Update of news and articles on Bukit Brown

August 2016

Straits Times News Aug 29, 2016, 5:00 am SGT
By John Lui, Film Correspondent

Two's Company With Bukit Brown Cemetery Heritage Activists

Two brothers' shared passion for decoding clues and making a connection to the past led to their work in locating and identifying graves

Teamwork: Mr Charles Goh (above left) researches historical maps and pores over old government records, while Mr Raymond Goh is fluent in written Chinese and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of clan lineage.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES, LAU FOOK KONG

We find the grave eventually. It looks nondescript - a stone slab with Chinese inscriptions, a joss urn in front of it and the usual hump of earth behind. What is odd about the grave is not the what of it, it is the where.

Brothers Charles and Raymond Goh are in a clearing in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, after walking a hiking path 1km from our start point, a carpark in Chestnut Avenue. Insects buzz around our heads. The roar of Bukit Timah Expressway can be heard, faintly. Out of sight of the path, hidden behind bushes, is this solitary grave.

Older brother Raymond rubs his fingers over the text, painted in red. It says this is the resting place of Chua Moh Choon, a powerful triad society leader who died in 1879.

"The colours are too bright," he says with excitement. It indicates that the paint was laid down recently. He points out another anachronism - the pattern of grinding marks on the slab show it was made with electric tools.

The first time the Chua grave was found was in the 1980s. Except the grave was in Upper Thomson Road. A decade after that, it vanished. No one knows who took it or why.

Then, recently, explorers from the Temasek Rural Exploring Enthusiasts group, while looking for another artefact, stumbled on this jungle grave, hidden from hiking paths. They tipped off the Gohs.

And here we are, at a grave that was lost and found, then lost and found again, assuming this new site has something to do with the disappearance of the old one. There are more riddles: Who made this modern replica of a 19th-century grave? For what purpose? And why here?

Most interestingly: Is this just a marker or did someone exhume Chua's remains and rebury it here, where they would be safe from urban development?

The brothers paint a spooky picture of a clandestine grave-digging, of men dragging slabs and equipment around the jungle, perhaps under the cover of night.

This venture has a bit of everything they love - decoding clues, making a connection to the past, the joy of discovery and, perhaps most importantly, the pleasure of telling the story behind the stones. The brothers are in high spirits.

"Solving a mystery, yes - and putting what we know to good use," Charles says.

Their exploits have earned them nicknames. "Tomb whisperers" and "tomb hunters" have been bandied about for their work in grave location and identification. "Ghostbusters" or "myth busters" have been used for their paranormal investigation work.

The Gohs see history everywhere. They cannot help it. On the hike back from the jungle gravesite, they point out mossy cement pillars. They formed a cattle fence, from early 20th-century structures that gave Dairy Farm Road its name. At the Bukit Timah Guild House, where we do the interview, Charles, 49, spots a rare item in the grass: a cable marker stone from the now-defunct Telecommunication Authority of Singapore.

The senior safety manager with a construction company says: "Every stone tells a story."

The media first took notice of the brothers in the mid-2000s, after they began pinpointing the graves of leaders and towkays whose names adorn Singapore roads and buildings, and for helping families locate the resting places of ancestors.

In 2012, in an overgrown patch across from St Joseph's Institution, they found the grave of businessman Chia Ann Siang, who had Ann Siang Hill and Ann Siang Road named after him.

Neither Charles nor Raymond, 52, a pharmacist, make a penny from their heritage work.

They work as a team. Charles researches historical maps and pores over old government records and archived news clippings. He is usually the first to walk an area, looking for signs of a grave.

Raymond is fluent in written Chinese and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of clan lineage. Finding a grave is not enough. You have to know when the burial took place, who is buried there and if that person left a mark on Singapore history. That is his job.

Take, for example, how the brothers found a forgotten graveyard near the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) in 2014.

Raymond's reading of temple records pointed to the existence of a cemetery in the Outram area. Charles found it drawn on colonial-era maps. Cross-referencing it to a current map, he noted an undeveloped area.

He walked the thickly overgrown patch, noticed the graves, then called Raymond to read the inscriptions. Their find was reported in The Straits Times and, this year, the Government's plans to redevelop the hospital complex include provisions to preserve the graves and heritage features such as the walls from an old asylum.

It all started in 2005, when Charles was a licensed freelance tourist guide, conducting "ghost tours" of Bukit Brown Chinese Cemetery, a site that was then known mainly to families who visited during the annual tomb-sweeping Qing Ming festival, joggers and horseback riders. It had been closed to burials since the early 1970s. His idea for holding tours there had sprung from how anything that gave him the chills also fascinated him.

Raymond participated in one tour and was hooked - not by how spooky it felt, but by how astonishingly old the tombs were.

