Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Bukit Brown, Our roots, Our future (An exhibition)

Bukit Brown's first major exhibition will take place this coming weekend at Chui Huay Lim Club, 190 Keng Lee Road, Level 4. The exhibition itself is from 29 June 2013–7 July 2013, 9 am - 8 pm.  Happening concurrently with this 1 week exhibition, are two weekends of talks that will take place on 29–30 Jun 2013 and 5–7 Jul 2013.

More details at

Some of the panels and exhibits on display starting 29 June 2013

Wedding certificate of Tan Huck Wan and Lim Chin Choo
Tan Huck Wan:

Panels which i helped wrote
Bukit Brown, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Nature in Bukit Brown

Bukit Brown has more than heritage to offer. This article is dedicated to the nature aspects of Bukit Brown and there is so much to see and share. This article hopefully will be a first of many articles in my personal journey of discovery of the nature aspects of Bukit Brown.

Bulbophylllum vaginatum
The blooms of the wild orchid on the rain tree in Bukit Brown doesn't happened often. But when it happens, it is a wonderful sight to behold. The Bulbophylllum vaginatum or wild orchids on the rain tree in bloom in a beautiful yellow color.
Bulbophylllum vaginatum
Betel leaf (Piper Betle)
Another common sight on the rain tree is the Betel leaf (Piper Betle). They are creepers and tend to be climbers. They are often confused with daun kaduk which looks almost the same, but are not creepers. Betel leaf i was told was once very important in the peranakan culture and the holder (tepak sireh) holds court in many of marriage arrangements and on the wedding night.

Betel (Piper betle) aka Daun Sireh 
Ficus variegata (Common red-stem fig)
Ficus variegata (Common red-stem fig) is also another plant to behold as you explore Bukit Brown. When the fig tree blooms it places host to a huge cluster of fruits that seem to grow of the trunk of tree. I read that its flowers actually grow inside the "fruit" of the fig. Pollination happens when wasp enter the fig and lay its larva inside. Fig trees play an important role not only for the wasp but is an important food source an sustenance for the bird life population. Figs are an important part of the ecosystem as by its nature, it fruits regularly and more frequently, thus providing food for a wide variety of animals from birds to monkeys which also help disperse the seeds of this plants.

So, come visit Bukit Brown. A long tailed macaque might welcome you at the gates of Bukit Brown !

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Peranakan Tiles of Bukit Brown

I commonly refer to them as Peranakan tiles as it reminds me of the old houses that were once occupied by the Peranakans or the Baba's and Nyonya's of Singapore, Malacca and Penang. However they are largely known in the western world as decorative, encaustic tiles, with their design identified by the different style of arts  (e.g. Art Nouveau tiles, Art Deco tiles, Majolica Tiles), companies (e.g. Minton, Wedgwood), techniques (e.g. transfer printed, handprinted, tubelined, moulded ) and countries of manufacturing (e.g. England, Belgium, Japan ). So whether you call it Peranakan tiles or Art Nouveau tiles, etc , i don't intend to get too technical about it.

Outside a house along Emerald Hill 
They are commonly seen in the houses of the Peranakan's largely due to the mixed influence of this group of people (the liking for mixed of eastern and western objects, artifacts, culture and language ) and also the fact that they could afford this expensive imported tiles as they are largely the more established group, thus wealthy compared to the new migrants or "sinkehs" that just arrived from China.

Below are some examples of tomb in Bukit Brown that are decorated with Peranakan tiles. I have still a lot to learn in trying to distinguish one versus the other, but then again, that's the magic of Bukit Brown, it has so much to offer for those who observed and listen. A learning ground for the curious explorer.

Thank you for joining me in my journey of exploration and sharing of this potential UNESCO World Heritage site. Do also look out for my future articles when i get the help of experts to help identify some of the tiles you see below.

Further reading

Welcome to Tile Heaven. [website]. Tile Heaven
Fowler, S., & Harvey, W. (2002). Art Nouveau Tiles C. 1890-1914. Schiffer Pub.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Lim Cheng Tee (Bukit Brown)

Lim Cheng Tee (1878-1932) worked in Messrs. Paterson, Simons and Co and later was the Managing Proprietor of Singapore Dubashes Co. at No 27, Robinson Road. The manager of the company is Tan Hock Ghee. Lim Cheng Tee passed away at the age of 54 on March 4, 1932 at his residence in No 22, Lorong 25-A Geylang Road. He leaves behind a widow, 2 sons, Lim Kim Hock and Lim Choon Hock, 3 daughters and 7 grandchildren. His funeral took place on Tuesday, March 8, 1932, 10 am. From the tomb itself the names of his sons; Lim Kim Hock, Lim Choon Hock, daughters; Lim Kee Neo; adopted daughters; Cheng Lian Neo, Chin Neo, daughters-in-law; Neo Chuan Neo, Chia Ngia Kechit Neo, grandsons; Lim Hood Poh, Lim Hood Hin, Lim Hood Lay, Lim Hood Beng, granddaughter; Lim Gek Neo.
Lim Cheng Tee

Children and grandchildren

What and who are Dubashes? 

