Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Remembering Madam Wee Geok Kiew (Bukit Brown)

Mrs Tay Koh Bok ( Madam Wee Geok Kiew)
Mrs Tay Koh Bok (Madam Wee Geok Kiew ) passed away at the age of 31 in September 19, 1927. She lies peaceful in eternal slumber in  Hill 2. Her time is running out cause beside her tomb is a peg with the number 1504. Soon she will be evicted just like many others. She may have been forgotten by her children or grandchildren. We may not know stories about her, but let's remember her for this short moment in this space, in this moment, in the realm of the internet.

Often in any research, sometimes you draw blanks or hit a brick walk. This beautiful tomb with a lovely ceramic picture of Mrs Tay Koh Bok nee Madam Wee Geok Kiew is one of many that leaves me wondering what is the story behind this tomb. Unfortunately i am not able to read or write nor speak in Chinese and my basic research work is limited to English materials at hand. This handicap is frustrating at first but i learn that there are many people out there willing to share their knowledge just like me. Hopefully by posting this article, someone might share more insights into Mrs Tay. Her son is listed as Mr Tay Bee Lam.

Mrs Tay Koh Bok (peg 1504) at Hill 2

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Weaving through Bidadari ( Muslim Cemetery )

Taking a stroll along Bidadari in the area bordering Bartley Road, Upper Serangoon Road and Upper Aljunied Road either to bird watch or just commune with nature, you might notice remnants of what this place was before, a Muslim cemetery.
Map showing location of Bidadari  Muslim Cemetery 
Bidadari Muslim cemetery open in 1910 and closed it's doors in 1973. Burial plots in the past cost as low as $1 for children and $2 for adults. An estimated 79,000 graves at the 28.9 ha land was exhumed to make way for development. Among the personalities buried in Bidadari Muslim Cemetery were Baharudin Arif ( a member of the Singapore Legislative Council ), Haji Muhamad Hakim Haji Muhamad ( a community leader in the 20's) and Ahmad Ibrahim (Minister of Labour).

A family plot in Bidadari 
Masjid Bidadari (Bidadari Mosque)
Funeral procession of  late Minister of Health Ahmad Ibrahim at Bidadari
(source: a2o)

Funeral of the late Minister of Health Ahmad Ibrahim at Bidadari
(source: a2o)
As you stroll the forested park for bird watching opportunities, you might still spot remnants of the cemetery including grave stone markers, granite stones and finally direction stone poles. Come next year all this will disappear as well as this place will be developed for housing.
Bidadari Muslim Cemetery today

Grave stone markers (E404 and G 239 )
Granite stones 
Stone poles and stone path
Some of this stones were handpicked and placed in the Bidadari Memorial Park, nearby Mount Vernon, off Upper Serangoon Road. More stories to uncover ? I hope so.

The future of Bidadari 

Minister Ahmad Ibrahim dies, 35. (1962, August 22). The Straits Times
Plots then cost $1 for kids and $2 for adults. (1996, March 15). The Straits Times

See also previous post on Bidadari
Weaving through Bidadari (Alkaff Gardens and Lake), posted on October 8, 2013
Weaving through Bidadari (Birdwatching), posted on October 14, 2013
Bidadari (17 December), posted on December 18, 2012
Saving Bidadari, posted on December 5, 2012
Bidadari (7 December), posted on December 9, 2012
Bidadari (18 November), posted on November 18, 2012

Monday, October 14, 2013

Weaving through Bidadari (Birdwatching)

Weaving through Bidadari 
I spend some time on October 6, exploring Bidadari to catch sight of its bird live as the migratory season dawns upon Singapore again. Bidadari as proven itself to be a great stop-over point for migratory as well as it resident birds.

This is probably the last opportunity to catch sight of this beautiful feathered creatures in Bidadari before it is developed into a residential area and i hope you will spend some time to visit this before its transformation.
Birds of Bidadari (October 6, 2013)
There were many birders here as usual and most were focus on taking photos of this beautiful migrants. I was fortunate to met a few who helped me in identifying the different cuckoos.

