Thursday, August 11, 2011

A closer look at the magnificent tomb of Ong Sam Leong

The grand tomb-site of Ong Sam Leong.

About two months ago, one of my friends, Belinda Tan, invited me to visit the Bukit Brown Cemetery. That was to be my first visit to the Bukit Brown Cemetery, and I have surprised myself when that visit did not end up to be my last!

What makes a cemetery so interesting such that it has enticed me to make multiple visits over a span of two months?

Aside from the fresh air and the tranquil environment, Bukit Brown is simply like a land with rich heritage simply waiting to be appreciated. Like Belinda Tan has pointed out during one of our visits, Singapore has its own rich heritage and significant artifacts right in own own backyard, and Bukit Brown is one place to find these.

An Indian guard found at Ong Sam Leong's grave-site.

One of the most magnificent tomb-sites simply awed me in terms of its size. The double tomb of Ong Sam Leong and his wife was said to be the size of 10 three-room HDB flat units. 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.

Gravesite of Ong Sam Leong and his wife. This was uncovered in 2006.

If one were to take a closer look at the tombstone, we would noticed interesting carvings. These carvings have symbolic meanings. They often either refer to an auspicious symbol or they remind the descendants of values such as filial piety.

In this post, I shall attempt to identify and highlight some of the stories of filial piety that have been carved on the tombstones at Ong Sam Leong's tomb-site. Admittedly, I was not able to identify the stories behind each and every carvings as yet. It is hoped that through the sharing on this post, I could enhance people's awareness of and interests in Bukit Brown Cemetery. Happy discovering!

This is one of the stories from the twenty-four stories of filial piety:
Ding Lan serving wooden statues of his parents, so as to serve them.
刻木事亲

Image source: http://history.cultural-china.com/en/38History5850.html
The story of Ding Lan.
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Huang Xiang fanning the pillows and warming the sheets.
黄香扇席

In the days when air-conditioners and heaters were not invented, filial children like Huang Xiang creatively thought of ways to help their parents to feel warm during the winter and to enjoy relief from the heat during the summer. I wonder if air-conditioners and heaters were invented by filial children who were inspired by Huang Xiang's filial piety?

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Thanks to Elizabeth McKenzie's chapter on Bukit Brown Cemetery in the book titled Spaces of the Dead: A Case from the Living, I had an easy time to figure out what this section of the tombstone is intended to depict.

Lao Laizi wore costumes and played pranks to amuse his parents. 戏彩娱亲

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Jiang Ge Labored to Provide for His Mother.
行佣供母
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Yu Qianlou tasting his father's stool out of deep concern.
尝忧心異

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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. 负米养亲.

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Min Ziqian tolerated his stepmother.
单衣顺母
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Wu Meng who's attracting mosquitoes to drink his blood. 恣蚊饱血
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Guo Ju burying his son to save his mother.
为母埋儿
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Lady Tang feeding her Mother-in-law milk.
乳姑不怠
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The protective instinct of this son, Wang Pu, amazes me. His mother dreaded the sound of thunder-claps. Even when his mother was no longer alive, he would run to her grave and try to protect his mother's spirits whenever there is a storm. Sometimes I wonder if the stories were exaggerated so as to aptly put across the value of filial piety?

Crying By the Grave When Thunder Rolled: Wang Pu.
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Wrestling With A Tiger To Save His Father: Yang Xiang
打虎救父
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The next time if you were to visit the tomb of Ong Sam Leong at Bukit Brown Cemetery, please take your time to appreciate the values that the tombstones were intended to depict. It seems that tombstones serve both decorative and functional (educational) purposes.



My simple wish is that the tomb of Ong Sam Leong and the Bukit Brown Cemetery could remain preserved for future generations to appreciate.

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I came across the following related sites in my attempts to identify the stories of filial piety. Please make time to visit these sites:

http://www.freewebs.com/bbrowncemetery/24storiesoffilialpiety.htm
http://piqture-perfect.blogspot.com/2011/06/singapore-bukit-brown-cemetery-notable.html
http://www.yogichen.org/cw/cw43/bk144.html
http://www.photodharma.net/Malaysia/Filial-Piety-2/Filial-Piety-2.pdf
http://www.ruf.rice.edu/~asia/24ParagonsFilialPiety.html

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You may also like:

Free Map for DIY Tours to Bukit Brown by Asia Paranormal Investigators
Bukit Brown: a place with a rich heritage and biodiversity
Notable People who are buried in Bukit Brown

The unkempt beauty of Coffee Hill by Jerome Lim
Bukit Brown Cemetery by Jeffrey and Flora
The Walk to Bukit Brown by Leone
Walking within the grounds of Bukit Brown! by Leone
Sculpture is an important form of public art! by Leone

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Updates on 16 Sep 2011:

Raymond Goh has put up a series of posts on the full set of 24 stories of filial piety found on the wall panels of Ong Sam Leong's tomb:

The wall panels of the tomb depicts the full set of the 24 filial piety stories:
http://bukitbrown.org/lessons-from-tomb-carvings-i
http://bukitbrown.org/lessons-from-tomb-carvings-ii
http://bukitbrown.org/lessons-from-tomb-carvings-iii
http://bukitbrown.org/lessons-from-tomb-carvings-iv

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