Update of news and articles on Bukit Brown

July 2017

The Straits Times, Jul 23, 2017
By Melody Zaccheus
Heritage and Community Correspondent

The gravedigger has to sift through mud, soil and other debris with his bare hands to recover the remains. PHOTOS: FONG CHUN CHEONG

Armed with power drills, workers may spend up to three hours to get through the soil in an exhumation, but once the gravedigger gets into the coffin, it is just bare hands.

The gravedigger's hands are recognised as the only tools of a dying trade delicate and thorough enough to retrieve the bones, exhumation companies shared with The Sunday Times.

The 10 or so Singaporean gravediggers - there were 50 in the past - will be kept busy with a mass exhumation that needs to be carried out at the Choa Chu Kang Cemetery. Some 80,500 graves will be exhumed for the expansion of a military airbase in the north-west.

Mr Johnny Tan, 69, the third-generation director of Chua Chu Kang Marble Company, said the cost of private exhumation can be more than $1,000 per grave.

Industry players estimate that public exhumation costs are usually kept between $100 and $300.

Workers are typically hired by companies for the more manual task of removing the soil.

The experienced gravedigger has to climb in alone, usually with an electric saw to gingerly remove remnants of the coffin. Then, he will sift through the silt, mud, soil and other debris with his bare hands.

Mr Jeffrey Lee, sales and marketing manager of Singapore Casket which outsources the work to exhumation companies here, said: "They have to use their bare hands to find and extract fragments of bone and teeth which are sometimes stuck in the soil.

"Sometimes families remember that their relative had a gold tooth. It's like looking for a needle in a haystack. I really have to salute them (the gravediggers)," said Mr Lee.

Mr Fong Chun Cheong, a Yin Fengshui practitioner who conducts rituals for families and charges $2,888 for his exhumation package, said: "When the coffins are uncovered, the contents can look messy. It's not an easy job."

Workers then rinse the remains and carefully bag them before they are handed over to the National Environment Agency. The remains are then cremated.

Relatives are usually present at the start of the process and at the end when the ashes are re-interred into a columbarium. The whole process can be completed within 12 hours.

With the dearth of local expertise, industry players said most of the public exhumation work is handled by foreign workers.

The company involved in the ongoing exhumation works at Choa Chu Kang Cemetery is Hoe Ann Granite Industrial Construction.

Almost all Muslim exhumations are handled by the Government. In the case of the upcoming exercise, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore will inform family members when to register and head down to witness the exhumation.

No rituals are conducted. The remains are then re-interred in the ground at another site following a short prayer.

Mr Raymond Goh, who studies tomb inscriptions, hopes that companies handling both the public and private exhumations of the Choa Chu Kang graves will document the attached tombstones before they are exhumed.

Mr Goh said: "A simple photo of the tombstone and inscription will provide a more lasting connection for future generations searching for how their ancestors were once buried and remembered."

Ch 8 News and Current Affairs
2017年7月19日  21:10  吴俍㬕报道








The Straits Times, Jul 19, 2017

By Rachel Au Yong and Yuen Sin

Choa Chu Kang's Chinese Cemetery. Some 80,500 Chinese and Muslim graves will be exhumed progressively to expand Tengah Air Base.

Singapore's biggest and only active public cemetery - Choa Chu Kang Cemetery - will have its size cut down by a third, from 318ha to 200ha.

Some 80,500 Chinese and Muslim graves will be exhumed progressively to expand Tengah Air Base, which in turn is to accommodate the relocation of Paya Lebar Air Base from 2030 onwards.

Those affected can have their relatives' remains cremated at Choa Chu Kang Crematorium.
For those whose religions require their dead to be buried, like Islam, the remains can be reinterred elsewhere in the cemetery.

The authorities will pay for the moves, though additional rituals or requirements will have to be borne by the affected relatives.

Owing to space constraints, the Government in 1998 imposed a burial period of 15 years for all graves in Choa Chu Kang, after which the remains would be exhumed.

