Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Of Those Who Have Passed :: Bukit Brown Cemetery

The tomb of Chew Geok Leong (周玉龍), right by the jogging trail.
He was a Qing official from Anxi province; Chinese physician in Singapore who died in 1940.
His tomb is the only one that has Sikh guards in full color.

2015 is the '73rd Anniversary of the Battle for Singapore and the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Singapore'. National Heritage Board (NHB) organized like...52 guided tours to nine World War II (WWII)  structures and sites. We signed up for the two-hour 'In Remembrance of WWII At Bukit Brown Cemetery'. It was also a battlefield in February 1942 where fallen soldiers and civilians were laid to rest, where bodies were also dumped into unmarked mass graves. Exhumation has begun; cranes, piling machinery and hoarding have gone up because plans are in place to build an eight-lane expressway through the beautiful cemetery. It would be such a pity. It carries remnants of a Singapore we don't know and could only see glimpses as we stroll through the shaded trails.

In typical government efficiency, NHB had an ambulance on standby. Love that. Our super enthusiastic guides were from All Things Bukit Brown, a community of history buffs who call themselves 'Brownies'. This tour, passionate and knowledgeable Catherine, Peter and Tee picked out individual graves and told us tales of their bravery and selfless sacrifices for their families, friends and communities during WWII.

This is mainly a civilian Chinese cemetery of mostly early immigrants from Chinese provinces of Fujian and Chaozhou. There're the controversial issues of whether leading figures in the community were 'collaborators'. A euphemism. Many quarters called them 'traitors' and accused them of collusion, then shunned them. But really, what else could they do? Dying isn't that welcomed, no matter in which era. They weren't just coerced to cough up the 'voluntary donation' of $50 million to the Japanese Military Administration in April 1942. Most were forced to collaborate and collude. Ultimately, many gave their lives.

This two-hour WWII trail stopped by graves of 1) Lim Chong Pang (second son of Lim Nee Soon); the oddly separated tombs of 2) Sun Si Ting (owner of Tai Thean Khew Circus), and his rumored partner 3) Cheng Kao Shin (whose son from a previous marriage was buried with her)4) Wong Chin Yoke (a police Inspector, a recipient of the Coronation Medal, and was part of the underground resistance movement in Indonesia); and 5) Tan Ean Teck (brother of Tan Ean Kiam; his death was recounted in Dr Yap Pheng Geck's autobiography titled 'Scholar, Banker, Gentleman Soldier').

The 1937 massacre of Nanjing and the Kempeitai's three-week Sook Ching purge in 1945 Singapore are definitely an indelible and painful part of history which still touch sore nerves now. All my life, I've wrestled with WWII, the tyrannical oppressors, and my inner demons. I won't elaborate, but the stories of the past are still painful when retold in the present.

We've walked the trails of Bukit Brown Cemetery many times, picking out different graves to understand a little bit more about the families of the occupants and the turbulent times lived through. Read the research materials, but nothing beats hearing a guide with passion talk about the people who have long passed on. Through the guides' voices, the memories of the dead live on. As much as I'm not one for nostalgia, there's something serene yet melancholic about this heritage trail. We spotted an endangered thick-billed green pigeon in the trees. As we were leaving, a beautiful crested goshawk shrieked its greeting from its perch in the trees. Then it deigned to rise and soar to bid us farewell at Bukit Brown Cemetery. It was a good way to spend a birthday.

I watched the friends watch the birds.


L Lee said...

Happy birthday! :)

imp said...

thank you!