Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Wee Seng Kiat and family (Bukit Brown)

Wee Seng Kiat passed away at the age of 53 on 8 June 1939. He is buried in Bukit Brown, Hill 4 Division C, plot 1142. The newspaper article states, Death of Well-know Chinese.  He was the sole proprietor of a liquor firm of Chop Chin Guan Hin, 277 South Bridge Road for over 40 years He was a familiar figure in city and count among a wide circle of friends amongst Europeans, Eurasians, Chinese, Indians and Ceylonese. He leaves behind a wife, 2 sons and 2 daughters. His last address was listed as No. 1 Kirk Terrace.

In an another article dated 12 June 1939, Mrs Wee Seng Kiat (Yeo Mary) , 2 sons (Wee Cheng Hai and Wee Cheng Chwee) and 2 daughters (Wee Poh Neo and Wee Koon Neo) and sister of the late Wee Seng Kiat (Wee Peck Neo) thanked those who attended the funeral. The names matched the names on the tomb shoulder, confirming that this is the tomb of Wee Seng Kiat.

Wee Seng Kiat

Beloved Hsuband Madame Yeo Mary, Sister: Wee Peck Eng
Sons: Wee Cheng Hai, Wee Cheng Chwee
Daughter: Wee Poh Neo , Wee ?

After Wee Seng Kiat's passing, there was an article by the official assignee that declared Wee Seng Kiat a bankrupt (probably arising to creditor loans ) and his assets of Chop Chin Guan Hin was put up for auction. It is from this sale, we can get a snap shot of the type and extend of liquor that were sold by his company which included Champagne, Brandy, Whiskey, Port Wine, Gin, Chinese Tonic, Beer, Stout and Samsu (Moonshine).


Son: Wee Cheng Hai
Engagement was announced between Wee Cheng Hai, eldest son of the late Mr. Wee Seng Kiat and Mrs. Wee Seng Kiat (Yeo Mary) and Miss Kwek Hoe Keow (3rd daughter of Mr. Kwek Noy Chia and the late Madam Tan Kim Kee.

Daughter: Wee Poh Neo.
Enagagement was announced between Mr. Yeo Chuan Chye, second son of the late Mr. and Mrs Yeo Tiong Chin and Miss Wee Poh Neo, the eldest daughter of Mrs Wee Seng Kiat (Madam Yeo Mary) and the late Mr. Wee Seng Kiat. Marriage to take place on Sunday, April 23, 2604 (1944).

Daughter: Wee Koon Neo
Engagement of Mr. Wee Beng Huat, only son of Madam Seet Seok Aik and the late Mr. Wee Sim Hoe to Miss Wee Koon Neo, the youngest daughter of Madam Mary Yeo and the late Wee Seng Kiat.

Death of Well-known Chinese. (1939, June 12). Malayan Tribune, page 13
Acknowledgements. (1939. June 12). The Straits Times, page 2
Domestic Occurrence. (1944, April 7). Synonan Shimbun, page 2
Engagement. (1950, July 12). The Singapore Free Press, page 12

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Singapore's Intangible Cultural Heritage

Singapore on February 22, 2018 became the 177th state to join the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. Singapore thus part of network of countries promoting the safeguard of living traditions. Recent poll results list food as top of people's mind. No surprise to that and Singapore favorites include: Chicken Rice, Rojak and Chili Crab. Beyond food, the examples cited in Strait Times (11 March 2018), performing art forms such as dikir barat (Malay choral style) and religious customs and festivals such as Thaipusam and Qing Ming. Folk tales such as Sang Nila Utama and the legend of Bukit Merah were also cited.
Chinese Opera Artisan preparing in Ubin Island 
My list of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) of Singapore 
If i were polled, this will be some that i hope will make the list of ICH for Singapore that the National Heritage Board and the Government of Singapore should take into serious consideration.

