Update of news and articles on Bukit Brown

June 2014

ST News, Jun 21, 2014

Not just grand colonial buildings, but places whose merit lies in their role in the national story - such as warehouses and schools - are coming under the conservation umbrella. Insight looks at what makes a place "sacred", and what heritage challenges lie ahead.

THE overgrown graves stretching for 200ha bang amid the city bustle make for a restful, peaceful spot rare in urban Singapore.

But when Bukit Brown Cemetery was slated for redevelopment for roads and residential buildings, it was more than its lush beauty that resulted in that rarity in Singapore – vocal protests to preserve it.
The site tugged at Singaporeans’ heartstrings, being the resting place of many forefathers of the country, a living repository of the Chinese diaspora’s tomb culture and design, and where descendants today visit for traditional rituals such as tomb sweeping.
Two civil societies – the Singapore Heritage Society and heritage enthusiasts who dub themselves “the Brownies” – organised petitions and embarked on efforts to document tombs.
No substantial concessions were made by the Government, however, to save the site from an eight-lane road running across it. It is also slated for residential development beginning with its southern portion.

Yet, it’s among the top three sites that Singaporeans deemed as “sacred” places in a recent Straits Times poll.

The poll itself followed a call by academic Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, for a list of sacred spaces and places to foster a love for Singapore, to help it fully become a true city.
Singapore already has essential aspects such as “busyness” and being “safe”, he said in a commentary in The Straits Times, citing American urban geographer Joel Kotkin. However, it lacks the sacred, he said, which Kotkin defines as any unique institution or spot “that (makes) one feel an irrational commitment to a place”.
Certainly, pockets of the population saw the Bukit Brown protests as verging on irrational, given the need for more roads in congested Singapore.

Still, Professor Kishore’s commentary comes amid increasing efforts to make more of Singapore’s heritage, such as the conservation bid by Pearl Bank Apartments’ owners in April.
And it puts the spotlight on the approach to heritage preservation. Insight looks at the challenges and what more might need to be done.

Blunders of the past

IN 2004, Singapore’s red-brick National Library building was unceremoniously razed to the ground to make way for the Fort Canning Tunnel.

Built in 1959, it was considered by some as architecturally undignified compared with its grander neighbour, the National Museum of Singapore.

Despite extensive efforts by the community to save the space – with a normally passive public penning angry forum letters in the media, and architects such as Mr Tay Kheng Soon proposing alternatives, including re-routing the tunnel – the dissent was swept under the carpet.
Experts say this marked a turning point as it sparked a rise in civic activism and was when Singapore’s conservation movement took root.
It crystallised the idea that heritage conservation and preservation goes beyond protecting splendid colonial buildings to encompass our social and cultural soul.

Retired shipping manager Yeo Hock Yew, 65, says the library had been part of his life since he was a schoolboy studying at nearby St Joseph’s Institution.
“In my university years, I headed there to do research and, as a father, I brought my children there every Saturday morning.
“It was part of the whole landscape of bookshops from the Bras Basah row and the MPH building in Stamford Road. If you couldn’t afford buying from these places, you headed to the library.”
During Singapore’s early years as a new nation in the 1960s and 1970s, swathes of the country fell victim to the wrecking ball. The Government’s main priority, understandably, was to improve living conditions and build up the economy.

Still, awareness of the need to save heritage sites began to emerge. In 1971, the Preservation of Monuments Board (PMB), which last year became the Preservation of Sites and Monuments (PSM), was set up to provide legal protection for national monuments. The division now falls under the wing of the National Heritage Board (NHB) and its role includes offering monument owners guidance and regulatory support.
The board itself is the big daddy of Singapore’s heritage custodianship, promoting heritage appreciation through managing its national museums, documentation and outreach efforts.

Then there is the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), established in 1974 and charged with studying old buildings for possible conservation as part of land use planning.
On the private scene,the Singapore Heritage Society, a non-governmental organisation, was established in 1987.

Academics note that people are talking more avidly about heritage than they did 10 to 15 years ago. “People have grown more expressive about protecting their heritage. It has become part of public discourse,” says Professor Johannes Widodo.
This has also given rise to the recognition that there are new categories of heritage which deserve protection.

As to what might be considered “sacred” to Singaporeans, heritage academics and experts find it difficult to answer.

Heritage blogger Jerome Lim, for instance, says it implies treasuring and cherishing places beyond religious, historic and architectural sites.
Mr Lim says: “But what is sacred to one might not be sacred to another. It’s important that we take into account how a place might be important to the individual, different groups and stakeholders and the community at large.”

On the right track

THE URA has so far conserved close to 7,200 buildings and the PSM has preserved 65 national monuments. “Going by the numbers, we are certainly on the right track,” says Dr Yeo Kang Shua, secretary of the Singapore Heritage Society and an assistant professor at the Singapore University of Technology and Design.

