Sungei Road

Monday, May 01, 2017

Gravestones of the young ( Bukit Brown )

From an earlier post titled, They Died Young (posted on 1 March 2012);  i shared an observation that there are many children who died young and are buried in Bukit Brown. This article features such gravestones from those who have died young which will be updated whenever there are new re-discoveries.


Block / Hill 1

Master Eddie Chan Sin Chuan 
Died: June 29, 1942 age 16 (Block 1 Division B plot P64)
Eddie Chan Sin Chuan 


Block / Hill 2

Miss Mary Wee (daughter of Mr and Mrs Wee Eng Cheng)
Died: March 17, 1927 age 12  (Block 2 , Division C , plot 161)
Mary Wee


Miss Tan Poey Choo (daughter of Mr. and Mrs, Tan Chong Gark)
Died: May 31, 1927 age 8 (Block 2 Division A plot 162)
Tan Poey Choo


Ong Siew Kim (male)
Died: September 25, 1928 Age 15  (Block 2 Division G, plot 151)
Ong Siew Kim 


Tan Huck Hean (third son of Mr. and Mrs Tan Chong Chew )
(October 30, 1919 - November 18, 1928) age 9 (Block 2 Division F, plot 316)
Tan Huck Hean 

Daisy Tan (daughter of Mr. and Mrs Tan Chong Chew)
(October 25, 1925 - December 20, 1933) age 10  (Block 2 Division F, plot 315)
Daisy Tan 


Miss Goh Bock Neo (daughter of Mr. Goh Keng Ann )
(8 January 1913- 2 August 1927)  (Block 2, Division B, plot 19)
Goh Bock Neo

Block / Hill 3

Choo Kay Kiat
Died: July 25, 1929 age 15 (Block 3 Division A plot 1228)
Choo Kay Kiat 


Teo Ban Neo (female) daughter of L.S. Teo
Died: 18 December 1930  17 months  (Block 3 Division B) plot 1244
Teo Ban Neo


Tan Kang Bee Chew 
Died in 1940  aged 10 (Block 3 Division D plot 391 A) 
Tan Kang Bee Chew 

Lee Liang Hoon ( fourth son of Dr and Mrs Lee Lian Hoe)
16th March 1929- 1st February 1931 
Lee Liang Hoon 



Ng Swee Huat (male)
Died: September 12, 1930 age 17 (Block 3 Division A, plot 5)
Ng Swee Huat 




Block / Hill 4

Lim Kim Siew (male)
Died: January 6, 1937 Age 9 (Block 4 Division A plot 818) 
Lim Kim Siew


Lily Tan (female)
(June 20, 1938 - November 26, 1938) 5 months (Block 4, Division C, plot 773)
Lily Tan



Block / Hill 5


Dickie Lee (male)
Died: 2nd December 1941, Age 6  (Block 5, Section A, plot 64)
Dickie Lee



Teo Soon Lam (male)
Died: Sept 10,  1941 6 months old (Block 5 Division C, plot 18)
Teo Soon Lam


Tan Kai How (male)
Died: September 16, 1941 age 4 (Block 5 Division B plot 41)
Tan Kai How

Miss Ruby Lee (female)
Died: June 24, 1941 age 5 (Block 5 Section A plot 107)
Ruby Lee

Miss Lim Sian Geok (female)
Died: March 4, 1946 age 8 (Block 5 Division A plot 38.2 )
Lim Sian Geok


Low Thiam Swee (male)
18 January 1941 - 17 September 1941 age 6 months (Block 5, Division B, plot 14)
Low Thiam Swee




If you go through the Burial Registrar, there are many children buried in the Pauper Section over the years. Mapping and finding them will take time and i am told many are in unmarked graves as well.

20th September 1930,  twin daughters of Ong Seng Hong

1st August 1941 , Belom Nama (Malay for unnamed ) , age unknown, male





Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Godmakers - The Artisans and the Effigies (Say Tian Hng Buddha Shop)

The story of Say Tian Hng Buddha Shop is the story of the reality and issues facing many traditional trades in Singapore :- remaining relevant and of course profitable; succession and continuity; and finally of adaptation and yet keeping to tradition. I am lucky to have joined this tour by Ng Tze Yong to witness firsthand, the two artisans maintaining the craftsmanship of being "Godmakers", his father, Ng Yeow Hua, (64 years old ) and his grandmother, Madam Tan Chwee Lian (87 years old). 