1. Baba and Nyonya identity and culture
Often described as the "Peranakan" culture, this culture is unique to this region with includes Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia with a community that is continuously seeking to preserve its identity, language, food and its customs and traditions and yet embracing the future by making it relevant to the community at large. The Baba Malay language, its food (e.g. ayam buah keluak, etc ) and its pantun ( singing of Baba Malay verses in poetic form) are prime examples.

The Nyonya Sarong kebaya and its modern adaptation is another example of keeping this art form alive and relevant in today's world (reference: Peranakan kebaya maker Raymond Wong: Passion for a dying art brings him world fame, Straits Times. 1 May 2017). and (reference: Defiantly, he weaves life into a dying Peranakan craft. Channel News Asia. 22 June 2016). which features Heath Yeo, a sarong kebaya maker.

2.Traditional Artisans supporting local customs and industry
There are many that can be suggested here and the potential for growth is in this area. I am not an expert in this area, but i was fortunate to have meet some traditional artisans whose trade has been surviving for many generations and supporting local customs and religious festivals. What i sometimes see also is the involvement of the younger generation of trade folks, acknowledging the need to adapt to changes but yet keeping the traditional methods alive. The suggested links below are not comprehensive, but meant to be a discussion and search point for more out there.
Effigy Artisan at Say Hong Tian Hng 
a) Effigy shop that make deities (e.g. Say Hong Tian Hng Buddha Shop)
Where gods are born (Say Hong Tian Hng Buddha Shop)
Godmakers - The Artisans and the Effigies (Say Tian Hng Buddha Shop)

b)Traditional lantern paper maker 
Yeo Hung Teo (traditional lantern painter)

c) Traditional Puppet or Marionette Troupe in Singapore
Traditional Chinese Puppet Troupe in Singapore

d) Chinese Opera in Singapore 
Faces behind the Chinese Opera (Pulau Ubin) - Part I
Faces behind the Chinese Opera (Pulau Ubin) - Part II

e) Rattan furniture artisans 
Rattan Furniture Industry in Singapore

3. Customs and festivals.
Again there are many to list and each community will come forward to list its merits. I will again focus on what i am familiar with.

a) Qing Ming practices in Bukit Brown and Ubin Island
Qing Ming is an affirmation of the importance of Bukit Brown as a space of cultural heritage where the traditional practices of filial piety and recollection of family stories and bonds are again renewed. What is for sure, Bukit Brown was never an abandoned cemetery.
Qing Ming in Bukit Brown (2017)
Qing Ming in Bukit Brown (2016)
Qing Ming in Ubin Island (2016)

Qing Ming in Bukit Brown

b) Fire Dragon at Mun San Fook Tuck Chee 
The Mun San Fook Tuck Chee (萬山福德祠) or also known as  Sar Kong Temple is one of the oldest Cantonese temple in Singapore and one of its famous festivals involves a "Fire Dragon".
Chasing the Fire Dragon (Mun San Fook Tuck Chee)
My first temple dinner (Mun San Fook Tuck Chee)
Fire dragon greeting its visitors

What is UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage
Extracted from the UNESCO website, this includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.  This elements include:
  • Traditional, contemporary and living at the same time: intangible cultural heritage does not only represent inherited traditions from the past but also contemporary rural and urban practices in which diverse cultural groups take part.
  • Inclusive: It promotes and contributes to social cohesion, encouraging a sense of identity and responsibility which helps individuals to feel part of one or different communities and to feel part of society at large;
  • Representative: It thrives on its basis in communities and depends on those whose knowledge of traditions, skills and customs are passed on to the rest of the community, from generation to generation, or to other communities;
  •  Community-based: It is recognised as such by the communities that create, maintain and transmit it.

UNESCO Intangilbe Culture Heritage. (website).