Since December 2004, the National Environment Agency (NEA) has been exhuming graves at the 70-year-old cemetery in phases.

This is the largest exhumation there to date, though there have been larger-scale ones at other cemeteries, such as in Bishan or Bidadari, which made way for new homes and towns.

At Bishan, around 100,000 Chinese graves dating from 1870 were exhumed between 1982 and 1984.

In Bidadari, 126,000 Christian and Muslim graves dating from 1907 were exhumed between 1996 and 2006.

The NEA said it will continue to exhume graves which have met the 15-year burial period to ensure there is sufficient supply to meet burial demand.

"While there is sufficient land in the foreseeable future, NEA will continue to work with land use planners to explore options for future generations," it said.

In 2007, it introduced a new interment system for Muslims, where concrete crypts built below ground replaced traditional earth plots.

Modelled after similar graves in Saudi Arabia, the system helps to save space as it allows the bodies interred to be arranged in a more compact way, and was reported to help keep the grounds open until at least 2130.

The latest round of exhumations will take place in several phases.

About 45,000 Chinese graves and 5,000 Muslim ones older than 17 years will be exhumed first, with the earliest beginning in the last quarter of next year.

Newer graves - with some buried as recently as three years ago - will be exhumed later, after they meet the minimum 15-year burial period.

Yesterday, retiree Norani Masuni, 59, whose sister's grave at the N-1-3 plot will be eventually exhumed after the burial period, said: "We feel sad, but what can we do? A decision has been made."

She said it is likely that her sister's remains, which were buried six years ago, would be buried with other family members.

"It has happened to us before at other graves, so we are prepared for this," she said.

Chua Chu Kang GRC MP Yee Chia Hsing, whose Nanyang ward includes the air base, said he believes that while the changes may be disruptive, most will take it in their stride as they are aware of the land constraints in Singapore.

"That is why those who can accept it will have their loved ones cremated, while those who bury their relatives know full well it cannot be for forever," he said.

Today, Jul 19, 2017

SINGAPORE — The graves of a local football icon and a former politician known for his anti-drug advocacy work are among those slated for exhumation at Choa Chu Kang cemetery to make way for the expansion of Tengah Air Base.

The grave of football icon Dollah Kassim will be affected by the expansion of Tengah Air Base. Photo: Jason Quah/TODAY

Abdullah Mohamed Kassim, who died in October 2010, rests in a tomb adorned with a bunch of red flowers and a miniature football pitch formed out of grey and white stones on top of the structure.

Better known as Dollah Kassim, he represented Singapore between 1968 and 1981, playing centre-forward, and was nicknamed “gelek king” for his graceful and deceptive dribbling.

Dollah, a respected legend in the region and one of the Republic’s star strikers in the 1970s, suffered a heart attack in October 2009, while playing in a veterans’ exhibition match. He died at 61, after spending a year in a coma.

Like Dollah, Harun A. Ghani, a former Member of Parliament and political secretary to the Home Affairs Ministry, was laid to rest at one of the 30,000 Muslim graves that will be exhumed at a later date, after they reach the 15-year burial limit.

Harun, who died aged 66 in August 2005, was known for leading the charge in the war against drugs in the Malay community.

He pioneered “meet-the-family” sessions, which have become a key component in rehabilitating former drug addicts and other ex-offenders.

He was often spotted at coffee shops counselling former abusers and their family members.

In 2005, an education fund dedicated to assisting families struggling with consequences of drug addiction was set up in Harun’s memory.

A total of 80,500 Chinese and Muslim graves, dated between 1955 and 2000, will be exhumed progressively to make way for the air base’s expansion. The first to go will be  5,000 Muslim graves across two blocks in the fourth quarter of next year.

TODAY understands that some families have already sought clarifications from the National Environment Agency and Islamic Religious Council of Singapore regarding the exhumation of their ancestors’ graves.

