Bukit Brown can be Singapore's Arlington

Straits Times Forum 24 Oct 11;

BALANCING the needs of development against conservation has always been a delicate act in this small island that is our home ('Keep Bukit Brown graves: Descendants'; last Wednesday).

However, our home is also our country and a country needs its memories.

Without Singapore's history and the stories of its leaders and pioneers - what they lived, fought and died for - the country will have no heritage and no soul - no spiritual sustenance. It will be much like the situation of an unfortunate rich man with Alzheimer's disease.

Our survival as a nation depends much on our spirit.

Bukit Brown is the most significant and important cemetery left, filled with memorial gravestones of many of our pioneers and ancestors. The gravestones themselves are sculptural works of art and tablets of rich history.

This estate is adjacent to MacRitchie Reservoir and part of this land can be considered as catchment area.

Can we not keep most of this estate as a memorial and heritage park, much like the Arlington Cemetery in the United States, for citizens who served Singapore with honour?

It can also be used for recreation while the rest can still be used for some development, as roads or homes.

The Conservation Advisory Panel visited this estate in 2009 and was told then that the consideration of the site would be left for the future generation.

Each time I drive under the Fort Canning tunnel, I wonder if the destruction of our old National Library building was worth it.

Once an important heritage site like this is lost, it can never be regained. Can we really afford to lose this priceless part of our history?

Dr James Khoo

FORUM NOTE: The writer was chairman of the Conservation Advisory Panel from 2002 to 2010 and the founding chairman of the Asian Civilisations Museum. He is also a former member of the National Heritage Board.

A young nation needs its historical sites
Straits Times 24 Oct 11;

I APPLAUD Ms Chew I-Jin and her fellow signatories for appealing to the authorities to preserve the graves at Bukit Brown ('Keep Bukit Brown graves: Descendants', Oct 19).

Her appeal merits consideration.

The graves belong to pioneers who are well known to Singaporeans today because streets and places are named after them: Boon Lay, Boon Tat, Koon Seng, Hong Lim, Joo Chiat and Chong Pang. These are not just names. They are pioneer luminaries who are a very integral part of our short history.

As a young nation, we are short of historical sites or stories to form a strong foundation for national reference by future generations.

These graves appear to be those of the who's who of the last century and can really provide us with the teaching materials to enrich our social and moral education.

The aesthetics and architecture of these tombs are too beautiful and precious to be just bulldozed away. They are very precious as we would not find such craftsmanship anywhere else. It would be unthinkable if such structures of historical and heritage significance were to be wiped out just like any other building.

I strongly urge the authorities to heed the compelling appeal by Ms Chew and other signatories.

Albert Tye

Money cannot buy heritage
Straits Times 24 Oct 11;

ALTHOUGH I am not a descendant of a pioneer whose grave is at Bukit Brown, I fully agreed with Ms Chew I-Jin ('Keep Bukit Brown graves: Descendants'; last Wednesday).

Why should the Government clear this historical area just to make it convenient for vehicle owners or sell the land for money to build more condominiums?

There are not many historical sites in Singapore where we can honour our ancestors who made Singapore what it is today, and money cannot buy back all these places if we clear them now.

Our children will not even have a chance to see what is a real graveyard in future.

Peggy Tan (Ms)

Keep Bukit Brown graves: Descendants
Straits Times 19 Oct 11;

THE consequence of the decision by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to clear Bukit Brown Cemetery to make way for a highway and future housing developments is an irreplaceable loss to generations of Singaporeans ('Redevelopment plans for Bukit Brown site', Sept 13; and Forum letter 'Rethink road widening affecting cemetery' by Mr Liew Kai Khiun, Sept 16).

Indeed much of the historical and social value of Bukit Brown Cemetery is still being uncovered by volunteers today, yet preparations for clearing works are slated to start next month. The latest tender suggests that 24ha (10,000 graves) will be affected in the heart of the cemetery. This, we understand, is just the beginning.