Monday, March 05, 2018

Chan Yen Soon and family (Bukit Brown)

Chan Yen Soon was a cashier and bookkeeper for the legal firm Donaldson and Burkinshaw and has been in service in the company for 25 years. He passed away at his residence at No. 101 Tras Street on 18th October 1930 at the age of 45 after being of ill health in which he took leave 2 months ago from work to recuperate but things took a turn for the worst. Chan Yen Soon's late father, Chan Kim Boon was also a cashier and bookkeeper for Donaldson and Burkinshaw for 45 years and well know among the local Chinese Community for translation Chinese literature to Baba Malay. On the tomb, of Chan Yen Soon, the etching says it was erected by his loving wife, Kaw Kim Kee Neo and list the name of their sons; Chan Kah Siew, Chan Kah Hock, and daughter; Chan Gaik Tooi. He has a son-in-law by the name of William Lim.

Chan Yen Soon's tomb

The marriage between Chan Yen Soon and Kan Kim Kee was even reported in a 1909 Straits Times article - Chan Yen Soon (fourth son of Mr. Chan Kim Boon ) married Miss Kan Kim Kee ( daughter of Mr. Kan Teow Koh). The reception was held at No 9 Stanley Street, residence of Mr. Chan Kim Boon. Amongst the European guests at wedding were the Hon. H. Fort, Dr and Miss Galloway, Mr. C. Dunlop, Mr and Mrs. Knowles, Mr and Mrs. F.K. Jennnings, Miss Hennings, Messrs. Gilbert S. Carver, B.G.H. Johnson, H.Millard, C.G.Emerson and C.Everett.

His wife, Madam Kaw Kim Kee passed away on 15th July 1970 and the tomb list her children; son: Chan Kah Siew, Chan Kah Hock; daughter; Chan Gaik Tooi; daughter-in-law's: Yeo Kim Sian, Mytrle Chan; grandsons; Chan Peng Ann, Chan Peng Chye; granddaughters; Annie Chan, Alice Chan and Elizabeth Chan.

Madam Kaw Kim Kee and Chan Yen Soon 

The tomb is located at Block 3 Division B, plot 302, 325.

Father: Chan Kim Boon (1851-1920)
Chan Kim Boon is the son of Chan Yong Chuan, a trader of Padang, Sumatra. Chan Kim Boon was born  in Penang in 1851 and educated at the Free School, Penang. He then went to China and studied at Foochow Naval School with specialisation in Military tactics. Due to his weak constitution, he declined a role as an army officer but instead became an assistant tutor in mathematics. Amongst his pupils was Admiral Sah, the late Admiral Yin and the late Sir Chin-chen Lo Feng-luh (onc a Chinese Minister in London, whose elder daughter became the first wife of Lieut. Tan Soo Bin.

Chan Kim Boon left China after a prediction by a fortune teller that he would live to see his 25th birthday and in January 1872, he returned to Penang to visit his widowed mother. In March 1872 he arrived Singapore and joined the legal firm of Aitken & Rodyk (subsequently Aitken & Co and now Donalidson & Burkinsaw as book-keeper and cashier.  He made good use of his knowledge of Chinese by translating into Romanised Malay during his free time the Sam-kok (History of the Three Kingdoms) and numerous Chinese stories.
Chan Kim Boon

Sam Kok 

Chan publication of "Sam Kok" was important especially to the local Chinese community as well as for Malay literature as a whole, because it was a massive translation work over 30 volumes. Chan was known by his pen-name Batu Gantong. The Baba Malay version of this classic was published in Singapore – making this accessible to the Straits-born Chinese community. He had the help of two other people, Chia Ann Siang and Tan Kheam Hock.

