Monday, February 23, 2015

Mary Wee (Bukit Brown)

Miss Mary Wee who passed away at the age of 12 on March 17, 1927 is the daughter of Mr and Mrs Wee Eng Cheng based on the inscriptions of this simple marble tomb.
Miss Mary Wee daughter of Mr and Mrs Wee Eng Cheng
Mr and Mrs Wee Eng Cheng sounds familiar. Based on the year of Mary's death and Mary's parents name, Mary Wee is possibly the daughter of Mr. Wee Eng Cheng, who is the son of the late Wee Siang Tat , head of shipping firm, Wee Bin & Co. and grandson of Wee Boon Teck. Unfortunately this is at the moment, only speculation and i am not able to verify 100% for sure. If there any descendants with insights on this, i hope they can email me and verify.

Wee Eng Cheng (黄永清) was a Straits born Chinese from the prominent Wee family. He is the great grandson of Wee Bin of Wee Bin & Co , merchant and shipowners. Wee Eng Cheng was a Director in the Ho Hong Bank and Chinese Commercial Bank. He held partnership in the Eng Hoe Kongsi of No 19 Church Street which dealt with Sago manufacturers and dealers before he sold it to his managing partner in 1920 and was the Vice-President of the Jin Hua Kok Association (1923)
Wee Eng Cheng (source: NUS Museum-Dressing the Baba)
Wee Eng Cheng passed away on May 3, 1928 at the age of 34. Lim Peng Mau and Madam Goh Boh Tan (mother of Wee Eng Cheng ) were appointed the joint trustees of the estate in 1928. Wee Eng Cheng left behind valuable landed property in Singapore and cash in the sum of $97, 252 in Ho Hong Co and in the bank.

His wife, Madam Ang Peng Neo passed away on May 1929, a year after Wee Eng Cheng passed away, leaving behind an infant son (Wee Seck Hock) and a daughter.  Both Mr and Mrs Wee tombs were staked by LTA for the proposed highway project and have already been exhumed.

His son, Wee Seck Hock was a beneficiary of the estate and took to court to remove Lim Peng Mau and Madam Goh Boh Tan as trustees and to appoint a new trustee. What exactly happen to the case is not known to me. Wee Seck Hock passed away January 12, 1972 at the age of 54. He is survived by his widow, 2 sons and mother. The cortege left from 157 Neil Road. His two sons, Wee Lin and Wee Sun later agreed to sell the family home to National University of Singapore (NUS) in 2005. With a memorial gift from Agnes Tan (the daughter of Tan Cheng Lock ) , NUS was able to purchase, restore and turn it to a museum today known as The Baba House.

Wee Eng Cheng (黄永清) (peg 1497) and Ang Peng Neo (洪平娘) (peg 1496) tombs have already been exhumed.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Battle for Singapore Heritage Tours - Bukit Brown

The National Heritage Board of Singapore (NHB) organised a slew of activities to commemorate the 73rd Anniversary of the Battle for Singapore and also the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Singapore. The activities included guided tours, public talks and an exhibition during the period of February and March 2015, one which featured a bunker that used to belong to the British naval base and the one i managed to sign up for was the Tiong Bahru Air Raid Shelter.

I was one of the guides for the In Remembrance of World War 2 at Bukit Brown and for this tour, we shared on some of the personalities that played a role during the War and also highlighted the geographical significance of Bukit Brown and Mount Pleasant area as World War 2 sites that encountered fierce battle just before the surrender of Singapore on February 15, 1942.

Personalities Covered for my trail
Lim Chong Pang 
Wong Chin Yoke
Tan Ean Kiam
Tan Ean Teck

Three volley salute at the Police funeral of Wong Chin Yoke
I covered also a unique facet of Bukit Brown, the Punjabi Guards which are symbolic of the cultural fusion or melting pot of different races representative of a unique period of time when Singapore was a colony of the invincible British Empire. This myth of invincibility was finally shattered with the fall of Singapore to the Japanese force that sweep aside the British fortress within a month of landing in Malaya. Notably, the Punjabi or Sikh Guard statues were popular among the Chinese businessmen or towkay, pre-1945, after which they disappeared completely from being used as guardians of the deceased.

Wong Chin Yoke cluster- Probably the tallest statutes at 5 feet 8 inches
Block 4 Division A @1.339891,103.824901
I painted the story of many civilians fleeing Singapore days before the fall of Singapore and the sinking of the ship SS Kuala which led to the death of Mrs. Lim Nee Soon (mother of Lim Chong Pang) and many other nurses and civilians drowned. The tragic story of SS Kuala and SS Tanjong Pinang was well documented in many websites. 

