Monday, April 09, 2018

Brothers buried side-by-side (Bukit Brown)

I was exploring Bukit Brown during Qingming (aka Tomb-Sweeping day) to observe the traditional practice as well as to suss out stories from descendants who visit Bukit Brown. I had the good fortune of meeting Mr. Chew Hay Teck (89 years old) who was born in 1935 to a family of  9 or 10 siblings. He and his family were in Bukit Brown for Qingming. Mr. Chew Hay Teck came across to me as a sprightly gentlemen and after a brief introduction, he shared with me that he is visiting his two brothers who are buried side by side and has been doing so every Qing Ming. His eldest brother (who he refers to as Tai Cheong) was one of the early civilian victims killed by the Japanese bombing of Singapore when  the bomb hit their family home in Chin Swee Road. Fortunately, the rest of the family members including Chew Hay Teck (who was only 7 years old then ) did not share the same fate when the roof collapsed and killed his eldest brother. The other plot without a headstone lies his 3rd or 4th brother by the name of "Ah Mou",  a brother who Mr Chew Hay Teck remembered and described fondly as the most intelligent of all the siblings because he did well in school and during the Japanese occupation, even manage to learn and was able to speak Japanese. Unfortunately, Ah Mou didn't survived to see the surrender of the Japanese. Ah Mou died of illness and was brought to the plot beside his brother and secretly buried.

Chew Hay Teck paying respects to his brothers

Paying respects to their two Uncles 
In my conversation with the younger family members of Chew Hay Teck, his son and nephew present shared that they were only puzzled that the tomb of their Uncle Tai Cheong, didn't have the same surname, but that didn't matter during our entire conversation as they went through the Qing Ming rituals with respect and shared with me that both Uncles were very pleased with the offerings and have finished consuming them after a nephew threw 2 coins only once for both tombs to check and confirm that they have finished eating. I thanked Mr Chew and the family for sharing their family story as we went our separate ways.

Neo Chye Cheong (civilian victim of first bombing by the Japanese on Singapore)

Victim of first bombing by the Japanese on Singapore 

The story does not end with my parting with the Chew family. In the comfort of my home, i learn that the first air raid on Singapore was carried out by 17 Japanese planes from the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Force, launched from Japanese-occupied Saigon, Vietnam. It took place on 8 December 1941, and left 61 dead and 133 people injured (source: Infopedia). I moved on to check the burial registrar to find out the name of the person buried in Hill 4 , Division 6 plot 338 where "Tai Cheong" lies buried. From the digitised burial records of Bukit Brown, searching was easy and the name, Neo Chye Cheong, died 8 December 1941, age 27 came out which match closely to the inscription on the tomb as well. What i did not have was the cause of death and address.

 A fellow "Brownie" (Simone Lee), whom i know spent some time in the National Archives going through the microfilm of the Bukit Brown Burial Registry of people who died just before and the weeks after the fall of Singapore was the person i went to next to find this two missing information to confirm the oral account. It was from her that help confirmed that Neo Chye Cheong died of WAR OPERATIONS and the address listed was 22 Hare Street.
Hare Street and Chin Swee Road (source:
The final piece of the puzzle was the road name that Chew Hay Teck shared with me and this closely matches the burial records of Neo Chye Cheong and that he was indeed one of the first civilian victims' of the bombing of Singapore on 8 December 1941.

Once again, it is a reminder that Bukit Brown Heritage Park contains a treasure trove of stories of Singapore's past. The intangible cultural heritage of Qing Ming practice is a useful way where stories of the family get pass on from one generation to another. If you destroy this space, it will indeed be a tragedy as many stories and traditional practices get destroyed with it along with the rich flora and fauna. I am fortunate enough to hear this story from Chew Hay Teck, a man who survived through the Japanese occupation and was so willing to share with me the story of his two brothers who lay buried in Bukit Brown, one with a headstone while the other without. Their story is not forgotten.

Remembering Neo Chye Cheong 

Friday, April 06, 2018

Tan Swee Hoe mansion in Batu Pahat

The status of Tan Swee Hoe's mansion at 160 Jalan Kluang, Batu Pahat was finally revealed! The mansion that was once owned by Tan Swee Hoe's descendants was sold and the rumors circulating at one point of time was it was going to be demolished. In fact various readers of my blog sent me pictures of the mansion after it was sold where the rooftop of the building and the interiors was completely stripped.
Tan Swee Hoe's mansion (minus the roof)
Well it was finally revealed in various Malaysian papers (Sin Chew Daily, Johor China Press) that it was purchased by His Majesty Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar, the Sultan of Johor. It was reported in the papers that the Sultan of Johor plans to restore the building and turn it into a Heritage Centre featuring the artefacts of the Johor Chinese community as well as as artefacts from China as a strong symbol to reaffirm the long relationship between the Johor Sultanate and China.

About Tan Swee Hoe

Tan Swee Hoe
Tan Swee Hoe came to Singapore as a young boy and worked his way up, eventually becoming one of founders of Ho Hong Bank, and later a director of Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC)  after it merged with it. He was also for two terms, the president of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce of Batu Pahat, shareholder of Ho Aik Steamships. Tan Swee Hoe was a member of the Council of State, Johore and received a title S.M.J (Setia Mahkota Johore) from the government of Johore in 1929 for his contributions. He owned several property in Singapore and Batu Pahat. Tan Swee Hoe passed away at the age of 67 year old at 11:00 am on July 29, 1939 at No 759 Grove Road, Singapore and is buried on August 6, 1939 in Bukit Brown, Hill 4, Division C, plot 1684. He is survived by 2 widows ( Madam Lim Lai Hua and Madam Yap Ann Nim), 6 sons (Tan Suan Khiong, Tan Suan Chee, Tan Suan Chew, Tan Suan Chuan, Tan Suan Kok and Tan Suan Poh) and 6 daughters, 4 sons-in-law (Yap Leong Teck, Chiok Eng Khiam, Lim Bock Seng and Phay Chong Whatt), 3 daughters-in-law and 33 grandchildren.For the name of the sons there are spelling variants as further research indicate the the middle name Suan is also spelled as Swan. One of his wife, Madam Lim Lai Hu passed away in January 25, 1941 at 10:10 pm at the age of 46 at 759 Grove Road.

A view of the mansion and its grounds (with roof intact)
160 Jalan Kluang, 83000 Batu Pahat,  Johor
160 Jalan Kluang, 83000 Batu Pahat,  Johor

Beautiful Entrance Columns

Close to his mansion is a major street, and the name of the Street is Jalan Tan Swee Hoe (1.861872, 102.952064) and a Chinese Temple whose patron was Tan Swee Hoe and its renovation was made possible by one of Tan Suan Khiong's son.

Further Reading
Tan Swee Hoe (Bukit Brown), posted on 5 August 2012 
Tan Swee Hoe (Batu Pahat), posted on 19 February 2014