Chan Kim Boon passed away on 7 April 1920 at 11 pm due to acute broncho asthma at the age of 70. His remains were taken from his house at No 9 Stanley Road and shipped back to Penang in accordance to his wishes to be buried in Bukit Gantong Cemetery.

source: NewspaperSG

Fashionable Chinese Wedding. Chan Yen Soon-Kan Kim Kee. (1906, May 5). The Straits Times, page 5
Deaths. (1920, April 8). The Straits Times, page 6
Announcement. (1920, April 17). The Straits Times, page 8
Death of Mr Chan Yen Soon. Family long association with legal firm.(1930, October 21). The Straits Times, page 12

Monday, February 12, 2018

Valley of Death (Siglap)

There was a series of pictures that were recently published on PictureSG, donated by Foo Chin Hwa 胡拯华 1962 that got me curious. It was a series of pictures that shows and describes exhumation being carried out and bones found in Siglap. However nothing further was added in the description and credit line of this pictures except for a few. For this series of pictures, a few things were consistent, the year the pictures were taken and the donor, Foo Chin Hwa 胡拯华. 

source: PictureSG

Bones found in Siglap
(source: PictureSG)

Piles of discarded footwear
source: PictureSG

Storing bones in jar
(source: PictureSG)

Siglap's "Valley of Death"

The newspaper article headline of 24 February 1962 caught my attention. It describes a recent sandwashing activity at 7.5 mile Siglap Road which led to a discovery of mass war graves. The location of this place is off Evergreen Avenue and very close to Puay Poon School. The Chinese Chamber of Commerce set-up a 3 man committee to organise the retrieval of the remains. This was led by Mr. Ng Aik Huan, Mr. Toh Keng Tuan and Lam Thian. Further digs led to discovery of 40 more mass graves and another two mass graves were found at 10.5 milestone along Changi Road where claims of a 1,000 were machine-gunned and buried. 

Mass War Graves Found (source: NewspaperSG)

source: NewspaperSG

Eye Witness Accounts 

From the article, stories of how the mass grave came about started to unraveled. Mr. Chue Choon Kwee, 72 years old (in 1962) and a farmer living near the area shared how the Japanese forced him and 30 other villages to dig five trenches each . Once done, the villages were chased out of the area. He however, hid among the bushes on a hilltop. Choon Kwee witness and counted 66 lorries entering the valley and each lorry carried about 60-70 civilian internees. They were lined up by the trenches and machine-gunned.

Mr. Lai Siang Yong, 62 (now a principal of a Chinese School) was one of the lucky survivor from the massacre. He recounted how he was part of a large group who were rounded up and later transferred from a concentration camp at Lorong 3 Geylang and brought to Siglap. They were tied in groups of six each and when the firing began, he managed to break loose the bonds and ran to hide in the bushes. Although hit in his thigh, he survived.

Ngo Yong Seng, 63, principal of Puay Poon School which is situated 100 yards from the site was forced to dig graves before being driven off. Three days later he returned to see bodies heaped in the graves with loose sand over them. A week after the shooting, the Japanese brought labourers to cover the graves with more earth.

Aftermath - Civilian War Memorial

Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew announced in March 1962 that the Singapore government had asked the British government to seek amends and atonement from the Japanese government, in connection with the massacre committed by the Japanese during the war. There was also a suggestion that a memorial park be built at Siglap for those massacred by the Japanese during the war, if the Japanese would make compensation. On 13 March 1963, the Singapore government announced that it would set aside 4.5 acres of land along Beach Road for the building of a memorial park to commemorate the civilian victims massacred during the Japanese Occupation. The memorial was completed in January 1967 at a cost of approximately $500,000. Before its completion, a ceremony was held on 1 November 1966, during which 606 urns containing the remains from the mass graves were interred on either side of the memorial podium. The President of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Soon Peng Yam led a large gathering of mourners in observing a 3 minute silence. The Civilian War Memorial was officially unveiled by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew on 15th February 1967.
Urns being interred
(source: NewspaperSG

War memorial is unveiled
(source: NewspaperSG) 

