Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Graves of Tan Tock Seng (Singapore's Pionner), his Daughter-in-Law and Granddaughter-in-Law @ Outram [near Tiong Bahru]

Drive, ride or even walk along this stretch of road and i bet most of you would not be observant enough to detect something that is out of sync with the entire surrounding.

For food lovers, there's a higher likelihood of noticing the famous Tiong Bahru Pau and Snack and wondering why is there a queue in such a rundown shop!

The rich history of Tiong Bahru and Outram is known to many (there's even a Tiong Bahru heritage trail) but what's more astonishing was finding the graves of arguably Singapore's most famous pioneer and that of his daughter in law and granddaughter in law in the area. 

A SLA (Singapore Land Authority) sign along the barred road leading to the graves mentioned that it is state land and no trespassing is allowed. Bloody conflicting messages by the government agencies; if i cannot enter, then what's point of having a trail in the first place endorsed by National Heritage Board?!

Only the sight of intimidating fence with barbed wire would discourage me from venturing further. In this case, the lack of those structures means i am free to 'get lost and find my way around'.

And damn was i shocked to see this humongous grave; imagine the loss of government revenue from selling this piece of prime land!

You can find many such graves in Bukit Brown although a size of this magnitude is still considered pretty rare in the century-old cemetery.  Notice the pool of water in that round cavity?

I found these eggs like stuff floating on top! Are they frog eggs which will transform into cute tadpoles or something that are of grave concern to the authorities recently? What was that something? The dengue-causing aedes mosquitoes!

Talking about mosquitoes, the ones in the graves vicinity were vicious in their blood hunt and in my opinion, placed second to the chasing types at Sungei Buloh wetland reserve.

My legs have never been that "red" from scratching for a long time. Moral of the story : always keep a packet of insect repellent sticker in my bag!!!! And wear long jeans!!!

Coming back, this is not the headstone for Tan Tock Seng (陈笃生)! The grave contained the remains of Tan Tock Seng's daughter-in-law and granddaughter-in-law; Madams Chua Seah Neo and Wuing Neo . Why daughter in laws and not his blood related children? Beats me even though the original intention was to have the land as a family burial plot! :(

Burial mound for the two ladies - the fengshui implication for this mound is more pronounced than the generic ones in Lim Chu Kang cemetery. The moat surrounding the mound would have ensured water flowing smoothly from the back of the tomb to the front when it rains; a sign of prosperity for the descendents of the deceased. 

Four stone lions fronted the grave as esteemed guardians of the tomb. Personally, they appeared to be lion hybrids with traits of dragons, fish and qilin; auspicious animals anyway. 

This puzzles me; it's common to reserve a space for the earth deity by the side of Chinese tombs but the Chinese characters are translated as mountain spirit instead. Why? It could be the custom at that time or that the praying for earth deity was not as widespread then; we have to keep in mind that this grave was dated year 1882.

Let's proceed to Tan Tock Seng's grave! I was hesitant in the beginning as i could still recollect the bad experience i had at Lim Chu Kang during the exploration of the jetty house! 

It's hardly comforting when i had to pray that no snake would suddenly slither towards me or drop from the towering trees around me! Adding to the fear factor was that i am very much alone! 

Oh.... That's small and barely reflective for the man who has contributed so much to Singapore's society; one of which is Tan Tan Seng hospital, the lion city's busiest! 

The stone lions were chubbier and cuter though. 

A laminated notice informed visitors to keep the premises clean. As you can see, the grave was situated on an elevated terrain facing a busy and confusing three-road intersection. 

Like his daughter and granddaughter-in-laws; it was once again the use of mountain spirit in place of earth deity. Of course, Tan Tock Seng passed much earlier. 

This great man died during the reign of Emperor Daoguang of the Qing Dynasty in 1850 when he was only 52 years old! Interestingly, he was originally buried somewhere else and moved to the current location around 1882. This move is quite fascinating as grave exhumation is a big taboo for Chinese unless there are strong reasons to do so. 

What will constitute as strong reasons? The mystic art of Fengshui is always the reason, especially when the move can help to improve the luck and fortune for the descendents. The dead can't say anything so the living shall decide.

More historical facts on the philanthropist can be found in this metal plaque. See, what's the point of having a no trespassing sign at the entrance when effort was made to install the information plaques for visitors?!

Awwwww.... so cute right?

Walking back as i cannot withstand the mosquitoes' siege anymore and maintaining a cautious stand as there was still the risk of encountering those slithering creatures! 

I felt there are more than meet the eyes to the stairs; they must have lead to somewhere in their heydays and it's unfortunate i could not travel back in time! 

Following on the above sentence, i could be right; notice the road up the slope? It used to lead to a school known as Gongshan School that was demolished back in 1988. As there was a bend at the corner, the steps by the side of the grave would have continued to the entrance of the school.

Exploration complete! Let's get a can of ice cold coke from the Shell Petrol Station right across the pedestrian bridge to quench the thirst and get some air-con!


Well, it is along Outram Road and super near to bus stop. 

Darn, it's hard to describe the exact location! Kindly refer to the above map as a better alternative. 


  1. Anonymous10:39 PM

    Thanks for the detailed explanation. Happened to chance up your post when I did a goggle search on whose tombs were those as some of us used to played there after sch. Was studying in this school (南洋工商补习学校) in my k1 to pri 2 in 1983. News of demolished spread and I changed to another primary school 1-2years prior the school demolished. Your post has solved the mystery for me. Tks!!

  2. Anonymous11:17 PM

    And you are right, the road slope is to the main entrance drop of point of the school. Our school bus will drop us there and pick us from there after school. The steps beside the grave turn left is another route to walk to the school, but it is not the main entrance. Thank you for solving the mystery of which tombs belongs to who. :)

    I just did a google and finally now I know why there were tombs inside my old school.

    1. You are most welcome! Glad to know this post has given answers and brought back memories of the past! :)

  3. Anonymous12:40 PM

    Thank you sincerely!! ������������������������