Keeping Bukit Brown cemetery not a wise choice

Business Times
February 25, 2014

Keeping Bukit Brown cemetery not a wise choice

I FELT very uneasy reading the article "Preventing a grave error" by Chew Kheng Chuan (BT, Feb 22) arguing fervently for the preservation of the Bukit Brown cemetery and the eventual scenario.

Like Mr Chew, I am also a Chinese of Chinese descent and perhaps value that so-called "green lung" much more than he does as I have lived right next to it since 1993.

I enjoy the serenity, the singing of the birds every morning, the calmness, the comfort and the security which the cemetery provides. As the saying goes, the dead are safer than the living.

I certainly wish to see it left untouched, but given our peculiar situation, an independent nation barely 700 square kilometres in area and with a density of around 7,000 persons per square kilometres, the highest in the world, we can ill-afford the kind of luxury that Mr Chew is arguing for.

Up till early 1970, there were hundreds of cemeteries in Singapore, both big and small, and if the government then had not taken bold steps to get rid of the majority of them for development, we certainly would not have what we have today and the present generation would have been the poorer.

To cite some examples: Part of Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station (opposite MacDonald House) is on a Malay cemetery, Novena Square is on a Jewish cemetery and Ngee Ann City is on a Chinese cemetery. And so were cemeteries along Serangoon Road where blocks and blocks of HDB flats now stand. Over the years, all these and many more cemeteries were taken over to make way for other developments.

Be that as it may, Mr Chew, a Chinese descendant, is writing and arguing solely for the Chinese from the perspective of a Chinese, to the exclusion of the interests of citizens of other races. These other citizens, having the same aspiration of the Chinese, also want to have a share of Bukit Brown for themselves and for their children - a place to live, to travel through or to go to and enjoy.

Singapore is a multiracial society, and being a multiracial society in such a tiny area, all races must share, as there is not a lot left for sectarian interests, particularly Bukit Brown which occupies such a large tract of precious land.

No independent nation in the world, I dare say, can afford to reserve such a huge land size in relation to its total land mass for cemetery and, worse, for only one race. Singapore certainly cannot.

Granted only the Chinese were buried there and Bukit Brown could be the biggest cemetery outside China - nothing really that we can be proud of, as too little an area will be left for the living majority, both present and future.

But if every race demands to preserve their own heritage in this tiny red dot, many of our children may eventually have to follow the way of life of the Egyptians in Cairo, living atop hundreds of hectares of unexhumed graves.

We are a very pragmatic lot and our pragmatism has elevated us to this stage of development. Therefore, let us continue to be pragmatic and work for the next generation and subsequent generations today, and not tomorrow.

This is a cruel world, a real world with full of uncertainties and tomorrow may be just too late. The earlier we act on it, the less we will have to contend with in the future.

Andrew Goh