Mass War Graves found in Siglap's Valley of Death. (1962, February 24). The Straits Times.
Ceremony at  New War Memorial. (1966, November 2). The Straits Times
War Memorial is unveiled. (1967, February 16). The Straits Times, page 17
Urns,Siglap[1]. Foo, Chin Hwa. PictureSG
Man washing bones, 1962 [2]. Foo, Chin Hwa. PictureSG
Bones and skulls in two baskets. Foo, Chin Hwa. PictureSG
Man putting bones into urns. Foo, Chin Hwa. PictureSG.
Five skulls on tray. Foo, Chin Hwa. PictureSG.
Piles of discarded footwear. Foo, Chin Hwa. PictureSG.
Civilian War Memorial. Vernon Cornelius-Takahama. Singapore Infopedia.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Tan Koon Hong and family (Bukit Brown)

Tan Koon Hong passed away at the age of 63 on 21st June 1938. On is tomb are listed the name of his grandson; Tan Chin Guan and two daughters, Tan Poh Neo, Tan Kim Geok. On the obituary, i found out that Tan Koon Hong was a cashier or banker for Chartered Bank of Singapore. He is survived his beloved wife, 1 son, Kow Leong Huat, 2 daughters; Tan Poh Neo, Tan Kim Geok, 1 son-in-law; Khoo Leng Chye and 1 daughter-in-law. His residence was at No. 20 Rambutan Road, off Joo Chiat Place. He is buried in Hill 4 Section C, plot 1400.

Tan Koon Hong

Advantages of being Straits Born

A legal case brought against Tan Koon Hong in 1909 for criminal breach of trust amounting to $25. It is from here we know that Tan Koon Hong as been working for Chartered Bank for many years. He denied the charge. In the article the magistrate highlighted that non-Straits born would be dealt with a more sever sentence compared to a straits born one. Was Tan Koon Hong actually finally charge? I am not sure.
source: NewspaperSG

Wife: Madam Kow Choo Neo (Si Besar)
Mrs. Tan Koon Hong (Si Besar) passed away at the age of 80 at her residence, No 141A Kallang Airport on 21 October 1962. Madam Kow Choo Neo tomb lies close by her husband's Tan Koon Hong's tomb. She was 56 years old when Tan Koon Hong passed away at 63 years old. She is survived by 1 son; Kow Leng Huat, 2 daughters; Tan Poh Neo, Tan Kim Geok.
Grandsons; Tan Chin Guan, Kow Chin Geok, Kow Chwee Hock
Granddaughters; Kow Whatt Neo, Kow Whatt Eng,
Great-Grandson; Jeffrey Kow Hock Guan.

Kow Choo Neo is the daughter of Kow Hock San (also buried in Bukit Brown). Se is buried in Hill 4 Section C, plot 1380.

Mrs. Tan Koon Hong nee Madam Kow Choo Neo (Si Besar) 

Advantages of being Strait Born. (1909, August 7). The Straits Times, page 7
Death. (1938, June 24). Malayan Tribune.
Death. (1962, October 22). Straits Times, page 18

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Chua Jin Swee and family (Bukit Brown)

Chua Jin Swee of Teck Choon Saw Mill passsed away on 6 October, 1924 at 547 Serangoon Road. He leaves behind a widow, 4 sons ( Chua Boon Ting, Chua Boon Teck, K.T. Chua and Chua Boon Whatt), 2 daughters and 2 grandchildren.  Madam Low Kim Lian passed away on 18 November 1929 at her residence  451-25 Pasir Panjang Road at the age of 52. She is survived by 4 sons ( Chua Boon Ting, Chua Boon Teck, Chua Kim Tee and Chua Boon Whatt), 2 daughters (Mrs Tan Hoon Hong, Mrs Yap Hock Cheng) , 5 grandsons and 1 granddaughter. Chua Jin Swe is buried in Hill 1 Dvision B, plot 386.

Chua Jin Swee

Low Kim Lian
The tomb of Chua Jin Swee and Madam Low Kim Lian are covered with vines, but fortunately, the horizontal arm of both ends contains the information of both Chua Jin Swee and Madam Low Kim Lan and that includes the name of their children.