Effigy and who it represents

There are many effigies in the shop in various phases of construction and it can be a confusing sight especially if you are not a Taoist or Buddhist and do not have background of the stories of the Gods or Deities it represent. I draw parallel experience to the beautiful and intricate stone carvings that i often see in Bukit Brown Cemetery that i still often struggle in identifying. In the case of the effigies, i am fortunate to have Tze Yong, who brought this stories to live in a manner that is very easy to understand and educated us to also look out key things such as the posture of the effigy, the clothing, the various tools such as weapons added on and creatures that are carved and added on together with the effigy as part of the recognition process.

Nezha (哪吒)
Nezha was a son of a military commander, Li Jing and at birth came out as a ball of flesh. When cut opened, Nezha came out as full grown boy with ability to speak, walk and possessed great powers. Nezha got into trouble after killing the 3rd son of the Sea Dragon King who then threaten to flood humankind. Nezha realising what he did, selflessly committed suicide by carving out his skin and flesh and removing his bones and returning it to his parents. After his death, Nezha visited his mother in spirit who granted his wish of building a temple so that his soul may find comfort. The temple grew in reputation of one that is able to grant miracle cures. However his father found out and set the temple ablaze. Nezha was who was angered by this, resurrected and equipped with Wind Fire Wheels  (風火輪) and Fire-tipped Spear  (火尖槍), battled his father. It was only after celestial intervention that they finally reconciled.

The effigy of Nezha can be represented in its child-like form or the form where it is ready for battle. It is often seen with Wind Fire Wheels, Fire-tipped Spear and in the picture below you can see it battling a Sea Dragon. Nezha is seen to be like a Patron Deity for Drivers and also Gamblers. The story of Nezha can also be found on the tomb panels in Bukit Brown, the example below from the tomb of Mr and Mrs. Lim Peng Chin.

Nezha 

Nezha fighting his father, Li Jing on a Bukit Brown tomb panel 


Xuanwu (玄武 ) 
Xuanwu (玄武 ), also known as the Dark Warrior was said to be butcher who had killed many animals without flinching an eye. As the years went, he felt a huge remorse and decided to give up this profession. One day, he assisted a woman in labor and later washed the blood stains in a nearby river. He felt that to really cleanse himself of his sins, he dug out his stomach and intestines and washed them in the river. In the process he lost both. The Jade Emperor was moved by Xuanwu sincerity and made him an immortal. This was not the end of the story, the stomach and intestines that was lost in the river turned into a demonic turtle and demonic snake and started causing chaos in the world and it was only Xuanwu that eventually subdued them and used them as his means of transport. Hence, you will often see Xuanwu seated with barefeet on a turtle and snake. Xuanwu is often seen as the Patron Deity for Martial Arts.

Xuanwu 

Guan Yu (关羽) / Guan Gong (Lord Guan 关公)
Portrayed as having a red face, he was said to be fugitive on constant run until the day he joined a militia that was formed to bring unity and stability to a China facing turmoil and power mongering. That militia was formed by Liu Bei. Later, Guan Yu, Liu Bei and Zhang Fei become sworn brothers and their bond of loyalty was stuff of legends often featured in the various media popularly known as "Romance of the Three Kingdoms". Guan Yu is known as the God of Literature and God of War. However this is not to be mistaken to be in the same context of Ares or Mars. In fact Guan Gong involvement in this case is for justice and not those who fight for blood lust. That been said, he is often seen as the Patron Deity in Hong Kong Police stations as well as for the Triads in Hong Kong. Guan Gong is also the Patron Deity for Traders, to scare away evil spirits.

In Bukit Brown, the panel of Teo Chin Chay's tomb shows the story of a Guan Yu, being treated after being wounded by a poison arrow. While the physician was scrapping the poison of from the flesh and bone, Guan Yu is seen to be calmly playing Chinese Chess to distract himself from the pain without any local anesthetic.

