Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Newspaper mentions of the Rojak Librarian (2014)

Spending my free time researching, walking the ground and writing articles is something that grew with time and out of the need to create awareness of the rich natural and heritage value that Singapore has in Bukit Brown which is under threat by the highway and development. Occasionally some of the articles i wrote help the families to rediscover their roots and the final resting place of their ancestors. Even rarer are the ones that get press mention. I am blessed to have two press mentions this year either by name or for my blog, The Rojak Librarian,  in addition to being on a documentary titled "History from the Hill" in 2013.

The first is a feature on Zaoboa dated September 22, 2014 on the rediscovery of the tomb of Yap Geok Seong. I discovered this tomb in November 4, 2011 with the help of a tomb keeper who showed me this tomb. I got around to writing the article and finally publishing it on my blog in April 2013. Since then more information cropped up from the Bukit Brown community and from a descendant of Yap based in Canada. Finally in August 17, 2014, I brought the descendants of Yap Geok Song who contacted me to visit and pay respects. They eventually cleaned the tomb and had a ceremony on September 14th.  

The efforts are not mine alone, but are testament of the Bukit Brown community, a group of individuals working the ground to bring history, heritage and nature alive ! This group who called themselves Brownies recently won this years inaugural Singapore Advocacy Award

Source: Lianhe Zaobao September 22, 2014 
The tombkeeper and the tomb in November 2011

The compound of the tomb when i first discovered it in November 4, 2011

The happy descendant's when i brought them to visit on August 17, 2014

The tomb after being cleared 

The second press mention happened in April this year, with a young journalist looking for features on people and their hobbies or passion in a weekly article. Somehow, i managed to fit the bill and the interview took place in English (as i am not able to converse in Mandarin). Since i could not read the article, the good folks on Facebook translated it for me.

Lianhe Zaoboa April 24, 2014 

张育铭 报道/摄影





Translation by Darren Koh via facebook crowd source 

Zaobao News Apr 24, 2014
Walking the cemetery ground, documenting the history 

In the last two years, 白友源 has explored Bukit Brown Cemetery, studying the tombstones, and recording the stories of the deceased in his blog, which is shared on the Internet. Some of the stories recorded include those of Tay Koh Yat owner of Tay Koh Yat Bus Company Limited, and Chew Joo Chiat. For many people, the Bukit Brown Cemetery is just another of the many cemeteries in Singapore. To 白友源 (40 years old), this place is a repository of Singapore's history and culture.

In the last two years, 白友源 has explored Bukit Brown Cemetery, studying the tombstones, and recording the stories of the deceased it in his blog, which is shared on the Internet. Some of the stories recorded include those of Tay Koh Yat owner of Tay Koh Yat Bus Company Limited, and Chew Joo Chiat.

He said: "Many of the people buried here in Singapore played a significant role in the history of, are pioneers in the development of our country. A lot of people do not know of their contributions.” In here are laid to rest many of the early Chinese who travelled to Southeast Asia to make a living. 白友源 observes from their tombstones the evolution of their language and culture.

When people began to work with the British colonial government, they learnt English, and began adopting English names. This is reflected in the tombstones. There are some who inter-married with the locals, put down roots in this new world giving rise to a unique local culture known as the Peranakan. Their tombstones bear a unique Nyonya-style pattern. Some graves even have sculptures of Sikh bodyguards, reflecting the interaction between the races found here.

白友源 said: "After our ancestors arrived from China, the culture they brought with them inter-mingled with the local culture, giving us a unique cultural identity visible from these tombstones. In my opinion, this is one part of what is the culture of Singapore." 白友源, who taught himself the history and culture of Bukit Brown, sometimes receives thanks for his efforts from netizens or descendant of someone he has documented. This is what he finds most rewarding.

I am happy that some of my articles have made an impact on the lives of people however small. That motivates me to keep going and i thank everyone who have written in or commented with words of encouragement.This too is a journey for me as well and at times mistakes and errors are made as any humans do. I seek your patience and guidance in correcting me.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Photojournal of a morning in Bukit Brown (21 September 2014)

I am taking a break today on writing about the stories of personalities in Bukit Brown, so i thought instead i will share some of the pictures i took of Bukit Brown yesterday, a place that has constantly inspired me to come again and again to amaze at its wonders.