Finally i touched on a sensitive area of the role of some of this prominent Chinese played during Japanese occupied Singapore as members of the Overseas Chinese Association (O.C.A), an association made of prominent Chinese who worked with the Japanese Military Administration to maintain local order and support the Japan war effort. Some of this prominent Chinese did not survived the war (e.g, Tan Ean Kiam but for those who did, they were accused by the British Military Administrators as collaborators, but later exonerated for their involvement with the O.C.A (e.g. Lim Chon Pang, Lim Boon Keng).

Remains of bones found 
Bukit Brown has still many stories uncovered or waiting to be uncovered that is related to the war which was not covered in this tour or at least the one i conducted. Below are some links from previous articles i wrote either about personalities buried in Bukit Brown who died as a direct result of the war or contributed to the war resistance effort. Many mysteries still remain unsolved such as the location of the communal trenches documented in the burial registrar.

Tay Koh Yat, posted on November 24, 2011
Communal Trenches of War Victims in Bukit Brown, posted on March 5, 2012
Soh Koon Eng, posted on January 27,2013
Volunteer Soldiers buried in Bukit Brown-a journey of rediscovery, posted on July 26, 2014

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Kwek Noy Chia (Bukit Brown)

Kwek Noy Chia  (Quek Noy Chia) was one of the Vice-Presidents of the Union Sporting Association of Singapore (1930 -1937). I found very little information about Mr. Kwek  to find out further about him other than the name of his father, Quek Wah Guan who passed away at No. 134 Nallur Road on November 1948 and is survived by his sons; Quek Noy Chia and Quek Kim Chia.

Kwek Noy Chia of the Union Sporting Association
Members of the Union Sporting Association 
Kwek Noy Chia passed away on March 22, 1956 at the age of 67. His wife Madam Tan Kim Kee passed away on June 12, 1938 at the age of 44. She was the eldest daughter of Mr and Mrs Tan Yong Thian.
Mr and Mrs Kwek Noy Chia 

A beautiful Teochew tomb

Kwek Cheng Hoe, Kwek Ming Hoe, Kwek Khim Hoe, Kwek Siak Hoe, Kwek Liang Hoe, Kwek Khoon Hoe, Kwek Peng Hoe, Kwek Kwee Hoe

Kwek Sim Keow, Kwek Khoon Keow, Kwek Hoe Keow, Kwek Cheng Keow, Kwek Liang Keow

Acknowledgements. (1948, November 16). The Straits Times
Untitled. (1938, September 28). The Singapore Free Press

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Battle for Singapore Heritage Tours -Tiong Bahru Air Raid Shelter

The National Heritage Board of Singapore (NHB) organised a slew of activities to commemorate the 73rd Anniversary of the Battle for Singapore and also the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Singapore. The activities included guided tours, public talks and an exhibition during the period of February and March 2015, one which featured a bunker that used to belong to the British naval base.

I played a small role in this as i was one of the guides for one of the guided tour series, In Remembrance of World War 2 at Bukit Brown and was also fortunate to be able to sign up for at least one of the guided tour. I was fortunate because the response was so overwhelming that all the tours were fully booked. The tour that i managed to sign up for was the air raid shelter in Tiong Bahru.

Tiong Bahru Air Raid Shelter
The air raid shelter at Block 78 Guan Chuan Street is the last remaining pre-war civilian air raid shelter, built on a public housing estate managed by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT). We met our guide, Ms. Tan Teng Teng who brought us equipped with torch lights inside the air raid shelter and shared with us stories of it's used prior and after the war. We got to see the living quarters of the residents, the air and light vents as well as the area which was reserved for the Air Raid Precaution (ARP) Wardens and their families.The tour inspired me to do some basic research on my own.