Guan Yu (关羽) / Guan Gong (Lord Guan 关公) 

Guan Yu been treated by a physician after being struck by a poison arrow.

Monkey God / Sun Wukong 
There are many stories on this mythological monkey who came to possessed a weapon such as an 8,000 kg rod that can be shrink to the size of a needle and whose great fighting skills include those that allows himself to be cloned using his hair, transform into other beings and to travel great distances by doing somersault. His power and quest for recognition as a powerful God led to many battles against the Jade Emperor and the heavenly army. The rebellion against the Heavens was finally "squashed" literally with the intervention of Buddha trapping Monkey God under a mountain which became his prison for 500 years.

Guanyin (观音 ) in search of a bodyguard to protect a monk (Tang Seng) whose mission is to make a Journey to the West to retrieve Buddhist sutras. Long story short, Monkey King did a good job in overcoming all the tribulations that came their way and thus eventually atoning for his sins and was freed.

In Chua Soon Leong's tomb in Greater Bukit Brown, the Journey of the West panel portrays this story.

Effigies of Monkey King /Sun Wukang 

Journey to the West stone panel of Chua Soon Leong's tomb 


From wood to Gods 


"Godmakers" - The Artisans 

The story of the Say Tian Hng Buddha Shop is not just the story about the effigy of deities and Gods been meticulously carved, threaded and painted. It is the story of the early Singapore Chinese Pioneers who settled in Singapore and grew roots as well. The story of artisans such as Madam Tan Chwee Lian and his son, Ng Yeow Hua was also kindly shared and that made the tour experience much more personal and we got more intimate with them and their aspirations for their future.


Photo of the Ng family
Madam Tan Chwee Lian, 87 years of age went about her work calmly despite the fuss going about her shop and camera lenses and camera shutter sounds intruding into her workspace. She seemed initially shy, but so wrong was i as after warming up to us, she shared with us not only the work she does but also proudly showed to us some of effigies she hand crafted or threaded herself. Her's is a story of a hardworking woman, like many during her generation, bringing up a family of 7 children, ensuring that they received a proper education and with the resources and skill she had sew the clothes that you seem them wearing. It is a story of love and loyalty to her husband and lifelong partner too, learning from ground zero the skills needed to support the family business as well.

There was never a sense of pressure to force any of their children to take over their business, however her eldest son, Ng Yeow Hua (64 years old) now is the main artisan for the business.


Wedding picture of Madam Tan Chwee Lian 70 years ago


Ng Yeow Hua at work 


Ng siblings and grandson, Ng Tze Chong  


Family photos of the Ng artisans at work

The Future for Say Tian Hng? 

Is there a future for such a traditional craft in Singapore and will there be the next generation of Ng artisans to continue the business? I wish i have an answer but personally it is going to be huge challenge. That been said, i sense hope and more importantly this hope is acted upon via the public tours organised by Ng Tze Yong and supported 100% by his family. I also sense his urgency and drive to share, educate and preserve this intangible cultural heritage. Tze Yong has taken very important steps to open the doors to strangers to peek into their personal life's. He has plans to invite interested artisans from other disciplines to step up and learn the skills that are kept in the family business for many generations and to evolve it to make it relevant for future generations to come. Maybe there is also another potential business model in this too.

See previous article: Godmakers-Where Gods are born (Say Tian Hng Buddha Shop).


Contact 

Say Tian Hng Buddha Shop
35 Neil Road Singapore 088821
Mr, Ng Yeow Hua
Tel: 62211042  Handphone: 96607357

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Godmakers - Where Gods are born ( Say Tian Hng Buddha Shop)

The tagline of the facebook invite "Where Gods are born" was what attracted me to read more. It was an opportunity to visit an effigy shop in Singapore, which was probably the oldest and last surviving one in Singapore, Say Tian Hng Buddha Shop at No. 35 Neil Road. I signed up immediately as i never actually seen how deities were actually made. When the day of the tour arrived, we were greeted at the shop by Mr. Ng Tze Yong, a young gentleman and son of the current owner of the shop, Ng Yeow Hua. Ng Tze Yong does not operate the shop, but nevertheless was not only an eloquent speaker and spokesperson, he speaks with great passion on keeping the traditions of his family trade alive and relevant in today's changing world. The two people that are the artisans of this shop are that of his father, Ng Yeow Hua, (64 years old ) and his grandmother, Madam Tan Chwee Lian (87 years old) who have maintained the necessary skills to run the business till this very day.

