Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas 2011

Merry Christmas to one and all and may you have a good Christmas, shared with family and love ones.
As you can see from my recent post, a lot of it has been about Bukit Brown.(Not to worry, something on Ubin will come up soon). Do give some time by supporting it and saving this place. 

A photo which i took some time back was selected by the Heritage Singapore-Bukit Brown facebook group for a Boxing Day invite to friends who want to save this place. I do like this picture which was taken from a tomb in Block 3 Division C and shows a lovely angel and do hope you like it too..

From the community of like minded people  who support saving Bukit Brown Cemetery (BBC) , Merry Christmas!!!! Help sign the petition to save BBC . Do spread the word!

Again, Merry Christmas and a great New Year 2012 to all. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Birdwatching at Bukit Brown with Nature Society

I joined Nature Society yet again on the 18 Dec for another series of walks to create awareness on the importance of Bukit Brown from an ecological perspective. For me, i did not need any more persuasion as i have already signed the petition to save it. The walk today is to help me further improve my birding skills and to meet with like minded people.

I arrived earlier at 7:45am and was rewarded as the saying goes " early bird catches the warm", i caught sight of two Blue crowned hanging parrots. I seen this parrots before in Bukit Brown, but its my first time seeing a pair of them.

Today's walk was led by Nature Society's volunteer Yee Ling(Ms) and Hang Chong (Mr). The turn out was  very good as well with about 20 people joining this walk. We didn't walk far to see birds as the meeting place was the site where we saw most of the list mentioned below:

  • Banded woodpecker
  • Greater racquet tailed Drongo
  • Straw headed Bulbul
  • Hill Myna
  • Pink necked Pigeons
  • Blue crowned hanging parrots
  • Red-breasted parakeets


Blue crowned hanging parrot (left) & 4 Hill Mynas (right)

I learned that other than being a roosting place for fruit bats, the bird nest fern often seen on the rain tree is used by Pangolin's as its home away from predators ! Because pangolins needs long claws to get through its main food supply (termites in the hard termite mounts), this long claws makes it difficult for it to walk and they improvised by walking on two legs and balancing using its legs.  Another takeaway i learned is that the fruit bats here i not blind but do use their sight and their keen sense of smell in finding their fruit source.

An important geographical lesson i learned is that the terrain of Bukit Brown is made of a few hills and  natural stream flows through its various "valleys" providing an important link for the food chain.

Some of the streams that run across Bukit Brown

The whole tour was fun indeed and i got to learn new things as well. There is another public walk organised by Nature Society on the 24th Dec. Do visit Nature Society's facebook page for more details.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

See Boh Ih (Bukit Brown)

See Boh Ih (民国 庚辰年 - died 1940(?) at Block 4 Division C)  is said to be a prominent banker.

He was a family friend of Tan Cheng Siong (General Manager of Oversea Chinese Bank Ltd, another prominent banker and Chinese community leader. also buried in Bukit Brown after he passed on at the age of 42 in Oct 1922).

One unconfirmed story goes that it was See Boh Ih  that was said to have offered Tan Chin Tuan (the eldest son of Mr Tan Cheng Siong) , a clerical post in the Chinese Commercial Bank Ltd.

Tan Chin Tuan, of course went out to do great things as well.

Tomb of See Boh Ih 

Mr See Boh Ih was once the President of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in 1928. His compatriot Mr Lim Nee Soon was the president of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce for two terms, from 1921-1922 and 1925-1926 in which during his second term, See Boh was vice-president.

4 Feb 1925
Reports also indicate the properties he purchased, indicating his wealth or at least business acumen.

30 Dec 1919

Cheng Chang Fu Circus (Bukit Brown)

Madam Cheng Kao Shin (Block 4, Division A )whose tomb is beside Mr Sun Si Ting (of the Tai Thean Khew Circus) is the mother of Cheng Chang Fu, who broke off with Sun Si Ting of Tai Thean Kew Circus to start his own Cheng Chang Fu Circus.

Mdm Kao was remembered as a lady of great kindness who gave free tickets to children who cannot afford to see the circus then. As Sun Si Ting and Mdm Kao are related, they were buried side by side with no barrier in between.

