Monday, June 27, 2011

Notable People who are buried in Bukit Brown

What do the following Singapore pioneers and notable people have in common? Cheang Hong Lim, Chew Boon Lay, Chew Joo Chiat, Fang Shan, Gan Eng Seng, Lee Hoon Leong, Lim Chong Pang, Mrs Lim Nee Soon, Ong Sam Leong, Ong Boon Tat, Mrs Tan Cheng Siong and Tay Ho Swee.

You are right if your answer is that they are some of the many Singapore pioneers and notable people who are buried in Bukit Brown. The more interesting is that very often by taking a good look at the tomb-sites of these notable people, we could have an appreciation of each of their personalities, family background and ancestral roots.

鹿供乳亲. The story of Young Master Tan who dressed himself in a deer's skin so as to nurse the deer for milk for his parents. This was one of the many tomb-carvings found at Ong Sam Leong's tomb-site.

Following my previous visit to Bukit Brown on 18 Jun 2011 to appreciate the rich heritage and biodiversity of this intriguing place which I was previously so close to but yet so far away from during my countless bus-rides along Lornie Road, I visited Bukit Brown yet again. This substantial piece of land with greenery and a rich heritage is located immediately to the south of the Central Catchment Area. It is bordered by Thomson Road, the Pan Island Expressway, Mount Pleasant Road and Lornie Road.

Signs that point to the tombs of a number of notable people (e.g. Mrs Lim Nee Soon, Lim Chong Kuo, Lim Chong Pang, Cheang Hong Lim and Tan Kim Ching) who are buried in Bukit Brown.

My friends and I were very fortunate that during our visit to Bukit Brown on 26 Jun 2011, the Asia Paranormal Investigators, supported by One° North Explorers, was conducting a free unguided tour of Bukit Brown Chinese Cemetery. During the event, placards were put up at notable tombs to describe the notable achievements and contributions that were made by the person buried in each of these tombs.

One of the tiles that tells a story. The peacock symbolizes beauty and dignity.
(Source: "Spaces of the Dead: A Case from the Living")

Lee Hoon Leong
Curiosity insisted that we visit the tomb-site of Lee Hoon Leong (1879 - 1942). He is the grandfather of Lee Kuan Yew. According to wikipedia, Lee Hoon Leong gave Lee Kuan Yew the name "Harry" in addition to the Chinese name. From the placards put up by API, I learnt that the death year of Lee Hoon Leong was based on the Japanese Koki calendar. The Japanese Koki year starts from 660 BC "when the first Japanese Emperor Jimmu ascended the throne".

Tomb of Lee Hoon Leong. Grandfather of Lee Kuan Yew.

Fang Shan
We observed that different calendar systems were used to denote the date that a deceased had passed away.  At the tomb of Fang Shan, possibly one of the oldest, if not the oldest, graves in Singapore, the calendar system used was that based on the year of reign of one of the Chinese Emperors, Qing Emperor Daoguang. Fang Shan died in 1833 and his grave is looked after by the Fang Shee Association. The tomb was relocated to Bukit Brown in 1941.

Fang Shan's tomb. Possibly the oldest grave in Singapore.

Chew Boon Lay
One of my friends requested that we visit the tomb of Chew Boon Lay (1852 - 1933) to pay our respect to this notable person. From the design of his grave, he appeared to be a man who was modest and simple. When I chanced upon the one of the webpages of ONE @ Boon Lay, I learnt that Chew Boon Lay was considered a low-keyed person who was a devoted husband and doting father. He was a successful business man who owned large pieces of land in Jurong. The Boon Lay housing estate and the Boon Lay MRT station were named after him.

Chew Boon Lay's final resting place.

Gan Eng Seng
Students, alumni and staff of Gan Eng Seng School may like to learn that the benefactor, Gan Eng Seng (1844 - 1899), whom their school was subsequently named after is resting in peace in Bukit Brown. Gan Eng Seng established the Anglo-Chinese Free School in 1885 in some shop-houses in Telok Ayer Street to offer free education to the children from low-income families. Gan Eng Seng continued to maintain his support to the school with gifts of freehold property and funding until his demise. The school that was set up was later named after its founder, Gan Eng Seng. I was inspired to learn about the value of active citizenship that was upheld by Gan Eng Seng. His tomb appeared modest yet dignified.

Remembering Gan Eng Seng.

Ong Sam Leong
One of the most magnificent tomb-sites in Bukit Brown that we had made a point to visit was the tomb of Ong Sam Leong and his sons. This tomb that is said to be the size of 10 three-room HDB flat units is the resting place of the deceased notable Ong Sang Leong and his wife. Ong Sam Leong (1857 - 1918) was an entrepreneur who was known to have supplied the labourers for mining work that was being carried out by the Christmas Islands Phosphate Co. Ltd.

The grand tomb-site of Ong Sam Leong.

Ong Boon Tat
Ong Sam Leong's sons were buried nearby. One of his sons was Ong Boon Tat, who was one of the proprietor of New World amusement park which was previously located in Jalan Besar. Perhaps I had at one point in my life passed by Boon Tat Street fairly frequently, as such, I took some time to look at the dignified looking tomb of Ong Boon Tat when I was at Bukit Brown.

Ong Boon Tat's tomb on the right of this photo.