Our guide and spokesperson for the family of Ng Artisans, Ng Tze Yong. 


History of Say Tian Hng

The origins of the effigy shop that we see today in 35 Neil Road Singapore can be traced back to 1897 with the arrival of two brothers from Kinmen. One of the brother stay in Singapore and set up shop at 19 Club Street that was called "Say Tian Kok" while the second went to Thailand to venture into a puppetry troupe. When the brother in Singapore passed away without a successor, the brother from Thailand came to Singapore to continue the business. After the death of the brother, the Club street shop was managed by one of his son, Ng Yew Kian (not to sure if i got the name correct) while another shop named "Say Tian Hng" was opened at No. 6 Genmill Lane, operated by another son, Ng Tian Sang. With government redevelopment of both Club Street and Genmill Lane in the late 1980's, the shops were acquired under the land acquisition act. The shop that was Genmill Lane  moved to No 35 Neil Road, where Say Tian Hng Buddha Shop operates till today.

Former shop at No 6 Genmill Lane. 

Ng Tian Sang at No 6 Genmill Lane
 (source: National Archives, Singapore)

Ng Yew Kian of Say Tian Kok at 19 Club Street
(source: National Archives Singapore) 

35 Neil Road (Say Tian Hng Buddha Shop) 

Today's visit, i learned that the effigies of the deities are still made in-house and the material used are Camphor wood (which is lighter and easier to carve especially for the finer details such as hands and fingers ) and in other cases, Teak wood. (a hard wood) From the block of wood, the tracing works and finally carving will take place, done by the artisan after consulting the almanac on the right "auspicious" day to start.

Ng Tze Yong showing us the Teak (left) Camphor(right) wood

Artisan carving on the block of wood
(source: National Archives of Singapore) 

After the carving process is completed, the delicate process of "threading" takes place and beautiful intricate designs of dragons and other symbolic motifs (examples of prosperity, authority) are threaded by hand using dough (in the past this dough would have been made from the of ashes of joss sticks (in the past). This was for the past 70 years done by Madam Tan Chwee Lian, the matriarch of the Ng artisans. At 87 years of age, Madam Tan makes fast work of the spreading of the dough to fine strips using a marble stone and a wooden paddle (the same one she has been using since she started learning the trade after marrying into the family. Although she claims her eyesight is not as good as it was, you can see the she is very much an expert artisan who takes pride in her work and her eyes brighten up when we complimented her of her art pieces.

Madam Tan Chwee Lian with steady hands, threading the dough so that it
sticks to the surface of the wood to form the motifs. 


Madam Tan focusing on the threading. In front of her is the
marble stone and wooden paddle she uses 

A sprightly Madam Tan Chwee Lian warming up to us !

The owner of the shop, Ng Yeow Hua goes about quickly and quietly with his works but he is paying close attention to the talk taking place in his shop and answers quickly whenever his son, Tze Yong ask for any clarifications. He was busy painting the effigy and after the crowd as left, switched off the fan and started peeling gold paper to paste on the effigy. This gold paper cost roughly $1 per small piece and requires skillful handling to peel it without the ends sticking to each other. The gold paper are purchased from Thailand.

Mr. Ng Yeow Hua painting the effigy 


Effigy of Fa Zhu Gong being painted 


Sticking the gold paper on the effigy 

The birth of a Deity

Once completed, the effigy is still an effigy. The consecration ritual takes place only after a Taoist Priest or a Tang-kee ( a spiritual medium) blesses the effigy thus turning it to a deity. The process usually involves taking the blood from the cockscomb (or crest) of a white hen and dabbing it onto the eyes, ears and limbs of the effigy.  The white hen symbolises purity, blood, live and the cockscomb, supremacy.

