Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Terracotta Warriors are in Singapore

This post is dedicated to page owners and fans of I Love Museums.

There is an noteworthy exhibition in Singapore. It is the first exhibition of actual terracotta warriors to be held in Singapore. These terracotta artefacts were buried near the tomb of the First Emperor of China.

In this exhibition, one can also look forward to appreciating bronze and jade items from the Qin state before the time of the First Emperor, Shi Huangdi. In addition, visitors could also view burial objects from the Han dynasty.

A replica of the bronze chariot discovered on the west side of the First Emperor's tomb.
The original chariots are  too fragile to travel.

This is a terracotta of a kneeling archer from the Qin dynasty. I learnt from this exhibition that archery was one of the 'six noble arts' as well as a basic skill that was required of all soldiers during the Qin dynasty.

Upper shelf, from left to right: Washer (yi), Kettle (he).
Lower shelf: Chu-styled vessel (ding), Steamer (yan).

A glimpse of the exhibition hall.

Painted earthenware depicting soldiers with shields from Western Han dynasty.
Compared to the terracotta warriors from the Qin dynasty, the burial objects from the Han dynasty was  more modest in size and in its design.

I sensed an obsession with the afterlife during my visit to this exhibition. The exhibition has also given me a glimpse of the culture of the Qin people. There are exhibition panels printed in both English and Chinese. Somehow, I felt somewhat compelled to brush up on my command of Mandarin and knowledge of Chinese history after visiting this exhibition. There is so much depth to the Chinese culture and history that I have yet to learn!

Due to time constraints, I could only have a one-hour quick tour of this exhibition. I shall make time to visit this exhibition again, and to attend one of the guided tours. I have always found the guided tours given by the docents to be enriching.

Terracotta Warriors: The First Emperor and His Legacy
24 Jun 2011 - 16 Oct 2011
At the Special Exhibitions Gallery, ACM Empress Place
Opening hours: Mon: 1 p.m. - 7 p.m., Tue - Sun: 9 a.m. - 7 p.m. (to 9 p.m. on Fridays)

Information on the admission charges is available here:

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.)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The precious flora and fauna along the railway tracks

Greenery, Nature and a romantic age of train travel through Singapore.

We have treasures right in our homeland,
So precious and endearing.
And all that it takes to find our treasures,
Is to look beyond the non-essentials,
And pay a little more attention,
With a dose of tender loving care.

This butterfly seems to be a Blue Pansy (Junonia orithya wallacei).
Photo Credit: Belinda Tan.

19 June 2011: On a very fine Sunday morning, strangers and friends who have never met gathered at Old Holland Road for a special walk to Bukit Timah Railway Station and to Hindhede Road. This walk, The Green Corridor Walk along Bukit Timah was led by Mr Jerome Lim, author of the blog "The Long and Winding Road".

Curiosity for the Singapore Railway Transfer Ordinance of 25 October 1918 and the September 2010 land swap agreement that was reached between Singapore and Malaysia had led me to attend a Tanjong Pagar Railway Station Tour on 21 May 2011. Then in the most pleasantly unexpected ways, I found myself travelling to parts of Singapore that were previously unknown to me.

Walking parallel with the railway tracks.

I visited several sections of the railway line and I simply fell in love with the beauty of the flora and fauna along the railway line. I did not realize that there is a stretch of uninterrupted beautiful green-land that meanders through my beloved country of Singapore. So, it is with delight and pride that I share with you the precious flora and fauna that could be enjoyed along the section of the railway track from Old Holland Road to Hindhede Road.

A bee that cheers.
Photo Credit: Belinda Tan.

Pure and white.
Photo Credit: Belinda Tan.

Morning glory.
Photo credit: Belinda Tan.

As I was enjoying the rejuvenating walk along the railway tracks, I cannot help but to have lots of respect for an amazing lady, Belinda Tan, who often bent herself down and knelt to the ground so as to capture the beautiful sightings along the railway track. It is with great honour that she so graciously and generously gave me the permission to share some of her photographs on this blog post. Thanks Belinda! I dedicate this post to you!

