.

The diversity of the ‘residents’ of Bukit Brown was jaw dropping. Tombs of Hokkiens, Teochews, Cantonese, men, women, the rich and the poor can be found in Bukit Brown cemetery. A range of calendars was used in the inscriptions of headstones in documenting the time of birth and death of individuals. Some Chinese pledged allegiance to the Ming dynasty of China and at their time of death dreaded the fact that they would be buried in a foreign land, while others were content to call Singapore home and to be buried here.  I saw for myself the intricate Peranakan tiles laying some of the tombs of wealthy Peranakan Chinese, who chose to be buried in Bukit Brown as they did not identify with their Chinese dialect clans. It was also fascinating to gain an insight on how the early Chinese viewed death – many of them viewed their tombs as their homes in afterlife, and the layout of the tombs resembled the layout of homes. Much thought was put into the building of tombs; some tombs had carvings transmitting values like filial piety, some had intricate statues symbolizing prosperity, fertility and abundance, while other had inscriptions revealing how they felt when they were buried in Singapore. The trip was especially meaningful for me, as a female.

I learned more about the contributions of early Chinese women to the cause of gender equality we have today. Ms Lee Choo Neo, the founder of a Chinese Ladies Association, lobbied for the right of females to live a more enriching life. The Association taught domestic skills, supported education for females, and sponsored a rescue home for women. She was in her teens when she started these big projects. She can be rightfully known as, according to my understanding, the grandmother of the civil society in Singapore. The experience exposed how much I didn’t know about the history of Singapore, beyond what was taught in our social studies and history textbooks. I was deeply humbled by the number of times I widened my eyes in surprise as the volunteer guides (Brownies) dropped nuggets of trivia about prominent early Chinese immigrants. There is just so much the cemetery revealed about who we are as Singaporeans before Singapore’s independence, and the place unjustified the sweeping claims about how Singapore is ‘cultureless’.

As we celebrate 50 years of Singapore’s independence, let us remember, as the guides rightly pointed out, that it is also our 70th year of liberation from the Japanese Occupation, and almost a century from the time we were first part of the Straits Settlements. It is my hope that the stories told during the tour are documented and made available to a wider audience, lest our social history be like those resting in Bukit Brown cemetery – buried six feet underground, never to be seen or heard by the future generations of Singaporeans.

*Editors Clarification:  The 72nd direct descendant of Confucius had prepared his grave with the intention of being buried beside this wife who passed away before him, but he was buried at Bidadari instead.  We thank Jiayi for taking time to pen her thoughts on her first visit to Bukit Brown and invite anyone who would like to contribute a blog post to write to a.t.bukitbrown@gmail.com. For information on guided walks please visit bukitbrown.com for weekly updates.

About Jiayi: Jiayi is a young Singaporean still in search of what makes her Singaporean. She is interested in issues relating to the Singaporean society as a whole, including social stratification, education and national identity.


Preps 21 Lawrence ChongNational Anthem 2 _ Lawrence Chong

The Penang Heritage Festival 2015  will be soon be upon us, mark your calenders 4th July to 7th July,  book your flights and head north, for this year’s theme will leave you salivating.

‘EAT RITE: Rituals Foods of George Town’, Heritage Celebrations 2015 puts the focus on the city’s festive heritage with emphasis on the special foods made to celebrate each occasion. More than just a source of nutrients, such foods are rich with significance and symbolism that express the beliefs and hopes shared by the community.


The Brownies had a heritage blast last year and had their fill of the landmarks of Georgetown and the stories recounted here in:

To Penang With Love.

by Simone Lee

Penang and George Henry Brown (1826-1882)

Though at opposite ends of the Malayan peninsula, the islands of Penang and Singapore share common ground in culture and history, and even identity.  Last year (2014) the Brownies set out exploring the connections with Singapore’s past while celebrating the Penang Heritage Festival in commemoration of George Town’s listing as a UNESCO Heritage site.