Godmakers - the artisans and who the effigy represents

Ng Tze Yong was a very eloquent story teller, sharing with us the stories about what deities the effigy represents that are made in the shop. He gave personal insights about his family especially the stories about his grandmother bringing up the family and supporting the business at the same time. This were stories that inspired me and are indeed stories of the early pioneers of modern Singapore that made Singapore successful and prosperous. Finally, Tze Yong shared with me his aspirations on sharing this cultural heritage beyond the family itself. The effigies are indeed intangible cultural heritage and artisans such as Madam Tan Chwee Lian and Ng Yeow Hua, living cultural assets that skills need to be documented and their skills and knowledge passed on to the next generation of artisans.

I admire Tze Yong for working hard to make this craft that is perceived to be dying in Singapore by firstly sharing it through such talks and coming up with plans to inject new life into it and even transforming it by incorporating it to modern artworks. The artisans need not be effigy markers of Taoist and Buddhist statutes but could also be modern wood sculptures incorporating this age old traditional methods used by the Ng family. I hope his ideas work and take shape. To me that will be something that his parents, grandparents, his great grandparents can be proud of !

In my next article i will share more about my experience  and photos from today's talk, which includes the artisans themselves and the deities that the effigy represents.

Ng family and today's visitors 

Contact 

Say Tian Hng Buddha Shop
35 Neil Road Singapore 088821
Mr, Ng Yeow Hua
Tel: 62211042  Handphone: 96607357

References 

Singapore-Image Carver. (Photographs).National Archives of Singapore
Singapore-Shop. (Photographs).National Archives of Singapore
"Can survive, la" : cottage industries in high-rise Singapore / Margaret Sullivan ; photographs Henry Wong, Michael Neo.




Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Tan Geok Lim (Bukit Brown)

Tan Geok Lim was an employee of the Raffles Hotel. He passed away at the age of 46 on 5th October 1937 at his residence in 41 Onan Road, leaving behind his beloved mother, wife and 5 children. Listed on Tan Geok Lim's tomb are the name of the 5 children; sons: Tan Eng Khoon, Tan Eng Chuan, Tan Eng Swee ; daughters; Tan Kim Neo and Tan Chwee Neo. Tan Geok Lim is buried in Hill 4 Section B, plot 282.



Raffles Hotel Staff

This is a first finding, well at least for me , of a person buried in Bukit Brown who was a staff of the Raffles Hotel and this is further confirmed in a 1921 newspaper article, where it list the donors by the Raffles Hotel staff for Princess Mary Wedding. On the list of Raffles staff list is not only Tan Geok Lim, but also Arshak Sarkies (1868- 9 January 1931), the proprietor of Raffles Hotel at that time. The Sarkies brothers ( Martin, Tigran, Aviet and Arshak) were well known hoteliers that owned and ran many hotels,  including the Eastern and Oriental Hotel in Penang and Seaview Hotel and Raffles Hotel in Singapore.

Arshak Sarkies was for 40 years, a proprietor of hotels and he was 62 years old when he passed away in Penang on 9 January 1931 after a long spell of poor health. He is survived by a widow and 3 daughters. In the same year, Sarkies Brothers Company went into receivership and its hotel eventually sold.

1922 article (source: NewspaperSG) 

Raffles Hotel
(source: Twentieth Century Impressions of British Malaya)

Raffles Hotel and dinning room view
(source: Twentieth Century Impressions of British Malaya)

Sarkies Brothers - Arshak, Aviet and Tigran
(source: Twentieth Century Impressions of British Malaya)


Arshak Sarkies (source: NewspaperSG)


Family


Daughter: Tan Kim Neo
Tan Kim Neo (eldest daughter of Mrs Tan Geok Lim and the late Mr. Tan Geok Lim ) got engaged to Freddie Seow Poh Seng (eldest son of Mr & Mrs. Seow Soon Kee ) in October 1954.


References

Princess Mary's Wedding. (1922, February 15).The Straits Times, page 9
Domestic Occurrences. (1937, October 6). Malaya Tribune, page 10
Advertisement. (1954, October 24). The Straits Times, page 24
Wright, Arnold, and Henry Adolphus Cartwright, eds. Twentieth century impressions of British Malaya: its history, people, commerce, industries, and resources. Lloyd's Greater Britain publishing Company, limited, 1908. pages 941-942