Bukit Brown – Where the Fallen Lie

Bukit Brown is a site where many of the fallen from World War II lie. It is a burial for war heroes, just like it is a resting place for members of the Tongmenghui (同盟會). These add significance to a green space that is also an environment where Singaporeans can connect with what our forefathers represent. Projections do not capture these. “Stop at Two” and the “Graduate Mothers Scheme” also relied on projections. These were well-meaning, but later needed significant corrections. Singaporeans bear the cost of such adjustments. Save Bukit Brown. Save OUR Singapore. Petition at sosbukitbrown.wordpress.com and write your MP.

Thank this Bukit Brownie for making this video!

If you enjoyed watching the latest video contribution from this concerned citizen. Inspired by it, do like it and even better make a response to it. If you want to join the campaign send the images, messages, articles and videos coming!

Send to sosbukitbrown@gmail.com


Encouragement for Saving Bukit Brown

Thank you Bukit Brownies!

Watch the latest video contribution from another concerned citizen. Keep the images, messages, articles and videos coming!
Send to sosbukitbrown@gmail.com

Here is his message for the video:
Some people ask where we get the motivation to keep pushing for Bukit Brown’s protection. Let’s just say we get it from the very top. We are in agreement with what is being said recently! So don’t wait liao. Stand up and be counted. Sign the open letter to support the protection of Bukit Brown at sosbukitbrown.wordpress.com or go to our Facebook page. These places got more information on Bukit Brown also.

Protecting our Commons

~by: William S.W. Lim and Faith Wong~


Posted by  on November 16, 2011

Bukit Brown's sparrow. Photo by Suki Singh

The impassioned public response to the LTA’s announcement that a road will be built through Bukit Brown cemetery can be viewed through the prism of the larger issue of Singapore’s dwindling pockets of active public space – the accessible, shared spaces for citizens traditionally known as the Commons. (This does not refer to the pseudo public realms of shopping malls, theme parks and golf greens, which are highly regulated and monitored.)

Voices of dissent to recent development plans have been increasing in volume. This is partly due to the fact that social media has provided an effective platform for mobilising public sentiment and partly due to growing demand among Singaporeans for open engagement and participation in policy-making. Examples are the campaigns to save the Bukit Brown Cemetery, the Rail Corridor, the Old School at Mount Sophia and numerous other instances involving national issues of land scarcity and urban transport.

Case 1: Bukit Brown Cemetery (BBC)

There is no need to further espouse the historical value of the cemetery to the nation’s culture and identity and its importance for collective memories. These issues have been highlighted by the Heritage Society and Nature Society, as well as in myriad letters from the public. One only wonders whether this is enough to rouse the nation from its familiar apathy towards the government’s pro-developmental strategies that often throw the nation’s heritage under the bus.

The eventual development of the cemetery land may have been publicised in the 1991 Concept Plan but one should recognise that concept plans only serve as a guide. If present conditions make some developments unsuitable, it makes no sense to carry them through. Plans regarding the physical environment should not be cast in stone but should be a flexible incomplete urban framework that is able to adapt to unforeseen changes and accept new conceptual ideas in the contingent urban environment. Also, in the race to beat the 2013 deadline, the frenzy of calling for volunteers to document the graves has conveniently blanketed the fact that this decision was thrust upon us. Open active public discourse would facilitate a transparent participatory process that will build trust in governance.

The recent proposal to digitise the cemetery involves a dystopian concept where real urban experiences are simulated in hyper-reality. This future where history and urban space is a matter of a click of the mouse is a horrific thought. We really are in trouble if this becomes the preferred solution to our urban contestations. We support the letter to Today by Mr Liew Kai Khiun, ‘Golf courses, not history, should make way’. A golf course is about 80-100 hectares, easily the size of a BBC (86 hectares) or Singapore Botanic Gardens (74 hectares). It is a spatial injustice when so many golf courses take up a large amount of land while servicing only the privileged few.