In the latest URA gazette, 75 buildings, including warehouses, public housing flats, a former market, health-care facilities and places of worship, made the list, signalling a growing awareness about the importance of saving buildings that hold collective social memories.

It marks a shift from the conservation of large numbers of shophouses and black and white colonial bungalows to a more diverse mix of “built” heritage.

Experts also believe that the Government is listening and no longer as rigid as before, citing the growing number of public consultations over the past decade.

Dr Yeo says the release of a list of 75 buildings proposed for conservation, alongside the Draft Master Plan last year that went on to be gazetted this month, further signals a shift towards greater transparency.
Typically, the names of conserved buildings are made known to the public only when they are gazetted.
The last time such a list was published was in 1958, when the colonial government published its own master plan listing 19th century places with architectural and historical merit.
More funds have also been allocated to heritage bodies here. In 2012, the Government disbursed $109.7 million to the NHB and PMB compared with $47.1 million in 2005.
And in the wake of rising civic activism, the NHB formed an impact assessment and mitigation division last year to study the effect that development has on the country’s heritage.

Operational weaknesses

WHILE Singapore has made progress at the policy level, operational issues have reared their head. Singapore should make the conservation process easier for building owners, say heritage experts.
The PSM, for instance, has been roundly criticised by both monument owners and heritage groups for not providing enough technical and financial help.

The grants paid out for the structural repair and restoration of national monuments are but a fraction of what is needed. It disbursed about $1.5 million of the $35 million that the 1840s Cathedral of the Good Shepherd
budgeted for its restoration efforts.

Things also fall through the cracks. Singapore lacks a single body that coordinates and consolidates the maintenance of heritage sites and structures, say some heritage groups.
Take Singapore’s heritage bridges from the 19th century. The grand old dames along the Singapore River were conserved by the URA in 2008 but have been neglected by their respective caretakers in recent years.
Long cracks have emerged on the walls of some, such as Read Bridge, which falls under the care of the Land Transport Authority. The lights on the Singapore Tourism Board-managed Cavenagh Bridge do not work either, despite the structure’s prime location next to The Fullerton hotel.

Heritage groups suggest a central body be set up to help coordinate efforts.

Founder of civic group My Community Kwek Li Yong says that as the nation progresses, it is crucial that the state establishes a specialised agency. This would assess the historical importance of a building or site, consult the public on which buildings are worthy of conservation, document the social memory and history of each landmark, and oversee maintenance.

What it’s like elsewhere

THERE are lessons to be learnt from places such as Hong Kong where the public has an active role in the conservation process, say heritage experts.
People can, for instance, submit historic buildings for grading. A panel from the Antiquities Advisory Board (AAB) will assess these sites. Results are publicly available. AAB meetings, where buildings are also identified for conservation, are open to the public.
Conversely, URA’s selection process of these places is kept under wraps and comes under the Official Secrets Act.
Mr Kwek says: “The public must factor into the decision-making process even in the early stages of planning – not after our master plans are put together.
“After all, it is the local community that knows the different localities the best and what is significant to them.”

Moving forward

WITH the new surge of interest in Singapore’s past, people are demanding better curation of it. However, they are still confused by the fragmented approach.

The Singapore Heritage Society, for one, believes in a more holistic approach that takes into account the entire ecosystem of a place.

There is also the issue of how impact assessments can help to protect sites like Pulau Ubin – currently, there is no legal framework in place to protect it from development.

Urban historian and architect Lai Chee Kien says that there must be scope and flexibility to address rural spaces like this which do not fit the typical urban mould.

The Singapore Heritage Society also stresses the importance of building up heritage expertise. It suggests that the URA and PSM share their know-how by introducing training courses – for instance, on the maintenance of heritage structures – to other government agencies, the private sector and the public.
But they say the responsibility of educating the public must be shared by the community as well – civic groups, schools and other institutions should play a part in championing Singapore’s history.

For now, the tension between the desire to preserve Singapore’s heritage and the need for urban development – as seen in the Bukit Brown Cemetery tussle – can only increase.

But this tension also drives home the need to expand understanding of what is held sacred. It is also a catalyst pushing the community to protect the sites it holds dear.

Conservation must be a democratic process, says Prof Widodo, as a top-down approach would be paternalistic and oppressive, while a bottom-up one would be too chaotic.

But even with the right channels and structures in place, Singapore Heritage Society president Chua Ai Lin notes: “We should not write off our sentiments, which we often cast aside in favour of pragmatism and practicality. These very feelings guide us towards the higher aspiration of preserving a sense of home and familiarity in the spaces around us.”


