News / Asia

Singapore Cemetery Demolition Angers Residents

The ornate tile detail on one of the many overgrown graves at Singapore's Bukit Brown Cemetery. (VOA/K. Lamb)
The ornate tile detail on one of the many overgrown graves at Singapore's Bukit Brown Cemetery. (VOA/K. Lamb)
TEXT SIZE - +
Kate Lamb
— The ultra-modern city state Singapore has become a model that other Asian nations aspire to - organized, immaculate and efficient - but at what cost? Some residents say that plans to plow through one the country’s most important heritage sites show that Singapore’s rapid urbanization has reached a crucial tipping point.
 
The sprawling overgrown rainforest of Bukit Brown is less than a 10-minute cab ride from the heart of Singapore.

A haven for nature lovers and joggers, the lush 23 hectares is also a cultural treasure.

Dotted amongst the large moss-covered banyan trees and ferns are some 100,000 traditional Chinese graves dating back to the 1800s.

The ornate tombstones of many famous Singaporeans, some who are now immortalized in the city’s street names, reside at Bukit Brown Cemetery. But they might not rest in peace for too much longer.

Demolition plan

The Singaporean government recently announced plans to build an eight-lane highway through the ancient graveyard.

Some 4,000 graves will be exhumed, including that of Ong Hui Lin’s great grandmother. “It’s a tragedy that is no longer mine, but maybe the nation's. Lost families, you know and lost heritage. The idea of family, family unity, ancestors and descendants, these ideas are very important,” said Ong.

Ong, 56, is a fourth generation Singaporean who has visited the graves of her ancestors at Bukit Brown for as long as she can remember. The retired schoolteacher says the plan will destroy an important symbol of Singaporean history and culture.

“In Bukit Brown, every grave and every cluster of grave tells the family history. It is just something that is unique. People say that dead men can’t tell stories, but these do because the stories are standing there and staring at you," Ong stated. "And it’s beautiful, it’s not something ugly, it’s beautiful and it’s just so sad that it’s got to go.”

Save Bukit Brown

A dilapidated gate at the historic Bukit Brown Cemetery, home to 100,000 traditional Chinese graves. (VOA/K. Lamb)A dilapidated gate at the historic Bukit Brown Cemetery, home to 100,000 traditional Chinese graves. (VOA/K. Lamb)
x
A dilapidated gate at the historic Bukit Brown Cemetery, home to 100,000 traditional Chinese graves. (VOA/K. Lamb)
A dilapidated gate at the historic Bukit Brown Cemetery, home to 100,000 traditional Chinese graves. (VOA/K. Lamb)
Several groups are campaigning to save Bukit Brown, believed to be the largest Chinese cemetery outside of China.

In a country where political protest is a rarity, supporters of Bukit Brown are quite vocal.

Groups such as the Singapore Heritage Society say there are alternatives for the proposed road, which is expected to support new housing developments.

Tay Kheng Soon is the former president of the Singapore Institute of Architects who says the idea that land is scarce in the city state is pure fiction. “It is a useful fiction because it increases land prices," he said. "Because of the presumed scarcity therefore the price goes up. That’s the way in which the state generates high land values in order to cream off for the state’s coffers.”

Tay says the state getting rich is not necessarily a bad thing. But he argues that the rapid urbanization of Singapore is reaching a crucial tipping point, on the verge of becoming an ultra modern state with no soul.

“I think that increasingly, Singaporeans - and I think decision makers - are becoming more aware that the soft aspect of Singapore is important, identity is important, but it has yet to be translated into monetizable values. So Singapore has reached this moment in history where it is beginning to realize that there’s something that’s missing,” Tay noted.

As the country rapidly modernizes, and more and more foreigners become permanent residents, Bukit Brown is a reminder of a Singapore that was.

Material anchor

Sociologist Terence Heng says the cemetery is a kind of material anchor for the Chinese diaspora. “It’s a reminder of who we were and the fact that it has now been overgrown because it was closed in the 1970s, it is a bit of a parable of what we could become if we chose certain paths in life,” he added.

The government says it considered alternative routes for the new road, but none was found.  The plan to cut through Bukit Brown, it says, will have the least impact.

Accompanied by traditional ceremony, some graves have already been exhumed and moved to a nearby columbarium.

Construction of the highway is expected to begin early this year.

For more information, visit bukitbrown.com

You May Like

Analysts Warn of Regional Proxy Conflict in Afghanistan

Analysts warn if Kabul’s neighbors do not start to cooperate, competing desires for influence could deteriorate into a bloody proxy war in the country More

Saudi Intelligence Chief Replaced

Bandar bin Sultan came under criticism for supporting al Qaida, prompting King Abdallah to wrest Syria operations away from him in February, handing them to Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef More

Poetry Magazine editor Don Share talks what makes a good poem with VOA's David Byrd

What makes a good poem? And is poetry as viable an art form as it once was? To find out, VOA's David Byrd spoke to Don Share, the editor of Poetry Magazine. More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Davis K. Thanjan from: New York
January 25, 2013 7:07 PM
An old unused cemetery in Singapore is demolished and a modern highway is being consructed. The cemetery anywhere is waste of living space. The cemetery is for the dead where as the living has no space now and for the future generations.

Thers is no room in many cemeteries even for the dead. The cost of new cemetaries is exhorbitant and the cost of burial is skyroketing. The small city state of Singapore need more space for the living than the dead.

The future burials in the cemeteries should be allowed only if it is unmarked graves and no monuments are constructed on top of graves. All existing mounments in the cemeteries should be demolished after 50 years of its existence to make room for the present and future generation of the living or the dead.

It is preferable for the disposal of the dead in the sea or incineration. The Hindus in India prefer burning of the dead on a funeral pyre. But lot of wood is used for the burning. There is another religion in India known as the Parsis who offer the dead body as food for the vultures. In India, the local governments have started providing incinerators for the disposal of the dead at a very cheap cost or at no cost. The cutting of trees and use of wood is reduced by the use of public incinerators.

All the above methods of disposal of the dead body are preferable to the Christian, Moslem, Jewish or Chinese burials. The burials are monopolized by various religions and their respective cemeteries. Where can the dead body of a person of no religious affiliation can be buried?

Incineration is cheaper, environmentally ideal and affordable even to the poorest. It is preferable to add the conviniences of the living and the future generations than that of the forgotten rich dead.

In Response

by: Kent Neo from: Singapore
January 28, 2013 4:01 AM
I would disagree with Thanjan on the note that the cemeteries of the rich dead is competing with the living. Although Singapore maybe small in size, building residential flats with a higher plot ratio has enabled efficient use of land. According to a report from Singapore's National Climate Change Secretariat, we have a total of 5600 ha of nature reserves and parklands (see http://app.nccs.gov.sg/page.aspx?pageid=113 accessed 28 Jan 2013). That would translate to 8 m2 of green space per person based on Singapore's projected population of 7 million by 2040.

The World Health Organization (WHO), in its concern for public health, produced a document on the subject stating that every city should have a minimum of 9 m2 of green space per person. An optimal amount would be between 10 and 15 m2 per person. If the 233 ha natural rain forest habitat of the Bukit Brown site is protected, at least when our population reaches 7 million, every Singaporean would still have 8.3 m2 of green space to breath.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid