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ST Forum
Nov 13, 2011

Bukit Brown steeped in spirit, stories of pioneering generation


Mr Robert Tan with his niece Elaine Quek (from second left), his sister Elizabeth, who is Ms Quek's mother, and his wife Julie Koh at his grandfather's restored grave site at Bukit Brown cemetery. -- PHOTO: COURTESY OF ROBERT TAN

While I agree with Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin that national priorities must prevail ('Bukit Brown: Room for some flexibility''; last Sunday), I appeal to the Government not to develop for development's sake.

Bukit Brown cemetery is a unique Singapore estate, and many of our forefathers rest there.

Their struggles and success stories, intricately engraved on gravestones, are an inspiration for future generations.

Bukit Brown is a priceless piece of estate and a national icon to be treasured. It is far more valuable than any of the buildings that we have conserved, for herein lies the spirit, soul and stories of our pioneering generation.

My grandfather Tan Yong-Thian (also known as Tan Ah-tian) came to Singapore in 1882 at the age of 27 from Chaoyang, in Swatow, China.

He started life in Singapore as a building contractor and later invested in various plantations. He was the first Chinese to distil patchouli oil successfully and his company, Chua Seng Heng, became the largest producer of essential oils in the Straits Settlements.

My grandfather was buried in Bukit Brown cemetery.

Motivating stories like his reflect the spirit of enterprise that we are always encouraging. The stories and burial sites are invaluable, thus we should preserve Bukit Brown.

We should also breathe community life into this place. It can be an enhanced national park, where places of worship, fitness parks and a museum can be set up, attracting both Singaporeans and tourists.

Let us not sacrifice Bukit Brown. Traffic and roads can be diverted elsewhere but not to Bukit Brown, the resting place of our forefathers. Once lost, it is gone forever.

Robert Tan

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