Tiong Bahru Air raid shelter
Entrance to the air raid shelter in Tiong Bahru
view of entrance from inside  -Tiong Bahru Air raid shelter
View of the entrance from inside the air raid shelter 
Reserved for ARP Wardens Families -Tiong Bahru Air raid shelter
Reserved for ARP Wardens Families 
Light vents -Tiong Bahru Air raid shelter
light vents using thick glass that used to allow natural lights
to come through
Tiong Bahru Air raid shelter
counting the days ? 
Tiong Bahru Air raid shelter
One of the rooms facing the entrance 
The plan to build bomb-proof shelters in Tiong Bahru began in 1939 and was well documented in the newspapers during that time. A new block of flats were built by the Singapore Improvement Trust with a basement that acts as a bomb shelter reinforced with concrete floors. The space was originally meant to be a covered playground and garage for cars, but with the shadow of war getting closer, it was eventually converted to air raid shelters with walled bricks enough to hold almost 2,000 people to seek shelter in. The shelter was tendered at a cost of $16,000.
The block of flats we visited (this picture is from 1939)
(source: NewspaperSG) 
ARP Wardens (source: NewspaperSG)
A stand alone air raid shelter made of bricks undergoing stress test
(source: National Archives) 
The Cramp condition of some of the air raid shelters
(source: NewspaperSG) 
Air raids prior to the fall of Singapore
The picture below is interesting in many ways as its shows a building wrecked as a result of Japanese bombing. The picture was dated February 3, 1942 and the building as you can make out in the picture was located in Rochor Canal Road. Other than the burnt out vehicle, you can also see the ARP Post and sand bags.
A destroyed building with an ARP Post next door
(source: Australia War Memorial)
The collage of pictures compiled below gives a snap shot of the chaos leading to the fall of Singapore and the heroic efforts by the civil defence force made up of regulars and volunteers trying to save lives. Prior to war, efforts to built air raid shelters was limited only to places like military installations, homes of the family of servicemen and finally private air raid shelters.

It was not pragmatic option to mass produce this air raid shelters and this was reported in the papers that for areas of high population density areas (e.g. Chinatown, North and South Bridge Road areas), the best would be stay put in a building or if one is near and open field, to make their way there. Building underground air raid shelter in highly dense area was not feasible with high water table as well as costly. For people living in the rural areas, hiding in a forested area would be the likely choice as often than not, the bombs are targeting key military, transportation and administrative installations (e.g ports, naval base, army barracks, etc).
Air raids in Singapore (source: Australia War Memorial) 
Air raids in Singapore (source: Australia War Memorial)

Post-War Use
After the war, some air raid shelter's in Tiong Bahru was converted to storage areas and other's converted to become a community centre (e.g. the air raid shelter at Eu Chin Street). I was told by our guide that the Guan Chuan air raid shelter was used as a storage space, post war.

Location and getting there
The Tiong Bahru Air Raid shelter is not open for public access but only during official guided tours that specifically say so, or on special occasions like the one i signed up for. You might want to check out the Tiong Bahru Heritage Volunteer group for their monthly tours. The google map location of the entrance to the air raid shelter. The nearest MRT station is Tiong Bahru.

Bomb-Proof Shelters for New Block of Flats. (1939, June 28). The Straits Times
ARP Shelters for city present problems . (1940, October 26). The Straits Times
Shelter plans for 2,000 at Tiong Bahru. (1941, April 21). The Singapore Free Press
Tribune Men "Bombed" in Singapore. (1941, February 9). The Sunday Tribune.
New Community Centre opens. (1951, July 9). The Straits Times

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Bukit Brown status - snapshot February 2015

What's happening on the ground in Bukit Brown? Is Bukit Brown still accessible and open despite the works going on ? This are the questions people ask me. The answer is a resounding yes. The exhumations have already been completed and works are already under way in the clearing and flattening the land in the preparation of the 8 lane highway, but there still other areas not affected yet for the moment.

Below are some pictures i took in my trips to Bukit Brown from October 2014 to end January 2015 to give you a snapshot of the situation at ground level.

October 2014
Clearing of the tombs and leveling of the ground (seen through the gates)

Leveling of the ground of former Seh Ong cemetery (view from Lornie Road)

November 2014

First person to be listed on the burial registrar is not afffected. Not so for her neighbour

Headstone broken to signify that the tomb is no longer home

January 2015

Clearing of Hill 4 

Clearing of Hill 3 

Materials use in tomb making. Some of this brick kilns no longer exist 

Entrance to Bukit Brown looks like a construction site

Bukit Brown - the Singapore Story 
However bleak or depressing the above pictures may seem, the heritage discoveries continue and so do the heritage tours by the community of volunteers who called themselves "Brownies". 
The purpose is to create awareness and educate people on the intrinsic value of this cemetery as a heritage park. Its unique cultural value are reflected and etched in its stone carvings, the peranakan tiles and sculptures such as the Punjabi or Sikh Guards

The stories that continue to be uncovered reflects the Singapore story, the story of the pioneers who made Singapore their home, built it brick by brick, of people who socialised, mingled and adopted cultures of the local population, of people who lived through major timelines such as the British Colonial rule, the Japanese Occupation and Singapore' early struggles to gain and eventually its Independence, of people who died in defence of Singapore, are found in Bukit Brown. 

Etched on the tombs of this pioneers are the different calender systems representing the rise and fall of Qing dynasty, loyalist Calender, the Republic of China Calender, the Japanese Koki calender and Gregorian calenders. On the epitaph of this tombs are poems of lament, of love, of education, of hopes and aspirations. 