Despite URA and LTA's assertions that they will work with the Singapore Heritage Society and other stakeholders to identify and document key heritage elements, it appears that this refers to mere 'data recording', and not a heritage study.

It is not widely known that the Bukit Brown, Ong clan and Hokkien Huay Kuan cluster form the biggest Chinese burial grounds outside China, with a quarter of a million graves.

The erasure of these grounds will deal a substantial blow to the cultural history of Singapore.

The graves contain our immigrant forebears, from paupers to almost all our local pioneers who remain largely unrecognised beyond the roads that bear their names, such as Ong Boon Tat, Cheong Koon Seng, Cheang Hong Lim, Chew Joo Chiat, Lim Chong Pang and Chew Boon Lay; and the wife of philanthropist Lim Nee Soon.

Each tomb tells of a journey from a village in China, their families, their achievements and their culture.

Stories discerned from the graves will no longer be accessible to future generations.

As descendants of Singapore's early pioneers, we appeal to the authorities to explore alternatives like widening existing roads or using flyovers to preserve this national heritage.

It is not too late to recognise that Bukit Brown is rich with 'living' possibility and multi-uses - not just for those who pay respects to ancestors but also as a place for learning and recreation.

Here is where creative lessons in biology, bird-watching, history, genealogy, art and poetry could take place as well as serious research. To take a quiet walk with family or tour with the passionate guides is to be moved by our history and feel truly connected with this place we call our home.

Let us not squander our heritage and dishonour our past for a few more condos and cars. Once we bulldoze through this history, it will be too late to resurrect the foundation of our national sense of identity.

Chew I-Jin (Ms)

Descendant of Chew Boon Lay

FORUM NOTE: The other signatories are Mr Chew Kheng Chuan (descendant of Chew Boon Lay), Mr Gerald Tan Kok Seng (descendant of Tan Tock Seng), Mr Chia Hock Jin (descendant of Chia Hood Theam) and Ms Ong Chwee Im, representing the descendants of Ong Chong Chew, Ong Ewe Hai and Ong Kew Hoe, who donated the land for use of the Ong clan in 1872).

Making way for the future is nice but...
Straits Times Forum 26 Oct 11;

I LIVE in Canada now, but my thoughts are often on Singapore. The remains of my ancestors Tan Kim Ching, who was the son of Tan Tock Seng (and who donated a large portion of the funds to complete the Tan Tock Seng Hospital, after the death of Tan Tock Seng, who made the original contribution), and Tan Boo Liat, (grandson of Tan Kim Ching) are buried at Bukit Brown Cemetery.

The remains of the parents and grandparents of another ancestor, Dr Lim Boon Keng, my great-grandfather, are also buried there. My siblings and other family members continue to discover graves of other relatives whose inscriptions fill in previously unknown elements of our family tree.

If I, merely one person, can find such significance in Bukit Brown, consider how many others in Singapore and overseas would also recognise ancestors, famous or otherwise, buried there.

More than offering mere sentimentality, these graves are a monument to these illustrious pioneers of Singapore, and offer a rich repository of data for scholarly research into Singapore's history.

Looking to the future is nice, but if we don't reflect on from whence we came, it makes our onward trajectory considerably less well-framed.

Roads are insatiable. Within a few years' time it will be realised that this little fix was inadequate to make the road system work well, and another road will have to be built somewhere else.

Meanwhile, part of Singapore's heritage and an invaluable source of genealogical and historical data for scholars will be lost forever. Don't do it.

Lim Su Chong
Alberta, Canada

Taoist Mission supports preservation of cemetery
Letter from Lee Zhiwang President, Taoist Mission (Singapore)
Today Online 28 Oct 11;

THE Taoist Mission (Singapore) wholeheartedly supports the cause to preserve Bukit Brown Cemetery.

As a religious, cultural and heritage group, our mission is not only to propagate Taoism but also Chinese culture and tradition.

