Singapore is my second home in South-East Asia. I love to come back to this city over and over again because my sister lives here and it’s a fun place to be. As I come so often to this city, it is no surprise that I manage to have some friends and it’s always great to catch up with them while I’m in town.
One particular friend who is a student in Singapore, asked me to trade our dinner meet up for something more interesting: a cemetery visit. Being a cemetery enthusiast that I am, I smiled and agreed to her plan. The cemetery she wanted to visit is called Bukit Brown cemetery. It is an old Chinese cemetery in Singapore where many well-known Singaporeans were buried, including successful businessman Ong Sam Leong (1857-1918) whose grave is the largest at this cemetery. The first grave dated back to 1833 and it is the largest Chinese cemetery there is in Singapore, and possibly outside of China. However, for many years the cemetery has faced many issues, including exhumation as to provide new roads.
Today, the cemetery is facing a big problem. Many parts of the cemetery in the past has disappeared due to road work and now more are about to be evicted due to the expansion of Singapore’s MRT and the building of a new highway. Many organizations have tried to save this heritage cemetery and regular tours are held for the public to visit and learn about this cemetery. Sadly, during the day I visited there were no tours scheduled so we decided to go on an adventure by ourselves to see this cemetery, before it was too late.
Just as I expected, we got totally lost. We took a bus and stopped at one station by the highway. As we walked towards a smaller street, we realized we were going the wrong way, so we decided to ask someone. The person told us that the Bukit Brown cemetery was far and that we had to take another bus several stops from where we were standing. He also told us that the cemetery is huge (even in that street we could see some graveyards).
So we took several stops and found ourselves at the Macritchie reservoir. An uncle told us that the cemetery was actually just across the street. He was right. We could see graveyards and overgrown bushes, in front of it was a notice sign for exhumation. There were white pegs placed next to the tombstones, these were the ones marked to be exhumed. We also found out in the map that the entrance of the cemetery was quite far away. We decided not to enter from this side since there weren’t really any pathway anyway.
After walking for 30 minutes, passing 4 bus stops, we finally found the road we were looking for and actually found ourselves on the other side of the highway from our initial stop (sigh!). My friend told me to follow the road and informed me that we shouldn’t enter the entrance gate as there was exhumation in process and instead find a forest-like path way. I saw that the work to build this new highway was already underway, fences were built to cover the graveyards and we could only see a glimpse of it.
As we found the forest-like path way, we thought we have finally found our treasure. We were so happy that it took us a while to realize just how serene, as in a creepy serene way, the path was. Trees were surrounding us in both sides and we could feel ants biting our feet. We kept on going further in and finally found some graveyards. There were some very simple ones with just Chinese inscription on it, and some was more lavish and big with paintings and old incense. We were getting excited and couldn’t believe what we have found. A moment later a car passed by, somehow I was relieved that this place was not so dead after all (hah! I know the irony!). We confidently walked further into the forest and was happy to see some people gathering in front of us. I noticed that none of these graveyards had white pegs on them, I assumed these ones were not getting exhumed, or not yet anyway.
I was clicking away with my camera when I heard barking from inside the forest. I could see a dog from afar but wasn’t really bothered by it. A split second was all it took, and all of the sudden 6 wild dogs came out of the forest, barking aggressively and chasing after us. Knowing the nature of dogs, we stood still. I was gripping my friend’s hands so tight and was shaking. After some seconds, they decided to let us go and they went back to the forest, still barking while we could finally let out a relieved sigh.
We approached the people in front of us, who looked as bewildered as we were on what just happened, and started talking to them. Initially we wanted to spend more time in the forest, exploring and seeing more graves, but one of the uncles told us it was a dead end and that we have to be careful as there are pythons inside the forest and very dangerous! I was shocked, never in my life would I imagine the words wild dogs, pythons and dangerous to be spoken about in Singapore!
It is always good to listen to the locals. We nodded and agreed to stay away from the forest. However our surrounding was amazing: old chinese graveyards, one with newly burnt incense, filling the air with its intense smell. Most of the graves had similar architecture, half circular with a centre tomb. There was a magical vibe which instantly replaced the cold chilling atmosphere as I turned to the other side of the graveyard where I could see pretty pink flowers hanging by one of its huge trees covering some of the graves. It was a very pretty view.
Believe it or not the dogs were still barking, though now they sounded pretty far from us. We decided to ask one of the uncles if they could take us back to the main road. One uncle said he couldn’t as he was working on his broken down car (what a place for a car to break down!), so we turned to another uncle who looked as if he was already on his way out. He agreed.
Talk to strangers while you’re on the road and never be afraid to approach them! Inside the car, there were 2 aunts who asked why we were at the cemetery. They told us it was very dangerous to be coming here by ourselves and she told us to bring some guys next time! As a feminist, I couldn’t even get angry by their comment as they were so sincerely concern about us and just wanted us to be safe.
Back to the main road, I did not regret my time exploring the road less travelled of Bukit Brown cemetery. There was a certain sadness hanging over me knowing that this cemetery might not exist in the next 20 years. I hope that they can still maintain some parts of the cemetery, just to keep the heritage alive. I have to admit it was one of the most scariest cemetery travel I have ever experienced, but no regrets, I got to see the most amazing Chinese graveyard at a cemetery filled with history and struggle.
If you are a cemetery enthusiast, I recommend this place and I do recommend the tour instead of getting lost like us. I hope you get to see the beauty of this place before it disappears altogether.
How DEW travelled there
Take the 52 bus and alight at the bus stop opposite SICC then walk towards Sime Road. To get to where I was is a little bit complicated, please do contact me if you need detailed directions!