October 24, 2013
Bukit Brown was the Chinese cemetery for Singapore from the 1920's to its closure in the early 70's. In fact, the first graves date from 1843. But, calling them graves doesn't do the place justice. They are tombs; 100,000 of them. Some simple, some grand and some described as the size of 3 HDB flats (public housing). Many have ornate carvings; we saw 3/4 size Sikh warriors on guard, bas reliefs, gargoyles and Chinese lions. The land was bought by George Henry Brown in the early 1800's to build plantations, mainly tapioca. The story goes that an English widower, Anna Leonowens, stayed at his house and was introduced to King Mongkut of Siam. The King engaged her to give his 82 children a 'western' education. That experience became a book; "Anna and the King of Siam" and then the Rogers and Hammerstein musical "The King and I" which became the movie of the same name with Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr.
It is a magical place. Bukit means hill in Malay and it is a rolling series of them with the tallest trees in Singapore and 100 species of birds plus monkeys, snakes and big monitor lizards. Other than the birds it is silent; no construction or traffic noise intrudes. The Government of Singapore has decided to run a highway extension through the middle of it. There have been protests galore but the government has been unmoved. The first 5,000 graves will be exhumed starting December 5th, 2013. How many more isn't clear as the policy makers have put a lid on providing information. They won't even say where the exhumed bodies will go. The long term plan is to take over all the land and turn it in to public housing. The loss of green space is bad enough but, the loss of history and the irreverence to the early culture of the island is shameful. It seems Singapore prefers its special places to be concrete and glass.