Some of the birds that i managed to identify include:
  • Asian Paradise Flycatcher
  • Hill Myna
  • Lineated Barbet 
  • Malayan Cuckoo 
  • Drongo Cuckoo 
  • Indian Cuckoo
  • Laced Woodpecker (female) 

See also previous post on Bidadari : 
Weaving through Bidadari (Muslim Cemetery), posted on October 17, 2013
Weaving through Bidadari (Alkaff Gardens and Lake), posted on October 8, 2013
Bidadari (17 December), posted on December 18, 2012
Saving Bidadari, posted on December 5, 2012
Bidadari (7 December), posted on December 9, 2012
Bidadari (18 November), posted on November 18, 2012

Friday, October 11, 2013

Wee Sian Kah (Bukit Brown)

Mr Wee Sian Kah and Madam Tan Quee Kee
Wee Sian Kah is the stevedore of Messrs K.P.M .When he passed away at the age of 62 on May 22, 1940 at his residence in no 51 Amoy Street. He is survived by his sons, Wee Eng Wah, Wee Eng Kwee, Wee Eng Watt, Wee Eng Chye, Wee Eng Hong, Wee Eng Hian, Wee Eng Kee, Wee Eng Kim, Wee Eng Kiat, Wee Eng Khiam, Wee Eng Siong and Wee Hian Eng, daughters; Wee Hong Neo, Wee Leng Neo, Wee Siew Neo, Wee Ai Neo, Wee Geok Luan, Wee Geok Eng, 2 son-in-laws; Koh Pheow Wah and Chua Choon Lye; 6 daughter-in-laws.

Wee Sian Kah had 3 wives/widows; Madam Lim Ang Khee, Madam Tan Ah Soo and  Madam Teo Choon Hua listed in the papers. However, beside him is Madam Tan Quee Kee who passed away at the age of 85 on September 8, 1965. So Mr Wee Sian Kah had 4 wives or maybe more.

Beautiful tomb crest of  Mr and Mrs Wee Sian Kah 
Tomb of Mr and Mrs Wee Sian Kah 
Courtyard with benches 
Mr Wee Eng Hong, the 5th son of Mr and Mrs Wee Sian Kah married Miss Kam Suan Choo, youngest daughter of Mr Kam Yam Seng. The were married in October 1937. 

Wee Eng Hong and Kam Suan Choo

Deaths. (1940, May 30). The Straits Times
At Anchor in Singapore. (1937, October 31). Sunday Tribune.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Bukit Brown: World Monuments Watch 2014

Another accolade for Bukit Brown was announced by All Things Bukit Brown, informing that Bukit Brown gained recognition as the first Singapore site to be added and named in World Monuments Fund (WMF) and in the watch list for 2014.

World Monuments Fund

WMF's mission is to preserve the world's architectural heritage of significant monuments, buildings, and sites. It does this by raising awareness about the importance of heritage preservation and about new threats facing heritage sites. Every project is an opportunity to raise awareness among the public, government agencies, community organizations, and potential donors about the importance of heritage preservation.

World Monuments Fund citation for Bukit Brown (see link)

Bukit Brown is at once a study in the social and cultural history of Singapore and a green oasis in the heart of a densely developed urban environment. As a cemetery for pioneering Chinese immigrants from all walks of life beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, Bukit Brown showcases Singapore's origins and connections to regions beyond. Physically manifesting the links between southern China and Southeast Asia are the Hokkien and Teochew tomb designs and their inclusion of local Peranakan as well as European features. Buried at Bukit Brown are prominent Southeast Asian supporters of China's 1911 Republican Revolution. As a World War II battleground and grave site for casualties, including victims of the Japanese occupation (1942–1945), Bukit Brown also serves as a reminder of Singapore's recent past. Descendents and others visit Bukit Brown regularly, not only to pay their respects, but to gain a unique insight into Singapore’s heritage and to experience its great natural beauty and diversity.