Top buildings and sites voted by Singaporeans as 'sacred'

HDB's first public housing developments in Queenstown, specifically Blocks 45, 48 and 49; the 1970 Queenstown Sports Complex; the former Queenstown polyclinic; Blocks 57, 61 and 67 to 73 in Commonwealth Drive; the first terrace houses in Stirling Road; Shuang Long Shan Wu Shu Ancestral Hall; the octagon-shaped Queensway Shopping Centre
Early housing developments in Redhill Close and Dakota Crescent estates
Changi Airport Control Tower
Pearl Bank Apartments
Golden Mile Complex

Pulau Ubin
Singapore Botanic Gardens
What's left of Bukit Brown Cemetery
The Padang
Wessex Estate off Portsdown Road, with its black-and-white colonial buildings



































  国立大学历史系学者黄坚立副教授今年初也在新加坡东南亚研究院、国大文学暨社会科学院网上平台Singapore Research Nexus与荷兰亚洲研究国际学院联办的学术研讨会上,发表学术论著,探讨近年来备受关注的武吉布朗课题。





by 谢燕燕


Tuesday, June 10, 2014 
The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - Sombre photos of Singaporean pioneer Seah Eu Chin used to hang on the walls of Mr Sean Seah's family home.

Then there are the roads, such as Eu Chin Street in Tiong Bahru and Seah Street in the city.
But as a young boy, Sean had little inkling about just how influential his famous ancestor was.
The late Seah, for instance, was known as the "King of Gambier", having built his fortune as the owner of gambier plantations in areas like Thomson. He was also one of the founders of the Ngee Ann Kongsi, a Teochew clan association that was set up in 1845.

It was only two years ago, however, when the younger Seah saw the large and newly discovered grave of his ancestor for the first time, that everything clicked.
Now, he is hoping to save the grave in Toa Payoh West, which is at risk of redevelopment due to its proximity to the upcoming North-South Expressway.

He approached the National Heritage Board last month and plans to put together a petition signed by descendants of Seah Eu Chin's four sons to preserve the grave, which sits on land where the late Seah grew pepper and gambier.

Said Mr Seah, 38, a business development manager at a multinational corporation and a sixth generation Seah: "I felt a connection to him after seeing something so large and tangible.

"The grave is a living testament of his life and success, and very different from just reading off a list of his accolades or hearing stories from my grandfather about his achievements. For the first time, I felt that my lineage was truly special," he said.
His visit to the grave alongside 40 other family members prompted Mr Seah to embark on a journey to rediscover his lineage.

Now, he is one of the more active Seahs on a mission to rediscover his roots and champion his family's heritage.

For instance, Mr Seah spends most of his time outside of work combing through archives, looking for distant relatives and filming videos documenting his quest.

The grave where his ancestor was buried with his two wives in 1883 was discovered in 2012 by tombstone hunters, brothers Raymond and Charles Goh.

For decades, the Seah family, of which there are about 500 members scattered across the globe, had not known its location.

"I hope the Government can help us keep the grave so that we can show future generations a physical marker of their heritage," said Mr Seah, who has two sons aged one and four.

Mr Charles Goh, 46, who took a year to hunt down the grave, agreed. "It is a rare find and a rare tomb of someone so illustrious. We should conserve what we can, especially at a time when we are looking back at our roots and hoping to better tell the Singapore story."

Last month, Mr Seah also discovered that his ancestor had built a grand villa in Yuepu village in Shantou, China.

He found it after doing some research on the inscriptions on his father's urn, with some help from the Seah clan in Singapore.

He filmed a video of his experience visiting the site - as the first descendant to return after 191 years - to share with other Seahs.

The villa, located within a 300 sq m compound - about the size of three five-room flats - even housed a school once.

Mr Seah said: "It showed that he had his hometown and family in mind even after achieving success in Singapore."

He added that he was inspired by his ancestor's tenacity and said he has plans to conduct heritage tours to Yuepu.

"I learnt about him during history lessons in school but questions still lingered, like why he had taken the treacherous two-month-long journey in 1823 to Singapore from China," said Mr Seah. The trip helped answer some of these questions, he said. "I learnt that he was a fighter... someone who was willing to take risks for opportunities."

Although he did not inherit any of his ancestor's material possessions, Mr Seah feels that he inherited priceless values and traits. His desire to trace his genealogy and lineage stems from a belief that there is more to life than just chasing material success.

He said: "A person without knowledge of his roots is missing a part of his soul. Life starts as an empty page and it's up to us to decide how to paint the colours of each page and chapter."
There is also the joy of finding other members of the Seah clan. Family ties are easily verified by checking generation names - a Chinese practice where family members from the same generation use the same characters for their middle names. This was how he met his cousin, chef Elton Seah, 38, three years ago while doing national service in-camp training.

