The Goh brothers are mentioned once again on their efforts in this article publsihed online on the 12th and printed copy 13th September 2020. I managed to sneak in a soundbite. Read on......
|Source: Straits Times|
SINGAPORE - Brothers Raymond and Charles Goh - dubbed Singapore's "tomb hunters" - met me at Bukit Brown cemetery on a rainy Saturday morning last weekend for an interview, which I was ill-clad for as I thought the weather would hold up.The 162ha Bukit Brown cemetery, which was closed in 1973, is the final resting place for some of Singapore's earliest pioneers. Some families have come to the cemetery at night to place offerings during the Chinese Seventh Month from Aug 19 to Sept 16. But Bukit Brown is especially active during the Qing Ming period, when Chinese families visit to make offerings during the Tomb Sweeping Festival, which falls every year in April. Since late March, the heritage activists and their community of volunteers, called the Bukit Brownies, have had to stop their nature and historical walks due to the coronavirus pandemic. They have conducted these walks free of charge since 2011. "We hope to resume our nature and heritage walks in Bukit Brown soon, but with safe management measures in place," says Mr Raymond Goh, 56, a pharmacist. The Gohs are licensed tourist guides with the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and are allowed to conduct commercial tours and free walks. But to continue with these during Covid-19, they need to submit an application to STB and receive approval from the Ministry of Trade and Industry. According to STB, tour operators and tourist guides that have received approval to resume tour operations can conduct walking tours of up to 10 people, with a maximum of five people allowed in any one sub-group.
The free heritage sessions in the cemetery conducted by the Gohs and the Brownies have attracted quite a following. Since 2011, they have completed 862 walks, during which more than 22,000 people learnt more about the history, heritage and habitats of the cemetery complex, which sits at the end of Lorong Halwa, just off Lornie Highway. What makes Bukit Brown special is that many of its more than 100,000 tomb stones are well-preserved examples of Chinese grave architecture, a testament to the high standards of Chinese stonemasonry found on the specially imported stones.Some are buried deep in the jungle area of the site, also known as Greater Bukit Brown. This part of the cemetery hides tombs that are mostly overgrown with sinewy creepers, weeds and bushes as well as fallen trees and assorted creepy crawlies - as I found out during my tour.
The Gohs have documented more than 10,000 tombs in their archives. Some are featured in the online resource All Things Bukit Brown, which was started in 2012 by the Brownies. Mr Raymond Goh also maintains a weblog to discuss graves and graven images of historical importance. While he has a photographic memory of tombstones and the locations of tombs throughout Singapore, his 53-year-old brother, Mr Charles Goh, who is head of the safety department at a construction company, specialises in land research. The brothers pay out of their pockets for research services such as getting land information from sources including the Singapore Land Authority, National Library Board and National Archives of Singapore. Together with the help of the Brownies, the Gohs regularly clear pathways in the cemetery and clean tombs so the sites of interest are kept accessible.
If the tombs are historical and fully covered by vegetation and overgrowth, the brothers will dig into their pockets to hire tomb keepers to clear the vegetation so as to study the epitaphs better, Mr Kenneth Lim, director of travel agent and tourist guides at STB, says: "STB welcomes innovative tour concepts and ideas that will encourage locals and, eventually, international visitors, to discover different sides of Singapore and its hidden gems. "Businesses with interesting tour concepts can apply for funding support through STB's Experience Step-Up Fund, which supports the development of products or experiences that can enrich Singapore's destination experience and attractiveness."
Bukit Brown achieved World Monuments Fund Watch List status in 2014, after a group of Brownies and academics nominated it and drew attention to its significance as part of a global heritage. The biennial list of cultural heritage sites in urgent need of conservation this year include the Notre-Dame of Paris, a Catholic cathedral; Anarkali Bazaar in Lahore, Pakistan; and the sacred valley of the Incas in Peru. The volunteers also conduct independent research and organise public talks with Singapore museums, libraries and schools. According to Mr Raymond Goh, Bukit Brown is a "living museum" of Singapore's pioneers, who helped the island grow from a British outpost to an independent nation. "Bukit Brown is more than just a cemetery. It is the last vestiges of Singapore's pre-war history," he says. "You will find the tomb of one of Singapore's richest Chinese men during the colonial era, Lim Loh, deep in the forested area."Lim, a construction magnate who commissioned British architecture firm Swan & Maclaren in the late 1800s to design several shophouses and residences, is the father of war hero Lim Bo Seng. Mr Goh says there are also tombs of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's maternal grandmother Leong Ah Soon, who died on Oct 9, 1934. Born in 1881, she was 16 years younger than her husband, Chua Kim Teng. Other notables in Bukit Brown include Lee Kim Soo, an industrialist who pioneered the match manufacturing industry; Tan Chor Nam, a pioneer in the 1911 Chinese Revolution and advocate for education for women in the early 1900s; as well as Lim Chong Pang, Chew Boon Lay and Chew Joo Chiat, who had neighbourhoods named after them.
Some believe Bukit Brown is destined for bigger things.
