Bukit Brown and a nation’s unwritten history

Having been a history teacher for 6 years before, I must admit that I was truly humbled by how little I know about Singapore’s history, through our Bukit Brown tour today. Cuifen lovingly organised a walking tour for her friends and friends of friends on a beautiful Sunday morning and although only Wilson and I turned up for the tour, I am deeply grateful for the passionate and enthusiastic ones like herself who guide with a conviction and love for saving the cemetery grounds and preserving a nation’s unwritten history.

We began right from the overhead bridge while crossing Adam road to get to the Lorong Halwa and Sime Road intersection entrance of Bukit Brown where I hadn’t actually noticed the heritage boards just outside the SICC (Singapore Island Country Club) before. Those which spoke of a time when the British actually cornered the Japanese into open cemetery grounds so they could hide behind tombs to ambush the Japanese soldiers, but the Japanese eventually won the battle.

You can go on one of the monthly (I think) Battlefield Tours led by Jon Cooper:


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As we traipsed through the many tombs, the first interesting one pointed out to us being Oon Chin Neo’s tomb right into the heart of a clearing. One cannot help but be in awe of its resplendence and how well thought through the structure and feng shui of the tomb had been. Here’s a link with more information about her:


We saw a tree that had lovely fig fruits in abundance on it, albeit still green and not in their red brilliance yet, and the rain trees that provided shade for the tomb keepers and were truly fascinated by their wild magnificence that put pruned trees along the roads of Singapore to shame.

We loved how each tomb reflected the significant story to it’s owner’s colourful life and I was particularly inspired by the feisty revolutionary, Tay Koh Yat, who raised an army of 20,000 (Some say 10,000) with his own clout to fight against the Japanese during the Japanese Occupation in Singapore and came back after that to obtain compensation for the families of those among the 20,000 who lost their lives fighting in the war.

Who could forget the amazing story of how a Brownie (Bukit Brown heritage tours guides), Mill Phuah, found the graves of her great grandparents giving the tomb keeper bare information she had that they were close to a tree and the shrine only, and mind you this was a pair of tombs already shrouded over by the thick undergrowth at the point of search.

I particularly endeared myself to the story of the tomb of everlasting light, a name coined after a researcher of Bukit Brown noticed how a man regularly came to this Christian tomb to physically light a lamp as often as he could. Amazingly the lamp was lit when we visited it. (http://bukitbrown.org/post/44373419936/let-the-light-continue-to-shine-in-bukit-brow)

Most heartening to have the honour of visiting Lee Kuan Yew’s aunt’s and grandfather’s tombstones and be enthralled by the story of how the aunt, Lee Choo Neo, was one who was way ahead of her time in the way she fought against societal norms to get ahead in life, yet was a member of the family Lee Kuan Yew only gave a line of passing mention in his book as he wrote about his family.

Loved how there are 30 pairs of Sikh guards at tombs around the cemetery and we got to see the most photographed pair just a stone’s throw away from Tan Boon Liat’s tombstone. I allowed myself to be lost romantically in the story of Tan Boo Liat’s (Tan Kim Ching’s grandson, Tan Tock Seng’s Great grandson) life as a revolutionary and having housed Sun Yat Sen at his Golden Bell mansion at Mount Faber (named after his grandfather) during Sun’s 9th visit (15 December 1911) to Singapore.

There was so much more richness of the place to be mesmerized by and by the end of the tour, I knew I had to come back and visit again. I knew I had to sign the petition to save Bukit Brown. I knew the disconnect of history and the disappearance of lacking narrative would not be what I wish for future generations and I know the tender for the building of the new highway is already issued. Save for the silver lining of an environmental management team being contracted to oversee the construction of the new highway, I believe everyone of us have a stake in keeping Bukit Brown alive because there is so much more sections of the cemetery we should speak up for and save before further development plans for the bursting population sees us sacrificing heritage for the economic good that benefits its people least. So instead of allowing the narrative to be lost forever, do something for what we should cherish because after all, TripAdvisor also agrees that the Bukit Brown Heritage trails are one of the top ten attractions of Singapore too. :)

Visit this website for a centralised directory of Bukit Brown’s heritage and significance and to find out more about upcoming events there or weekend heritage guided tours:


Find out more about the Bukit Brown Cemetery and how you can help protect it:


Share this with pride to friends overseas and planning on coming to Singapore:


Get in touch with the Nature Society of Singapore to find out how you can get yourself on a nature tour of Bukit Brown:


And I don’t want, neither do I think you would want, for this to be something we can’t see in Singapore anymore, do we?

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