Brownies on a heritage tour during the Penang Heritage Festival. Photo taken at the Han Jiang Ancestral Temple

Brownies on a heritage tour during the Penang Heritage Festival. Photo taken at the Han Jiang Ancestral Temple

While the Bukit Brown Cemetery volunteer guides were in Penang, they  paid homage to the person that the cemetery was named after. George Henry Brown arrived in Singapore in the 1840’s from India and bought parcels of land around Upper Thomson including Mount Pleasant, which he named because of its pleasant surroundings. Although Mr.Brown did not buy the exact piece of land that now holds Bukit Brown cemetery, his name was adopted as the locals referred to the hills in the area as “Kopi Sua” or Brown’s hill ( *kopi literally means coffee but is here referred to as brown for its colour, due to limitations in the dialect vocabulary.)  In the 1880’s, Mr.Brown sailed to Penang following an accident with a tapioca machine on his estate in Singapore,  which severely injured his arm. He was there to recuperate in his brother’s home but complications from injury set in and he passed away. He was buried at the Old Protestant Cemetery in GeorgeTown.

A moment of reflection and wonder for the Brownies at George Henry Brown’s resting place. Picture by Cuifen

The Old Protestant Cemetery is the oldest christian cemetery in Penang. It is where Sir Francis Light, the founder of colonial Penang, was also laid to rest. Thomas Leonowens, the husband of Anna Leonowens is also buried there. After the death of her husband, Anna moved to Singapore and with George Brown and Tan Kim Ching’s (son of Tan Tock Seng) recommendation, she became the English tutor to the children of King Mongkut in Siam. Her story is immortalized in various versions of The King and I (or Anna and the King).


Some of the tombstones from tombs damaged by WW2 air raids were salvaged and installed along the walls of the cemetery.


Crypts belonging to Sir Francis Light and Thomas Leonowens

Crypts belonging to Sir Francis Light and Thomas Leonowens


Kapitan Chung Keng Quee (1821-1901) and the Tan Kim Ching (1829-1892)  connection

High on the Brownie itinerary,  was the hunt for the biggest tomb in Penang (and possibly in Malaysia). The immensity of the space  where life sized statues guard the grand tomb of Kapitan Chung Keng Quee is a jaw-dropping experience. Kapitan Chung or Ah Quee was a leader in the Chinese community and was known for his generous contributions. He was also the headman of the Hai San secret society who led the group through the 4 Larut Wars and supported the Pangkor Treaty. The fierce fighting over the booming tin mining territories in Taiping (formerly known as Larut) involved members of the Ghee Hin and Hai San secret societies from as far as Singapore. To  end the bloodshed, Prince Abdullah who himself was embroiled in a succession crisis and  was sympathetic to the  Ghee Hin faction,  traveled to Singapore to seek help from Tan Kim Ching.  As  a prominent leader in the Chinese community  Tan brought to bear his influence in the matter and  called on the British administrators who had charged of The Straits Settlements  to intercede and broker a peace agreement. The rest as they say is history.  The Pangkok Treaty ended hostilities  with  a truce and Larut was then named Taiping – 太 (tai – ‘great’) and 平 (ping – ‘peace’). More on Romancing Taiping here.



Brownies are dwarfed at Kapitan Chung Keng Quee’s tomb. Photo by Raymond Goh


The tomb guardians oversees anyone entering the territory

Tomb guardians oversee anyone who enters the territory



Big is the word

Big is the word


Back in Georgetown, Penang, Kapitan Chung was also known for his expansiveness and exquisite taste in architecture and all things Chinese culture and history. His grand townhouse in Georgetown showcases some of the finest artisan work of that time  imported from both China and Europe  and is now opened to the public as the Penang Peranakan Mansion. Next to his townhouse is Kapitan Chung’s private temple. A life-size bronze statue of Chung stands in this temple.


