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 

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