Then there is the thrill of saying that it is his grandfather's road whenever he drives or walks by any of the four streets named after Seah Eu Chin and his two sons Peck Seah and Liang Seah.

Said Mr Seah: "I feel very proud to have come from his line. I hope our family can continue to produce good people who will contribute to society just like he did."

"We will take it day by day, and try the best we can. We don't know what will happen tomorrow so there are no long-term medal targets set for her.

Singapore's 'King of Gambier' 

Seah Eu Chin (1805-1883), who came to Singapore in 1823, started work here as an accountant and a clerk on trading ships. Later, he began working as a middleman, supplying ships with goods.
Over time, his fortune grew and he bought huge parcels of land for gambier and pepper plantations. At one point, he owned plantations that stretched from River Valley Road to Bukit Timah.
Seah, who received an education in Chinese classics back home, was well respected by both the Chinese and European communities for his business acumen. He is known for his role in founding Teochew association Ngee Ann Kongsi. He was also one of the few Chinese here to become a member of the Singapore Chamber of Commerce, a largely European-dominated body.

Mr Sean Seach, a business development manager at a multinational corporation and a sixth generation Seah, who is on a personal quest to rediscover his family's history.
Descendants can join the Facebook group Seah Eu Chin Descendants.

Seah's journey to Yuepu can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=JGrP7x5-j78 "

A Qilin is an auspicious creature known in Chinese mythology since ancient times. It generally signify prosperity, luck, success, longevity and protection.
The male is Qi, while the female counterpart is Lin, and is said to live up to 2000 years.
It has a gentle disposition, although it has ability to attack, but it doesn't attack humans,
nor does it kill plants and insects.

Qilin has a head like a dragon and shaped like a horse or deer.  The male has a single horn, while the female has none. It can spit fire, its voice like thunder.  It is said its appearance herald an era of peace and prosperity, and is usually associated with a saint or great person.

Confucius has been said to be closely associated with the Qilin, for it was said that before he was born and before he died, a Qilin appeared. Before he was born, a Qilin appeared in his house courtyard and spit out a jade book.

Because of this legend, people believe that Qilin can bring forth children who can glorify the family, hence the term Lin Er.  So to get a son, it is common in those days to pray to Qilin  There are also suspicious drawings and painting of Qiling bringing forth children, illustrated here in this vase:

Now you may wonder does this Qilin have to do with Bukit Brown?

It all happen some time ago when I was asked to conduct a private tour for some friends.
Among these friends was actually a friend of my wife.  The family turned out to be the descendants of a prominent
businessman Wee Teck Seng in the past.

Norman Wee and his family at the tomb of his grandfather. He and another brother are the only 2 surviving grandsons
of Wee Teck Seng.

As Norman could not read Chinese very well,  we have to translate the inscription from the tomb of Wee Teck Seng for him
to understand more about the life history of his grandfather:

The 1st panel(WTS1)  traced his early beginnings as follows:

Translation :
Epitaph of Wee Teck Seng

Wee Teck Seng came from Fujian Tong Ann Province Ding Mei Village.
He was a kind handsome gentleman, hardworking and honest, and was held in great esteem.
From a young age, he followed his father to Singapore.
He was appreciated by a famous business concern : Teck Guan Chop and took on heavy responsibilities.

Panel 2

He was soon promoted to be manager in charge and was then sent to Riau to head and handle the business there singly.

He was much trusted and started to deal with Chinese and Western goods,  accumulated his wealth and started his own business
Sin Hock Hoe, primarily dealing with local produce and transport, and soon became a famous businessman and was regarded
as a community leader by the local authorities there.

Panel 3

He was the manager of Riau Tuan Puan School and also help to set up Ding Shan School.  He also became the directors of 2 Singapore Chinese banks
(Chinese Commercial and Overseas Chinese Bank) and also became president of the Wee Clan. 

He was rich, but generous and humble at the same time.

He passed away in 1931 Jan 15 in his residence in Singapore. Born in 1861, he lived for 70 years.

His surviving wife was Mdm Chew.  His eldest son Hiap Tock graduated from England with a medical degree. He married Mdm Ho.
Second son Hiap Swee married Mdm Tan
Third son Hiap Chin married Mdm Khoo
Fourth son is Chew Swee
Eldest daughter Ann Neo married Khoo See Chay
Second daughter Seok Neo
Third daughter Chi Lan
Six grandsons, four granddaughters
Buried in Bukit Brown,  sitting east facing west

Penned by Khoo Seok Wan
Aug 13, 1931


Now Ding Mei village has been in existence for a long time since the Ming/Qing dynasties, where it first appeared as a single street lined
by shops.  There was a small port  there whereby the boats would go to Amoy, Tong Ann to overseas. It started to decline during
Republician period. Now there are 2 sub villages, with a total of 820 households and 2460 residents.