Chung Keng Quee's mansion, now the Penang Peranakan Museum

Chung Keng Quee’s mansion, now the Penang Peranakan Museum


Brownie Simone posing next to statue of Chung Keng Quee

Brownie Simone posing next to statue of Chung Keng Quee



Khoo Tiong Poh (1830-1892) and Tiong Bahru

Resting at a corner of the Jalan Free School roundabout is buried the man who is named for Tiong Poh road in Singapore, Tiong Bahru.  Khoo Tiong Poh was a Chinese merchant and ship owner. He owned the shipping and trading company, Bun Hin & Co at Malacca Street, in Singapore, and within a few years opened branches in Penang, Hong Kong, Amoy and Swatow, making it the largest and leading shipping enterprise in the Straits. He was also known for his philanthropic deeds which included donations made to cemeteries and temples in Penang, and to the coastal defence and flood relief in China, earning him the title Dao Tai 道台 by the Qing government.

After a prolonged illness, Mr.Khoo passed away in Singapore and his body was shipped to Penang to be buried at his plantation. His son, Khoo Phee Soon, who resided in Singapore till his eventual death is buried in Bukit Brown Cemetery.

Brownies pose for a group picture with the care takers (seated at front left side) of Khoo Tiong Poh's grave

Brownies pose for a group picture with the care takers of Khoo Tiong Poh’s grave



Khoo Kongsi

Brownies approach the grandest temple in Malaysia, Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi clan temple (photo by Ang Yik Han)

Brownies approach the grandest temple in Malaysia, Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi clan temple (photo by Ang Yik Han)

No trip to Penang is complete without visiting the Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi. The  clan association which has opened it doors to the public  as a living museum, displays the rich history behind the Khoo lineage, the grand architecture, and the elaborate Chinese decorations, paintings and carvings. It also showcases prominent pioneers who made their names in the society and contributed generously to the community in Malaya and Singapore. These men include Khoo Seok Wan, Khoo Teck Phuat and his father, Khoo Yang Tin.

Larger than life, Khoo Yang Tin's portrait overlook write-ups of other pioneers at the Khoo Kongsi

Larger than life, Khoo Yang Tin’s portrait overlook write-ups of other pioneers at the Khoo Kongsi


A plaque of recognition in the ancestral hall bearing Khoo Seok Wan's name

A plaque of recognition in the ancestral hall bearing Khoo Seok Wan‘s name


Over the years, the Leong San Tong has gone through a number of restorations. Over the span of 3 years (1999-2001), the biggest restoration exercise saw conservation specialists and craftsmen from China and India, flown in to work on restoring and reinstalling parts of the building with materials that were traditionally used. These included traditional organic paint, and terracotta tiles which were imported from China. The massive restoration brought Leong San Tong’s shine back to its authentic glory and garnered the National Heritage Restoration Award in 2000, and helped sealed Georgetown’s  UNESCO World Heritage status in 2008.


The Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi temple was made out of carvings, sculptures and engravings.

The Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi temple was made out of carvings, sculptures and engravings.


The crown of the temple

The crown of the temple


The inner walls of the temple are decorated with paintings of immortals

The inner walls of the temple are decorated with paintings of immortals


For the few short days, the Brownies visited a few other sites in Penang which had links to Singapore but yet to explore some completely, saving them for future Brownie adventures.


Acknowledgements :

We are grateful to members of the Penang Heritage Trust for their hospitality and guidance in our trip. Special thanks to Salma Khoo, Lim Giak Siang, Clement Liang and Joanna Khaw.

A special mention is the place the Brownies called ‘home’ for 3 nights; the Ren I Tang Heritage Inn. The shophouse once housed the oldest traditional chinese medical practice in South East Asia, Yin Oi Tong, for 124 years. It went through a 2-year restoration process which retained much of the original features, including the air-well, wooden staircase and roof tiles. Today, one can find himself soaking in Ren I Tang’s history at the comfort of his room, while sipping a cuppa at the bistro or just bybrowsing through the museum.

