Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Mrs. Choa Giang Thye (Bukit Brown)

At Hill 3 Division D is the tomb of Mrs. Choa Giang Thye who passed away at 4:30 pm on February 28, 1934 at the age of 70 at her residence in No. 37 Killiney Road. On her tomb list her only son, Mr. Choa Eng Wan and 2 grandchildren, Choa York Neo and Choa Siew Jin.

Mrs Choa Giang Thye
Her husband, Mr Choa Giang Thye was born in Malacca in 1865 and at age of 12 came to Singapore. He was educated privately in English and spoke fluently in it. He and his brother, Choa Giang Whee were commissioning agents for "Giang Bros". Mr Choa Giang Thye also ran a sawmill company called the Singapore Steam Saw Mill. He was a farmer with the Singapore Opium and Spirits Farm. He served as a Municipal Commissioner for eight years and was elected to be the successor of Mr Seah Liang Seah in the Municipal Board in 1897, introducing a new generation of Chinese men proficient in the English language and was in the Chinese Advisory Board and also the Po Leung Kuk (Society of Protection of Women and Girls). He was awarded the Justice of Peace in 1910
Choa Giang Thye
Choa Giang Thye passed away in March 3, 1911 leaving behind his only son, Choa Eng Wan. His cortege left his house, the "York" at Scott's Road on March 12, 1911 for Alexandra Road Cemetery and was reported to be one of the longest procession seen headed by a large banner from the Weekly Entertainment Club.

Son: Choa Eng Wan
Choa Eng Wan married Lee Poh Lian (daughter of  Mr Lee Choon Guan) when he was 17 years old in 1907. The marriage took place at the "York House" at Scotts Road, the home of Mr Choa Giang Tye which was reported lighted with electricity. Choa Eng Wan served in the ranks of the Chinese Company, S.V.I (Singapore Volunteer Infantry) during the Great War. He was also an avid tennis player.
Choa Eng Wan and Lee Poh Lian
Choa Eng Wan passed away on October 18, 1941 at the age of 54. Madam Lee Poh Lian passed away on May 31, 1961 at the age of 72. The tomb of Mr Choa Eng Wan and Madam Lee Poh Lian are located in Hill 5 Division B and are affected by the 8 lane highway and have already being exhumed. Their peg number were 1209 and 1210.

Grand daughter: Choa York Neo (Mrs Lim Choon Tee)
Choa York Neo (Mrs Lim Choon Tee) passed away in 1938.

Grandson: Choa Siew Jin 
Choa Siew Jin passed away in 1940 at his residence in No 37 Kiliney Road leaving behind a wife and son. He is buried in Bukit Brown. They were survived by one daughter and 2 grandchildren

China's Transition. (1907, September 25). The Straits Times, page 7
Malaka Pinda Rubber Estate. (1914, December 14). The Singapore Free Press, page 10
Central Engine Works. (1917, May 15). The Singapore Free Press, page 3
Tiang Guan Brick and Tile Company. (1920, May 29). The Straits Times, page 9
Sungai Gau Tin Mine.(1921, March 21). The Singapore Free Press, page 16
Death. (1934, March 2). The Straits Times, page 10
Advertisement. (1938, September 26).The Singapore Free Press, page 4
Deaths. (1940, March 7). The Straits Times, page 2
Song, O.S. (1984). One hundred years history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press

Friday, September 05, 2014

First football match in the new National Stadium

The new National Stadium celebrated its first football match here on August 16, 2014 at 6 pm with an exhibition match between Juventus Football Club and Singapore Selection. The match ended with the scoreline of Juventus 5 - Singapore Selection 0 and i am glad i am one of the audience that managed to experience this historical event milestone for the new National Stadium. Below are some of the photos i took of this event.

The new stadium and the line up 
The first goal was scored in the 17th minute of the match by Andrea Pirlo via a free kick. This was followed by a second via a penalty in the 43th minute, again by Andrea Pirlo. One of my favourite ex-Manchester United players, Patrice Evra played in this match, but this time wearing a Juventus jersey. He was substituted when the second half started. In the second half, i got to see another ex-Manchester United player in action, Paul Pogba.