There was a small hill on one side of the village, shaped like an inverted cauldron, hence the village was called Ding Mei
Ding = cauldron
Mei = beautiful

Since the village as at the tail end of the hill,   a previous old name for the village was Ding Wei  (Cauldron Tail) and was  later changed to  Ding Mei
to beautify the name.

Wee Teck Seng was the president for two successive councils for the Wee clan in 1926 and 1927 as listed in one of the earlier issue of Wee clan association magazine.

Wee Clan, which has its root since 1924,  is now known as Nanyang Huang Shi Chung Huay and is currently located at Geylang

On 24 Jan 1907, Wee Teck Seng and his brother donated to ST Joseph's Institution a sum of $100 under Messrs. Wee Teck Seng Bros


There were many burial grounds in Singapore in the past.  Esp in the late 1920s, early 1930s, when these burial grounds were cleared, many of the tombs
were relocated to the municipal cemetery Bukit Brown.    In Blk 3,  there are at least 5 such clusters, and one such cluster belong to the Wee clan.
Other clusters were previously from Cheang Hong Lim burial ground,  Tiong Bahru, Alexandra Road etc.  

A cluster of tombs belonging to the Wee Clan, seen here with horses from the Polo Club. This cluster is affected by LTA road project, and will be cleared soon.

Discovery of Wee Qilin

Among the cluster of Wee clan cluster,  standing solitary, but just a little distance away,
there is one particular tomb which struck some of the Brownies as remarkable and has deep and nice inscription.
First the tomb has an inscription year Tongzhi 10th year 12th lunar month (ie 1872 Jan 10 - Feb 8)

It also has the special name of Qilin.

Next is the ancestry village inscribed in the tombstone :  Ding Wei, which is a rarely seen name , which was the old name for Ding Mei, the village whereby
Wee Teck Seng trace his origin.

There are 2 sons inscribed in the tombstone,  Teck Seng and Eng Guan.  From the date inscribed in early 1872,  Wee Teck Seng would be 11 years old,
and his brother Eng Guan would be younger from the position of the hierarchy of the names.

From the epitaph of  Wee Teck Seng's tomb, we know that he followed at a young age with his father to Singapore and from there he was promoted by his employer to be the
head of the Riau branch.

Since Wee Teck Seng Bros made a donation in 1907 to SJI, we know at he has at least a brother.

There are actually very few Ding Mei / Ding Wei tombs in Bukit Brown,  and none other than this Wee Qilin tomb that
we can match the story told by the epitaph, the timeline and other matching facts.

Therefore we can conclude that this tomb uncovered would be the father of Wee Teck Seng. 


Wee Teck Seng eldest son was Wee Hiap Tock (Dr H T Wee) who was born in Tanjong Pinang in 1894.
ST reported about him in an article on 20 Oct, 1935. He was a doctor who was a past president of the Chinese Association, a Municipal Commissioner and a Justice of Peace.

DR H T Wee eldest son was the late Harry Lee Wee

The law gazette in an obituary has this to say :

We regret to record the passing away on 11 July 2005 of Mr Harry Lee Wee, MA, LLM (Cantab). Known as
'Harry' to his friends and colleagues, he was a very senior member of the Bar, and President of the Law
Society in 1975 and 1976, serving the Council since 1974 in many capacities and on various committees.
Born on 25 January 1924, the eldest son of Dr Wee Hiap Tock and Rachel Hoahing, Harry studied at St.
Joseph's Institution where he did his School Certificate in 1938. A year or so later, he left for the United
Kingdom to study law at Queen's College, Cambridge. An industrious and conscientious student, he
preferred life as a solicitor which meant three years of Articles after obtaining his degree and this he did in
a Cambridge county solicitor's office well known for its wide range of legal practice. In the meantime he
obtained his LLB.

On returning to Singapore, Harry did his pupillage at Rodyk & Davidson and was called to the Bar on 26
November 1948. He first practised in the firm of CJ Koh & Company at Bonham Building and subsequently
joined Braddell Brothers. Quite apart from his love for the practice of the law, Harry was also interested in
the academia and lectured for many years, civil procedure on a part-time basis at the NUS Law Faculty for
a small honorarium. Despite his very busy schedule, Harry was also dedicated to public service, and was
for many years, very active in the YMCA.