Ren I Tang Heritage Inn

Ren I Tang Heritage Inn

About the Brownies and their off-site sojourns:

The Brownies’ yearning to connect to history and thirst for adventure, brings them to various locations within and beyond Singapore. The objectives of these retreats are, to study the historical and cultural links to Singapore, and to strengthen kinship amongst the brownies.

(Brownies are the volunteers who conduct regular weekend guided walks and independent research on heritage, habitat and history of Bukit Brown Cemetery.)


Darren Koh 2_ Mr. Foo

Darren Koh at the tomb of Chew Geok Leong (photo Mr. Foo)

It has been a long time coming, 3 years in gestation but Darren Koh – a pioneer member and solid contributor of the FB group community Singapore Heritage Bukit Brown Cemetery – has finally joined the ranks of Brownies who conduct guided walks. All Things Bukit Brown (atBB) caught up with Darren – whose day job is lecturing  on taxation in a tertiary institution – and asks why now and what took him so long?

atBB : You have been following and contributing to the community online for a number of years, why have you now decided to join the ranks of brownies who conduct guided walks?

Darren I blame Chew Keng Kiat!  Some time ago, we were chatting and I asked him if he recalled when the “brownies” came into being.  He dated the Brownies back to one evening in Sago Lane – in fact the funeral of Raymond Goh’s father.   Keng Kiat mentioned there was this group of people at a table at the end of the tentage. I reminded him I was there too – I was sitting with Mil, Su-Min and Vicky at one end. Keng Kiat mentioned that everyone at the table agreed that the Goh brothers could not possibly hunt down tombs and spread the knowledge of Bukit Brown all on their own.  Plans for the 8 lane highway  had just been announced and time was short.  That was about when everyone at the table agreed to take on the guiding so that Raymond and Charles could focus on the tomb hunting.  “Teach us.  Let us do this for you.”   And so – to the memory of Keng Kiat at least, the Brownies were born.  Unfortunately for me, my asking when the Brownies was born also pencilled in his memory that I had not guided any walks.  Since my conversation with him about that evening, he has often taken the opportunity to ask when I would actually guide.  Even as recently as this year’s Chinese New Year dinner, Keng Kiat nudged me again and said “Look around you – everyone at that table so many years ago has gone on to guide. You are the only one who hasn’t. When are you going to do so?”

Truth of the matter was that it was always going to be a matter of time. I was in the midst of getting a new programme running at the university, and that was just soaking up my time.  I did not have many people helping me teach then, and I was teaching many of the courses myself.  And the courses took place at the weekends.  So I really could not go out to the hills as often as everyone did. As you point out, I have been keeping in touch with the Brownies and following the discoveries, the developments, the joys and the lows.  But always once removed.  I must say, the Brownies were kind enough to include me in many of the offsite events (read – dinner!, etc) and it was at one event when one of our guests asked if I was a Brownie that I sort of blurted out “Not really – I have helped out in some walks but have not guided one myself.  I do not think I can wear the title until I have done that.” And that I think was when Catherine jumped in an said, “He’s an Associate Brownie!” So yay!  I had a place!

Now that the programme at the university is more settled, I can breathe again, and I was looking to get out of the air-conditioned world, and maybe get more exercise, and do something I like…. I realised why not just guide walks.  It ticks all the right boxes – it’s in the midst of  nature, it’s out of the artificial world of the office, I will walk a lot, and I will get to do what I like – tell stories.  A perfect fit. And so, after a couple of weekends of doing my homework (i.e. walking the hills, trying to find the tombs, getting lost amongst the stones), I started guiding.

atBB  Share what has been your experience like so far after 3 guided walks.

Darren  It’s been great! Each one has been different: the routing, the tombs we visited and therefore the story that was told was different. And in the last walk, I even had to abort a visit to two tombs and think of rapid replacements as the tombs I had wanted to visit were inaccessible.

