History You Can Touch


By Lyra Tan Ai-Ling

Today, my mind flits back to Bukit Brown and the stroll I took yesterday (April 21, 2012).


Yes, the cemetery. Sure it’s not exactly rolling hills. But the well-trodden paths among the lush rambling greenery and the bits of bush you have to push past, slapping twigs and leaves leaving streaks of rainwater and mud all over your clothes has a strange charm that appeals to the inner adventurer. Nevermind the fact that I had to pull myself out of bed at 6.30am in the morning to get there by 9am- this was something worth getting out of bed for.


And it was on that note that I found it ironic that our little group, despite the National Environment Agency (NEA) issued flood warning and the pouring rain, continued happily traipsing through the mud and grass, umbrellas of all colours unfurling around us. What is this deterrence you speak of? In fact, after a 3 hour walk, we took a quick pit stop at the toilets and abandoned the wet umbrellas in the cars- diving right back into the thick of things with another 2 hour trek in the glorious after-rain coolness.



Rainy Bukit Brown day (photo: Peter Pak)


Look, I don’t pretend to be any kind of history buff. In fact, I didn’t even take history as an elective in secondary school. The textbook bored me. How could something on a page, about days gone far, far by be something that I needed to know or remember? I loathed memorization. I didn’t take history as a subject.


But living history is a whole other story. History you can see, history you can hear. Even better, history that you can touch.


Crowds on a rainy day at Tan Kim Cheng and Cheang Hong Lim's tombs (photo: Khoo Ee Hoon)


So it is really something when you get to run your fingers across the engraved characters of a headstone, in gold, red or green. When you mentally whisper an apology when you have to borrow a tomb wall for a foothold as you scramble up the slippery hill to the next new find. Standing in a silent circle in the pounding rain, listening to Dr. Lim Su Min sing a love song to an ancestor. History and heritage is in the experiences. Don’t stop at the classrooms and libraries. In the field is where it really blooms.


Su Min sings for his ancestor (photo: Claire Leow)


Now I know what it means to want to keep this beautiful piece of Singapore. I have to admit that I was bothered by the fact that it was going to go to make way for a new highway, but I never really gave it that much thought- another process in our ever-speedy development that I’d just have to get used to. But after yesterday’s walk, that changed.


There’s a heightened sense of connectedness you get from visiting this place somehow- in the words of Hoo Kuan Cien as we commenced the second half of our tour- “I feel so Singaporean right now”. This is intangible- it is something you cannot teach people from a textbook. It’s a feeling, a belonging, an ownership. It is something brought out of you- something that you ARE, something that comes to you as a realization. When you get rid of the old and keep rolling in the new, you create a people with short term memory. What do you expect Singaporeans to feel connected to if you keep getting rid of things that they have to remember our history and heritage by?


Engrossed child listening to Su Min (photo: Victor Yue)


Isabella guides Lim Su-Min (photo: Claire Leow)


Su Min's hand-drawn invitation and a poem for his great great grandfather (photo: Victor Yue)


So seriously, if you haven’t taken a trip to Bukit Brown, I urge you to give it a go, before it’s gone to our ever-constant obsession with the want of a faster journey from A to B. Better still, save Bukit Brown, so that generations to come can go there to make their own discoveries.


Flooding at Hill 4: faith is walking on water! (photo: Claire Leow)

This post was first published by the author on her own Facebook page, and can be found here.

Lyra Tan Ai Ling


Lyra Tan, a 17 year old Arts Business Management student and theatre enthusiast from Ngee Ann Polytechnic shares her thoughts and reflections on Bukit Brown after her first tour there on a rainy Saturday, 21 April.