One of the most honourable things he did for the legal profession was to open his door to pupils when it
was very difficult for law graduates to obtain Chambers to do their pupillage, and for this he will be
remembered for a very long time by the number of grateful pupils who have successfully established
themselves in practice, the legal service, and even the judiciary. Trained as a solicitor, Harry had his own
style not generally followed by other masters in that when interviewing clients he would call in his pupils to
take notes and thereafter explain to them why he advised clients the way he did. As one can imagine, this
is a time-consuming exercise for any busy practitioner. He wouldn't pay his pupils, always saying that he
did not want to use them as cheap clerks. He was there to teach and they were there to learn.
Well-versed in chancery law, Harry took in a lot of trusts work and conveyancing, and other practitioners
frequently sought his opinion on these matters.

During his involvement with the Law Society of Singapore from 1972 to 1979, apart from being President
from 1975 to 1976, Harry also served on various committees, such as the Professional Conduct
Committee; Sub-Committee of Rules, Fees and Remuneration; Sub-Committee on Legal Education,
Liaison with University and Board of Legal Education; Sub-Committee of Bills; Sub-Committee of the Land



It was thus with great honour that I bought the descendants of Wee Teck Seng to his father's tomb in Bukit Brown, just before the area was to be cordoned off for exhumation for the road project cutting across Bukit Brown.

Raymond with Norman Wee, grandson of Wee Teck Seng and Mrs Ann Wee, wife of Harry Lee Wee,
shortly before the area was cordoned off and sealed for exhumation.

Mrs Ann Wee is often described as the founding mother  of social work, and is an inductee to the Singapore Women's Hall of fame



Here in the tomb clusters of Bukit Brown, a tomb inscription with the auspicious name of  Qilin has lived to its auspiciousness.  Its descendants has become doctors, lawyers and other professionals who contributed greatly to society.

Each tombstone in Bukit Brown tells a journey from their ancestral home in China to Singapore, and each has its own unique story to tell, whether great or small.

This particular tombstone tells a great story and  is a historic and heritage tombstone dating all the way to the 1870s.  His descendant realized that this tombstone reflect the stories of his ancestors' journey to Singapore.

After the exhumation,  they decided to re-erect the tombstone near to that of his son, who together with his children went on to give honour to his family, and more importantly help to build this nation that is our country, Singapore.  The tombstone of Wee Qilin will soon rise up again, to be next to his son in Bukit Brown.

Very soon, the descendants will be off to another trail, that of Tanjong Pinang, to trace the roots of ancestors, from China to Riau to Singapore.....

ST Forum, Jun 3, 2014

RECENT articles in The Straits Times have highlighted an interest in defining our local culture.

Professor Wang Gungwu wrote that the power of "local culture" is strong despite national and international influences ("The power of local culture"; Jan 25).

Cultural Medallion winner Goh Lay Kuan said in an interview ("The ballerina who overturned tables"; May 3) that a unique culture takes time to create and develop from much interaction with our multicultural environment.

Indeed, what is our culture and our heritage? This question seems relevant as the nation celebrates its 50th birthday next year and the bicentenary of its founding in 2019.

Culture can be described as the DNA or software of our social history and social behaviour. How we address our family members, what we wear normally and on festive occasions, the food we cook and the customs we observe, among other things, are very much rooted in our ethnic countries of origin.

But as we live in South-east Asia among other races, we acquire and adapt to other customs and languages, speaking not only Chinese dialects but also Malay and, later, English during the period of colonisation, and now more Mandarin with the rise of China.

We learnt to cook different foods and adapt to and modify other fashions, establishing synergy with the cultures of others. This is how the early settlers became Peranakans, forming hybrid cultures.

Thus, when we planned and developed the Peranakan Museum, we wanted to show how such adaptations led to peaceful and harmonious living among the different races and religions here and in other parts of South-east Asia.

With increasing globalisation, a further layer of cultural adaptation developed so that the Singaporean's composite culture is like an onion, with a central core of ethnic customs and beliefs, an intermediate layer of South-east Asian traditions, and an outer layer of globalised knowledge and taste.

This, then, could really be our heritage and our "culture".

This is perhaps why many are anxious to keep Bukit Brown cemetery (or part of it) as a repository of our local history. We could celebrate our forthcoming bicentennial by making it a tourist attraction, with a memorial heritage park to tell the history of our pioneers and the stories of our heroes, while helping to bond old and new citizens.

James Khoo (Dr)

ST News Jun 3, 2014

Their suggestions follow call for a list to help foster love for country

HONG Lim Park fountain, Newton Food Centre and a Hakka memorial hall from 1887.

The first has played witness to many a speech at Speakers' Corner, the second is a well-known hawker centre from the 1970s to which tourists flock for a taste of local cuisine, while the third - Shuang Long Shan Ancestral Hall in Holland Close - tells the story of early Singapore immigrants.

These are just three of 45 structures, sites and buildings that heritage experts and architects here believe are worthy of conservation and can be seen as "sacred".

Their suggestions come after Professor Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, called for working out a list of places Singaporeans treasure and declaring them national shrines as a way to foster love for the country. He suggested the Botanic Gardens, East Coast Park and old Chinatown.