Bridal Veil Stinkhorn 
More details about the Bridal Veil Stinkhorn

Unidentified moth on the gates of Bukit Brown 

A saga seed from a tree that no longer exist (tree was chopped down)

A walk in the cemetery 

A tomb where the occupant was already exhumed. Only the coffin remained

Beautiful trees shade you 
Do check out my next post where one of my article on Yap Geok Song was mentioned in Zaobao dated September 22.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Mrs. Choa Giang Thye (Bukit Brown)

At Hill 3 Division D is the tomb of Mrs. Choa Giang Thye who passed away at 4:30 pm on February 28, 1934 at the age of 70 at her residence in No. 37 Killiney Road. On her tomb list her only son, Mr. Choa Eng Wan and 2 grandchildren, Choa York Neo and Choa Siew Jin.

Mrs Choa Giang Thye
Her husband, Mr Choa Giang Thye was born in Malacca in 1865 and at age of 12 came to Singapore. He was educated privately in English and spoke fluently in it. He and his brother, Choa Giang Whee were commissioning agents for "Giang Bros". Mr Choa Giang Thye also ran a sawmill company called the Singapore Steam Saw Mill. He was a farmer with the Singapore Opium and Spirits Farm. He served as a Municipal Commissioner for eight years and was elected to be the successor of Mr Seah Liang Seah in the Municipal Board in 1897, introducing a new generation of Chinese men proficient in the English language and was in the Chinese Advisory Board and also the Po Leung Kuk (Society of Protection of Women and Girls). He was awarded the Justice of Peace in 1910.

Choa Giang Thye
Choa Giang Thye passed away in March 3, 1911 leaving behind his only son, Choa Eng Wan. His cortege left his house, the "York" at Scott's Road on March 12, 1911 for Alexandra Road Cemetery and was reported to be one of the longest procession seen headed by a large banner from the Weekly Entertainment Club.

Son: Choa Eng Wan
Choa Eng Wan married Lee Poh Lian (daughter of  Mr Lee Choon Guan) when he was 17 years old in 1907. The marriage took place at the "York House" at Scotts Road, the home of Mr Choa Giang Tye which was reported lighted with electricity. Choa Eng Wan served in the ranks of the Chinese Company, S.V.I (Singapore Volunteer Infantry) during the Great War. He was also an avid tennis player.
Choa Eng Wan and Lee Poh Lian
Choa Eng Wan passed away on October 18, 1941 at the age of 54. Madam Lee Poh Lian passed away on May 31, 1961 at the age of 72. The tomb of Mr Choa Eng Wan and Madam Lee Poh Lian are located in Hill 5 Division B and are affected by the 8 lane highway and have already being exhumed. Their peg number were 1209 and 1210.

Grand daughter: Choa York Neo (Mrs Lim Choon Tee)
Choa York Neo (Mrs Lim Choon Tee) passed away in 1938.

Grandson: Choa Siew Jin 
Choa Siew Jin passed away in 1940 at his residence in No 37 Kiliney Road leaving behind a wife and son. He is buried in Bukit Brown. They were survived by one daughter and 2 grandchildren


China's Transition. (1907, September 25). The Straits Times, page 7
Malaka Pinda Rubber Estate. (1914, December 14). The Singapore Free Press, page 10
Central Engine Works. (1917, May 15). The Singapore Free Press, page 3
Tiang Guan Brick and Tile Company. (1920, May 29). The Straits Times, page 9
Sungai Gau Tin Mine.(1921, March 21). The Singapore Free Press, page 16
Death. (1934, March 2). The Straits Times, page 10
Advertisement. (1938, September 26).The Singapore Free Press, page 4
Deaths. (1940, March 7). The Straits Times, page 2
Song, O.S. (1984). One hundred years history of the Chinese in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press

Friday, September 05, 2014

First football match in the new National Stadium

The new National Stadium celebrated its first football match here on August 16, 2014 at 6 pm with an exhibition match between Juventus Football Club and Singapore Selection. The match ended with the scoreline of Juventus 5 - Singapore Selection 0 and i am glad i am one of the audience that managed to experience this historical event milestone for the new National Stadium. Below are some of the photos i took of this event.