"Some of them date back to the time of the Daoguang Emperor, who reigned from 1820 to 1850. I could not believe that tombs like that existed in Singapore," he says.

He was so intrigued, he started to do his own exploration and research of the site and also got a tourist guide licence so he could tell more people about it.

In search of a vanished past

A few years earlier, Charles had founded Asia Paranormal Investigators, a group dedicated to applying rational, scientific principles to spooky phenomena. The group is today largely a website and forum, he says. As redevelopment surges ahead in Singapore, causing old houses, kampungs and even venerated trees to disappear, calls have dwindled.

When the Government's plan to cut a highway through Bukit Brown surfaced in 2011, another chapter was added to the brothers' book of varied activities.

The pair, especially Raymond, began sharing their knowledge with the volunteer community, All Things Bukit Brown, that work to raise awareness of the cultural and historical value of the cemetery. The "brownies", as its members are known, conduct regular guided walks of the site.

Ms Catherine Lim, an editor of the All Things Bukit Brown blog, says Raymond has been doing "dogged walking" of the cemetery since 2006. "The site is big and you can walk and walk and you might miss something, so you walk again, then you see it. It's hard to see - the inscriptions are faded," she says.

Then, as both she and Raymond note, he has to keep a mental list of historical figures and names connected to people who have asked him to find long-lost ancestors. That list is cross-checked against each inscription.

Lim's blog carries heartwarming stories of descendants who had given up hope of finding a certain ancestor in Bukit Brown's thousands of graves, only to have them discovered through Raymond's sleuthing.

The president of the Singapore Heritage Society, Dr Chua Ai Lin, talks about how the Gohs "pick up things that everyone else has forgotten about Singapore history".

"They have been doing it a long time, in their spare time, at such an intense pace."

They are practical historians, combining research with fieldwork.

Dr Chua says: "Right in the centre of town, there is a jungle and there are ruins from the 1860s and 1870s. Under our noses, next to SGH. No one knew about it until they brought it to our attention."

That work led to real results when it was announced that redevelopment would preserve the historical finds, she says.

Raymond is the eldest of five children, comprising three boys and two girls. Charles is the third child. Their father, who died recently, was a taxi driver. Their mother is a retired hawker who ran a kway chap stall. Both sons remember long, foul-smelling hours spent cleaning pig intestines.

The Gohs grew up in a family that had one foot in the supernatural world. An aunt was a medium and both brothers have experienced weird happenings as children.

As a teen, Raymond trained to be a medium. In one initiation ceremony, a needle was inserted - bloodlessly - through both cheeks.

Charles, who says he has a more Western outlook than Raymond, was into horror and science fiction, and had what he thinks were out- of-body experiences when he was younger. Those experiences have taught them to keep an open mind.

In most cases that they have looked into as paranormal investigators, the supernatural can be ruled out. Charles says "99.9 per cent can be explained. It's only a tiny fraction that can't be explained".

Raymond is married to a part-time clinic assistant and has three children in their teens and 20s. His children have accompanied him on treks.

Charles is married without children. His wife is Christian and prefers not to be involved in his tomb activities, he says.

Even as Singapore's uncharted parts shrink, the brothers plan to go on searching for tombs or other marks of a vanished past. Charles says: "As we have this interest and the knack for it, we'll just keep doing it as a way of giving back to society."

Raymond says he will continue to help the brownies conduct tours when he is free. Otherwise, he will carry on trekking in Bukit Brown and its surrounding areas, which also contain graves. The site is larger than people think it is, he says.

"It is 162ha in size and has 200,000 tombs. There are still many unexplored areas," he says.

Join the team on a trek to look for a tomb thought to be lost. Go to str.sg/4cMg

Charles on Raymond: Good interpretive skills

Like Raymond, Charles says artefact-hunting is made a lot more bearable when you have someone there with you. The Goh brothers plan missions via e-mail and text messages. If they do not meet on missions, they meet a few times a year at family gatherings.

Charles will do much of the archive-related work, such as going through news clippings. While much of it is online now, he might still need to make a trip to the National Archives or the Singapore Land Authority for historical material.

He credits his older brother for being the one with the interpretive skills, in which the ability to decipher tomb inscriptions is married to a mental database of prominent Singapore families and where their estates used to be. Many landowners were buried on their land.

Many times, when they have to cut a path through the bush, Charles says he is glad for the company.

"Walking on a 8ha plot, bashing through thorny vines, it takes 10 minutes to walk a few steps. Many times, I find nothing," he says. So, being able to hear another person's voice nearby is comforting, he says. In the bush, they usually split up and shout to each other to stay in touch.

If he is alone, Charles says, he might take a screenshot of his location on Google Maps and text it to Raymond in case he needs to be rescued.