A fly that was enjoying a morning rest.
Photo Credit: Belinda Tan.

Doing my best to be a cautious and mindful member of the group, I stayed at least three-metres away from the railway track once I knew that the train would be passing by at any time. Maybe I was too conscientious, I could not help but to keep members of the group informed of schedule of the train. Safety is always first.

Along the way to the Bukit Timah Station, the group was very lucky to catch a glimpse of a passing train. The train must have powers to charm, doesn't it? When the train passed by, almost everyone wore a delightful smile on his or her face.

Bye train!

Mr Jerome Lim was sharing with the group about the old Jurong line.
Remnants of the decommissioned Jurong line.

During the walk, I was most curious to learn more about the Jurong Line which used to branch off at Bukit Timah Station. The Jurong Line which was constructed as an extension of the main railway line in the mid 1960s to serve the new industrial estate in Jurong. You could imagine that I was paying special attention to our guide when he spoke about the Jurong Line. For the rest of the time, please pardon me, my ears were listening to the wonderful orchestration created by Nature and all the living-beings in the untouched green-land.

A dragonfly which was pleased with its home along the railway line.
Photo Credit: Belinda Tan
I realized that I need a crash course in flora and fauna of Singapore.
Photo Credit: Belinda Tan.

A brick bridge that was built for the train to pass over the canal.
Photo Credit: Belinda Tan.

Interestingly, while my group-mate, Belinda, was paying attention to the minute details found on the leaves and bushes, I was focusing on the trees that grew tall and sturdy along the sides of the railway tracks. What we do have in common is our appreciation for Nature.

Bukit Timah Station.
The Truss Bridge.

As I trekked along the sides of the railway track whose fate from 1 July 2011 is still relatively unknown, I gave thanks for the opportunity to enjoy the therapeutic and refreshing walk along a stretch of the uninterrupted green-land. I have no idea if my descendants would ever get a chance to walk along this similar stretch of green-land like I did. I hope that they will.

Waking up early to walk at least three kilometres along the railway tracks has its rewards. When we were at Hindhede Road, we caught sight of yet another passing train!

The steel girder bridge at Hindhede Road.
Please read Jerome Lim's post on this section of the railway line.

If this post of the precious flora and fauna found along the railway line has enticed you in some ways, I would strongly encourage you to go for one of the Green Corridor walks. Then you can be in a much better position to decide for yourself if you would find it meaningful and worthwhile to support The Green Corridor Proposal to preserve the railway land as a green corridor based on environmental, social, recreational and historical benefits.

To find out more, please visit:

Monday, June 20, 2011

Bukit Brown: a place with a rich heritage and biodiversity

Life, has a mysterious way to show us what to pay attention to. If you have stumbled upon this blog-post, it may not be sheer coincidence. It could be life pointing you to pay attention to this place in Singapore that is called Bukit Brown.

The Bukit Brown Cemetery Gate.

I do not have a keen interest in cemeteries. However, life somehow paved the way for me to take a good notice at Bukit Brown, a unfamiliar place that strangely felt familiar to me. Bukit Brown is bordered by Thomson Road, the Pan Island Expressway, Mount Pleasant Road and Lornie Road. Lornie Road is a road that I used to travel frequently on and yet before 18 Jun 2011, I have never stepped into the Bukit Brown cemetery that Lornie Road borders. When I received my first invitation to visit Bukit Brown, my natural response was to accept it.

Bukit Brown is a place with a rich heritage, a tranquil environment, an untouched jungle garden and a place with high biodiversity value. Many Singapore pioneers and notable people are buried in Bukit Brown. Examples include Cheang Hong Lim, Tay Ho Swee, Mrs Lim Nee Soon, Lim Chong Pang, Chew Joo ChiatChew Boon Lay, Lee Hoon Leong, Gan Eng Seng etc. I also learnt that many forest bird species (such as the Asian Fairy Bluebird, the White-bellied Woodpecker and the Thick-billed Green Pigeon) and interesting wildlife can be found at Bukit Brown.

The bus-stop that is nearest to the entrance of Bukit Brown Cemetery Gate.
Bus Stop #41149, opposite Singapore Island Country Club (SICC), Adam Road.
Bus services available:  52, 74, 93, 157, 165, 852, 855.
Directions to the cemetery Gate: Walk towards Sime Road, walk along Kheam Hock Road until  you see Lor Halwa.

When I visit Bukit Brown on 18 Jun 2011 with a group of friends, I was pleasantly rejuvenated by the peaceful atmosphere and the lovely scenaries of Nature at Bukit Brown. What intrigued me further were the intricate stone carvings erected within the many grave-sites at Bukit Brown. As best as I have understood, according to feng shui, also known as Chinese Geomancy, these carved images enhance the auspicious aura of the site and protect the tombs.

The male lion.
The female lion with a cub under her paw.

Lions as protectors
Sculptures of lions can be seen at many of the grave-sites. They serve as protectors of the respective grave-site. Usually, the guardian lion sculptures come in pairs. The male lion (sculpture) will usually have a ball, representing the sun, under its paw. On the other hand, the female lion (sculpture) will be seen with a cub under her paw. The next time when you see lion sculptures, you may wish to take a closer look.

This appear to be a sculpture of the Lion Dog with staring eyes meant to scare away evil forces.

Indian guards representing security
Interestingly, we noticed that sculptures of uniformed Indian guards at a number of the grave-sites in Bukit Brown cemetery. Due to a number of historical and social reasons, Sikhs and Indian men from Northern India, were commonly recruited as law-enforcers and watchmen in early Singapore. A number of these Indian men were employed by wealthy individual as watchmen and bodyguards.

Statues of Sikh guards armed with rifles, their dogs and two stone lions watching over the grave belong to Zhou Yulong.

Over time, Indian guards represented a sense of security and loyalty for many people, especially to those who have employed them. As such, I hope it would not be too wrong for me to infer that grave-sites with sculptures of Indian guards are very likely to be those of wealthy individuals who have employed Indian bodyguards?

The magnificent tomb of Ong Sam Leong
The highlight of our visit to Bukit Brown was the double-tomb of Ong Sam Leong and his wife. Ong Sam Leong (1857 - 1918) was born in Singapore. In 1898, he made his fortune when he secured the contract to supply all the labour 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.

Golden Boy.

Jade Maiden.

The grave is said to be about the size of 10 three-room HDB flats and is the largest grave in Bukit Brown. Aside from being the largest grave, it is also one of the most elaborate graves around. The tombstones are beautifully decorated with intricately carved scenes depicting the Eight Immortals, stories of filial piety and more. The craftsmanship was excellent and could not be easily paralleled by today's craftsmen. Oddly, I felt I have learnt more about the Chinese culture by visiting a cemetery than by reading volumes of book.

This part of the carvings tells the story of  Jiang Ge carrying his old mother.

Stories of filial piety carved in detail on the tombstones.
Chinese ancestor worship goes hand-in-hand with the core Confucian value of filial piety. (Source: "Spaces of the Dead: A Case from the Living", edited by Kevin YL Tan, pg 82.)

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

What will be the fate of Bukit Brown?
The alarming news is that all the beautiful gifts bestowed by Nature and the refined works of art that I had seen during my visit to Bukit Brown may soon be gone. 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).

Thoughts and reflections
I would cringe to see beautiful works of art and of heritage significance being destroyed by bulldozers and machines. The craftsmen and artists who have created the graves with loving care had probably envisioned the graves to be built to last, for posterity to maintain vital links with their ancestors.

The Jade Maiden. The Golden Boy and Jade Maiden are often found standing on either side of a grave. This couple serves as guides in the Underworld, and finally, guides the soul of the deceased to the Western paradise. (Source: "Spaces of the Dead: A Case from the Living", edited by Kevin YL Tan, pg 74.)

According to the Straits Times article "Tycoon's tomb uncovered" dated 4 Jun 2006, the then Public Monuments Board was said to be keeping watch on the Bukit Brown cemetery and will act if and when it is threatened by redevelopment.