The Straits Times, which has launched an online poll to piece together Singapore's top 10 favourite and sacred spaces, is inviting members of the public to vote for their top three structures and top three sites. They can also share their own suggestions and comments via the webpage
http://bit.ly/1lXRs4C from today until next Tuesday.

The votes will be consolidated and featured in a Sunday Times package in the coming weeks.

Prof Kishore wrote a commentary last month called "Prepare for a political crisis", in which he suggested cultivating faith in Singapore's key institutions, strengthening the multiracial fabric and fostering a love for the nation.

He called for 2015 - the Republic's golden jubilee - to be a year of "defining and expanding sacred objects and places in Singapore" so as to build a country rich in memories, which we would call home and readily defend.

Professor Kishore quoted Joel Kotkin, an urban geographer from the United States who has identified three great characteristics of cities: the safe, busy and sacred. Professor Kotkin said the Republic has excelled in security and commerce but lacks in the last quality. He called for more attention to be paid to the sacred which he defined as any unique institution or place "that (makes) one feel an irrational commitment to a place".

Heritage experts feel his suggestion is timely. The experts who contributed to the list include Singapore Heritage Society secretary and conservation architect Yeo Kang Shua, architects Chang Yong Ter, Lim Huck Chin and Tia Boon Sim; heritage enthusiast and blogger Jerome Lim, and civic group founder Kwek Li Yong.

Said Mr Kwek: "If we want to create a country that Singaporeans can identify with, we need to pinpoint and pull out such spaces, rediscover them and save them before they are swept away by redevelopment."

By Melody Zaccheus

 In this interview on 3 April 2014 with Executive Director Khoo Teng Chye and Koh Buck Song of the Centre for Liveable Cities, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gives his take on urban liveability and describes his hopes for his country 100 years ahead. He also reveals which other cities he looks to, and what tips Singapore might offer on sustaining a liveable city that meets everyday needs while also fulfilling the human spirit.

Of all the many aspects of liveability, which are the ones really close to your heart?

A liveable city is a place where people can live, work and play, and fulfil the human spirit. You want to be able to live well – good homes, good neighbourhoods, orderly and safe streets and environment. You must be able to work well – there must be jobs, opportunities, economic growth. You must be able to play well – which means a green environment, and opportunities for leisure, culture, the human spirit. To bring them all together, you must have the governance to make the “big software” work, to pull it all together so that when people come to this place, they say: “Yes, I want to be here.”

Is there a personal anecdote, something that really struck you in your early life or career, that comes close to the heart of liveability?

I often spend my holidays in Singapore, walking around Marina Bay, our nature reserves, MacRitchie Park, and I’ll often find something new, a corner of Singapore I haven’t been. I particularly like the park connectors, which we are still building. My wife and I once walked all the way down the Kallang River from Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park to Marina Bay. It’s quite a long walk but very interesting. It’s urban, but at the same time, we have the greenery and water. I don’t think many cities can contrive that.

Does the fact that Singapore has a dense urban environment as well as lots of greenery give you a different perspective on the major concerns in the world today on enhancing the liveability of cities?

Our problems are easier because we are a city in a country, and the country is surrounded by water. It’s a controlled environment. If we decide to do something, we can make it happen in all of Singapore.

The other side of it is that in Singapore, the city is what we have. You can go off on weekends somewhere else, but it’s some other country already. That makes it more important for us than other countries that we make Singapore a liveable city.

What are the adjustments in governance which Singapore needs to make to meet future challenges?

Population is a long-term issue. But we must also tackle more immediate issues. People need housing, public transport, utilities working well, jobs, and to have their economic needs seen to. If you plan in isolation, population goes one way and your infrastructure goes another way, you’ll have a problem. Even if you plan together, it’s not easy because of very different timescales. Population or economic trends can go up and down very quickly. Foreign workers can come and leave. To build a new city, one needs 20 to 30 years to reclaim the land, and you want to create possibilities so that your successors will have choices. That means you need very competent people, and a lot of information – “big data” – and you must be able to pull it all together to make sense of the data and to respond to it, in real time or strategically over the long term.

What is your vision and dream for Singapore, say, 100 years into the future? How would you describe Singapore at that time?

You cannot imagine what the world will be like 100 years from now. I hope Singapore will still be a country which is prospering, at peace with its neighbours, modern and yet maintaining a history of where it came from. A historic city must have many layers. If it is all built at once, like some of the synthetic planned capital cities, it will lack that richness and depth. But if it grows over the years – you have Chinatown, pre-war flats from the Singapore Improvement Trust period, Housing & Development Board new towns and public buildings reflecting different periods in history – I think that is a city you can explore and savour, and which will hold many memories for the population.

