Revisiting the Old Residents @ Bukit Brown

November 20, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Posted in itchy backside | 1 Comment
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On our last trip to Bukit Brown Cemetery, Itchyfingers didn’t manage to find the largest tomb in Singapore there. This day, we went again with the API map, determined to find it.

The government has already made plan to open up roads there and some tombs will have to make way soon. The remaining tombs will also have to be exhumed for yet another condominium projects in a few years’ time. So we were expecting to see researchers, photos and history enthusiasts racing against time to document the thousands of famous as well as unknown tombs here. But surprisingly this time there weren’t many visitors.

As we drove in, something caught our eyes…

Oh my goodness! Whose head was this?? Hahaha…Dun worry, it was 
just a rubber mask with wig laid here by some prankster…But it happened to
be Halloween when we visited…Haha…who said Singaporeans have no
sense of humour? 😀

Soon we were at the prominent tomb with these Sikh soldiers. There was
now a paper behind one of them. So this tomb belonged to a Mr Chew
Geok Leong, a Chinese physician who died in 1939. He prepared his own coffin,
tomb and the Sikh statutes when he was still alive and kept them in one of
the servants rooms 

Even with the map, we failed to locate the largest tomb belonging to Mr Ong Sam Leong. We couldn’t find those red-and-white plastic tape left on trees by the API as markings leading to the prominent tomb. So we reckoned we were in the wrong way as we had seen on tv how the API founder, Mr Raymond Goh, brought reporter to the tomb and it seemed like a rather straight forward route. So Tisu Boy studied the map again and went into the woods to check out one more time. He came back to say he saw a huge one but it seemed to be blocked by a fallen tree. It was indeed quite tough to locate cos we had to bash through long knee-height grass before bending down to pass the fallen tree. Maybe the recent heavy rainfalls had caused the path to be obstructed by the fallen tree?

But it was well worth the effort! Not too far away from the fallen tree was a big tomb….

This was another big double tomb, but it was not the one we were looking
for. Tisu Boy, being taller, could peep behind the fallen tree and see the
much bigger tomb. So he was very sure that must be the one!

There were a pair of Sikh soldiers too! Will check out this tomb again later….
cos I was really anxious to see just how big is the largest tomb in Singapore!

Meanwhile Tisu Boy was already at the tomb waiting for me…

Oh my goodness!!! Really such a huge tomb!!!! 

This was from the back of the tomb, at the top of the hill…This site said  the
tomb is “comparable to the size of 10 typical three-room flats in Singapore” or
600 square metres!

I’m not sure about the exact size…but it was BIG!

There were patched up work with ugly white tiles among these original
ones. Obviously it is not easy to find similar substitutes today… 

In front of the tomb was this long, huge and deep ditch for drainage…
It was almost to my hip…and supposed to be 15 metres long!

A Sikh soldier by the left…

Another on the right…this one was missing part of his rifle…Ok, Itchyfingers
was not fooling around…This was for size comparison! I think the soldier
should be about 1.5 m tall… 😀 Oh by the way, if you like 
my tee-shirt,
you can get it from the SPCA!  

Tomb of Mr Ong Sam Leong (1857-1918), a prominent Straits Chinese 
businessman. He was the sole supplier of mining workers to phosphate rich
Christmas Island. Sam Leong Road in Jalan Besar was named after him

Wife of Mr Ong Sam Leong, Madam Yeo Yean Neo

Relief depicting Chinese deities lined the walls of the tomb

Besides the Sikh guards, there were other statues guarding the tomb….

I think this should be the 金童 (translates as Golden Boy)

This should be the 玉女 (or Jade Maiden)

There were a pair of these lions…

On the moat were yet another pair of lions in this different style… Can you
see the tomb behind?

From far this looked like another big tomb of some rich people, though
compared to Mr Leong’s tomb, this is quite modest. But when we went
closer to look, we realised it was actually for the 福神 which we reckoned
should be the 土地公 or the Earth Deity! Many of the bigger tombs we saw
at Bukit Brown had their own Earth Deity Shrines which were normally
about the size of a brick. But this one is as big as a typical tomb! And yes,
this is also part of Mr Ong Sam Leong tomb! 

It even has its own pair of lion statues. This style is rather uncommon…I
dun think we saw any of these anywhere here. Quite cute with two buck teeth…

We went back to take more photos of the large tomb and it was only then we noticed this sign…

A small laminated namecard size card was stapled with the red-and-white tape 
on a trunk. Ong Boon Tat? So Boon Tat Street in the Central Business
Distinct was named after him? 

So the double tombs Itchyfingers saw before that of Mr Ong Sam Leong’s 
belonged to his son Mr Ong Boon Tat (1888-1941) and his wife! Together with
his brother Ong Peng Hock, they started the New World Amusement Park at
Jalan Besar before selling it to the Shaw Organisation in the 1930s

As we made our way down, we stopped by these two nearby tombs. They looked rather modern and modest…Again, there was a small sign referring this tomb to that of a Mr Ong Peng Hock…As there was no description hung on the tomb like those we saw on the previous trip, we didn’t know the relation of these two tombs to that of Mr Ong Sam Leong. But since they were all of the same family name, we guessed that they should be related.