Three more goals were scored in the second half; Paul Pogba (48') Sebastian Giovinco (55') and Kwadwo Asamoah (71') .
The first goal was scored via a free kick by Andrea Pirlo
Patrice Evra in action in the first half
Team mates congratulating Paul Pogba after scoring Juventus 3rd goal

The official attendance for the match was announced to be at 27,338 audience in a new stadium that can sit 55,000 people.
Tonight's attendance: 27, 338

Aerial view of Bukit Brown in 1948 - Kheam Hock Village

In an article dated 1949, it was stated there are about 250 huts along Kheam Hock road. Fast forward to 2014, this village no longer exist except in people's memories and in the rare pictures you find either online on in the former residents private picture collection.

Kheam Hock Village

Chin Chung School, Jalan Berahi, off Kheam Hock 

Battlefield Kheam Hock
Kheam Hock Village was the scene of an intense battle that took place in the final days before the fall of Singapore. Jon Cooper, a battlefield archaeologist involved in the Adam Park digs shared during his presentation and also during walks that was organised by him,  interesting insights about the battle that took place in the area of Bukit Brown. On February 14, 1941, the Japanese of the 11th Regiment, 3rd Battalion launched an assault in force supported by tanks on the defending British soldiers of 4th Suffolk positions across Adam and Lornie Road and finally Bukit Brown. The soldiers were slowly driven back from their positions and finally took up defensive positions along the western edge of the Bukit Brown cemetery. This hasty regroup, meant that a new line of positions had to be prepared in quick time amongst the tombstones of Bukit Brown cemtery. The reinforcement company congregated in the small kampong on the Kheam Hock Road. Among this reinforcing troops which included Indian soldiers of Royal Deccan Horse regiments,  was a sole Indian Pattern Vickers tank and two universal carriers of the late Major Jack Alford’s 100th Light Tank Squadron. While having lunch, the Japanese attacked again in numbers. A fierce battle ensued and the remaining survivors retreated further towards Mount Pleasant were another battle took place before the final surrender.

Reverend Cordingly was the Regimental Clergy who was tasked as Prisoner of War with leading burial parties across the battlefield in the days immediately after the surrender of the island. In his diary he recalled the carnage aftermath of that battle with many bodies lying sprawled across the road. It was from his diary and the completion of Burial Returns forms that Jon Cooper shared with us this story of many war dead which included British, Indian and Japanese soldiers. Some bodies of soldiers were not found but were just marked as co-ordinates based on their last fallen location.

Fast forward to 1955, where an article mentioned of bones being found off Kheam Hock. Was this the remains of one the missing soldiers ?
NewspaperSG (August 1955)
The end of Kheam Hock Village
Parts of Kheam Hock, and Lorong Halwa were affected as a result of the construction of the Pan Island Highway (PIE) in the 1960s-1970s.

In 1984, the government announced that the residents living along the biggest spread of cemeteries from Kheam Hock and Jalan Halwa will be cleared for development with notices send to them. It's residents were given 4 to 5 years to vacate pending new places for the residents to move to. Today, you can make out remnants of the village if you look hard enough.

Aerial photo of Bukit Brown (taken at exhibition) 

Kampong Conditions a Menance. (1949, April 26). The Straits Times
Bones in the lallang. (1955, August 27). The Straits Times
Advertisements. (1971, August 16). The Straits Times
Land with the biggest cemeteries to be cleared. (1984, June 4). Singapore Monitor
Missing: Fallen Soldiers. [website] All things Bukit Brown

Aerial view of Ong Sam Leong in 1948, posted on July 21, 2014
Aerial view of Bukit Brown in 1948-roundabout, posted on July 20, 2014

Monday, August 18, 2014

Salvation Ritual in Bukit Brown

It is now smack in the middle of the 7th month Hungry Ghost festival where wandering ghost are everywhere and festivities to commemorate this occasion can be seen throughout Singapore and that includes the burning of incense, joss paper and offering of food. Getai and wayang are also common features during this month. In Bukit Brown, there are also various ceremonies held by various religious groups, which can be seen as "spiritual philanthropy", to do good deeds to help the wandering spirits cross over to the spiritual realm (as opposed to staying in the realm of the living) or to provide food for the wandering spirits. Many of such ceremonies are held at specific days or hours and held mostly at night. Yesterday i was fortunate to witness one of this 7th month or Hungry Ghost festival ritual in broad daylight. The ritual is called "Salvation Ritual" and it was conducted by Taoist Master, Jave Wu.

