Saving the Old Residents at Coffee HillOctober 11, 2011 at 11:08 am | Posted in itchy mouth | Leave a comment
Tags: Architecture, Culture, Design, History, Nostalgia, Uniquely Singapore
It has never been so “full of lives” during our previous visits for birdwatching. Even during the annual Qing Ming Festival (Tomb Sweeping Festival), the number of people we met were usually only a handful. Most of the time we would see joggers or walkers with dogs, and bus drivers who parked their vehicles at the gate probably cos it was free. This day when Itchyfingers arrived, we were really surprised to see so many people! Was it a public walk conducted by the Nature Society? But no one had binoculars with them. It was later that we realised from the tee shirts worn by some guys that they were from the Asia Paranormal Investigators (API). I didn’t expect them to conduct public tours in the day due to the nature of the topic they were specialising. :p
Itchyfingers were at Bukit Brown Cemetery, also known as Kopi Sua in Hokien, meaning the Coffee Hill.
It was the first time Itchyfingers bumped into people riding horses, though
we heard from friends that they saw them before. These riders should be
from the nearby Bukit Timah Saddle Club. Oooo….were those compression
socks for the legs? 😀
Bukit Brown Cemetery was officially opened on 1st Jan 1922 until its closure in 1973. Itchyfingers always knew that some of the tombstones at Bukit Brown Cemetery were quite spectacular in terms of size after being introduced to the place when we started doing birdwatching.
Wealthy businessmen used to hire Sikh guards in old Singapore. So it is no
surprise that they would like to be safeguarded by these brave soldiers in
their after lives
But what we didn’t know is that there are so many well-known and prominent pioneers of early Singapore residing under the earth at Bukit Brown Cemetery. Besides this big tomb with Sikh guards, there are also many other big ones along the road. We used to only look at them from far, as most of the tombs are not that well-maintained and there are a lot of overgrown vegetation. The possibilities of mozzies attack also put us off from checking them out up close.
Another one. Strangely, most of the tombs at this side of the road face the
reverse direction from those at the opposite side…I thought in Chinese geomancy
they believe it is good feng shui to have tombs to be facing the south, or 坐北向南
A more elaborate one with colourful tiles
It was only after various media reports of the many famous residents there that we knew about them. It was also reported that the biggest tomb in Singapore can be found there. Recently there were more news reports on Bukit Brown Cemetery as the place has been designated to be exhumed to make way for future development. So Itchyfingers felt we had to go and take some photos before it is gone, just like many other historical places in Singapore. 😦
Itchyfingers were walking and taking photos when we saw a paper hung on
one of the big tombs…
Then some of the other visitors also joined in to check out the tomb. Then one guy in another group took out a big geomancy compass and put it near to the tomb before uttering something like, “this tomb (feng shui) is good until 2013 (or was it 2015?)”. I was kind of shocked actually. Then I saw one family with maps in hand discussing about which tomb they had visited. I asked them where did they get the map from, and they told me it was distributed by the organiser of this DIY walking tour, the API, and generously offered me one of their maps as they each had one.
So, thanks to them, Itchyfingers were able to follow the map for our search for these famous tombs cos some of them were located on higher ground and quite secluded.
But other than that, couldn’t find any more information about the man. The
tombs had been given a fresh coat of paint, possibly from the descendants
or maybe the founder of API, which has been actively looking and
documenting tombs here
His official Qing Dynasty Imperial Title, or the First Ranking Official, was
carved on the tombstone. The original graves of the family were exhumed
from the Hong Lim family burial ground off Alexandra Road, near to the
current Mei Ling Street. The area at that time was called Bo Beh Kang,
which meant “No Tail End” in hokien
Tomb of Mr Gan Eng Seng 颜永成 (1844-1899), a philanthropist and Chinese
leader. He founded Gan Eng Seng School and helped to start the Thong Chai
Another big but simple, well-maintained tomb of Mr Tan Ean Kiam (1881-1943)
with his wife. He was a Chinese community leader, philanthropist and founding
member of OCBC and Tong An Association. He and his son Tan Tock San were
also on board management of Chinese Chamber of Commerce and other organisations.
Tan Tock San was also founding chairman of Tan Kah Kee foundation. Ean Kiam
Place in Katong and Tan Ean Kiam Building in Raffles Place were named after him
Tomb of Mr Tan Kim Ching (1852-1892), son of Mr Tan Tock Seng. A
philanthropist and leading Chinese merchants in Singapore, he was also
Consul of Japan, Thailand and Russia, as well as a member of the Royal
Court of Siam. Kim Ching Street was named after him
Another famous Lim Family. Mr Lim Chong Pang 林忠邦 (1904-1956) was
buried together with his wife, mother and brother. A Chinese community
leader, he was involved in the movie industry. His father is the Pineapple
King Lim Nee Soon 林义顺. The last male descendent of the family passed
away in 2009, thus ending the Lim’s family line
Tomb of Mr Lim Chong Pang’s brother, Mr Lim Chong Kuo (1902-1938)
on the left and their mother, Mrs Lim Nee Soon (1884-1942) on the right.
He was married to the daughter of Tan Kah Kee, another philanthropist.
Chong Kuo Road was named after him while Peck Hay Road was named after
As Itchyfingers were taking a break, we saw an elderly lady walked down from one of the trails with another lady. After the other lady left, she smiled to us and we exchanged morning greetings. Then out of the blue she told us, “By the way, I am Lee Kuan Yew’s niece.” We were still munching our rotis and were a bit taken back as to why would she wanna tell us that, so we didn’t give any expected or diplomatic responses. Hence there was this awkward moment of silence before she joined some other people. I think she must be thinking that we were so rude… :p
It was only later when we followed the map up the trail up the hill that we finally understood why the sudden introduction from the lady….
No wonder the lady told us she is the niece of Mr Lee! She must have thought we had already visited this tomb! Wonder if the Lee Family still visits this tomb?
Besides these famous people, there were also other tombs that we found interesting…
On the map, there was a 5 Cats Tomb that really made Itchyfingers very curious and we were very eager to find it. Was it some rich family’s pets tomb? Did they really bury five cats underneath?
Nearby we also saw another tomb with sikh soldiers…
We walked in and found three of these tombs in a seemingly private area.
It was quite a big space and I wondered why these weren’t marked out
on the map. They were all covered with overgrown vegetation…
We were trying to follow the map to the largest grave that belonged to Mr Ong Sam Leong, but somehow we missed a turn and couldn’t find it. But we found these big ones instead…
There were just so much interesting tombs to be discovered. While we followed the map in search of those rich and famous old residents, we were also intrigued by some other equally huge ones or others with interesting designs and figurines. Couldn’t help but felt a sense of sadness that these would soon be gone. Such a waste given the rich cultural and historical values behind these tombs. The government may have already decided and planned for the future use of this vast piece of land sitting in prime location, but if we the people think that Bukit Brown Cemetery is worth keeping for our future generation, maybe with our collective voices we can try to appeal to the government and make another Chek Jawa happen? Even if we don’t care about the dead, how about the living? There are a lot of old and beautiful trees around the cemetery, and with these come pretty birds and animals that made the cemetery their home. Do we want to take all these away from them like what we did to the many forested areas in Singapore? Where will they go then? Itchyfingers will be back again soon to look for the remaining famous tombs marked out by API that we didn’t manage to find, especially the huge tomb of Mr Ong Sam Leong. We will also be checking out the wildlife there again on our next visit. Do stay tuned!
Also see related post:
> Permanent Resident #1