The new stadium and the line up 
The first goal was scored in the 17th minute of the match by Andrea Pirlo via a free kick. This was followed by a second via a penalty in the 43th minute, again by Andrea Pirlo. One of my favourite ex-Manchester United players, Patrice Evra played in this match, but this time wearing a Juventus jersey. He was substituted when the second half started. In the second half, i got to see another ex-Manchester United player in action, Paul Pogba.

Three more goals were scored in the second half; Paul Pogba (48') Sebastian Giovinco (55') and Kwadwo Asamoah (71') .
The first goal was scored via a free kick by Andrea Pirlo
Patrice Evra in action in the first half
Team mates congratulating Paul Pogba after scoring Juventus 3rd goal

The official attendance for the match was announced to be at 27,338 audience in a new stadium that can sit 55,000 people.
Tonight's attendance: 27, 338

Aerial view of Bukit Brown in 1948 - Kheam Hock Village

In an article dated 1949, it was stated there are about 250 huts along Kheam Hock road. Fast forward to 2014, this village no longer exist except in people's memories and in the rare pictures you find either online on in the former residents private picture collection.

Kheam Hock Village

Chin Chung School, Jalan Berahi, off Kheam Hock 

source: Map of Singapore City, 1954. Survey Department of the Federation of Malaya

Battlefield Kheam Hock
Kheam Hock Village was the scene of an intense battle that took place in the final days before the fall of Singapore. Jon Cooper, a battlefield archaeologist involved in the Adam Park digs shared during his presentation and also during walks that was organised by him,  interesting insights about the battle that took place in the area of Bukit Brown. On February 14, 1941, the Japanese of the 11th Regiment, 3rd Battalion launched an assault in force supported by tanks on the defending British soldiers of 4th Suffolk positions across Adam and Lornie Road and finally Bukit Brown. The soldiers were slowly driven back from their positions and finally took up defensive positions along the western edge of the Bukit Brown cemetery. This hasty regroup, meant that a new line of positions had to be prepared in quick time amongst the tombstones of Bukit Brown cemtery. The reinforcement company congregated in the small kampong on the Kheam Hock Road. Among this reinforcing troops which included Indian soldiers of Royal Deccan Horse regiments,  was a sole Indian Pattern Vickers tank and two universal carriers of the late Major Jack Alford’s 100th Light Tank Squadron. While having lunch, the Japanese attacked again in numbers. A fierce battle ensued and the remaining survivors retreated further towards Mount Pleasant were another battle took place before the final surrender.

Reverend Cordingly was the Regimental Clergy who was tasked as Prisoner of War with leading burial parties across the battlefield in the days immediately after the surrender of the island. In his diary he recalled the carnage aftermath of that battle with many bodies lying sprawled across the road. It was from his diary and the completion of Burial Returns forms that Jon Cooper shared with us this story of many war dead which included British, Indian and Japanese soldiers. Some bodies of soldiers were not found but were just marked as co-ordinates based on their last fallen location.

Fast forward to 1955, where an article mentioned of bones being found off Kheam Hock. Was this the remains of one the missing soldiers ?
NewspaperSG (August 1955)
The end of Kheam Hock Village
Parts of Kheam Hock, and Lorong Halwa were affected as a result of the construction of the Pan Island Highway (PIE) in the 1960s-1970s.

In 1984, the government announced that the residents living along the biggest spread of cemeteries from Kheam Hock and Jalan Halwa will be cleared for development with notices send to them. It's residents were given 4 to 5 years to vacate pending new places for the residents to move to. Today, you can make out remnants of the village if you look hard enough.

Aerial photo of Bukit Brown (taken at exhibition) 

Kampong Conditions a Menance. (1949, April 26). The Straits Times
Bones in the lallang. (1955, August 27). The Straits Times
Advertisements. (1971, August 16). The Straits Times
Land with the biggest cemeteries to be cleared. (1984, June 4). Singapore Monitor
Missing: Fallen Soldiers. [website] All things Bukit Brown

Aerial view of Ong Sam Leong in 1948, posted on July 21, 2014
Aerial view of Bukit Brown in 1948-roundabout, posted on July 20, 2014