In the opinion of avowed lifelong Brownie Peter Pak, the site should aim higher than the World Monuments Fund Watch List."Bukit Brown is worthy of being a Unesco World Heritage Site," says the 47-year-old project manager. Only governments - not individuals or groups - can nominate a site for Unesco consideration and it would need to be proven to have outstanding universal values that meet Unesco's exhaustive criteria. In Singapore, only the Botanic Gardens has achieved that distinction - in 2015, after a two-year nomination process by the National Heritage Board. Mr Pak adds: "While Bukit Brown is a Chinese cemetery, its materials and artefacts, such as the decorative tiles, Indian sentinels and Art Deco-style tombs, attest to a unique melting pot of influences from different cultures - unrivalled anywhere else on the planet." Mr Pak, who is also a member of the Nature Society (Singapore), says he has spotted white crested laughing thrushes, thick-billed green pigeons, straw-headed bulbuls and blue-crowned hanging parrots on his jaunts around the area. "I would tell those who have yet to check out Bukit Brown to throw away your 'pantang' (Malay word for taboo)," he says. "Treat this heritage and nature space as a 'living library' that contains the biography of our early pioneers and a space where you can learn and appreciate nature."
Retiree Jonathan Siew, 68, who has been helping the Brownies on their guided walks for the past few years, says Bukit Brown should be on the to-do list of young explorers. "Young people will be hooked on this outdoor museum," says Mr Siew, who also jogs there in the wee hours. He drives there from his home in Holland Village. "Also, they will be conserving the site for future generations," he adds.
Dr Jack Lee, president of the Singapore Heritage Society, says Bukit Brown is thought to be one of the largest Chinese cemetery outside China, and one of a very small number of cemeteries left in Singapore dating back to the 19th century. "We hope what remains of Bukit Brown cemetery can be kept intact," he adds. "It is also a haven for wildlife and visited regularly by joggers, horseriders and history enthusiasts.While documentation in the form of photographs and copying down inscriptions can be carried out for heritage preservation, it is never a complete substitute for the real thing, he notes. "The grave monuments contain much information such as genealogical data, Chinese myths and legends, the positioning and shape of tombs according to feng shui principles, poetry and sculptures referring to Chinese classical literature, and insights into artistic styles from the carvings and use of tiles."
Tombs that were highlighted
|source: Straits Times|
Lim Loh (1852-1929)
Construction magnate and leader of the Chinese community, Lim Loh ("Towkay Lim") was believed to be one of the richest men during the colonial era in Singapore.The Taoist Hokkien tycoon made his fortune from his construction business and, later, his brickworks and biscuit factories. He had six wives, 19 sons and nine daughters.His first 10 sons and two daughters were adopted, while the other remaining 16 were biological children. His first biological son, Lim Bo Seng, fought with the Singapore Resistance against the Japanese. He died of torture at the hands of the enemy on June 29, 1944, in Batu Gajah in Malaysia.
Lee Kim Soo (1888-1933)
Lee Kim Soo was an industrialist who pioneered the match manufacturing industry with his Elkayes brand of match sticks.He made his fortune manufacturing latex cups and pottery products for the rubber industry. Mr Raymond Goh and some volunteers discovered his unconventional Art Deco-style tomb while clearing heavy undergrowth in Bukit Brown in 2012.
Leong Ah Soon (1881-1934)
Leong Ah Soon was a widow with two children before marrying Chua Kim Teng, maternal grandfather of Lee Kuan Yew. There are 17 children inscribed on her tombstone - seven sons and 10 daughters, including Mr Lee's mother, Chua Jim Neo. Leong's tomb bears an enigmatic couplet: "When you know the pleasures of the hills, don't bother about fame and fortune." Some of her daughters became renowned cooks, including Mrs Leong Yee Soo and Chua Jim Neo (Mrs Lee's Cookbook).
Oh Sian Guan (1874-1943)
Oh Sian Guan, whose ancestral place was Fujian, Tong Ann, was one of the founders of Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation, the country's oldest bank. He is also the great-grandfather of Crazy Rich Asians author Kevin Kwan. The tombstone carvings are among the more beautiful ones in Bukit Brown, featuring stories from The Romance Of The Three Kingdoms, such as General Guan Yu's heroic exploits.
Ancient Qing Dynasty tomb (1833/34)
Mr Raymond Goh points at an inscription on a tomb, which shows the 13th year of the reign of Emperor Daoguang (1833/34) at the tomb of Fang Shan, one of the many re-interred tombs at Bukit Brown cemetery.The headstone was remade in 1941 by the Fang clan in honour of their pioneer with the same surname.
Tan Chor Nam (1884-1971)
Luah Kim Kway (1878-1951)
Orphaned from young, Luah Kim Kway came to Singapore at 19 and worked his way up from a coolie to become a respected community leader and businessman. He was also head of a group of "coolie kengs" (quarters), which provided shelter and support for coolies sharing a common origin. Most of these coolies were housed in Bali Lane.
There are about 30 pairs of these special guardians found in the tombs of Bukit Brown. Modelled after Sikh soldiers and policeman who worked in the Straits Settlements, they can be found mainly in the houses and tombs of Singapore and Penang and some other areas, testifying to the unique Nanyang tomb architecture found in Bukit Brown.