It was only after I did some research that I realised that Mr Ong Peng
Hock was the other son. He died in 1968. Both his and his wife’s tombs were
erected by their
 Granddaughter according to the English inscription. As to
why the tombs were not as elaborate as his father and brother, we also
do not know

The Earth Deity shrine at Mr Ong Hock Peng’s tomb

Luckily we decided not to turn back the same way we came from but looked
for alternative way out! From Mr Ong Peng Hock’s tomb were a few steps
made of bricks, and from there we saw this well-trodden track!

Follow this path and soon we were out! This was the path I saw on tv where
the report took! How did we end up at the other unused track??

This was what we saw when we were finally out at the main road. A clear
path could be seen here and if you see this tomb circled here, you will be on
the right track

The circled tomb belonged to this Madam Tay Tam Neo

Still cannot find or cannot read map? Then look for the caretaker’s tentage 
at the left of this picture. Guarantee you wouldn’t be lost! Now, Itchyfingers
must had read the map wrongly!

Another interesting find was these four tombs near the main road not that far from the main gate. Somehow we never noticed them…

The design of these tombs was unique with a roof over them. I think these
belonged to two brothers and their wives. Only the last one
 at the far right
had English inscription below. According to it, it belonged
 to a Dr Ho Siu
Khan (1886 – 1958)

See, from the back who could have imagined they are tombs?

I was walking far behind Tisu Boy after taking photos of these tombs. Chatted with an elderly man who came in his jeep with his indian workers, carrying big boxes of paper offerings for his grandfather. Then as I walked alone leisurely, a simple tomb at a distance caught my attention. I don’t think I have seen another other tomb with a black slab of marble (?) here at Bukit Brown. There was a gentleman cleaning the tomb. A lady was waiting at the car by the roadside and I found out that the tomb belonged to the man’s grandfather. The gentleman returned after finishing his cleaning and asked if I know about the story behind this tomb. I was totally surprised when he asked if I know of Dr Sun Yat Sen and then said this was the man who helped Dr Sun with his revolutionary work in Singapore. Immediately I looked through my bino at the tomb. Oh my goodness! I was looking at the tomb of Mr Tan Chor Nam and talking to his grandson!

Tomb of Mr Tan Chor Nam 陈楚楠 (1884-1971). According to the grandson,
Mr Tan, like Dr Sun, was a forward-thinking man of his time and so he
preferred to have a simple and modern-looking tomb

The freshly cleaned-up tomb. Mr Tan had five children and the guy is
one of his two grandsons…

People in the olden days had two names…

Luckily Itchyfingers had been watching the news and also visited the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall recently when it reopened after renovation so we had heard of Mr Tan Chor Nam. According to the grandson, there weren’t much historical record about the elder Mr Tan as he preferred to have a low-profile life after the Xinhai Revolution in 1911. He wouldn’t have shared with me stories about his grandfather if he didn’t think that I had already knew about the tomb from the recent Chinese newspaper report. In fact, earlier on there was a professor who came specially to look for the tomb. He was also looking for the 12 other founding members of the Singapore branch of the Tong Meng Hui, or the Chinese Revolutionary Alliance, all buried in Bukit Brown. Though he was only seven years old when Mr Tan Chor Nam passed away, the younger Mr Tan was obviously very proud of his grandfather as a selfless person who, like Dr Sun, wanted the best for China and the Chinese people at that time.

Itchyfingers were lucky to have met and talked to the younger Mr Tan. I think like many younger Singaporeans who aren’t too familiar with the Chinese history, we didn’t understand the significance behind the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall and the work done by Dr Sun and his compatriots. We actually thought we were forcing the connection just because Dr Sun had three brief stay at the villa here. But after talking to someone who is closer to the man who helped with the revolution and had close ties with Dr Sun, I couldn’t help but feel that we chinese people from all over the world really owed it to Dr Sun and his friends. Without them, the men may still be wearing pigtails on their half-shaven heads and the women may still have to bind their feet, and lived under the Feudal System. Mr Tan was not sure if his grandfather’s tomb would have to give way to the road. It would really be a pity if it has to go as Itchyfingers feel that Mr Tan Chor Nam deserved to be recogonised for the contribution he had made. And what better way than to have something physical for people to come and learn more about the man rather than read about him on books?

Itchyfingers really hope that Bukit Brown can be preserved and not be exhumed for future development. Not only it is full of life with mature trees, birds and insects, there are also so many stories and histories behind the numerous tombs there, waiting for us to discover. If you have not visited Bukit Brown Cemetery, do make a trip down. If more people are aware of its beauty, historical and cultural values, maybe we can save Bukit Brown with our collective voices to the government. Singapore has already lost so much of its rich history in the name of development. Take action before it is too late!

Also see related post:
> Saving the Old Residents at Coffee Hill


1 Comment »

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  1. I worked near there for three years but never knew of its existence until now *.*

    Sometimes I think it’s inevitable that old landmarks give way to new developments, given our limited land resources… Glad that people like you are documenting this part of our history for people like me who know nothing about it!

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