Raymond on Charles: Uncanny ability to navigate

Charles has a spatial intelligence that allows him to orient himself on a plot of land and see how maps drawn in different eras relate to one another, says Raymond.

"He's an explorer. If he has a map and compass, he can find his way. He makes it look simple," he says.

In the jungle where every tree looks the same, Charles' ability to navigate is uncanny. He is usually the first to enter an area, so he has to deal with the undergrowth. He can spot boundary markers only a few centimetres tall, fallen over or hidden under brush. "He can find a stone or a tomb in all that vegetation," his brother says.

Often, it is only after Charles has found something that he tells Raymond to come in for a look.

The heat, thorny plants and biting insects will make the less determined give up. Not Charles, who Raymond says will carry on hunting for days, sometimes weeks on end.

There is another thing that the two of them give to each other, without which their most important finds would not have happened - emotional support.

"People ask us, 'Why are you wasting your time in the jungle? You can go out and make more money for your family'", says Raymond.

"When I have someone along who is as foolish as me, it helps," he says with a laugh.

Mr Raymond Goh (far left) and Mr Charles Goh were exposed to the supernatural from a young age.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Mr Charles Goh (left) and Mr Raymond Goh (second from left) at the Tu Di Gong temple at Bukit Brown Cemetery in March 2010.PHOTO: ST FILE



中国报 2016年8月28日




備注:根據資料,目前新加坡武吉布朗華人墳場、王氏太原堂墳場(姓王山)、新恆山亭(老山墳場和咖啡山墳場)形成一個大武吉布朗地區墳場(Greater Bukit Brown),新恆山亭是由福建會館管理。
吳安全天生愛冒險,對古靈精怪或鬼魂之說特別感興趣,多年前創辦亞洲超自然偵探協會(Asia Paranormal Investigators),經常與弟弟吳安龍穿梭于鬼屋探險,兩兄弟無畏進出墳場, 百無禁忌。
當新加坡政府宣佈將開發一部分的武吉布朗墳場,許多民間組織都挺身而出,在網上推動“武吉布朗百科”(All Things Bukit Brown),主要是讓新加坡人關注文化之外,也讓新一代年輕人認識歷史。





2016年8月14日 星期日

by 谢燕燕 chiayy@sph.com.sg











林蕴玉则记得父亲林谋盛搬离林家大院后,一家人曾住过巴西班让、加东、东海岸等地,父亲最后在后港棕树林道(Palm Grove)盖了一栋大房子。林蕴玉和林怀玉都记得后港邻居家遭日军轰炸后,父亲便匆忙带全家躲进直落亚逸街门牌4A的福安公司办公楼,并在那里与家人道别。林谋盛离开前曾嘱咐妻子不要留在后港家,也不要住进林家大院,深怕日军上门找人。










作为长女,林蕴玉对父亲有不少温馨的回忆。她说父亲很喜欢孩子,周末会带孩子们到水仙门的Polar Cafe吃蛋糕和冰淇淋,再到书店买书。父亲喜欢诗,也喜欢音乐,还让蕴玉学钢琴,良玉学小提琴,有朋友到家里作客,就让姐弟俩演奏给客人听。林谋盛曾告诉蕴玉,战后要送她到国外学音乐。





















The Straits Times  Aug 8, 2016
by Meloday Zaccheus, Heritage and Community Correspondent

Cemetery's cast-iron gates reinstalled after 6-month conservation project

The cleaned and repaired gates were put back on their old posts at their new location - a new access road near Lorong Halwa.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FO

The historic 1920s cast-iron gates of Bukit Brown Cemetery have been carefully reinstalled after six months of conservation and refurbishment work.

The gates, perched on gateposts, now boast a shiny coat of black paint, a far cry from their previous state as badly corroded structures caked in layers of rust.

Years of exposure to the elements had resulted in paint deterioration, plant growth and corrosion.

The gates were reinstalled last week following the refurbishment project by a team from Fusion Clad Precision - a contractor hired by the National Heritage Board (NHB).

Fusion Clad Precision's conservation manager Serene Lee said the gates were carefully hoisted onto their old posts at the new location - a new access road near Lorong Halwa.

Ms Lee said other precautions taken included securing the gates with specially designed frames that came with strips of padding before installation.

"The gates were loaded and then off-loaded using an overhead crane vehicle."

The refurbishment was an initiative by a multi-agency work group that the Ministry of National Development chaired.

The group includes the NHB, the Land Transport Authority and civic organisations All Things Bukit Brown and the Singapore Heritage Society (SHS).

The heritage community is glad the gates have been reinstated.

SHS executive committee member Yeo Kang Shua said the structures were among the few historic public gates still standing.

