Monday, October 24, 2011

Bukit Brown Cemetery (Coffee Hill 咖啡山) - A Heritage Visit

Continual development is inevitable in a small country like Singapore (the gahmen said so) and the fate to keep this coming 9-decade old Chinese cemetery from demolition is dimming with each passing year.

Numerous photo-taking visits had been attempted by me at night but most of the pictures have turned out to be unusable due to the poor lighting condition typical of any cemetery.

What prompted me to specially organise a recent expedition to Bukit Brown was a news article that some of the graves will be exhumed next month to make space for an upcoming road.

Let's begin with the entrance of the graveyard.

A yellow notice on one of the pillars mentioned operating hours (closed at 5.30pm daily and will be kept locked on Sundays and Public Holidays), which is strange as i have no problem in accessing the compound beyond the official hours.

Pieces of coloured paper were found scattered in the main holding area after the gates; likely the remnants of a ritual done a few hours before our arrival.

Either that or filming of some sort. It can be unnerving to see skulls on sticks (thank god i found these in the bright daylight) and only upon further investigation that i realised they are props.

Compared to my first visit fourteen years ago, some of the graves are now relatively well maintained with many sporting a fresh coat of paint and/or new polished facade.

Unfortunately, most are still in a bad state of neglect.

While the unstable terrain, confused and often unreliable grave markings are always cited for such neglect, i have no doubt that the erosion of Chinese culture and heritage amongst the younger generation play a significant part as well.

With over 100,000 tombs spread out in a disorderly manner on a rural terrain dotted with big trees, Bukit Brown cemetery is a hot spot for thrill-seekers and paranormal enthusiasts. Even i have been a regular visitor; often driving in at night to show friends an unknown face of Singapore.

To me, i never find Singapore boring like many of my countrymen. It's just a matter of taking things for granted and never venturing beyond the comfort of shopping centres. Oh, blame it on the hot and humid weather as well.

Nuff said - let's continue with the rest of the pictures. This puzzles me as it seems like a rusty gateway to a more elaborate tomb but there isn't any directly facing the gates.

What's interesting about Chinese tombs is that every detail has a specific meaning and follows a certain format to ensure the well-being of the deceased in the netherworld and the prosperity of his/her descendants.

Statues of maids are commonly found at the sides of Chinese tombs. In ancient times, living maids and concubines were sealed together in the tomb to accompany their master in his last journey.

Obviously, we can't do that now.

Stone lions serve the role as guardians of the tomb.

Unique marker at the back of a tomb. Unlike the somewhat round perimeter of Chinese tombs, this is set in a rectangular shape like tombs in Christian cemeteries.

Headstone with pure English words is a rarity in this cemetery that has stopped accepting burials since 1973. According to the headstone, this lady died at the age of 26 in 1931 - a time when most Chinese could barely understand basic English.

Since Bukit Brown is one of the bigger cemeteries for over fifty years, many prominent figures were buried within its huge compound of over 230 acres. One of them is Lim Chong Pang; where the name of Chong Pang constituency in Nee Soon GRC comes from.

Thanks to Asian Paranormal Investigators (API) and One-North Explorers, directional markings are made on red-white tape for the benefit of visitors who are interested in learning more about unconventional graves or those of famous persons.

Once you find the graves, a piece of A4 sized paper will elaborate more. In this case, it was explained the grave belongs to the wife of Lim Nee Soon (Yishun gets its name from this pineapple King) and mother of Lim Chong Pang.

Beware the blood thirsty mosquitoes! Bring along an insect repellent if your bloody is as tasty as mine.

An ongoing experiment for an environmental project to collect leaves i think. This graveyard is apparently popular with nature lovers as well.

Trekking is inevitable given the lack of proper roads and barely visible pathways! My only worry then was on snakes and i could not help jumping whenever i heard rustling coming from nearby grass and leaves.

Sinister looking stone lion caked with green paint - its mouth did appear as if something bloody has just been eaten... Again, i am glad i make the trip in daytime.

Although the use of five tombstones within such a constrained space is unusual, no further explanation is given by API and One-North. Guess they are too busy cataloging the 100,000 graves before the ministries decide to drop another bombshell.

Offerings made in front of a tomb. Such offerings increase during the annual Qing Ming festival when descendents pay a visit.

Don't ask me what this is this brick made structure. I personally thought it is a hardy burner for paper money.

Such intricate design for a tomb dating back to the 1930s is not possible without proper maintenance and regular visits.

Another photograph to prove my point. If you refer to the previous picture, you can also clearly make out figures with wings; a possible biblical reference.

White tomb of the great great great grandson of Tan Tock Seng. A colour mismatch as the grey gravestone stands in stark contrast with the white surrounding.

Guardian of the triple tomb; a fierce stone eagle baring its teeth.

A visit to Bukit Brown cemetery is never complete without stopping over at a tomb flanked by statues of gun-toting Sikh guards.

'Belonged' to a Chinese sinseh (Chew Geok Leong) who died in 1939 and believed in preparing for his death by having his coffin and these statues kept in the house while he was still living; an unorthodox action in the Chinese community even for now.

I am ending the post with the tomb of the grandfather of Singapore's founding fathers and great grandfather of Singapore's current Prime Minister; Lee Kuan Yew and Lee Hsien Loong.

For those who believe in Fengshui, the tomb of Lee Hoon Leong was placed right next to the grave of Confucius descendent. Is there any link to the Lee's family political standing in Singapore?

I wonder.


From Lornie Road towards Bukit Timah, turn left into Kheam Hock Road and turn left again into Lorong Halwa. The gates to Bukit Brown cemetery lies ahead.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...