One of my friends, Ms Belinda Tan, suggested that tombs with significance (e.g. the tomb of Ong Sam Leong and his wife) could either be preserved in situ, or at the very least, have their tombstones carefully preserved in the museums.

I would personally prefer the significant tombs to be preserved in situ as a living outdoor museum similar to Pompeii. In addition, I wonder if the rich biodiversity at Bukit Brown will make it a worthy location to be considered as a Nature Reserve? Are there possibilities for the National Parks, the National Heritage Board and the Urban Redevelopment Board to work hand-in-hand to redevelop Bukit Brown into a living outdoor museum located in a Nature Reserve? However, if this could not be done, the next option would be to work closely with the descendants of selected tombs so as to carefully preserve the tombstones in the museums (preferably under the National Heritage Board) for all to see.

Belinda has also made a good point when she commented that Singapore has our own rich heritage and artifacts in our own backyards. I would be most delighted to learn more about my own hometown not by viewing expensive exhibits from other parts of the world, but by having the open eyes to appreciate the rich value of existing artifacts and places of significance that are already available in my own country. What about you?

One of the grave-sites.

Whatever your opinions may be, here is an invitation for you to consider making a visit to Bukit Brown to experience this place that has a rich heritage and biodiversity. Of course, please be respectful of the living beings (e.g. the visitors, wildlife and birds) and the Dead throughout your visit. In addition, you may wish to bring mosquito repellent, wear light-coloured long pants and long sleeves clothes and wear covered shoes with soles the grip the ground well.

Earth deity (Tu Di Gong).
The Earth Deity represented in cemeteries is a god of wealth and  a celestial deity who ensures good fortune, prosperity and safety. (Source: "Spaces of the Dead: A Case from the Living", edited by Kevin YL Tan.)

Lots of thanks to Ms Belinda Tan for organising a private walk about Bukit Brown. She has diligently compiled a list of links and resources related to Bukit Brown which had gotten me on a good footing when I did my readings on this subject matter.

Special thanks and appreciation to the most thoughtful Soap Drinker for leading our group to Ong Sam Leong's tomb. Many thanks to my group-mates for their company and great fellowship. One of them, a fine gentleman, provided the much needed shelter from the hot and humid climate with his air-conditioned vehicle. I think the children in our group appreciated having him around.

I recommend interested parties to read this book titled "Spaces of the Dead: A Case from the Living" edited by Kevin YL Tan. There are two chapters in this book that lend a good overview of Bukit Brown. It was thanks to these two chapters (written by Elizabeth McKenzie and Ho Hua Chew respectively) that I could have a better appreciation of the Chinese art, architecture and cultural symbols that I saw at Bukit Brown.

The caretaker shed. If one is lucky to find the caretaker here, he/she could ask for directions to visit the largest tomb.

Related posts by other writers:
- The unkempt beauty of Coffee Hill by Jerome Lim.
- Bukit Brown Cemetery by Jeffrey and Flora: Living in Singapore

For your convenience, please find below a brief history of Bukit Brown and references used.

History of Bukit Brown
Bukit Brown was named after George Henry Brown. He was a shipowner, trader and broker who arrived in Singapore in the 1840s. Brown's place of residence was located at present-day Mount Pleasant Road, which was close to the present Bukit Brown site.

The area was later brought over by three wealthy Hokkien entrepreneurs, Ong Kew Ho, Ong Ewe Hai and Ong Chong Chew. They came from the same village of Bai Qiao in Xiamen, China. When the trio brought the site known as Bukit Brown in 1870s, they had intended to set up a self-sufficient village for the less well-to-do members of the Ong clan. However, the site was eventually used solely as a burial ground and its ownership was passed on to the Seh Ong Kongsi. In 1918-1919, the Municipal government acquired a section of the Seh Ong Cemetery to serve the need of the wider Chinese community for more public Chinese burial grounds.

The Bukit Brown Cemetery was closed for burial in 1973.