It is usually good to have people ask questions – although sometimes that is scary as you never know which angle they will come from.  But the good thing about being a volunteer guide is that I can say “I don’t know – will have to get back to you on that.” A bit more difficult to say that in my normal classes!

The one thing I am reminded of, is a piece of advice shared with me by a good friend Tony Oldham, whom I got know well while we were travelling on the Trans-Siberian Railway.  He was an archaeologist and anthropologist, and was also a tour guide in Europe. He said, “Never let a few facts stand in the way of a good story.”  Something which I have since learnt is very true:  the people who come for the walks are not here for a history lesson, or a degree in decorative arts.  The finer details therefore do not exactly matter.  What matters however, is the story of the person we are calling upon:  we bring that person to life when we relate their life and times.  Even more so if we can weave a line from the person we are calling upon, to the visitors today.  You can see for instance, the change in people when I reveal that we know so much about how Soh Koon Eng died because the daughter of the boy Koon Eng shielded with her body told us the story.  Or when they realise the man in the small grave I am talking about was none other than Lee Kuan Yew’s grandfather … All links from the past to the present that they know.

The one regret to date?  I wish I had more time to share more with the visitors, but we have 3 hours before we tire.  There is only so much we can share in each session.  The only problem is when there are certain expectations – just as Frances Yip will never be allowed to have a concert where she does not sing the theme song from the Bund/Shanghai Beach, there are certain tombs that visitors ask for.  Then you are stuck in who else to call upon with the time you have left in the walk after up have visited those “top tombs to visit”.  I think I will have to be a bit more creative in routing my walks, or just learn to say “Not this time.”

atBB What would you say is your main interest in Bukit Brown?

Darren It’s  the transmission of culture and the understanding of history!  There is much to be told from the stones: they tell of the person.  From the research we get the story to enable us to link the person from the past to what it means today.  That is the job of the storyteller – that’s why I love it when people get the stories!  Personally – I’m not the greatest fan of bush bashing – the effort undertaken to find the tombs of people.  I think my mechanical-pencil hands were not meant for hacking through forests with machettes.  But give me the facts, and let me tell the story – that is my forte.  Right now, we need to tell as many as possible the wealth of history and culture that lies in Bukit Brown.

atBB notes: bush bashing does not involve machettes as such, more walking sticks and some Brownies carry a small cutter to help them clear vines.

atBB Tell us a little something about yourself.

I have been telling stories since I was young – I even won a school prize and represented the school in a story telling competition when I was in primary school!   I think the best way to tell an idea is to put it in a story that the listener gets.  The question is how the listener gets it:  and I have to tailor the story to the listener.

Darren In many ways, all my past I have been a story-teller: as a lawyer and a chartered accountant who specialises in taxation, I have learnt to use the skill to help in negotiations, in drafting documents, in preparing defence files and in tax audits.  Since I switched to academia – it is all about telling stories again, although this time I tell them to students, in the hope they will learn to tell their own stories themselves.

Having dissected a snake in school, I am not that worried about them.  But I do fear cockroaches – don’t ask me why – so thank goodness they are not one of the worries i have out in Bukit Brown.

I used to be able to say that I have worked in all the northern continents except where the polar bears roam – but the bears are now roaming further down south into North America so I will probably have to revise that statement now.

atbb observes : As you can tell from his interview, Darren is quite a wit and most diligent, the bonus is  he  comes with a wealth of knowledge about Chinese culture and temples and is also one of the pioneer membersof the yahoo heritage news group. His next guiding session is at the first regular first weekend guided walks, atBB is launching,  starting in June on the morning of Saturday 6 June, 2015, so please register here if you want to “experience” him in person.

Darren Koh 1_ Raymond Goh

Darren Koh at the tomb of Chew Geok Leong (photo Raymond Goh)

For more photos of Darren, the brownie in action please click here and note that you need to have a facebook account to view these photos.