Dubashes derive the name / title from the hindu word ‘dho’-‘basha’, meaning those who speak two languages and, thus, were interpreters. More than interpreters; they were the middlemen in the commerce between European merchants and the local.Early European companies would had a dubash and European companies including banks had dubashes (sometimes called shroffs). Other than been a middleman making money from both Europeans and local's.

Kelantan Coolie Case 1910

Wee Swee Kee (a partner in the opium farm in Kelantan and Lim Cheng Tee (former employee of Messrs. Paterson, Simons and Co) were charged before the courts on charges of recruiting 84 Chinese coolies from the Singapore colony for employment outside the colony and F.M.S.  The charges were brought forward by Mr Ellis and W. Peacock of the Chinese Protectorate. The court rule to acquit Lim Cheng Tee while Wee Swee Kee was convicted and fine a total of $850.

Sikh guard No 23

What attracted me to this tomb was the Sikh guard that was used as the guardian. In one of article i did an inventory of my finds, and including this, there are 23 tombs that i documented with sikh guards within Bukit Brown (at the point of discovery) proper. Outside of Bukit Brown, or Greater Bukit Brown, i have seen 2 so far. What is unique about about this tomb other than the intricate carving of the sikh guard, is that one the sikh guard is enveloped by a tree.
Sikh Guard engulfed by tree

Lim Cheng Tee Sikh guard
Decorative tiles with a sikh guard statue

Our Day Fund. (1917, October 22). The Straits Times, page 10
Advertisement. (1920, September 17). The Straits Times, page 12
Untitled. (1927, December 17). The Singapore Free Press, page 3
Unlawful recruiting. (1910, Februar 24). The Singapore Free Press, page 7
Domestic Occurences.Death. (1932, March 5). The Straits Times, page 10

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Chew Bah Kah and family (Bukit Brown)

Chew Bah Kah studied in St Joseph Institution and worked as a clerk before going into his own business as a haulage contractor. In a tender accepted by the Municipal Commission, the tender was awarded to Chew Bah Kah to supply fine sand from Sungei Ringget (Sungai Rengit, Johor) at $2.15 per cubic yard.
Chew Bah Kah 
From the son of R.B. Lewis, i found out that Chew Bah Kah also managed Poh Lye & Co. General Contractors at 158 Mackenzie Road. Chew Bah Kah provided contract work for Hume Pipe among others and he has 18 lorries operating for his company. I found out from Col Lewis (the son of Mr. R.B. Lewis) that his father went to Singapore in 1926 to set up a factory to make Hume Pipes. R.B. Lewis later went on to become the Director-General of the Australian Commonwealth Dept of Works.
A letter from Mr Chew Bah Kah to Mr. R. B. Lewis dated 14.01.1940 (photo courtesy of Col Lewis)

A good Samaritan 

In 1950, Chew Bah Kah entered the little hut of elderly Mrs Ong Kim (who lived with her paralysed 30 year daughter and 10 year old grandson) and saw the dilapidated condition of her hut and thus decide to rebuilt her hut into a new house with two rooms, a living room and a kitchen. Beside building a home, he offered to give the 10 year boy $10 a month so he can go to school. In 1951, he repeated this deed by building a hut for destitute and paralysed Grandma Lau. Before that she was sleeping in a place exposed to all weathers under a frail shelter made of gunny bags and cardboards.
Mrs Ong Kim receiving relief from Social Welfare Department
(source: NewspaperSG)
Relief for Fire Sufferers

The committee of Tiong Nam School at 107 Selegie Road, under the chairmanship of Ong Chwee Taw (Ong Chwee Tow /Ong Chwee Town) provided relief to the homeless of the great fire in Rangoon Road. In January 1924, the school housed 50 homeless mostly women and children. Chew Bah Kah was a committee member. He was in the committee in charge of rice distribution. Chew Bah Kah was also a committe member of Chung Nam School (1925).