Case 2: Vibrant Rail Corridor

In contrast, the government’s ready engagement of the public regarding the fate of the KTM railway land should be applauded. The various design schemes and ideas proffered in the consultative process provide a clear directive towards any potential development, that is, to keep the 26km tract as a public green to be defended from acquisition for commercial use. The Rail Corridor is an unprecedented historical opportunity to provide wonderful experiences to all income and age groups, whether as a leisure and recreation site or a venue for art and cultural activities. A vibrant people-oriented corridor will generate a strong and unique image of our physical identity. It can become an iconic place with a long and complex history that all Singaporeans can be proud of.

The Myths of Land Scarcity and Urban Transport

‘Land scarcity’ and ‘transport needs’ are often used as the rationale for development. We require more imaginative solutions to these needs, for the day will arrive when we will have finally run out of land. We need to stabilise our population between 5 and 5.5 million, minimise our carbon footprint and work towards achieving environmentally sustainable lifestyles. It is critical that we change this singular mindset of “destroy-and-rebuild” that the nation has perfected into a treacherous art form.

How many roads do we need to achieve maximum flow of vehicular traffic? Infinite! New and/or bigger roads would only induce demand for more roads, a common illusion with automobile-oriented cities. In an age concerned with the carbon footprint, this car obsession is a great obstacle to achieving a sustainable city. Public transport remains the most effective, affordable and reliable way to move people for long distances. Cycling and walking are important complementary alternatives that are seriously under-explored here. There must be a “reset” in urban design towards a people-oriented integrated transportation network capable of meeting the needs of the majority of citizens.

The Save Old School (SOS) campaign began as an effort to save an alma mater but really concerns the land use and development of the Mount Sophia site, an area that is in the process of being transformed into a high-end residential district. This is yet another contestation that foreshadows the insidious losing of our Commons. It is not about deciding which buildings are more deserving of conservation but whether any building should be torn down for redevelopment at all, versus say refurbishment and retrofitting. For BBC, it is not how the graves should be researched or archived, but whether the site should be preserved and improved as a memorable public space. These urban contestations form part of the fight to protect the Commons. One should not mistake these efforts as reserved only for sentimental conservation buffs and idealistic dreamers; they are matters that concern us all.

WILLIAM S.W. LIM is an independent writer and urban theorist.
FAITH WONG majors in architecture, and is currently Lim’s researcher.

Singapore to drive road through historic cemetery


By Rebecca Lim
BBC News, Singapore
6 April 2012 Last updated at 01:09 GMT

Follow this link for the article on BBC. Hope to engage in a vibrant discussion in the comment box below. – SOS Bukit Brown

Bukit Brown is the kind of place that could be easily missed in skyscraper-filled Singapore.

Bordered by a major highway and several major roads, this 90-year-old cemetery sits in a peaceful, green pocket almost in the centre of the bustling city state.

Believed to be the largest Chinese cemetery outside China, it hosts about 100,000 graves – many belonging to Singapore’s pioneering immigrants and war heroes.

But now the place of repose is in the spotlight. The government wants to build an eight-lane road through a part of it.

Down the line the area will be developed to provide housing for some 50,000 people and a future train station.

The fate of the site has lit a fire of activism among some Singaporeans. Not one, but seven civic groups have appealed to the government to rethink its plans.

”Development need not come at the expense of heritage, and vice versa,” said Terence Chong, a committee member of the Singapore Heritage Society, one of the seven groups.

‘Brown’s hill’

Public interest in Bukit Brown was kindled in the middle of last year after it was reported that the area was designated for residential development. Letters pleading the case for the cemetery began pouring in to the newspapers.

Bukit Brown, which means ”Brown’s hill” in Malay, was named after a British merchant, George Henry Brown, who lived in the area in the 19th century.

The heritage society published a book on Singapore’s disappearing cemeteries – Bukit Brown is not the first to fall victim to urban sprawl.

The Nature Society of Singapore, extolling the ecological value and biodiversity of the area, proposed that it be designated as a park that could potentially be listed as a Unesco heritage site.