Heritage enthusiast Raymond Goh said many of the Republic’s founding fathers who died between 1946 and 1978 would have had their graves exhumed in earlier phases.

Mr Goh — who has embarked on an extensive documentation of graves at the Bukit Brown cemetery with his brother Charles —  urged the authorities to work with the claimants to document the graves before they are exhumed.

“There is a lot you can uncover about the person’s genealogy and ancestry from the inscriptions on the graves,” said the 53-year-old pharmacist.

Prior to exhumation of graves at the Bukit Brown cemetery to make way for road developments, the Government worked with key stakeholders.

These included Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan, The Peranakan Association of Singapore, Singapore Heritage Society, academics and grave experts,  to document the graves, as well as memories and rituals associated with the cemetery.

TODAY Newspapers,  Jul 18, 2017

By Kelly Ng

A total of 45,500 Chinese graves and 35,000 Muslim graves at Choa Chu Kang Cemetery will be affected by the expansion of Tengah Air Base. Photo: Najeer Yusof/TODAY

SINGAPORE — Three fish farms, one nursery and 80,500 graves in Choa Chu Kang cemetery will have to make way for an expanded Tengah Air Base, as part of plans to relocate the Paya Lebar Air Base from 2030.

On Tuesday (July 18), occupants of the affected farms at Murai Farmway — Koon Lee Nursery, Goh Swee Hoon, Fisco Aquarium, Rigoh Fishery — received their notices of acquisition from Singapore Land Authority officers.

These businesses, which are on 20-year leases originally slated to expire between 2027 and 2030, will have to relocate by Jan 31, 2019. Compensation will be based on market value for the land on the date it is acquired, said the authorities.

Apart from these four plots on 2, 17, 19 and 21 Murai Farmway, on which the three fish farms and nursery sit, Chew’s Agriculture had announced last year that it is selling its farm premises and assets at 20 Murai Farmway to the Government for S$38.7 million. It is moving to a site 6.5km away along Neo Tiew Road, to be purchased from the Government for close to S$4 million.

Williton Orchids at 35 Murai Farmway will also not have its tenancy renewed after it expires in June 2019.

The relocation of Paya Lebar Air Base was first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the 2013 National Day Rally. It will free up 800 ha of land in the north-east region — an area bigger than Bishan or Ang Mo Kio — for new homes, offices, factories and parks, and also remove height restrictions on a large area around Paya Lebar, Mr Lee had said, adding that the full changes will take place 20 to 30 years later.

A total of 45,500 Chinese graves and 35,000 Muslim graves will also be affected by the expansion of Tengah Air Base. These will be progressively exhumed as they meet the minimum burial period of 15 years, with the first 5,000 Muslim graves slated for exhumation from the fourth quarter of next year. This will be followed by 45,000 Chinese graves to be exhumed from the fourth quarter of 2019.

Claims and registration for these graves — dated between 1955 and 2000 — will begin this September. Notices for the remaining 500 Chinese graves and 30,000 Muslim graves will be issued at a later date, after they have met the 15-year burial period.

Costs of exhumation and cremation at the Choa Chu Kang crematorium (for Chinese graves) will be borne by the Government, but claimants will bear additional costs for performing additional rituals or placing the remains in private cemeteries.

The exhumed Muslim graves will be reinterred into another part of the cemetery, said the authorities. These graves currently occupy about 100ha of land, while the farm plots gazetted for acquisition take up about 6.3ha.

In response to media queries, the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said the expansion of Tengah Air Base will allow the ministry to “build infrastructure and facilities to house aircraft assets, operational flying and support squadrons and other facilities” that will be relocated from Paya Lebar Air Base. There will also be a new runway built in the expanded Tengah Air Base to meet the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s operational requirements.