Chew Ban Kah died at the age of 67 on December 28, 1960 leaving behind his wife, Tan Guek Neo, 2 sons, Chew Boon Leong, Chew Peng Yam, 2 adopted sons, Chew Jin Eng, Chew Jin Chiang, 3 daughters; Chew Jin Neo, Chew Boon Eng, Chew Peng Choo, 3 son-in-laws, 2 daughter-in-laws, 22 grandchildren. The cortege left his residence in 15 Nallur Road. Members of the Choa Ann Association and Chew Clan send their well wishes.

Chew Bah Kah's tomb 
Wife: Madam Tan Guek Neo
Mrs.Chew Bah Kah nee Madam Tan Guek Neo passed away on 19th November 1986 leaving behind 2 sons, (Chew Boon Leong, Chew Peng Yam ) 2 daughters-in-law (Sng Hiang Lian, Yeo Lee Ting), 4 daughters ( Chew Boon Eng, Chew Peng Choo, Chew Mui Kia, Chew Ah Lin), 4 sons-in-law ( Yap Teck Hiang, Teo Cheng Boo, Yeow Hong Lim, Ho Huat Soon), and many grand and great grandchildren. The cortege left from 11, Carlton Avenue for Choa Chu Kang Cemetery.


Father: Chew Ah Kah 
Mr Chew Ah Kak passed away at the age of 75 on June 7, 1941 at his residence in No 158 MacKenzie Road. He is survived by 2 sons (Chew Siew Boon alias Koh Siew Boon, Chew Bah Kah), 1 daughter (Chew Boo Neo),  1 son-in-law, 3 daughter-in-laws, many grandchildren. Chew Ah Kah is buried nearby.  Chew Bah Kah's wife was Madam Koh Tng Neo. (passed away on 30th July 1926) and is buried in Bukit Brown.
Chew Ah Kah  (a dragon fly resting on his photo) 

Chew Ah Kah
Son:Chew Boon Leong
Chew Boon Leong (Getek), eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Chew Bah Kah got engaged to Miss Sng Hiang Lian, Gloria (second daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Sng Kwee Choon) in 1952.
Chew Jin Chang, Chew Jin Eng, Chew Boon Leong & Charlie Chew”  (photo courtesy of Col Lewis) 

Charlie Chew ( photo courtesy of Col Lewis)

Ruby Chew (photo courtesy of Col Lewis)

Relief for Fire Suffers. (1924, January 15). The Straits Times, page 6
Chung Nam School. (1925, December 17). The Straits Times, page 10
Death.(1941, June 9). The Straits Times, page 2
She could have wept with joy. (1950, September 9). The Straits Times, page 7
Good samaritan offers to build a new home. (1951, April 11). The Singapore Free Press, page 5
Acknowledgements.(1961, January 2).The Straits Times, page 6
Death. (1986, November 22). The Straits Times, page 38
Correspondence with  Col Lewis (son of R.B. Lewis). (Email). 2020, April 25

Sunday, June 02, 2013

A walk by the reservoir (Upper Pierce Reservoir)

I never explored the Chestnut Avenue / Upper Pierce Reservoir before so when a friend asked me to join last month (May), i said why not.  The trail is a simple trail that starts from 500 Chestnut Ave
(google co-ordinates 1.371197,103.781603 ) and goes in a loop back to where you started. Not as challenging as the Woodcutter's trail mentioned by many adventurers or mountain biker's, but i would say pretty good for those who want to try something different without npark markers or sign board to guide you.

Through the forest, the emerald green waters
welcomes you 
Getting there

The route i took gives a brief glimpse of the reservoir from the opposite side of Bukit Panjang as well as to observe the efficient system that PUB, Singapore's national water agency as in place to sustain clean water supply in its catchment area, Upper Pierce Reservoir. I read that the Chestnut Ave Waterworks is able to handle 90 million gallons of water per day including water pumped from a 14 km pipe from the new Marina Reservoir and treated here. It is of course able to treat potable water that meets the World Health Organisation standards. Below are some of the photos that i took while walking on this trail that is heavily used by mountain bikers.
Jungle trail (no signboards but well used) 

On a dead tree, a raptor nest in the making

A iron bird being chased by a small

Beautiful butterflies abound on this trail 

The sharp spines of the nibong tree

Striped-Tit Babbler wondering why i am out here

Spines of the rattan vine

Very welcoming emerald green water of the reservoir 

The Chestnut Avenue Water treatment plant can be seen at the end of the trail. It is here you can see with almost your own eyes (the inner place is of course out of bounds) how clean water is dispersed into the reservoir.
End of the trail 

Chestnut Avenue Waterworks

Treated water (so clear)

Treated water flowing into the reservoir