Volunteers’ Voice

On 8 November 2014, the Standard Chartered team returned to Bukit Brown for the third and last time in the year for the Tour and Clean-up CSR event. Bolstered by the presence of a number of veteran volunteers, the team cleared a record 20 tombs, including a few challenging ones! Two first-time volunteers, Anastasia Francis & NurHafizah Daud, write about their experience.

“A people without history
Is not redeemed from time,
For history is a pattern
Of timeless moments”.

We stood in the midst of lush foliage peppered with hundreds of grey tombstones, as we listened to the lilting voice of a woman reciting T. S. Eliot. It was an idyllic November morning. Clouds hung low in the sky, and light raindrops gently grazed our skin. Birds and crickets chirped; the atmosphere was inviting, uplifting.

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning”

BB Gates Sept 2013 (photo Theresa Teng)

The gates of Bukit Brown, Sept 2013, before the barricades went up (Photo: Theresa Teng)

This surreal experience was definitely not what we had expected when we signed up for the Bukit Brown CSR event. In fact, we had not quite know what to expect, as neither of us had ever done anything remotely similar to this before.

Surreal: a forest in an urban setting. (Photo Claire Leow)

The woman reading poetry was Claire, our guide for the day. Claire was one of the Brownies, a group of citizen volunteers who devote themselves to the preservation of the Bukit Brown Cemetery. Listening intently to her every word, we hiked in a single file as she led us on a tour through some of the 100,000 tombs in the colossal graveyard. Occasionally stopping at particularly prominent tombs, she would give us eloquent anecdotes about the persons who lie beneath, or share some of her impressive historical and cultural knowledge. The passion and dedication that emanated from her was inspirational.

We were surprised to learn that this charming heritage site is the final resting place of some of our nation’s finest pioneers (Chew Joo Chiat, Chew Boon Lay, Gan Eng Seng, etc.), and holds so much of this nation’s history and heritage. The narratives told by Claire conjured and replayed the lives of those who sleep below in our heads in a most mesmerizing way – what they did, what they said, how they lived, how they contributed, how they died…

At the end of the tour, we reached a clearing where a variety of tools were laid out neatly on the grass – shovels, changkols, brooms, shears and the like. We donned gloves and with a tool in hand, set to work restoring the tombs of the forgotten. Some were in a truly shocking state, with a few feet of soil and shrubbery covering the concrete and intricately patterned tiles. Despite being born-and-bred city girls, and completely unaccustomed to manual labour, we tied our hair back, paid no heed to the balmy heat of the afternoon, and put in our best for a few solid hours. The guidance from the Brownies and veteran volunteers was invaluable.

The volunteers of Stanchart in action, Bukit Brown, Nov 2014.

The volunteers of Stanchart in action, onsite at Bukit Brown, Nov 2014.

Two hours later, our work was done – 20 tombs were cleaned! The sense of fulfillment upon seeing dignity restored to the resting places of forgotten pioneers, with our hands-on manual work, was immense and touching.

Brimming with stories, teeming with nature, Bukit Brown is a timeless little corner on our island where past pioneers sleep. We are glad we played a small part in heritage preservation, and we would be back for more in the future!

Editor’s note:

The tombs cleared are chosen because they have fallen to neglect, and are not cared for by descendants who pay tombkeepers to do so. As a volunteer group, we do not clear tombs tended by tombkeepers so as not to affect their livelihood. Some of these graves chosen are identified for research reasons. An example of the before and after of a tomb cleared by the Stanchart CSR crew in Sept 2014:

Before: sussing out how to clean the tomb (Phot: Claire Leow)

Before: sussing out how to clean the tomb (Phot: Claire Leow)

After: the pride in clearing the tomb and restoring dignity to a pioneer (Photo: Claire Leow)

After: the pride in clearing the tomb and restoring dignity to a pioneer (Photo: Claire Leow)

Related Posts:

