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