A young Taoist Master in his early 30's, Jave made a pledge that he will conduct this salvation ritual out of his own pocket (hence: spiritual philanthropy ) to help bring peace to the wandering souls of Bukit Brown and Greater Bukit Brown area. He finally found time to do it this year and i thought it was timely especially with the exhumation of the affected tombs by the 8 lane highway all completed. As i am not able to converse nor read in Mandarin, i am fortunate to have Jave patiently explained to the observers in English what the ritual was about and its significance after the entire ceremony was over.

Taoist Master Jave Wu conducting his salvation ritual 
Offerings on the table as well as the Tablets 
The ritual is made of a few parts which i hopefully summarised and concise correctly after listening to the Taoist Master (if there is a mistake in interpretation, it is mine alone for not jotting everything). The stages include (1) The summoning of the wandering ghost from Bukit Brown to get them to gather in the ceremonial area (2) The cleansing of the wandering spirits as well to prepare for them to leave peaceful from the realm of living to the spiritual realm  (3) The petition to the heavenly deities in charge to open the heavenly portal. (4) Preparation of cleansed wandering ghost to depart to the spiritual via boarding of the carriage that will help "spring" them to the spiritual realm and the burning of offerings to help ease this process.

Below are some pictures of the ceremony which is something new to me. I am especially impressed to see a Taoist Master who sings and chants in a very melodious manner through the ritual. Another thing that struck me was the youthfulness of the Taoist Priest and his equally youthful apprentices.

Young Apprentices continuing an age old tradition 
Tablets, petitions and offering readied to be sent
(Bukit Brown, Seh Ong, Kopi Sua is mentioned on this tablet) 
Offerings being burn
Offerings being sent to the spiritual realm 
Jave explaining about the significance of the bun
Close up of the bun which is symbolic of the transport which is boarded
by  the wandering spirits. It will spring board them to the spiritual realm 

There was a large ceremony held last night judging from the joss paper strewn around 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Queenstown Heritage Plan unveiled

Queenstown has appeared in today's The Straits Times article titled "Queenstown rolls out heritage plan", which unveiled its heritage blueprint with a five year plan to protect and commemorate its rich history despite redevelopment taking place there. The blueprint conceived by civic group My Community and Queenstown Citizens Consultative Committee calls for the construction of 38 Heritage markers, 11 heritage galleries, 6 neighbourhood heritage corners and a $2 million museum by 2020.

A 1975 Street Directory with pictures of some of the heritage buildings of Queenstown
The above picture was inspired by my guided visit to Queenstown by civic group My Community ( see: Queenstown Heritage Trail: a walk down memory lane ) where i went back to look at a old street directory of the area back in 1975 to see what are the buildings back then. What is also interesting to note is the two roundabouts that exist back then: Queens Circus and Princess Circus.

The heritage markers launched include markers for the conserved Queenstown Public Library and the former Venus and Golden City Theatres.
Heritage marker for Queenstown Public Library
Heritage marker for the former Venus and Golden Theatres 
The final piece of good news is the plan to transform the former Commonwealth Avenue Wet Market built by the Singapore Improvement Trust (British Colonial Government precursor of Housing Development Board ) into a museum at a cost of $2 million. Slated to be ready in 2020, it will house artefacts from the 61 year old estate.
From Wet market to Museum  
Queenstown rolls out heritage plan. (2014, August 14 ). The Straits Times
Queenstown Heritage Trail: a walk down memory lane (Part I), posted on July 28, 2014

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Singapore 49th National Day celebration in Bukit Brown

This is the third year, the Bukit Brown volunteers (Brownies) held its National Day celebration in Bukit Brown. Exhumation of the tombs have already been completed and soon the highway will be built. The "battle" to save Bukit Brown is already lost, but the awareness drive to save what's left of it continues. This year's celebration is marked with 3 tours followed by the anthem, pledge and 1 minute of silence for the tombs affected by exhumation. All is not solemn as we are here to celebrate Singapore 49th birthday and the traditional brownie tradition of eating and joyful singing continued to the night !

On a brighter note, this year marks the year that Bukit Brown was added into the World Monuments Watch list for 2014  and also a major exhibition was launched featuring the Bukit Brown documentation team findings. The hard work of the volunteers have being bearing fruit as well, getting a number of press mentions this year in both the English and Chinese papers (a legacy for future researchers to continue to fill the gaps ).

Another potential accolade 
During this year's NDP (National Deceased Pioneers ), another good news was announced by the founders of All things Bukit Brown (a.t. Bukit Brown). All things Bukit Brown has been shortlisted for the inaugural Singapore Advocacy Awards 2014, under the category of Civil Society Advocate Organisation of the Year. The nomination was made by Singapore Heritage Society. The winning team will be announced on August 30.