Preserving Our Heritage by Perry Tan, the first CSR effort by Stanchart in April 2014

Take 2, the Second CSR outing, Sept 2014

World Monuments Watch 2014-2016

Intrinsic Value of Bukit Brown by Claire Leow

Give Us a Chance – a plea to the government

Remembering Yeo Bian Chuan

by Simone Lee

Qingming or Tomb-Sweeping Day is a traditional festival on the Chinese  calendar in remembrance and respect of ancestors. Families visit their ancestors’ ‘home’ – the grave,  for a ‘spring clean’ and replenish their needs by leaving ‘worldly’ offerings. This year, the festival fell on the 5th of April and 10 days before and 10 days after is the period where rituals are conducted.

Smoke from burning incense sticks blankets the fauna at Bukit Brown Cemetery

Smoke from burning incense sticks blankets the flora  at Bukit Brown Cemetery (photo Simone Lee)

Bukit Brown is busiest at this time of the year. Jams are not uncommon.  Throngs of people drive around the historic cemetery to look for their ancestors’ tomb. They carry with them bags of offerings and cleaning tools. Yet, for another year, Yeo Bian Chuan’s grave laid forgotten.

Almost a miss, Yeo Bian Chuan's tomb has been neglected

Almost a miss, Yeo Bian Chuan’s tomb has been neglected (phone Simone Lee)

In February 1915, during the Indian Mutiny in Singapore, Yeo Bian Chuan saved 17 Europeans’ lives by hiding them in their home from a bloody massacre. For this he was awarded a commemorative gold medal but died before receiving it.

The headstone of Yeo Bian Chuan's dilapidated tomb

The headstone of Yeo Bian Chuan’s  tomb

Today, Yeo Bian Chuan’s tomb is in a state of neglect, not what a hero deserves. We can only hope that soon a descendant would identify him and restore the glory of his ‘home’, one which he deserves.

The loyal guardian of Yeo Bian Chuan's tomb

The loyal guardian of Yeo Bian Chuan’s tomb (photo Simone Lee)

Read more on Yeo Bian Chuan’s story at Peter Pak’s blog here.



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

A is for Advocacy

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

The Brownies with Constance Singam, one of the judges and a highly esteemed civil activist and writer

The Brownies with Constance Singam, one of the judges and a highly esteemed civil activist and writer

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

Advocacy Awards in Newspaper

The ST report on the Advocacy Awards 2014

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

B is for Bukit Brown

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

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

Unearthed photo courtesy of SAM

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

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

Show and Tell photo Ang Hock Chuan

(photo Ang Hock Chuan)

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

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

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


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

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

Bukit Brown in the City Theresa Teng

Bukit Brown in the City (photo Theresa Teng)

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

Janes Walk 2 _ Garden Hill

Bukit Brown Jane’s Walk (photo Garden Hill)

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

Louise and Bridgets Guided Walk photo Louise Ragget

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dunman Sceondary School  at Tan Ean Kiam photo Yik han

Dunman Secondary School students observing a minutes silence at the grave of Tan Ean Kiam (photo Yik Han)



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

Stanchart Cleanup _Claire Leow

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

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

Zaobao report on finding Neo Jin Quee May 5, 2014

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


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

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

NDP 14 _Lwarence Chong

NDP’14 (photo Lawrence Chong)

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

The Ole Raintree.jpg Lawrence Chong

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

The Ole Raintree

RIP Ole Rain Tree

 C is for Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gillian Mendy photo Catherine

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

Yap geok song

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

Zaobao News Sep 22 Yap

On Sept 22, Zaobao reported on the Yap descendants

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

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

ZB Personality of the Year

Zaobao Headline News on 28 December, 2014

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

Recollections Collections Favourite Moments photo Yeo Hong Eng

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

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

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

“Lest we Forget”

We remember Victoria Tan and Edmon Neoh-Khoo


Compiled by Catherine Lim





December 2017
« Aug