Seh Chua (Surname Chua) 
Chua Jin Swee was part of the Seh Chua Clan or Community and became a member of the Committee in 1921. That year was an important milestone year for the Seh Chua community because the British Government was seeking to acquire the Seh Chua Burial Ground and the elected Trustees were discussing compensation in the form of new land if the acquisition took place since the Chua Community does not have a new burial after its only one at Silat Road (which was slightly more than 2 acres) was closed for burials.


Miss Chua Cheng Kee Neo nee Mrs. Tan Hoon Hong
The engagement was announced between Tan Hoon Hong (youngest brother of Mr. Tan Hoon Khim and youngest son of the late Mr. Tan Tian Chan ) to Miss Chua Cheng Kee (eldest daughter of Mrs. Chua Jin Swee and the late Mr. Chua Jin Swee). The marriage  will take place on 27 January 1927.

Miss Chua  Cheng Yeok Neo nee Mrs. Yap Hock Heng.
Yap Hock Cheng is the son of Yap Yeow Teck of 313 River Valley Road. In 1979, there is notice highlighting the passing of Joseph Yap Hock Heng on 16 August 1979. He is survived by his wife Chua Cheng Yeok, 3 sons (Vincent Yap, Nelson Yap, Frankie Yap), 3 daughters (Lily Yap, Christina Yap, Maggie Yap), 2 daughter-in-laws (Lilian, Vivien), 3 son-in-laws (Johnny, Charlie, Teddy ) and 10 grandchildren.

Death. (1924, October 7) The Straits Times, page 8
Domestic Occurrences. (1929, November 18). Malaya Tribune, page 8
Senh Chua
Advertisement. (1921, September 22). Malayan Tribune

Monday, February 05, 2018

Rattan furniture industry in Singapore: past and present

Exploring the HDB estate opposite Queensway Shopping Centre, i came across a Rattan furniture shop , Chun Mee Lee Rattan Furniture. It is not often you find a shop in Singapore that sells furniture solely made by rattan and indeed it was a pleasant and nostalgic surprise to encounter.The shop was filled to the brim with rattan furniture and ware, but what was more surprising for me, was to see a lady working on re-upholstering a chair with rattan trimmings. This indicates to me that not all the rattan ware was exported from either Indonesia and Malaysia, some were still done locally.
Chun Mee Lee Rattan Furniture(directions here

Rattan furniture stacked to the ceiling 

Worker reupholstering a chair with rattan trimmings

Fast forward a few weeks, this time in Joo Chiat, i came across another shop called Teong Theng Co ( directions here ) which although wasn't filled to the brim with rattan furniture (there were other types of wood furniture as well), it reminded me of Chun Mee Lee Rattan Furniture.

Theong Theng Co (directions here

Evolution of rattan furniture industry
A 1928 advertisement of rattan furniture by John Little & Co. perked my interest further to read up on how this industry came about and its eventual decline. Skimming through various articles, i can see that rattan furniture shops in the 30's  were clustered around Victoria Street area and attracted many local buyers as well as being exported to overseas.

Advertisement from John Little (source: NewspaperSG) 
source: National Archives 

Basket weaver from cane shop in Arab Street (source: Archives)

Source: National Archives 

In 1986, Indonesia which supplies 80% of the world rattan banned the export of raw and semi-processed rattan exports to encourage its own rattan furniture industry. This lead to the local industry to seek alternative sources or to go into partnership with Indonesian firms which allowed export of rattan furniture. This was not the first time this ban was enforced as i read of a similar ban in 1952. During the 80's countries like Singapore and Malaysia started to move towards capital and skill intensive industries which are added factors in the decline of the rattan industry in Singapore.

Advertisement. (1928, March 22). The Singapore Free Press.
Singapore's Rattan Furniture industry. (1938, November 20). The Straits Times
Rattan ban prompts joint venture talks. (1988, July 9). The Straits Times