The doors to Singapore rich heritage for us to protect 
The anthem followed by the pledge and a moment of silence
Happy 49th Birthday Singapore !
Our Pioneers and Singapore future leaders together  cheering !

And not forgetting our 4 legged friend too 
Maju-lah Singapura score 10 cents (from 49 years ago)
Maju-lah Singapura score 10 cents (from 49 years ago)
Our Patriotic Guardians 
The Party Continues to the night 
I continue to hope this community will grow stronger as the years go by and more people will step up and take a proactive stand to help to preserve Bukit Brown : Singapore's heritage park and a place where its forefathers helped made this nation great.

See also:
Singapore 47th National Day celebration in Bukit Brown, posted on August 11, 2012
Singapore 48th National Day celebration in Bukit Brown, posted on August 11, 2013
Bukit Brown Exhibition: Documenting New Horizons of Knowledge, posted on July 20, 2014
Bukit Brown: Our Roots, Our Future, posted on June 26, 2013

Monday, August 04, 2014

Stories from the Singapore Cenotaph (Book launch)

I remember walking along the Esplanade Park, towards the direction of City Hall back in February this year and i encountered 3 memorial structures namely the Lim Bo Seng Memorial, The Singapore Cenotaph and Tan Kim Seng Fountain. I am slightly more familiar with the Tan Kim Seng Fountain and the Lim Bo Seng Memorial, but other than the fact the Singapore Cenotaph commemorates the soldiers who died during The Great War (World War I ) from 1914-1918 and behind it World War II, i know very little about it. The war memorial remembering the soldiers at Kranji War Memorial is much bigger.

National Monuments at  Esplanade Walk  

Book launch -Forgotten Names Recalled-Stories from the Singapore Cenotaph
I attended the book launch on the August 3, knowing nothing of the stories of the names of the 124 names etched on this memorial. It is indeed amazing that the author, Rosemary Lim is able to compile the stories of 112 of this people and launch this book 100 years after the start of the Great War ( World War I ). She is not alone, as in this book she acknowledged guest writers who made this book possible and they included Pierre Lee, Rosanne Woodmansee and Elaine Young. Some of the guest speakers spoke during the book launch. Another guest speaker was Dr Julian Davison (historian, academic author), whose Great uncle, Robert William Morris name is etched on the memorial wall after having being killed in action, missing and later died of wounds in the French-Belgian border on September 1917.

The book is a timely one as without documentation, this soldiers who once resided or contributed to Singapore's colonial eventually forgotten. It is a great edition to the many great books and online resources that commemorate the people (soldiers and civilians) who died in Singapore during the World War 2. On a personal side, I can identify with the author's work, as it was a journey of discovery for myself trying to find and remember the volunteer soldiers buried in Bukit Brown but unlike mine, she managed to find compile the stories of 112 people into a book so that they are no longer forgotten !

Photos from the book launch 

The History of the Singapore Cenotaph
The foundation stone was laid by the then Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the Straits Settlement Sir Laurence Nunns Gulliemard in the presence of M.Clemenceau, Prime Minister of France and Minister of War, 1917-1919 on November 15, 1920. The design is a replica of the Cenotaph of the one in Whitehall, London and was built using local granite with 5 steps leading to monument bearing the dates 1914-1918. The architect of the memorial was  Mr Denis Santry of Messrs. Swan and Mclaren and the local contractor, Mr. Soh Mah Eng who expedited it's construction in time for its official unveiling by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII who abdicated the throne) in March 31, 1922. Armistice Day is observed year on November 11, dawn at 7:30 am.
Illustration of Singapore Cenotaph in 1920 (source: NewspaperSG)
Armistice Day pre 1941
In 1950, the Cenotaph was extended for those who died during World War II. The extension include expanding the Cenotaph towards the reclaimed area, where the sea facing front of the Singapore Cenotaph  was expended to include the memorial of the dead during the Second World War but no names were added as they were too many. (see picture below of the Cenotaph pre-1950 ). After the World War II, the term "Armistice Day" was changed to "Remembrance Day" to better represent those who died in both wars and by the late 1960's, the event was consolidated every year at Kranji War Memorial.
A rare picture where the Cenotaph is right by the sea.
(source: NewspaperSG)
The Singapore Cenotaph, Lim Bo Seng Memorial and Tan Kim Seng's fountain were all gazetted as National Monuments on December 28, 2010.