If you not visited Bukit Brown, join one of this free public tours. National Heritage also recently in January 2015 announced six new guided tours under it's Battle for Singapore project, which commemorates Singapore's fall to the Japanese 73 years ago and its liberation from them three years later.
A public tour organised by the Brownies in January 2015
A public tour organised by the Brownies in January 2015 
Tours for 2015 will continue
The tours will continue 

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Traditional Chinese Puppet Troupe in Singapore

While out on an breakfast excursion in Jalan Besar (Bersih Market) in January 2015, i observed on the far end of the field where a temple has set up tentage for its festivities, was a smaller shelter where i could see performances going on, but no one was really watching it. On closer inspection it was a string puppet performance (marionettes) taking place in the Hokkien dialect by the Feng Huang (Phoenix) Puppet Troupe 凤凰木偶班.

I am not an expert in this area, but then no one starts off calling themselves an expert and the purpose for me writing this article is to share what little i know and hopefully get insights from readers who stumble unto my blog that may have more knowledge to come and share their insights and if you have old photos of puppet performances or old photos of puppet troupes in Singapore, do email me, so i can add in as well into this article. Whenever i discover more puppet troupe's in Singapore, i will also add on this article.

String Puppet Performance by Feng Huang (Phoneix) Puppet Troupe
String Puppet Performance by Feng Huang (Phoneix) Puppet Troupe

String Puppet Performance by Feng Huang (Phoneix) Puppet Troupe
String Puppet Performance and the ladies managing the puppets 

String Puppet Performance by Feng Huang (Phoneix) Puppet Troupe
The musicians
Musicians of the String Puppet Performance by Feng Huang (Phoneix) Puppet Troupe
The musicians

The Puppet Master of the String Puppet Performance by Feng Huang (Phoneix) Puppet Troupe
Puppet Master in action 
Traditional Chinese Puppets 
Puppet Shows are a cheaper alternative to a full Chinese Opera performance (wayang) and often requires only 3-4 musicians (often men) and 3 (often women) to manipulate the puppet and sing. This troupe are like the opera performances engaged during temple festivities such as the Hungry Ghost Festival and during the birthday of the deities.

Different puppets have different dressing, face painting and costumes. Similar to Chinese Opera, the more elaborate the clothing, this tends to signify a person of high status and /or wealth. The darker the make-up and clothing, its tend to signify that the character has an evil intent.

There are different types of puppets as well. The ones by Feng Huang (Phoenix) Puppet Troupe are stringed puppets. There are also other forms such as:
  • Glove based Puppets
  • Rod Puppets
  • Finger Puppets 
  • Shadow Play 

String Puppets 

Glove puppets and rod puppet (in black and white)
(source: National Archives)

Other Puppet Troupe's in Singapore
Below are some of the pictures i have taken of various puppet troupe in Singapore. Will update /add on when i discover more, so this is not a comprehensive count of how many are out there.

四季春 (Spring of Four Seasons) 
I saw this troupe in June 2015 in Sin Ming. There a troupe performing using glove puppets in Hokkien.

四季春 (Spring of Four Seasons) - Glove Puppet

四季春 (Spring of Four Seasons) - Glove Puppet

四季春 (Spring of Four Seasons) - Glove Puppet

I saw this Puppet Troupe in January 2015 in Toa Payoh. Unfortunately, when i arrived the performance was already over.
Sin Hoe Ping Puppet Troupe (新和平加礼戏班)
I saw this troupe performed on the grounds of the Asian Civilization Museum back in 2012. This is an Heng Hua troupe whose uses string puppets,
Sin Hoe Ping Puppet Troupe (新和平加礼戏班)
Sin Hoe Ping Puppet Troupe (新和平加礼戏班)

Sin Hoe Ping Puppet Troupe (新和平加礼戏班)
A Puppet show with a beautiful backdrop 

Sin Hoe Ping Puppet Troupe (新和平加礼戏班)
The Puppet master 

Puppet Troupes (from the newspaper archives)
Other troupes i found while researching are included here. I am not sure whether they exist today, but again, add it in here for me to learn more.

Teong Meng Hong Puppet Show ( a glove puppet troupe) -1988
source: NewspaperSG

Chye Sing Hong (Hakka Marrionette Troupe)- 1988
source: NewspaperSG

Sam Soon Long Puppet Troupe (Hainanese) -1988
source: NewspaperSG
Hungry ghost keep puppetry alive. (1988, August 31). The Straits Times
A calendar of street wayang in Singapore (1987/88) : with special reference to major Chinese festivals. [website].BookSG
Past and Present: String Puppets in Singapore. [website] Puppet Theatre

Last updated: June 7, 2015