However after the breakoff, it is speculated that a partition which was erected between the two graves, so that the "prosperity" on one side would not cross over to ther side. (Notice the wall in the middle and the benches on both sides of the tomb). I am sure it was a tomb once visited by many,  in its days.
The "circus" tombs 
This tomb together with Mr Sun Si Ting is located in Block 4 Division A, flanked by two large and lifelike Sikh guards.

The circus tombs are just behind the sikh guards

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Punjabi / Sikh Guards at Bukit Brown

What makes this cemetery unique is the reflection of what once was a community of people who came, lived and subsequently died and laid to rest in this grounds. The memories, stories and impact they left behind is something cannot be duplicated anywhere else. The fusion of styles adopted as a result of socialisation with the other races they meet in their daily lives and adoption of various Asian and western influences with their own Chinese customs and beliefs thoroughly makes this place a one-of-a kind heritage cemetery and the last in Singapore. I would like to call this a Heritage Park.

The Punjabi / Sikh guard statues are a fine example of this. I would imagine the local population,   impressed with the diligence, loyalty and bravery of the Punjabi /Sikh guards brought in by the British colonial masters to provide security, decided that they would also be adequate symbolic guardians of their final resting when they passed on. The artisans that crafted the statutes made so many of the statutes seem so "life-like", each with its on distinct features, whether it is moustached or full bearded, stiff upper lip or with a friendly smile- indeed they are works of art and something we will never see again in Singapore. Below are some of the Punjabi / Sikh statutes from all over Bukit Brown and Greater Bukit Brown.(i will continue to add on when i discover more since i started this in Dec 11, 2011, so do visit again - . I have taken pictures of 31 Punjabi / Sikh guards to-date.

(Pictorial collection update-31 Punjabi /Sikh guards as at October 10, 2019)

Tomb of "Majoor" Wee Boon Teng (Capitan China of Selat Panjang, Sumatra under Dutch Control)
Block 3 Division A @1.336765,103.82506

Tomb of Mr Chua Cheng Hock
Block 3 Division D @1.3358,103.8252
Tomb of Mr Oei Bok Sien and Madam Soh Nyia Chik
Block 3 Division A @1.33717,103.824957

Mr Chia Choon Kiang and Madam Lim Chin Koon Neo
Block 3 Division A plot 575 @1.336931,103.825088 

Tomb of Mr Lim Cheng Tee (Block 3 Divison B  )  

Ong Sam Leong' tomb,
Block 3 Division C @1.336872,103.826757

Ong Boon Tat's (eldest son of Sam Leong's tomb)
Block 3 Division C  @1.336628,103.82688

Teng Bin Chai 鄧敏齋 @1.33769,103.82695
Teng Bin Chai 鄧敏齋
Block 3 Division B @1.33769,103.82695

Mr and Mrs. Sim Cheng Lian  沈清蓮
Block 3 Division B @1.337305,103.827192 

Tomb of Mr Teo Choo Cheng (died Feb 7, 1931)
Block 3 Division B @1.338411,103.825687

Mr Tan Gim Wee and Madam Pang Say Nyah
Block 3 Division A @1.337192,103.824726

Mr. Chew Geok Leong's tomb
Block 3 Division D  @1.335285,103.826158

Tomb of Mr and Mrs Teo Siok Guan
Block 3 Division D 1.3355931,103.823842

Mr Phua Sen Wee and Madam Tan Guak Sim
Blk 3 Division D -plot 137, 145  @1.335627,103.825436

Height and facial hair
Most are around 3 feet or less. The tallest is around 5 feet 8 inches. Some have dogs by their feet as well. Do check out the differences between the pair for a single tomb as well ! They may look different from each other in terms of their turban (headgear), facial hair and expressions as the Punjabi Guard could either be a Sikh guard of a Punjabi guard of Muslim or Hindu religion. So take pictures of both of them if possible and note the various differences. The ceremonial sword carried also as important significance. If can be a kirpan or a sabre or a sword.