The Cenotaph was in the limelight for a different reason in 2013. It was vandalised by a security guard who using a can of spray paint, wrote the word "DEMOCRACY'" and marked an "X" on the monument. He was sentenced to three months' jail and three strokes of the cane. He was also ordered to pay $208 compensation to the State for the cost of repair.
Singapore Cenotaph today 
Postnote: Soh Mah Eng  
The Chinese Contractor, Soh Mah Eng sparked my curiosity to research more about him as well. Soh Mah Eng was the contractor that not only built the Singapore Cenotaph, he was also the contractor responsible for the building of the Chinese High School in 1924 and of many flats and shops in 1920 along Orchard Road and Penang Lane in which contract value was $403,500 !

Soh Mah Eng passed away on November 25, 1928 at No 11 Tiverton Lane. The executor of his will was a Mr. Ong Kim Lian.

Singapore War Memorial to the Glorious Dead. (1920, November 11). The Straits Times
Arrival of the Prince. (1922, March 31). The Straits Times
Armistice Day to be observed in Singapore. (
Extension to Cenotaph: Work Starts (1950, August 4). The Straits Times  
National Monuments. [website] Preservation of Sites and Monuments.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Our Bricks Estate : Exhibition and Talk at esplanade

Our Bricks Estate is an exhibition taking place right now within the premise of library@esplanade and is a gem of an exhibition that highlights a particular material that is often taken for granted, but nevertheless important in Singapore's infrastructural developing years from the colonial period all the way to Singapore early years as an independent nation - the brick. Behind the glass display showcases are bricks representative of Singapore's transformation from the colonial period all the way to post Singapore independence (1965), with the Housing Development Board leading the way in the transformation from squatters to high rise flats which corresponds also with the growth of the brick kilns.

Colonial Bricks and Indian Convicts 
The early brick kilns were managed by Europeans but convict labour were use to build the earliest buildings such as religious buildings ( e.g. Sri Marriaman Temple and St. Andrew's Cathedral ) and government buildings (e.g. Government House, now The Istana) are fine examples of structures using handmade bricks locally produced by hand by Indian convicts brought in from India to build the infrastructure needed to support the growing British Crown Colony. Established in Serangoon area, the bricks were of such good quality that it won an silver award in 1867 in the Agra exhibition.  

Handmade bricks from Armenian Church,  Cathedral of the
Good Shephard and Sultan Gate shophouse.

Growth and demise of Singapore commercial kilns  
Brick kilns mushroomed with the continued development of Singapore with commercial kilns owned by various Chinese towkay's  (some of this includes pioneers buried in Bukit Brown such as Ong Sam Leong, Wee Thiam Ghee,and Lim Loh). Smoke spewing chimneys became an iconic sight throughout, with big and small kilns spread throughout Singapore, usually in areas with natural supply of clay.

From the exhibition panels, i learned that by 1983, the Ministry of Environment stepped in to regulate and require kilns to change to diesel-fed systems. This placed pressure on many smaller kilns who could not afford the transformation to exit. In my opinion, exacerbating this, was the falling prices of bricks due to external competition and the growing popularity of the use of other industrial materials such as concrete are also important factors.

Location of some of the kilns 

Alexandra, Hock Ann and Teng San 

Bricks from various kilns

Asia and Malaya
Brick advertisements (source: NewspaperSG)

Talk on our Bricks Estate
There will be a talk by Dr Lai Chee Kien on August 10, 2014 at 3-3:45 pm in the library@esplanade. This is a great opportunity to hear from the curator of the exhibition as he shares insights on the role of the humble brick and the kilns that once landscaped Singapore's past.

The exhibition is curated by Dr Lai Chee Kien. Its research and design were done by Dr Lai Chee Kien and Miss Khoo Ee Hoon and it's contributors include: Jevon Liew, Ng Ching Huei, Mitch Koh, Soh Ah Beng, Jonathan Seow, Peter Pak, James Tann, Lawrence Chong, Jeanette Ng and Asia Brick Factory.

Some buildings that made use of bricks intensively
Brick structures i have seen
Near Bukit Timah Railway station 
In the stomach of a dragon kiln 
Prinsep Street Church 
Tombstones seen in Bukit Brown 

Indian convicts' contributions to early Singapore. [website] Singapore Infopedia
Our Bricks Estate. [website] Esplanade Presents National Day Celebrations 

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