Singapore Attractions Attractions Bukit Brown Cemetary


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Bukit Brown Cemetary

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Listing created by equina on February 27, 2013    

Bukit Brown Cemetery is a public Chinese cemetery that had been established in the early 20th Century. It is located between Lornie Road and Mount Pleasant Road, and off Sime Road and Kheam Hock Road, and is still in existence today, despite being abandoned.

It was announced in 2012 the cemetery would be removed to make way for a new public housing town in about 40 years time.

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A piece of Singapore's heritage and history

I visited Bukit Brown earlier this month for a photography trip, and it was an enriching experience. So glad that I made the trip down to preserve moments of this beautiful place with my camera.

It was extremely deserted and peaceful on the day I went, and I only met two other people there during my trip. The whole area is extremely wide and shady, which makes it easy and comfortable for people to take a walk or even jog around the place. While examining some of the graves and statues, I learnt a lot about the culture and heritage of the Chinese which I never knew. For example, the affable Chinese used to hire Sikh guards, and have Sikh guard statues guarding their tombstones too. Some of the tombstones had pretty and intricate Peranakan tiles too.

The trip to Bukit Brown really widened my knowledge as I learnt about the intermingling of various cultures and traditions, as well as important pieces of Singapore's history. The lush greenery, peaceful atmosphere and abundance of wildlife is also a perfect spot for nature lovers to explore

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As one of the oldest cemeteries that Singapore has seen I was part of the hubbub that surrounded the news that Bukit Brown was going to be excavated. Although the government, from a pragmatic point of view, might view it as a piece of land filled with dust and a viable place to construct a highway, there is a tinge of sadness that sweeps over me whenever I think about it.

In order for this small tiny island to prosper and continue evolving to be one of the world's best, we have to expand and develop. When that is done, we re-expand and re-develop. However, I think about it and wonder if it is the best way to continue thriving at a cost that comes to our heritage, memories, and all the things that are important to us. While the government views it as a piece of land, others may view it as a burial ground for their beloved ones who have laid their bones to rest in that very land. How would they feel if they were to look at the highway and think, my mother was buried under all that construction. How sad - one barely even has a place to place one's body after death. Perhaps in my lifetime, I won't even get a place to rest my dead body.

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An outdoor History lesson

Before I visited Bukit Brown Cemetery on a school trip this year, I honestly never knew that 1) It existed and 2) It was soon going to be removed to make way for Singapore's development. However, the trip was an enriching and enjoyable one.

It was a great experience to see all the different tombs because many of the tombstones were decorated elaborately and they were decorated in a rather old-fashioned manner, complete with raised floral tiles and other old-fashioned decorations for some of the tombs.

Our guide also gave us information about some of the tombs and some of the more well-known people who were buried there such as Lee Hoon Leong (Lee Kuan Yew's grandfather). It was really interesting to find out about the lives of people through their tombs - it was like a hands-on history lesson.

While Bukit Brown is a great place to visit, I wouldn't suggest going alone - the area is rather large and I think those unfamiliar to the area could get lost within the cemetery. Also remember to bring mosquito repellent along as the mosquitoes there are pretty vicious.

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Famous last words

Bukit Brown cemetery is indoubtedly, one of the last bastions of peacefulness and tranquility in Singapore. My ancestors used to be interred there, until my family made the decision for cremation after my grandfather passed away. I am not a superstitious person, but I feel that while I keep to my own beliefs, the dead have a certain dignity and should be respected. Hence, I respect them while passing by the area and take care not to trample over joss-sticks and offerings.

In retrospect, I feel that Bukit Brown, being the largest Chinese cemetery outside of China, while not glamourous, should be a source of pride for Singapore in its display of the rich overseas Chinese heritage here. There should be a reverence for these early founding fathers of Singapore, and hence when it made national headlines that the cemetery is facing the pressure of being developed, I feel that its really a pity to just bulldoze away all these memories.

Hopefully, after an initial episode, the legacy of Bukit Brown will be respected.

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(Updated: November 13, 2013)

Peaceful, scenic, visit it before its too late!

I visited Bt Brown late last year, and intend to return soon. It is a very quiet and peaceful place. While lots of people will have reservations about visiting a cemetery, I encourage everyone to visit it at least once before it is demolished.

I was lucky enough to be able to visit the Ong Sam Leong tomb, said to be as large as 10 small HDB flats. (This is high on a hill, and I don't recommend anyone climbing up there without an experienced guide.) There are some old bamboo poles at the foot of the a in the 'carpark' and you can use these to pick your way through the place. Again, I don't recommend first time visitors veer off the tar road into the bushes as they are hard to navigate and it is possible to get lost in them.

However, I would encourage you to bring along lots of insect repellent, as the mosquitoes can be rather pesky. My friend and I got bitten many times as we relied simply on covering clothing. Don't let that deter you, though, and savour this slice of forgotten history before it is too late.

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(Updated: April 02, 2013)

100,000 tombs

There are some who will tell you that there are over 100,000 tombs in Bukit Brown. That may be true. If there are, most of them are untended. A few show some signs that someone still remembers the ancestors, but most hide behind overgrowing grass and encroaching shrubs. Ancestor worship is dead?

For the most part, it seems to have been abandoned since it closed as a cemetery in 1973. Now the Government wants to build a road through it, Granny and Grandpa have suddenly been remembered. There is an outcry. Shock! Horror! Ripping up graves?

Mind you, it is a fascinating place, and quite beautiful. Trees. Hills. Water courses. Forest paths. Wander round the many kilometers of paths and creep into the bush on either side to find graves large and small, ornate and plain. All Chinese.