Madam Wee Cheng Neo alias Madam Nonek (wife of Mr Oh Wee Poh)
Block 4 Division A @1.340112,103.825075

Miss Oh Ang Tew alias Oh Tua Koh
Block 4 Division A @1.34008,103.825035

Mr. Lim Kow Nah
Block 4 Division A @1.340041,103.824945

Wong Chin Yoke cluster- Probably the tallest statutes at 5 feet 8 inches
Block 4 Division A @1.339891,103.824901
2 Sisters 林衫娘 郭(尾+力)娘 (Tomb of 2 woman)
Block 4 Division A @1.339202,103.824674
Chinese soldiers with turban 

Mr and Mrs Seet Tiang Seng
Block 4 Division C (plot 197 and 212)  @1.340301,103.827527
Sikh guard that carries a Kirpan (dagger)

Finding the Punjabi / Sikh Guards
Not all tombs are by the roadside. Some are up the hill hidden from sight. For those close to the roadside, some are hidden due to the undergrowth. That's the challenge and fun of it while compiling this collection. How many are there total is in Bukit Brown? I think no one will ever know for sure......but i am constantly on the lookout for this unique wonders.

Madam Wee Jee Neo @1.338397,103.823238
Tomb of Mdm Wee Jee Neo
Block 2 Division B @1.338397,103.823238

Mr and Mrs Teo Chin Chay @1.33855,103.823501
Mr and Mrs Teo Chin Chay
Blk 2 Division F @1.33855,103.823501

Madam Yap Woo  @1.337484,103.823149
Tomb of Madam Yap Woo. Died 1st Oct 1935
Blk 2 Division D  @1.337484,103.823149  (peg 1876)

Unknown Block- found via a grave caretaker in the jungle. Trail is from a jungle trail that leads
to Gymkhana Road (future Bukit Brown MRT) .
Notable features: Almost 5 feet and has large headgear. Covers a large area
Tomb of Mr. Yap Geok Song  1.3323297,103.8238634

Punjabi Guard at the Tomb of Mr. Tan Bin Cheng (Block 1 Division A) 1.3355931,103.823842

Some of this tombs are affected by the road that will cut across Bukit Brown, So do check them out if you spot them.

Greater Bukit Brown (e.g. Lao Sua, Kopi Sua.)
Bukit Brown is not the only place where i can find this unique Punjabi Guards. I expanded my collection of pictures to include Punjabi Guards i found outside Bukit Brown.

Mrs Yeo - Madam Low Tay Neo ( taken at Lao Sua) 1.3323082,103.8238634

Mr Yeo Lock Gee (Loa Sua)  @1.3339225,103.8244535

Tomb house of Tan Boon Cheng  陳文清 1.3333165,103.824196

Lim Kah Siew 1.327256,103.831196

Tan Pek Tjoen 1.326829,103.831217

Mrs. Ong Kong Eng
Mrs Ong Kong Eng (Lao Sua)

Punjabi or Sikh guards -the difference 
The term Punjabi and Sikh guards were used in a simplistic manner in this article to describe the statues in Bukit Brown. With more inputs from the community, i am updating this article as at October 21, 2014 to highlight more clearly this differences. Punjabi is a race while Sikhs refers to the people who are followers of Sikhism. Some of the Punjabi soldiers / policemen /guards employed in Singapore are of the Muslim or Hindu faith and this is usually reflected in photos /pictures of them either clean shaven, with moustache but without beard.

Hence, a stone guard without a full beard cannot be referred to as a Sikh Guard, but should be generalised as a Punjabi Guard. For experts, the headgear or turban design may provide further insights into which Punjabi Unit that they might below too, if the uniform is one of the British Indian Army. What is interesting as well , is the tomb with a guard that as more Chinese features but with head gear. More research needed in this but it does not take away the fact the cross cultural influences that makes this cemetery very unique.

Punjabi guard tomb Personalities references
Hill 1
Tan Bin Cheng

Hill 2
Teo Chin Chay
Madam Wee Jee Neo

Hill 3
Tan Gim Wee
Oei Bok Sien
"Majoor" Wee Boon Teng
Chew Geok Leong
Ong Sam Leong
Ong Boon Tat
Chua Cheng Hock
Teo Siok Guan
Lim Cheng Tee
Sim Cheng Lian and family

Hill 4
Miss Oh Twa Koh and Madam Wee Cheng Neo

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Birdwatching at Bukit Brown with Dr Ho Hua Chew

During the Symposium titled Spaces for the Living: A discussion on Bukit Brown jointly organised by Singapore Heritage Society and NUS Southeast Studies Society on 19 Nov, Dr Ho Hua Chew of the Nature Society invited the 250 audience that attended to join Nature Society for a series of nature walk in Bukit Brown(BB) to create more awareness of the importance of BB as a green lung of Singapore. I signed up for the walk on 3 Dec.