Are the softer aspects of liveability becoming more important?

Yes, certainly. It is a continuing trade-off because you can’t live in a museum, frozen in time. You want pieces of the past preserved, upgraded or adapted to new uses so you can look at them and say: “It’s the same, yet different.” We’re doing that to the City Hall and the former Supreme Court building – putting them to a new use, turning them into the National Gallery. The National Museum [of Singapore] is restored very beautifully in front. If you go behind, you see the modern extension integrated harmoniously into the old building. We can’t fix everything in place, and we can’t say that no tree once grown will ever be cut down, but we want to keep in Singapore a good mix of history, of the past and present.

What is your take on a case like redeveloping the Bukit Brown Cemetery? Is it a sacrifice we have to make along the way?

The Bukit Brown NGOs [nongovernmental organisations] are pressing for preservation, and I respect their point of view, but I think in Singapore, we have to make choices. We’ve done it in Bishan, which used to be a large cemetery, and today we have a very vibrant town. Even along Orchard Road – if you’re old enough, you remember that we used to have Ngee Ann Kongsi graves. They’re all gone now. Would we have been better off if we had kept all those as cemeteries, and then squeezed our city into little plots of land in between? I don’t think so. It’s painful; we have to adjust, to give something up.

Today, you can keep a significant part of such history in virtual form – you can record all the graves, have a 3-D computer model, a virtual tour. We should also make the effort so that some significant bits are preserved and integrated into the new development so people know what was there before. I think that’s necessary. It’s important to have young people learn something about their own history.

Are there cities around the world that you look to?

I think that cities like New York, even Seoul, their city management is in many respects more advanced than ours. When Michael Bloomberg was Mayor of New York, he made an enormous effort to upgrade the city services, making sure the maintenance was well done, the schools all up to scratch, and the neighbourhoods safe; and monitoring the city with a network of sensors and cameras, with information coming in so you know if there is a flood, an accident or fire, what the status is, so you can react. We don’t have a similar city control room in Singapore, and we can do a lot better. Video cameras today are so cheap, you can connect them up easily via the Internet, you’ve got 4G everywhere. We should be able to put them all over, in public places, so when something happens we don’t have to scramble. In Little India, when the riot took place last year, we didn’t have enough cameras, and we were looking on YouTube and the Internet to see what people had posted.

When people see a hole in the road, a light not working, an accident, there should be an app that lets them upload the information by smartphone. Someone will sift through all this information, and react promptly to fix the problem. If you can harness the population in this way, you get a much better response and the population will feel much more engaged.

Is there a top-of-mind example for you from other cities on softer aspects such as heritage?

Suzhou has become a [UNESCO] World Heritage Site; they are this year’s winner of the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize. I have visited Suzhou over the last 20 years and seen the great changes in the city. They have systematically upgraded their city. They’ve moved some of the population out so it’s not so crowded; they’ve cleaned up the river that surrounded the city, so now you can sail on it. They’ve cleared up the slums, and the behaviour of the people has changed. Now you’ve got Starbucks-type places. People dress up and go out, and there are many cultural amenities. They built a new cultural centre outside the city on Jinji Lake, in the Suzhou Industrial Park. It’s a remarkable transformation.

I think Singapore helped to start it moving, because we built the Industrial Park, and that got investments in and gave them some revenues. Also, it opened a window for them on the world. The degree to which the Suzhou population now is connected to the world was unimaginable 20 years ago. They know what’s happening; they travel.

When people from around the world ask you what tips they can pick up from Singapore, what do you tell them?

I tell them I’m just solving my own problems in Singapore. It may be interesting to you; come take a look. If you think it’s relevant, we are happy to share the knowledge because there are no secrets in these matters.

That’s what we did in Suzhou. We went, we tried to build an industrial park that also included housing, infrastructure, urban development, commercial areas, as well as industrial estates, which would bring in investments. It was not that we were teaching a class and disciples took notes. This was a model which was working, and other officials, mayors, party secretaries came from all over China. They took a close look, took inspiration, went back to their own cities and provinces, and now there are industrial parks all over China. I think they all picked up something from what they saw in Suzhou.

What do you think is the biggest challenge to enhancing liveability in the future?

We are, in Singapore, just a city in one country. And the country is the city. We have to keep this city up there, at the same standard as the great cities in the world. That means you have to keep on maintaining a very high standard of performance – not just the government, but also the population; to be able to work together and make the system work. Then you can raise standards gradually, and the level will continually improve, year by year, step by step.

This post originally appeared in the Centre for Liveable Cities’ Urban Solutions.

Taken from : http://www.eco-business.com/news/fulfilling-human-spirit-interview-singapore-pm-lee-hsien-loong/

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