One of the notable living persons of Bukit Brown
Before my friends and I concluded our adventurous trekking and tour of Bukit Brown Cemetery, we had the privilege to speak with Mr Su. He is one of the caretakers of the cemetery. As best as I could remember, I learnt that there are nine hills within Bukit Brown area. Many of the people who are buried in Bukit Brown are Hokkiens. He seemed to be very well-respected in the vicinity and I could infer so by the fact that the occasional fluttering butterflies rested care-freely on him! Here is a special thanks to Mr Su for the invaluable contributions that he has made as one of the caretakers.

The dedicated caretaker, Mr Su, and his colleagues.

The future of Bukit Brown
In Bukit Brown where many notable people and the ancestors of many have found their resting site, there lies an uncertain fate. In late May, there was an announcement that the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has gazetted Bukit Brown Cemetery as a site for development ('Bukit Brown to make way for housing', Straits Times, 30 May 2011).

What will be the fate of Bukit Brown? What would happen to the resting grounds of the 100 000 people who are buried there? Would the good values that are upheld by the notable people who are buried in Bukit Brown erode away if their resting places are removed as a result of the redevelopment plans? What meaning can we really derive if we as a community simply stay indifferent to let premium housing replace the precious heritage and biodiversity at Bukit Brown?

We, the community, can collectively shape the answers.

负米养亲. This segment of the tomb-engravings show the story of Zi Lu, one of Confucius' disciples. This is one of the twenty-four stories of filial piety. Zi Lu travelled long distances to seek work so as to provide for his parents. When he received his pay, he would travel long distances to return home, shouldering a heavy sack of provisions (e.g. rice and staples) for his parents.

In the meantime, if learning about some of these notable people who are buried in Bukit Brown has been interesting for you, I would strongly recommend that you could make a visit to Bukit Brown to reflect how you would like this place to be in a decade time. Please share your comments at this post.

Directions to Bukit Brown (for your convenience):

Map of Bukit Brown:
Bus services available:  52, 74, 93, 157, 165, 852, 855.

The bus-stop that is nearest to the entrance of Bukit Brown Cemetery Gate is bus stop #41149, opposite Singapore Island Country Club (SICC), Adam Road. From this bus-stop, walk towards Sime Road, walk along Kheam Hock Road until  you see Lor Halwa.

The Map:
Special thanks to API (Asia Paranormal Investigators) for releasing the map of the locations of notable Singapore pioneers that lie resting in Bukit Brown. This map put together by API will be very useful for visitors who are doing their own Do-It-Yourself tour of Bukit Brown.

The rule of the thumb that I have found useful when making a visit to Bukit Brown is to always be respectful of both the dead and the living.

Please also read Bukit Brown: a place with a rich heritage and biodiversity.


Save Bukit Brown Online Petition
There is an online petition put up by Mr Irving C. Johnson to save Bukit Brown Cemetery, which is one of Singapore's oldest and historically rich cemeteries. If you care to support this cause, please sign the online petition that is found here: (Please take note that after putting up your signature, the site may redirect you to a page to request for donation. You may simply terminate the redirection by closing the page.)


chinatownboy said...

Great writeup! Perhaps, you could start a blog dedicated to Bukit Brown. (^^) It would be a good resource, especially for our students and heritage enthusiasts.

oceanskies79 said...

Chinatownboy: Thanks a lot for your encouragement comment. About a blog dedicated to Bukit Brown, I take note of your suggestion.

Perhaps what will be more heartwarming would be that students and heritage enthusiasts start their own blogs dedicated to Bukit Brown after reading this blog, especially the students of Gan Eng Seng school and Boon Lay Secondary Sch etc?

Philip said...

A cemetery is a dull place but you have made it interesting for a visit. Perhaps you can add pictures of a few more graves with unique features, like the one with 2 sikhs guards, a grave with double tombs and so on. Well done!

Philip said...

I just read your 20 June 2011 posting. You covered almost all.

oceanskies79 said...

Hi Uncle Philip, thank you very much for reading my posts on Bukit Brown and for lending your suggestions.

Yes, my earlier post on Bukit Brown covers Zhou Yulong's (Chew Geok Leong's) tomb with the interesting painted Sikh guards, and also the double tomb of Ong Sam Leong and his wife.

madscan said...

Great writeup. Really fascinating. Been there a few times on my own but of course cluless cause unable to read markings.

I have always been intrugued about this place but feared getting lost as i prefer going off the beaten path.

Is there a way we can keep the petition going? We all know how it is here. Once it's prompted, it's really the end.

oceanskies79 said...

madscan: Thank you for your compliments.

It seems like you have been wanting to visit Bt Brown. I hope the directions to Bt Brown that I have put up on this post as well as the map provided by API will help you feel safe enough to travel with one or more other companions?

As for your questions on the petition, you could get in touch with Mr Irving C. Johnson please. Here's the facebook group to get in touch with him.

On a personal level, I suggest that you could find some time soon to visit Bt Brown first and decide for yourself if you would like to keep it. Then if you know of people who may be decision-makers or advisors to decision-makers, you could be in a better position to speak about the value of keeping this place?

Anonymous said...

Hello Singapore from South Africa.
Please read " Spaces of the Dead. A case from the Living." I am the south African who spent 5 years researching Bukit Brown starting in 1996, when it was certainly unthought of to do such a thing. All you need to know is in my chapter in this extraordianry book.
Be the champions who fight to preserve the dignaty of the ancestors who built the Nation of Singapore. Thank you, Liz Mckenzie

oceanskies79 said...

Hi Liz Mckenzie,
thank you for your chapter on Bt Brown, I have read it and it is one of the references I have referred to when I was writing this post.

Great work.