And wonder at the peace of places of death, peace heightened by the numerous birds that live there, amongst monkeys, squirrels and snakes.

A couple of lucky caretakers live in the cemetery in quaint old colonial huts: all very picturesque.
My advice, get in and explore it before they dig it up and put a freeway through it.

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(Updated: March 31, 2013)

Visit the largest Chinese cemetery outside China with unique tomb designs

This is the unique place in Singapore to visit. In a fast developing country like Singapore, places such as the Bukit Brown Cemetery is a heaven for folks who would like to take a walk in a part of Singapore which is still relatively untouched by the rapid urban development.

Bukit Brown Cemetery is not just a cemetery. It is worthy to be a Heritage Park if its hidden potential can be realized.

My first visit to Bukit Brown Cemetery was in Jun 2011. During that visit, I had the special privilege to visit The magnificent tomb of Ong Sam Leong. The double tomb of Ong Sam Leong and his wife is said to be the size of 10 three-room HDB flat units. Folks who are interested in the previous ties between Christmas Islands and Singapore will be interested in learning more about Ong Sam Leong. He was an entrepreneur who was known to have supplied the labourers for mining work that was being carried out by the Christmas Islands Phosphate Co. Ltd.

During my recent visit to Bukit Brown Cemetery in Mar 2013, I continued to observe that Bukit Brown was a haven for many migratory birds and interesting species of animals. I read from Nature Society (Singapore)'s position paper on Bukit Brown that Bukit Brown provides key ecosystem functions such as flood prevention and a habit for threatened species. Nature lovers will love this place. It is rare to find a rustic place like Bukit Brown in a fast developing Singapore.

Thanks to the information that are inscribed on the tombs, Bukit Brown is a treasured data-base for anyone who wishes to study the genealogy and trace the lineages and history of people who had travelled or migrated to the Southeast region. Interestingly, there are a few tombs which have Dutch inscriptions.

This is also a place with a rich heritage. Many known pioneers and even more unsung pioneers were buried in Bukit Brown Cemetery. Some of the pioneers were reinterred at Bukit Brown when their previous burial grounds were affected by development. It is at Bukit Brown where one can pay respect and physically come close to remembering the pioneers who have built Singapore to what it is today.

- Be respectful. Watch wear you step. Be mindful that tombs are to be respected. Also take note that some tombs have been exhumed so be very careful not to trip into these. Walk around the tombs, and do not step on them. Do not disturb the offerings.
- Wear good walking covered shoes.
- Bring water to keep yourself hydrated.
- There is almost no toilet facilities, so please visit the toilet before your visit to the Bukit Brown Cemetery.
- Bring insect repellent. If you are prone to being bitten by insects, wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts.
- Preferably go with someone.
- More visiting tips are available here, thanks to All Things Bukit Brown:

Bus services available: 52, 74, 93, 157, 165, 852, 855.
Nearby MRT stations: Botanic Gardens, Farrer Road, Marymount.
Alight at Bus Stop #41149, opposite Singapore Island Country Club (SICC), Adam Road.
Alternatively, alight at Bus Stop #41141 and cross the nearest overhead bridge to reach Sime Road.
Directions to the cemetery's gate: Walk towards Sime Road, walk along Kheam Hock Road until you see Lor Halwa.
- Visit Leone Fabre's blog for a step-by-step instruction to get to Bukit Brown Cemetery:

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Best part:
Go for a free guided tour by volunteer guides from All Things Bukit Brown (while this place is still not affected by development)
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I admit I am a superstitious person and I will avoid cemetery as much as possible. Since young I had always heard tales of how spirits wandered around cemetery and if you accidentally attracted their attention then they may follow you home.

When the government announced that part of this cemetery would be demolished to expand our road system, I was a bit fearful. I was thinking about the longer term when the road was ready, would I dare to use this road at night? If there were really spirits, they would have been disturbed by the road building and they may even be angry. So would they vent their anger on those road users when the road is ready. Incredible tales may have a lot more episodes when the road is ready.

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A Vanishing Treasure

As a child, the stoic off-white tablets that dotted the small hill on the way to my paternal grandparents’ place never failed to draw me in. Shrouded in mist and illuminated by occasional shafts of morning sunlight, they seemed to carry with them deep mysteries and stories waiting to be uncovered.

“Don’t keep staring at that place – it’s not ‘clean’!” I remember my parents would always exclaim, while hurrying me along.

Years later, I was surprised to find that this place actually had a name (a rather unusual name at that) – Bukit Brown Cemetery. Most unfortunately, however, this discovery had to come in a less than encouraging way – with news that the site was slated for demolition to make way for new roads. After hearing of the free weekend morning tours of the cemetery by All Things Bukit Brown (a.t.Bukit Brown), I decided I had to catch a quick tour of the place while I still could.

Despite the slight drizzle that morning, the 2.5 hour tour certainly proved to be a most enriching and worthwhile experience, filled with many surprises. Under the guidance of our extremely passionate volunteer guides, we were like detectives on a mission, unravelling the many intriguing, and sometimes astonishing, stories behind each grave – stories of kidnap, of kinship, of love, of loss and of reunion. It was amazing how a seemingly ordinary, abandoned cemetery could be such a treasure trove of legacies and historical heritage, and somehow, despite the frequent taboos associated with cemeteries, there was an unusual serenity in the unspoilt natural surroundings of the cemetery’s heritage park, which left me going away refreshed.

With its rapidly diminishing area, the Bukit Brown Cemetery is definitely a place I would recommend visiting at least once, for its wealth of heritage and cultural legacies, before it becomes but a fragment of our memory. Going with a guide, however, might be essential, to gain the most from your visit - otherwise, it might just turn out to be another walk in the park.

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