In 2013, the government initiated plans to bisect Bukit Brown with a major thoroughfare, and has proposed the redevelopment of significant areas of Bukit Brown for housing in the coming years. This is a significant loss to the families of those interred there, as many graves are being relocated (or unclaimed remains dispensed at sea) for the road construction; but in destroying the cultural landscape of Bukit Brown, it is a loss to all of society. Local groups and residents, as well as the international community, are calling for more transparency on the part of the government and for a participatory environmental impact assessment that would evaluate the full social, economic, and ecological costs of the development plans and the effects on this historic cultural landscape. Inclusion on the Watch seeks to bolster these efforts and promote a better future for Bukit Brown.

A total of 67 sites were highlighted in the watch list for 2014. Some of them include: Pokfulam Village (Hong Kong), Yangon Historic City Center (Myanmar), Ngada Villages of Flores (Indonesia) . See also its instagram pictures.

Bukit Brown in danger of destruction by a 8 lane highway

UNESCO Heritage Site potential 

Local cultural customs (Qing Ming)
Local cultural customs (Offerings to wondering spirits)
Majolica / Peranakan tiles on tombs reflecting cross -cultural adoption

Majolica / Peranakan tiles on tombs reflecting cross -cultural adoption

Majolica / Peranakan tiles on tombs reflecting cross -cultural adoption

Sikh Statutes reflecting cross-cultural adoption

Other website mentions on World Monuments Watch 2014

World Monuments Watch 2014 List Released. [website] Architect

Further reading on Bukit Brown as a potential UNESCO Heritage site
Parliamentary Question by Ms. Janice Koh (Bukit Brown), posted on July 9, 2013
Unesco Heritage site bid - Why not Bukit Brown too? posted on April 14, 2013
Bukit Brown Cemetery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, posted on April 2, 2013

Weaving through Bidadari (Alkaff Gardens and Lake)

I visited the exhibition of Bidadari in HDB hub and saw its plans for it's future with interest. There were many detailed drawings and also a scaled architecture impression of how the place will look like. Within this built- up new township is a 10 ha park with a lake that will form its major green lung.
Architecture impression of the new township 
The green portion represents Bidadari Park 
Cemetery and Gardens history
Part of the township plan is also to close a portion of the Upper Aljunied Road that is currently bordered with its matured trees and to make it into a pedestrian heritage walk trail. The heritage walk will show to its future residences, what Bidadari was in the past (a cemetery) and the Alkaff Lake and Garden that used to occupy a part of its grounds. I am aware of its history as cemetery but i was not familiar of  its history as a garden and lake. I decided to read up more on this interesting piece of history not very known to me, if not most of us.
Alkaff Garden and Lake
(source: a20 )
Alkaff Garden and Lake began life for the public in 1930 when Mr Syed Mohamed Alkaff, a wealthy Arab landowner and trustee of the Alkaff estate decided to put aside 10 acres of land for a park with a lake. The lake has quaint Japanese bridges and torri (arches) with boating facilities. It was a popular destination away from the city for boating, fishing, picnic and also just to rest. There was further plans to develop the 190 acres of land in the Bidadari-Serangoon-Macpherson area with the erection of 600-700 bungalows in Alkaff Estate, with shophouses along MacPherson and Upper Serangon Roads. In the plan is also a cinema hall, central market and shopping place. This really sounds familiar to the 2013 HDB plans !
Alkaff Gardens entrance archway
(source: NewspaperSG)
Alkaff Gardens, Chinese New Year 1936
(source: NewspaperSG)
The war changed this plans as the Alkaff Trust decided to consolidate its strength and funds with one of its strategy was to sell of this estate. The iconic Japanese bridges were destroyed, one of them hit by a Japanese shell. The garden itself was used by the Singapore Volunteer Field Ambulance Corps as their headquarters. It was a target of bombs and shelling after they evacuated from this area. During the Japanese occupation, Alkaff Gardens was out of bounds to the local population.

