• Dispatch #12 •
In 2013, I visited one of Singapore’s former cemeteries.
It must seem like an odd thought, but I think cemeteries are some of the most peaceful places in the world. One of these is Bukit Brown Cemetery, the biggest Chinese graveyard outside of China.
I should probably write “was” as Bukit Brown is officially a former cemetery, although heritage advocates put up a good fight.
Indeed, the first thing that caught my eye during my visit was a sign that said “Registration for Exhumation”. The graves will make way for more urban development of the area.
I find this quite sad, as a few steps into the graveyard made me feel happy, peaceful, and miles away from the noisy highways that were already there.
But I suppose I should count myself lucky I was there at all, to see it before it all disappeared. Despite being part Chinese myself, there were many similar and different things I saw in how Singaporean Chinese bury their dead.
Pinwheels adorned several gravestones. This was easily my favorite part; I felt that it celebrated the lives of the departed.
I smiled at the familiar practicality of these pink plastic flowers.
Even more familiar was seeing real oranges given as an offering.
There were beautiful details carved on the gravestones, each telling a story from Chinese culture.
The gravestones themselves are smaller and lower than the large markers and mausoleums that I grew up with.
Bukit Brown was established in the early 20th century and held the graves of Chinese pioneers in the Lion City. One of them, Boon Lay, is recognizable even to expats like myself, as an MRT station is named after him.
Bukit Brown could be named Bukit Green, as it was verdant and lush with life, making it an oasis of tranquility and a respite from the busy city. There were families, joggers, couples on a walk, and fellow explorers. I loved seeing the yellow-beaked maynas, the makeshift altars, and the carpet of leaves on the ground. The trees shielded me from the otherwise intolerable heat of Singapore.
RIP, Bukit Brown. I’ll miss you, pinwheels and all.