Part of the 1.8km Lim Chu Kang Road, including a portion of the Heritage Road at its northern segment, will be re-aligned to facilitate the air base’s expansion. “Agencies are studying the exact impact on the road, and possible mitigation strategies, which includes transplanting the trees to the new road,” said the Ministry of National Development, National Environment Agency and SLA in a joint press release.

Mindef’s military training areas in the vicinity will also be affected, but the actual boundaries of the expanded air base are still being worked out. Apart from Tengah Air Base, the Changi Airbase East will also be expanded to accommodate various assets and facilities to replace Paya Lebar Air Base.

发布/2017718 9:00 PM
国家发展部、国家环境局以及新加坡土地管理局今早召开记者会宣布,为扩建登加空军基地(Tengah Air Base),政府将征用周边的土地,几个农场、蔡厝港的45500个华人坟墓和35000个回教坟墓得迁坟,现有的林厝港路也必须改道。
蔡厝港坟场的第5期起坟计划已于昨天(17日)正式开始起坟,受影响的是华人坟场的遗骸重葬地段(Exhumed Remains Section),下葬年份介于1947年至1975年。



其中一个是著名侨领陈若锦(1859年-1917年)的墓。陈若锦是19世纪新加坡的先驱人物陈金声的孙子,若锦街(Jiak Kim Street)就是以他来命名的。
陈若锦生前热心公益,为了保护华人群体的利益,还参与创办了英国海峡华人协会(Straits Chinese British Association),也就是土生华人协会(The Peranakan Association)的前身。陈若锦受英文教育,作为土生华人,他也能说一口流利的马来语。他也是当年新加坡银行业和保险业的翘楚。

The Straits Times, Jul 12, 2017

SINGAPORE - "We are not makers of history, we are made by history." Yet, how many of us are aware of our ancestry? Fifty-two-year-old Raymond Goh's dream is to help everyone trace their lineage.

52-year-old Raymond Goh loves getting his hands dirty by uncovering graves. Can he solve the century-old puzzle and find the descendants of the late Singapore Chinese pioneer Neo Chan Guan?

Mr Goh, the director of a pharmaceutical company, loves getting his hands dirty: His favourite pastime is digging graves.

Mr Goh, together with his brother Charles, 50, founded Asia Paranormal Investigators (API) back in 2005. Their main goal is to locate and identify graves, and from there, take a deeper look into Singapore's history.

Throughout the years, the brothers have rediscovered many graves of Singapore’s pioneers whose names adorn our roads and buildings, such as Joo Chiat and Boon Lay. They also offer to help families locate the resting places of their ancestors, completely free of charge. Their meticulous work has since earned them the title "Tomb Hunters".

In recognition of his heritage work, Mr Goh was even shortlisted as an Outlook Inspiration by BBC and was among the top 15 of 50 inspiring people from around the globe.

"Every stone tells a story," is what motivates the brothers’ quest in leaving no grave undiscovered.


For four years, Mr Goh dedicated his free time to finding the tomb of one of the first Chinese pioneers in Singapore back in the 19th century - Neo Chan Guan.

Neo Chan Guan was the main contractor behind national monument Chong Wen Ge. The pavilion in Telok Ayer, believed to be built between 1849 and 1852, was gazetted as a national monument, along with the Thian Hock Keng temple. After four years, Mr Goh finally discovered the 164-year-old tomb in Bukit Brown. He hopes to find Neo Chan Guan's descendants and bring them to their ancestor's grave.


It is known that Neo Chan Guan was one of the founding members of Keng Teck Whay. Unfortunately, Keng Teck Whay does not hold any information regarding his direct descendants.

Host Ken Low even resorted to publishing the story in the newspapers to broaden the search.

Can Ken beat the clock and solve the century-old puzzle? Watch the video to find out.

"No dream is too big and no dreamer too small." If you have a dream waiting to be fulfilled, e-mail the "Live Your Dream" team at zbevents@sph.com.sg.

For more stories on "Live Your Dream", please visit:  www.zaobao.com/zvideos/live-your-dream

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