It was unfortunate that quite a number who did signed up, did a no-show probably due to the rainy weather that has occured the whole week. Neverthless, those who turned up including myself enjoyed the lovely morning weather and guided by bird and tree experts including Dr Ho himself.

We met after the entrance of BB at the roundabout and immediately our tour leaders, Nature Society volunteers spotted the Blue Crowned Hanging parrot and set up the scope for us to see it ! Under the lovely shade of the huge rain tree, we spotted fruit bats who were roosting under the leaves of the bird nest fern. Even the beautiful butterflies were out and about !

Spotting the Fruit bats roosting

Common Mormon

Our walk continued and just a few meters away, the call of the banded woodpecker caught our ears. The Banded woodpecker was very well behaved and perched for 3 minutes for us to take a look at it. (unfortunately my shots of it were underexposed). A pair of spotted doves and pink neck pigeons were seen also, busy feeding on a fig tree.  We spotted also a solitary bee-eater. It's a juvenile blue-tailed bee eater.

Banded Woodpecker

Juvenile Blue-tailed bee eater
How can i forget to mention the Crimson Sunbird we saw darting among the shurbs. This sunbird is the unofficial bird of Singapore ! A vibrant little red dot, beautiful and full of life. Raptors we saw in flight today included the Changeable Hawk eagle (dark morph) and the Japanese Sparrow hawk. It was a very happy day for me to be in good company of fellow nature lovers.

During our walk we met two person representing SOS Bukit Brown which are a group of individuals working together to get people to sign a petition to save Bukit Brown ! Keep it up guys !

Dr Ho having a word with the
people of SOS Bukit Brown

Save Bukit Brown 100%

The case of preserving Bukit Brown as a heritage park 

Although a cemetery area, the old trees and other plants have grown to become an interesting wildlife habitat after 30+ years of no human intervention. From a NS report 84 species of birds, resident and migratory, are said to be found in this area, making up 23 % of the total species found in Singapore. Among  these are threaten /rare bird species such as the Blue-crowned Hanging Parrot, Changeable Hawk Eagle, Thick-billed Pigeon, Black-headed Bulbul. Some of these are exclusively forest birds. Given the proximity of the Central Catchment Nature Reserve or MacRitchie reservoir, this birds have moved over due to lack of space or attracted by the maturity of BB grounds as foraging/nesting grounds.

Although currently a speculation until an official Environmental Impact Analysis (EIA) is actually done, we should not forget BB has a green lung other than being also a bird corridor. As a green lung, this area has and is still playing an important role of absorbing rainfall, preventing it from quickly flowing into drains that are already overburden thus preventing flash floods in the surrounding areas.The other is of course as a sponge for carbon dioxide.

As an old cemetery, the graves are also of great importance and are of cultural and heritage significance. I shall not elaborate too much into this as i will also be coming up with a series of articles on the various pioneers of Singapore buried here.

BB is an area where people come to jog, stroll and dog owners let their dogs have a good workout. Horses and ponies from the Equestrian Club are regular sights here too. This space is indeed for the living.

Volunteers with two lovely Scottish ponies

Ong Sam Leong (Bukit Brown)

Ong Sam Leong (王三龙) (1857 -1918) was the owner of Sam Leong and Company that provided and supplied manpower (indentured labourers) for the mining of phosphate to Christmas Island and large business in timber, oil, rubber estates, rubber treating and rubber estates supplies, owner of substantial land and properties and head of the firm Ong Sam Leong Co carrying on business in South Canal Road and North Bridge Road. He even owned a brick works in Batam known as the Batam Brick Works. Among the Chinese community, he was influential as well, being once the head of the Ban Chye Hoe Club. Even up to 1967, a Straits Time article dated March 27, 1967 mentions that Ong Sam Leong's wealth existed with a government announcement of urban renewal in Rochor area in which Sam Leong's estate was affected. I wonder if any of his estate  and wealth still exist today among his grand or great grand children? Ong Sam Leong passed away at on 7 February 1918 in his residence at Bukit Rose, located at Bukit Timah Road at the age of 60. The cause of death was heart failure. Ong Sam Leong is survived by his widow,  1 daughter (Ong Boey Neo), 2 sons (Ong Boon Tat, Ong Peng Hock), and 2 grandson to mourn his loss. He is buried what was known at that time as the Seh Ong Private Cemetery, Bukit Timah Road.

