Sinister looking Thai(?) gods standing guard near the entrance under an old tree.

SINGAPORE: Kopi Sua (Coffee Hill) / Bukit Brown Cemetery

Abandoned gate. I wonder what it was used for.

Abandoned gate. I wonder what it was used for.

The initial objective prior to visiting the place for the first time was definitely curiosity.

Consider it a crossover from superstition and fear of the unknown, years before when a story was told to me about the place, passing by late one night.

And then, it came to the now, where Kopi Sua (Hokkien dialect for Coffee Hill) suddenly (At least to me) hurtled into public attention.

Because of the need to exhume a portion of the cemetery to make way for a road to be built right through the area.

All I knew before then, was: It was a huge Chinese Cemetery. Period.

Thinking about how often I have passed by the Lornie Road express way, enjoying the compounds of Macritchie Reservoir whenever I can. And there it was, it’s entrance quietly placed right opposite the entrance to the Singapore Island Country Club! Within a cluster of private housing estates.

The entrance. How long has it been standing there?

The entrance. How long has it been since it was erected there?

With mainly expats using the small lanes paved in the cemetery for jogging, cycling and other leisurely activities.

And us, curious onlookers, both local and foreign who came to find out about the place or had our interest piqued.

And I must say, the grounds was peaceful and lush after an early morning rain.

The  simple nuances added to the shades of shadow, grey and moss by strolling pet dogs and children on bycycles. Nonchalant passerbys who treated the cemetery as a park . Lifted most of the doom and gloom, even managed to convince me to brush chinese superstitions aside. Somehow landing between myth, modernity and history.

Reality.

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All in all, it made for a very meaningful weekend spent.

The interest to always find out about my cultural heritage and chinese ancestory, has happened.

The shame that my chinese background was almost unknown, save for a random few stories about my grandparents.

Cut off from a heritage I sometimes felt I deserve to know, and yet nowhere to start.

Our local Singaporean history brought forth by personalities long gone. Whose contributions had an impact on who we are, and gave us the opportunity to be who we can be today.

A tombstone is no more a just a slab of ice cold concrete/marble.

A list of coloured words, unknowingly etched into stone.

But information of who we are a a Chinese race.

The old traditional and sometimes ostentious way of remembering the dead. Honoring them.

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Where, my surname could have originated, and the cluster of people who share the same name.

And maybe just maybe, if there was a link to them.

Facts and beliefs like:

How the rich would have their graves built on higher ground because of fengshui. Mainly because they can afford it.

Luxury of space and tomb on higher ground.

Luxury of space and tomb on higher ground.

When a piece of brick/stone is placed on top of a particular grave, it means the grave keeper is looking after it.

Stone atop headstone.

Stone atop headstone.

That showy stone carving of a dragon or phoenix placed on top decoratively of a grave, is in fact a show of power and riches. Never would have been allowed if the person was still in China. Because it would have been a capital offence, a practice that is only allowed for the Royalty.

Phoenix carving atop headstone.

Phoenix carving atop headstone. Offerings has some Thai Influences.

The 24 slabs of stone carvings at Ong Sam Leong’s tomb, depicting filial piety. A trait that was very much hand down over the years, based on chinese belief and upbringing. Anf an emphasis, somehow the pictorial depictions long forgotten, almost myth like to me. And yet, the familiarity of the visual artwork that reminds me of my childhood.

Of incense, intricate delicate strokes of the brush of all things Chinese. Of gods and superstitions again.

Someone had recently visited Mr Ong Sam Leong. Beautiful artwork.

Someone had recently visited Mr Ong Sam Leong. Beautiful artwork.

One of the 24 slabs depicting Filial Piety.

One of the 24 slabs depicting Filial Piety.

Anna and the king. Meeting the ‘person’ who had made the introduction and opened the way for Anna, to have met King Mongkut. And putting me in awe, that in the past, the east and west seem to be alot much deeper in relation.

A reminder of the colonial times, the history of Siam (suddenly put into memory) and a time when South East Asia seemed all still new and mythical to the East. And Anna and the King – The movie was put forth to be actually more real than characters shown on a cinema screen.

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I liked how this photo came out in hues of red, grey and yellow.

A place seemingly taboo to some, yet I am beginning to see the intrigue with cemeteries. A true museum of historical and cultural visuals and stories. The intricacies and workmanship of stone carvings, the various influences of visual art. Chinese Folklore. A reminder of heritage, traditions and perceptions. Where the new meets the old. And the old, witnessing the passing changes in time as quietly as can be.

Sinister looking Thai(?) gods standing guard near the entrance under an old tree.

Sinister looking Thai(?) gods standing guard near the entrance under an old tree.

A great place for a stroll and introducing myself to the forgotten. I can’t help but feel the impact of loss, if this place is to be torn down, removed completely by 2030, and eventually replaced by highways and housing (private housing estate etc).

There was at a point between narrators, on the topic of Singapore’s heritage and history – a short debate between the real lack and the belief there is. What a moment.
And it was at this point, something set into me, that. This place (as I discover later) will be one of the best representatives of events and the past. too many chapters to be told in one place.

We visited the tombs of Ho Siak Kuan, Tan Huck Wan (exhumed), Koh Hoon Teck, the colorful sikh guards of Chew Geok Leong, Pang Cheang Yean, Tan Boo Liat, Tan Ean Kiam and finally Ong Sam Leong.

Sikh guard standing in attention at the grave of . In the past, the relationship between sikhs and the chinese closely linked with the business of protection.

Sikh guard standing in attention at the grave of . In the past, the relationship between sikhs and the chinese closely linked with the business of protection.

Where facts about ‘Anna and the King’ becomes magnified more so than just a movie. When the relationships between the East, Southeast Asia and the West seemed alot deeper. When the colonial times of Singapore comes into reminder. The intermxing, diversity of of chinese/inter racial/singaporean heritage (Like the Sikh Statues, the Dutch/Peranakan tiles) and it’s subcultures.

Culture, History and Heritage. Dutch Tiles (I would have thought Peranakan).

Culture, History and Heritage. Dutch Tiles (I would have thought Peranakan).

Coming across the grave of Khoo Teck Phuat’s grandfather. Again, a hospital building I liked for it’s design. Yet nothing of the particular person until now.

This tree seem to represent to me the life force of the entire cemetery. Branches growing downwards, rooting everything from both heaven and earth.

This tree seem to represent to me the life force of the entire cemetery. Branches growing downwards, rooting everything from both heaven and earth.

Have I mentioned Catherine Lim’s Or Else, the Lightning God and other stories to be one of my favourite local literature?

Somehow it almost felt I had a moment with it.

Imagination overload :) I kid.

Cluster of similiar tombs placed together. Reminds me of a family unit. Orange moss, makes it look even more interesting.. Time.

Cluster of similiar tombs placed together. Reminds me of a family unit. Orange moss, makes it look even more interesting.. Time.