Last month, officials announced details for the planned road that included some concessions.

A part of the road will be built as a bridge across a valley, hence minimising the impact on the flora and fauna and helping to preserve natural drainage.

The exhumation of graves will now take place next year, instead of later this year as planned, to give family members more time to register the graves.

For the first time, the government is funding the documentation of the tombs. A committee has been tasked with ensuring detailed records of personal histories, heritage and rituals are kept.

Living heritage

But for the activists behind the call to save Bukit Brown, that does not come close to the outcome they had wanted.

Bukit Brown is not just any old cemetery, they said. It retains a distinctive slice of the multi-ethnic country’s fast disappearing heritage.

”It’s one place where you can actually touch the 100-year-old tombs and see faded photos of men and women who contributed to Singapore’s story in one way or another,” said Erika Lim of the SOS Bukit Brown group.

”That’s very different from viewing artefacts in a museum or reading about historical events in a textbook.”

On the same day that the details of the road were announced, the activists called for a moratorium on all development plans for the area.

”Bukit Brown is the last historic remaining cemetery in Singapore,” said Raymond Goh of Asia Paranormal Investigators – better known as the ”ghostbusters” of Singapore.

Mr Goh, who conducts heritage tours in Bukit Brown, said that the earliest grave found in the burial grounds dated back to 1833. ”Once destroyed, it is gone forever,” he said.

But the decision on the road has been made.

”Planning for the long-term in land-scarce Singapore does require us to make difficult trade-off decisions,” the Ministry of National Development said in an email to the BBC.

Engagement issues

This is not be the first time that the government, not known for tolerating dissent, has faced public outcry over development plans.

But it has also shown itself amenable to civic concerns. A plan 10 years ago to reclaim a wetlands area on an island was pushed back after nature lovers led a campaign against it. The parks authority has since built new amenities for visitors to the area.

The activists for Bukit Brown have expressed disappointment at the ”lacking” engagement with officials.

But, the ministry said, it was ”not consulting” on whether to build the road ”from the onset”.

”While we disagree on the road and development of Bukit Brown, we do share the belief that we need to retain and also celebrate the heritage of Bukit Brown,” it said.

It welcomed suggestions and would continue to study ways to do so, it added

The Bukit Brown issue also points toward an evolving social compact between the government and an increasingly vocal electorate.

Singaporeans are now ”much more educated and vocal” and ”organise together more easily”, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told reporters this week after the Asean summit in Cambodia.

The government, he said, had changed the way it engaged with Singaporeans, and that had been ”necessary” and ”helpful”.

Since the country’s last general election in May 2011, when his ruling party saw the lowest share of overall votes since independence at 60.1%, he has called for more engagement.

”But it will take some time more, and the balance between speaking out and working together is something which still needs to be worked upon,” he said.

For many families, however, the Qing Ming festival this week could be the last time they carry out the annual Chinese tradition of visiting and cleaning the ancestral tombs in Bukit Brown.

One of the more than 3,700 graves making way for the road is a 1940 tomb that is the resting place of Toh Yong Soon’s grand-aunt.

When he performed the Qing Ming rites this year, he said, he informed her that she would soon be ”moving house”. He has made plans to relocate her grave.

”We don’t want to be in the way,” he said, of the planned road. ”But it is a waste. Bukit Brown is a living museum.”