Ong Sam Leong
Ong Sam Leong

I also found substantial write-up and pictures in the newpapers of his wife, Mrs Ong Sam Leong nee Madam Yeo Yean Neo (see Mrs. Ong Sam Leong's funeral) with his two sons, Ong Boon Tat and Ong Peng Hock. It was said that their sons loved their mother dearly and this can be seen by the lavish birthday celebrations they threw for her in 1932 for her 69th birthday (She passed away 3 years later at the age of 72). I love the tuxedo outfits of the Ong brothers along with the peranakan style of Mrs Ong Sam Leong. Another interesting fact is that Mrs Ong Sam Leong nee Yeo Yean Neo (daughter of Mr and Mrs. Yeo Koon Im) was one of the first pupils of Miss Sophia Blackmore of the Methodist Mission (Methodist Girl's School) in 1887.

Ong Boon Tat, Ong Peng Hock and Mrs Ong Sam Leong
Ong Peng Hock, Mrs Ong Sam Leong, Ong Boon Tat
(source: NewspaperSG) 

Funeral of Mr. and Mrs. Ong Sam Leong 
The funeral procession of Mr. and Mrs. Ong Sam Leong were a very grand affair and reflective of the size of their tombs in Bukit Brown. From a Bukit Brown exhibition held in the National Library back in 2014. The actual funeral took place on 3 March 1918 (almost 1 month after his death). The procession included representatives from a dozen Chinese Associations,the bier which is placed on top the coffin was constructed to represent a Chinese temple and a Sikh band accompanied the procession playing the Death March as the hearse left the family residence of Bukit Rose at Bukit Timah Road for Seh Ong private cemetery. Behind the bier was of course the deceased family members. 
Funeral of Mr. Ong Sam Leong
Ong Sam Leong's funeral hearse and family

During Mrs. Ong Sam Leong funeral procession, the Sultan of Johor extended the Johore State Band to play during her funeral procession. That was how influential the Ong's were during that time. Over 3,000 people attended. 

Funeral of Mrs. Ong Sam Leong
Mourners and hearse in front of Bukit Rose 

Family Cluster of Tombs 
Ong Sam Leong's sons, Ong Boon Tat and Ong Peng Hock were also the proprietors of the New World Amusement Park. When they eventually passed away, they were buried near their parents. His daughter, Ong Boey Neo who married Khoo Peck Lock (son of rice merchant and shipowner, Khoo Phee Soon), is also buried nearby. The  Ong Sam Leong tomb is touted to be largest in Bukit Brown and at the time of his death, the burial place was exclusively for the Seh Ong's only before it eventually became a municipal cemetery subject to size restrictions. Located up a hill, it's security is provided by two lions and two sikh guards. Other than its sheer size, what makes it unique is the huge earth deity it has (the size of a normal tomb), a huge moat that was according to stories used by the local village children and cemetery workers as their "swimming pool".

What is also beautiful is the complete 24 stories of filial piety, that graced their tomb. Some of the stories can be found here:

Tomb of Mr and Mrs Ong Sam Leong
Tomb of Mr and Mrs. Ong Sam Leong 

Sikh Guard 

Ong Sam Leong's mother, two brothers (Ong Sam Kiat, Ong Sam Bee), two sons (Ong Boon Tat, Ong Peng Hock), 1 daughter (Ong Boey Neo nee Mrs. Khoo Peck Lock)  are also buried in Bukit Brown. 

Untitled. (1909, April 17). The Straits Times, page 6
Late Mr Ong Sam Leong. (1918, February 8). The Singapore Free Press
Untitled. (1918, February 26). Malaya Tribune, page 4
Mrs Ong Sam Leong. (1935, May 27). The Singapore Free Press, page 7