He said: "Gates and doors demarcate and delineate boundaries both physically and conceptually. This is a symbolic entry way for Bukit Brown Cemetery, which does not have a fence or boundary wall."

All Things Bukit Brown co-founder Catherine Lim said that while the gates' fresh, new look will take some getting used to, reinstating the structure "is the first step in restoring visitors' sense of arrival".

The whole structure is made up of two cast-iron gates through which cars used to pass, two side gates for pedestrians and four free-standing square columns.

About 20 per cent of the structure has been replaced to fix damage to its structural integrity and functionality.

The NHB said the original structure was likely prefabricated in Britain and shipped to Singapore, while its square columns were cast on the spot.

Bukit Brown Cemetery opened its doors in 1922.

The NHB also uploaded the second video documentary of a three-part series about the refurbishment project on its heritage website Roots.sg on Saturday.

The board said the documentary will provide viewers with a behind-the-scenes look at the steps and techniques used at each stage of the refurbishment process.

NHB's assistant chief executive of policy and community, Mr Alvin Tan, said the refurbishment project is part of NHB's ongoing efforts to safeguard and preserve the country's tangible heritage.

Some parts of Bukit Brown have been razed as the LTA constructs a major eight-lane road through the cemetery to connect the MacRitchie Viaduct to the Adam Flyover.

This project is expected to be completed by the end of next year.

Straits Times  News, Aug 7, 2016, 5:00 am SGT
by Melody Zaccheus

Choa Chu Kang Cemetery on April 15.PHOTO: ST FILE
Tombstones, memorials from part of Choa Chu Kang Cemetery to be preserved, relocated

Some historical memorials and tombstones from a part of Choa Chu Kang Cemetery will be documented, preserved and relocated by the authorities, before the National Environment Agency (NEA) carries out the latest grave exhumation exercise there.

The research and preservation effort follows an appeal by tomb researcher Raymond Goh, who had conducted his own survey of the site last year and highlighted its noteworthy structures to The Straits Times in April. These structures include a 46.5 sq m World War II tomb memorial housing the remains of several Chinese who died during the Japanese Occupation.

With 35,000 graves in the cemetery slated for exhumation this month under Phase 5 of the NEA's exhumation programme there, the structures were initially in danger of being lost.

But the National Heritage Board, NEA and the Ministry of National Development will now be working together to research and document selected graves and historical structures there.

When asked, they told The Sunday Times they recognised the historical significance of the WWII memorial and "will work together to retain and relocate it".

The memorial is in memory of Chinese "patriot victims" killed in 1942, in a village in Little Bamboo Lane at the 5 1/2 milestone in Bukit Timah.

Other structures that will be studied are the mass Yeo family grave flanked by statutes of four Sikh guards and Chinese warriors, and more than 70 graves from the family burial ground of Straits-born merchant Tan Jiak Kim. Tan died in 1917 and has a street in River Valley named after him.
Mr Goh said he welcomed the move to study and preserve the tombs. He said the graves are remnants in memory of Singapore's early occupants and represent different eras of burial practices.

Many graves in the affected area were moved to Choa Chu Kang as a result of redevelopment. They were re-interred from defunct graveyards between the 1940s and 1970s with the aid of old clans, including those of the Huang, Chua and Lim lineages. Some graves date back to the 1840s.
Similarly, Mr Goh believes the WWII memorial could have been part of the private and now defunct Hock Eng Seng cemetery off Sixth Avenue, which housed the graves of many Chinese war patriots. The cemetery, which was close to the site of the 1942 massacre, was relocated to Choa Chu Kang in the 1990s.

Mr Goh said he hopes the authorities will consider retaining the structures in their original locations. If they have to be moved, he suggested clustering them within the cemetery in a memorial park.
Ms Jean Yeo, 61, who used to work in sales, had unsuccessfully appealed for the on-site preservation of her family's mass grave. She was disappointed by the outcome but said she is glad that the authorities are at least recognising and studying the history of her ancestors "so that all our present and future descendants will remember and cherish them through time in memory".
Due to land scarcity, NEA introduced a burial policy in 1998 to limit the lease of graves to 15 years. Graves which are 15 years or older are exhumed in phases. The latest phase was announced in July 2014.

Other graves in the study are: the Nanyang Huang Shi Chung Hua Graves; Loke Yah Teng Cemetery pavilion and communal grave; Kui Long Tong Hall; Yoke San Teng Cemetery pavilion; and Seh Yeo Cemetery pavilion.

The study aims to capture the ownership, architectural style, notable architectural, ornamental and religious features, and the physical condition of the structures and graves there, among other things.
The report will also record the tombs' inscriptions and epithets.



联合早报 2016年8月1日
by 谢燕燕



































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