早报 | 201-12-19 给人印象很深的是,有些坟墓看来很新。武吉布朗墓园关闭已数十年,但许多人还是关心自家人在这里的祖坟,定期修葺。咖啡山是新加坡华人历史的一个板块,但也是属于生者的…… 近来报章常说到咖啡山,相关的争论我早已注意到,但一直没有自己去看看;奇怪——咖啡山地处哪里我大约知道,离我家也并不远,但未曾知道山中尚有路径,从车窗看,只能见到一片莽林。 从报上得知,围绕武吉布朗(即咖啡山)那场议论的活跃分子,亦有国大历史系的同事,因此向她打听讯息,上个周末就动身,用自己的眼睛看看。 在网上找到了咖啡山的地图,还记住网民的嘱咐:森林区,穿长裤长袖较合适,戴防晒帽子与矿泉水;另外还买了瓶驱虫剂。只是家里并没有手杖,也不愿意去 买,因而干脆拆开了我们的扫把;太太还抱怨这样子在路上走颇为滑稽,我却置之不理。结果,在深草中探路,或上山下山,扫把柄还是相当管用。 墓园大门很容易找,周日天气格外晴朗,风和日丽,咖啡山毫无阴森气氛,反而是遍地茂密的森林,绿汪汪的许多老树木;阳光从树叶间透出,洒落弯曲的步道, 十分舒畅,不亚于临近的自然保护区。山中大小道路都保养得很好,散步起来很轻松。走了一会,马路上的车声渐渐消失,只听到各种鸟鸣;蝴蝶亦时隐时现,是一 片丰盛大自然。 跟麦里芝蓄水池与武吉知马自然保护区一样,咖啡山区域丘陵多,山间又有低谷,地貌多变,山坡与谷中细流,森林与草坪,一弯一景。山水如此婉妙,一代代华人选择在此下葬,也是不难理解的。 我们这一次到咖啡山,当然想了解其文化意义。武吉布朗最早的坟墓,据说来自19世纪初期;其历史也就涵盖了新加坡的全部历史。今天的咖啡山,靠南边的多为平民的葬地;北边山坡上则是本地豪门家族的坟墓,有许多富于特色的墓葬工艺。 拐进一条小步道,再往上爬,穿越两尺深的草丛,找到了几座工艺特别优秀的坟墓;文字中英双文,两侧是画有南洋风景的瓷砖以及二十四孝浮雕的岩石,左右则矗立着两个水泥锡克武士,充当护卫。坟墓许久没人管理,遍地是枯叶,瓷砖有些已剥落在地,捡起时吓跑了一只蜈蚣。 不远处有另外一座墓引起我们的注意,这里的护卫并非印度士兵,而是五只怪兽——是饕餮,抑或是猫?怪兽同样是水泥制作,贴着许多彩色琉璃瓦片,瓦片多处已 丢失,怪兽形状看不大分明。这原是一位女士的坟墓,41岁逝世,后代为何为她修建如此特别的一座坟墓,今天似乎已无从考究,只能当作咖啡山历史的谜团之 一。 在山间走路,迎面来了一群参观者,而其中便有我历史系的同事。我们便跟着团走,拜访了几位本地名人与商家的坟墓;最大的是富商王三龙之墓,设计浩大,装饰繁复,位于咖啡山最高处,风水最佳的地方。据介绍说,王家的后代都还定期来这里拜祖宗。 给人印象很深的是,有些坟墓看来很新。武吉布朗墓园关闭已数十年,但许多人还是关心自家人在这里的祖坟,定期修葺。咖啡山是新加坡华人历史的一个板块,但也是属于生者的。 快到了中午,走完了一大圈,天也渐渐变热,我们便走回到马路,搭车回家。一路上还在思索这次咖啡山一行的所见所闻。位于岛国中心一带,咖啡山联接着新加坡的过去与现在。咖啡山,既是自然遗产,又是文化遗产。 为什么在这里要修马路?多修马路并不会解决交通问题,而只会吸引更多车辆——类似的经验,许多其他城市早已有过。忽然想起,政府几十年前,有远见而投巨 资填海,修建滨海新区;今人却要用这个最昂贵的地盘,来修建一个人造公园。而武吉布朗原有的自然林区,却要填平来盖别墅?新加坡很爱讲持续性发展:咖啡 山,是自然与人文两方面持续性发展的最佳案例。为何不从此开始? 编按:目前被人们误称为“咖啡山”的武吉布朗(Bukit Brown)坟场其实原非咖啡山;陆路交通管理局后年要进行的新道路建设工程,受影响的为武吉布朗坟场。