Exhuming history

Nov 7, 2015, The New Paper

It all started with a news report about Bukit Brown cemetery.

Mr Kostas Ikonomopoulos at the St Joseph Church cemetery.

A Greek national developed such a strong fascination with local history that he wrote a book about it. 
NATASHA MEAH (natmeah@sph.com.sg) speaks to the author and shares some of his more unusual stories

Greek national Kostas Ikonomopoulos, 39, was fascinated by the decision to build a highway and eventually a new town over the cemetery. Mr Ikonomopoulos, a permanent resident here, said he took on the challenge of uncovering Singapore's hidden past through unexplored places, including cemeteries.

For six months, he trekked around Singapore, including the surrounding islands. He visited up to 30 locations, including more than 15 cemeteries. He walked alone along rows of headstones. He rubbed dirt off the stones with his bare hands to uncover the names engraved beneath as mosquitoes feasted on him. At each cemetery, Mr Ikonomopoulos would take pictures and notes and examine the state of the grave. He would pay close attention to some names that grabbed his attention and then study the architecture of the place. His mission? To find out who these people were and what their lives were back then. He searched the National Archives of Singapore at the National Library Board, reading through both Malay and English newspapers to uncover stories and truths of the lives of people long forgotten.

Mr Ikonomopoulos, who moved here in 2010 and lives with his Singaporean wife and daughter, said: "People have a skewed perception of Singapore. They think Singapore is just Orchard Road and those who come here from other places think it's just a place to make money. "It seems that the focus of society is on the technical and material progress and the fact that country also has a cultural past gets overlooked." KRANJI BARRACKS For example, he said, the old military barracks in Kranji where the British used to station the soldiers during colonial times have been demolished or repainted a very bright white and now house banks and other enterprises. Things like colonial bungalows were also demolished to make way for high-rise buildings, he said. So he decided to write a book to capture the cultural past that would otherwise disappear.

Remains: A Singapore Journey was released on Sept 10. Remains: 
A Singapore Journey by Kostas Ikonomopoulos WHAT Book on Singapore's cultural past PRICE $19.26 inclusive of GST

WHERE TO BUY Online at www.ethosbooks.com.sg/ Booktique at CityLink Mall Books Kinokuniya