Post war, the lake slowly was chocked by weeds and the place largely forgotten and in disrepair. It was eventually bought over by Mr. C.W.A Sennett, managing director of Sennett Realty Estate Co. for $2 million and in 1950, the announced plans to fill up the lake when it announced a $17 million plan for a 1,400 housing estate that is capable of housing 10,000 people. Prior to this action of filling up the lake, a number of Singapore residents wrote in to protest this decision to fill it up and proposed that the Singapore Municipal Commissioners to take over the lake and park to rehabilitate it,so that a "park hungry Singapore" can still enjoy a pleasant resort in the outer surburbs was the quote of the article in July 22, 1950. The lake was eventually filled up in 1964. 

Sennett Estate and Willow Secondary (now Cedar Secondary) currently occupy parts of Alkaff Gardens. 
Location of  the "future" Alkaff Lake on the top right of Bidadari
(1924 map) 

Colony Cavalcade. (1936, August 9). 
S'pore's forgotten Park. (1948, April 20). The Singapore Free Press.
Garden Lake to be filled up. (1950, July 18). The Straits Times.
Alkaff Garden may be saved. (1950, July 22). The Straits Times
S.I.T approves $17 million "Gardens" House plan. (1950, September 28). The Straits Times 
Alkaff Lake Gardens. [website]. Infopedia

See also previous post on Bidadari : 
Weaving through Bidadari (Muslim Cemetery), posted on October 17, 2013
Weaving through Bidadari (Alkaff Gardens and Lake), posted on October 8, 2013
Bidadari (17 December), posted on December 18, 2012
Saving Bidadari, posted on December 5, 2012
Bidadari (7 December), posted on December 9, 2012
Bidadari (18 November), posted on November 18, 2012

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Ong Chwee Tow (Seh Ong )

Ong Chwee Tow (王水斗) came to Singapore when he was 15 years of age. He held various jobs and climbed up the social ladder. He worked as Tan Kah Kee's rickshaw rider, then as a hawker and later on in the pineapple line. His fortune came when the pineapple factory owner fell sick and died and he took over the management of the factory. The rest is history.

As for the Tou Mou Gung and why he contributed to it, here is an interesting story about Tou Mou Gung and Ong Chwee Tow. Tou Mu Kung, also called Hougang Dou Mu temple (后港斗母宫), is a Taoist temple situated at 779A Upper Serangoon Road. Completed in 1921, it is the oldest temple dedicated to the worship of Jiu Huang Ye (九皇爷) in Singapore and was gazetted as a national monument on 14 January 2005.  As one of the worshippers, Hokkien pineapple tycoon Ong Chwee Tow, decided to donate a plot of land around the 5½ milestone Upper Serangoon Road for the construction of a temple. On one of the two stone tablets listing the temple’s benefactors, Ong Chwee Tow’s name appears first. The inscription on this tablet also states that the land for Tou Mu Kung was acquired in 1919 and that the temple was completed in 1921.


Thursday, October 03, 2013

Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church (Singapore)

This year marks the 170th anniversary celebration of the founding of the first protestant church in Singapore for the Straits Chinese in 1843. Located at 77 Prinsep Street, it was started by Reverand Benjamin Peach Keasberry (1811 - 1875) the son of a British colonel in the Indian Army initially for the Malay community. First known as the Malay Chapel, it was a church catered for the conversion of the native communities, especially the Malays. The church was also known then as "Greja Keasberry".

Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church today

Benjamin Peach Keasberry

Malay Mission Chapel 1859
(source: 150th anniversary book of Prinsep Street Presbyterian church )
Reverend B.P. Keasberry died suddenly while preaching at his pulpit on September 6, 1875. However, he was not alone in spreading the religion. He was assisted by Song Hoot Kiam, who played a huge influence and role in attracting other young Chinese Christians such as Foo Teng Quee, Tan Boon Chin and Tang Kong Wee (both son-in-laws of Song Hoot Kiam). To reflect the growing community from other native races, especially the Peranakan chinese, it was renamed as the Straits Chinese Church and today known as the Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church. Foo Teng Quee (1843-1906) was one of the heads in the Hainanese community who after his conversion served as a Deacon and Treasuer.

Song family connection

Song Hoot Kiam, (1830-1900) was a Straits born Chinese originally from Malacca. He was one of the first 6 chinese converts of the protestant mission and a pupil of Dr James Legge (later a Professor of Chinese Studies in Oxford University). Song Hoot Kiam was brought to Scotland to be educated and was baptised in 1847. Upon returning, he served with Reverend Benjamin Keasberry as a voluntary preacher and as the Treasurer of the Church. After his first wife's (Yeo Choon Neo) death, Song Hoot Kiam married Phan Fung Lean from a Penang Christian family in 1870. Their eldest child was Song Ong Siang. Song Hoot Khiam was to marry a third time leaving behind a total of five sons and nine daughters when he passed away in October 1900.
Song Hoot Kiam 
On the front facade of the beautiful red brick building is a marble stone that marks that the church was built in 1843 and rebuilt in 1930. The stone to commemorate the rebuilding of the church was laid by Song Ong Siang, Esq, C.B.E , V.D. , M.A., L.L.M, on March 5, 1930. Six years later he was knighted the K.B.E, becoming the first Straits Chinese to reach knighthood.

Sir Song Ong Siang was the the eldest son of Song Hoot Kiam and Phan Fung Lean. He served as a voluntary preacher and succeeded his father Song Hoot Kiam when he died in 1900, as an elder of the church. He also served as chairman of the Chinese Christian Association for many years and was a strong advocate for educational reform, helping in the formation of the Singapore Chinese Girls' School and becoming one of the members on the board of governors and its vice-president.
Group photograph of Straits Chinese Church members in 1920's
Rev. William Murray (third from left) Mr and Mrs Song Ong Siang (fifth and sixth from left)
(source: a20) 
A famous lawyer (Aitken and Ong Siang) and famed author of the book, "One hundred years' history of the Chinese in Singapore", a book that captures the contributions of local chinese spanning across 1819-1919 and a book that many researcher still use today, including amateur researchers like me.

Sir Song Ong Siang achieved many first. He was as earlier mentioned, the first Chinese to be knighted. As a young boy, he was a brilliant student. He excelled in his studies and was the first recipient of the Queen's  Scholar but was disqualified due to the fact he was underage. The honor instead went to another distingushed person, Dr. Lim Boon Keng. He did eventually became a Queens Scholar in 1888 and was the first Queens Scholar to study law. He was the first Chinese captain in the Straits Chinese Volunteer Corp.
Captain Song Ong Siang and  Mrs Song Ong Siang
(source: a20)

Mr and Mrs Song Ong Siang
(source: a20) 

Tomb of Sir and Mrs Song Ong Siang in Bidadari
(source: a20) 
The Boys' Brigade
The Boys’ Brigade movement in Singapore has its beginning's here. In 1930, Mr James Milner Fraser, an old Boy of the 23rd Aberdeen Company and an ex-officer of the 23rd London Company, started the Boys’ Brigade 1st Singapore Company in the Straits Chinese Church together with other pioneering members from the 1st Swatow Company.
Boys Brigade
(source: a20 )

Benjamin Keasberry. [website] Infopedia
Prinsep Street Presbysterian Church. [website] Infopedia
Song Hoot Kiam. [website] Infopedia
Song Ong Siang. [website] Infopedia
History of PSPC [website] Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church
Song, O.S. (1984). One hundred years history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press