We believe it is important to preserve the cemetery because it contains a rich heritage, which would be invaluable to Singaporeans as a whole. Preserving it is also an exercise of filial piety to our pioneers, who have contributed enormously to nation building.

In support of preservation efforts, the Taoist Mission has recently taken over Keng Teck Whay Building and the responsibility to restore this national monument now renamed as Singapore Yu Huang Gong Temple of Heavenly Jade Emperor.

It was built approximately 170 years ago by a group of 36 Peranakan Chinese from Malacca. The grave of one of the founders has been found in Bukit Brown and, in time to come, we should be able to rediscover other founders' graves in that area.

Having said that, the Taoist Mission understands that Singapore is land scarce. If the area cannot be preserved in its entirety, at least part of it should be, and efforts should be made to document its history and heritage.

Build a virtual Bukit Brown if preservation is not an option
Straits Times Forum 1 Nov 11;

I AGREE with Dr James Khoo when he describes the Bukit Brown Cemetery's gravestones as sculptural works of art and tablets of rich history ('Bukit Brown can be Singapore's Arlington'; Oct 24).

About 30 years ago, the Government required that all 100,000 graves at Peck San Theng Cemetery be exhumed to make way for the Bishan New Town development.

Apart from facilitating the affected families to work with HDB- appointed contractors on the exhumation, the Peck San Theng cemetery management committee formed a working group comprising 21 volunteers to document the graves of significance, including recording their title, location and erected date.

These were mainly clan graves, or resting places for the wandering souls who did not have family members to perform rituals of respect during the spring and autumn festivals.

The group spent more than a year combing through the 324 acre (131ha) cemetery, documenting and photographing a total of 291 clan graves.

This good deed led to the preservation of a complete and invaluable set of records on the lost Cantonese clan graves.

Two years ago, an examination of the photograph of the common grave for seven Cantonese heroes, collectively called 'Qi Jun Zi', clarified a century-old misconception about them.

Until then, the consensus was that these seven men had sacrificed their lives to protect the cemetery. Hence they had to be accorded respect during the spring and autumn festivals.

But from the gravestone of the seven heroes, we inferred that this common grave was transferred from another Cantonese cemetery and reinstalled at Peck San Theng in 1963.

More importantly, these men were killed in 1841, while Peck San Theng was established in 1870. Hence, the seven heroes were more likely to have sacrificed their lives to protect the interests of the Cantonese community during its early days, rather than to protect Peck San Theng.

This is only one example to illustrate the value of the gravestones. It would be best to preserve all the graves at Bukit Brown.

The second best would be to use the latest technology, something like Google Maps, to build a virtual Bukit Brown Cemetery to preserve the 'site' and literature of all the tombs of this historic place.

Dr Sam Kong San

FORUM NOTE: The writer was president of Kwong Wai Siew Peck San Theng, a columbarium that is managed by 16 Cantonese and Hakka clan associations.

Cemetery should make way for the living
Straits Times Forum 3 Nov 11;

THE leader of Taoist Mission (Singapore), Reverend Master Lee Zhiwang, states that preserving Bukit Brown cemetery also exercises filial piety towards Singapore's pioneers ('Taoist mission'; Tuesday).

But that is not the active and working understanding of filial piety, which is the practice of respecting and honouring one's parents while they are still alive; not when they are dead.

Preserving the cemetery will deprive the living in Singapore of a basic need they expect and deserve, which is comfortable housing.

Bishan was once a cemetery and so was part of Orchard Road, which is now a flourishing shopping belt and a key geographical icon of modern Singapore.

Dr Sam Kong San's alternative, which is to build a virtual Bukit Brown Cemetery, is the best way to document and preserve the site's history ('Build a virtual Bukit Brown if preservation is not an option'; Tuesday).

Another option may be to build a monument, like the war memorial remembering the victims of the Japanese Occupation.

Daniel Chia